'Many other kids need a home': Son's words spur couple on to foster 10 children in 15 years

Madam Lourdes Thomas Audrey and her husband Rajev Valayutham with their biological son Rajev Jarryll Deneshan. Madam Audrey and her husband have also cared for a total of 10 foster children. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - When housewife Lourdes Thomas Audrey and her husband took in their first foster child 15 years ago, the pain of separation after six months was enough to make them think of never doing it again.

"She went back home to her family and we couldn't take it... My husband doesn't cry but this time, he did," said Madam Audrey, who is now 50.

It was the words of their biological son, who was six years old at the time, that made her think twice: "There are many other kids who need help and need a home."

The family eventually went on to foster nine other children, including Rayan (not his real name), who is now 14.

On Saturday (Nov 16), Rayan was among 20 foster children to receive commendation awards for achievements in the academic field, sports, arts and character development at the Ministry of Social and Family Development's (MSF) annual foster family day.

An outstanding achievement award was also presented to a foster youth who did well academically and led her school's dance team to clinch a certificate of distinction at the Singapore Youth Festival this year.

As of June, there were about 1,150 vulnerable children and young people placed in out-of-home care, meaning that they are unable to stay with their natural families because of abuse, neglect or abandonment. The two main care options here are foster care and residential care.

Madam Audrey and her husband, senior technician Rajev Valayutham, 52, are among the 510 foster families in Singapore as of June, caring for 542 foster children.

While the commitment to care for more children was daunting initially, Madam Audrey said her proudest moments included seeing Rayan's progress and growth.

She said: "Rayan looks up to his foster brother... When Jarryll went to secondary school, Rayan wanted to follow suit. When Jarryll received awards from the school, he wanted to do it too."

She added: "If you instil good values in children and try to lead by example, they tend to pick up habits from you.

Rayan now volunteers at the Ren Ci home, spending time with its elderly residents, and wants to do more to give back to the community.

Foster family day, first held in 2015 and attended by more than 270 people this year, shows appreciation to foster parents and celebrates the achievements of the children.

On Saturday, the event also recognised 11 corporate and community partners - including EtonHouse Community Fund, which provides resources for children and families under the KidStart programme, as well as internships and mindfulness programmes for youth and individuals under MSF's care.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development Faishal Ibrahim said: "These partners have contributed in many different ways, helping our foster children bond with foster families, build their capabilities and explore new opportunities to develop their interests."

He noted that the journey of a foster parent is not always easy, but there is a community supporting them.

Following recent amendments to the Children and Young Persons Act, which will be implemented in the first quarter of 2020, foster parents will be able to enjoy childcare leave benefits to care for these children, and be able to make decisions for the foster children under their care as well.

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