Doctor with a heart for foster children

SINGAPORE - Dr Sylvia Goh, who was honoured yesterday with an Outstanding Lifetime Volunteer Award, wanted to become a doctor from a very young age, so that she could help children in need.

For more than four decades, she went far beyond attending to their medical needs, and played a pivotal role in developing the country's fostering scheme.

For her passion and dedication, she was the only person honoured with the Outstanding Lifetime Volunteer Award by the Ministry for Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) yesterday.

The award is given to volunteers who have consistently contributed to MCYS causes for at least 30 years. Dr Goh, 86, was among 87 volunteers honoured at the annual MCYS Volunteer Awards ceremony at Gardens by the Bay.

Acting MCYS Minister Chan Chun Sing, who presented the awards, said: "The volunteers' selfless efforts are important for us to build a caring society. With their passion and dedication, they add that personal touch in giving hope and help to those in need."

Three people received the Outstanding Volunteer Awards: chairman of the National Council on Problem Gambling, Mr Lim Hock San; vice-chairman of the Children and Young Persons Homes Review Board, Mr Tan Heng Huey; and a Community Chest volunteer, Mr Hwang Peng Yuan.

A total of 24 other volunteers received the Friends of MCYS Award, and another 59 were given the Long Service Award.

Dr Goh has seen her fair share of foster children from varied backgrounds in the 45 years that she has served on the Committee on Fostering. She has been a member since 1967 and chaired the committee for more than 20 years, from 1977 to 1998.

"Children who were fostered in the 1960s used to be mostly abandoned babies, but today, these children need foster families because of more complex social trends like abuse or mental health issues," said Dr Goh.

The former paediatrician was first introduced to fostering when she was working at St Andrew's Mission Hospital for Sick Children in the 1960s.

Singapore's former Social Welfare Department was near the hospital and its staff often brought children over when they were ill.

But Dr Goh saw that their needs lay beyond medical help and thus joined the fostering committee.

Since the fostering scheme started in 1956, more than 5,000 children have been matched with foster families. Today, there are 330 foster children and 237 families registered under the scheme.

For decades, Dr Goh would meet her team regularly to track the progress of the children and provide advice when needed.

Dr Goh recalled with pride how Jasmine (not her real name), who was fostered from birth as her birth parents had mental health issues, blossomed under the care of her foster family. Jasmine went on to ace her O-level examinations without having any tuition.

"Every child deserves love and an education and it is very satisfying for me to watch them grow from birth till they are 18 in nurturing environments," said Dr Goh.

The grandmother of three also had the foresight to push for a 24-hour support hotline in 2002. Case workers today continue the practice of manning a round-the-clock hotline.

While a recent spine fracture has compelled Dr Goh to step down from the committee, her love for the children continues to be clearly evident.

"Send a strong appeal for me so that more parents come forward to foster. It's always a struggle to get more parents but I admire those that do, they have such big hearts," she said emphatically.

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