DEDICATED agencies that will support parents in better caring for foster children placed with them will be set up in a three-year pilot, in a move to have more of these children cared for in families instead of children's homes.
These fostering agencies will provide counselling, training and other services to these parents.
The agencies' roles also include recruiting and screening parents, and raising awareness about the need for foster parents.
These functions are now carried out by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), but from next year, it will appoint voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) to set up these agencies.
The idea is to have the agencies staffed with social workers who know the problems on the ground and can focus on helping these parents and children, instead of having MSF administrators handle them.
The move is estimated to cost the Government $8 million, said Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing at a rehabilitation conference yesterday.
"The more we are able to have the low-risk, low-needs cases live in a homely environment, the more we are able to concentrate our resources in the institutional environment for the high-needs and high-risk cases," he said in a speech at the event.
Mr Chan had said previously that evidence from overseas institutions and Singapore's own experience showed that children who grow up in a home environment fare better in life.
There are 325 children in the fostering scheme today, taken care of by 235 foster parents, usually middle-aged married couples.
About 800 children and young people are in 23 homes run by VWOs.
Many of the children could be cared for in foster homes instead, if there are more foster parents. The ministry hopes to double the number of such parents to 500.
These children need foster care as they have been abandoned, neglected or ill-treated, or their parents cannot care for them due to reasons such as illness or imprisonment.
The Straits Times understands that the VWOs appointed to run the agencies are likely to be current children's home operators, as they have the relevant expertise.
Sister Marilyn Lim, chairman of Canossaville Children's Home, said doing so will lead to synergy.
"Some of the children now enter the institutional homes first, then go into the foster homes, but if we are running both in future, we can send the child straight to a foster home if that is more suited to his needs," she said.
Madam Sarimah Amat, 47, who takes care of two foster children, said any help from the fostering agencies would be helpful.
The former pre-school teacher said she found it challenging to care for a foster child with special needs and had to pick up skills from special needs teachers.
"With more support such as training, I will feel more confident in bringing up the children," she added.
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