'You need patience of a saint'
She cried her heart out when it was time to return her foster child to her natural parents.
It was more than eight years ago but Madam Lourdes Thomas Audrey still recalls the excruciating separation.
"I went to the toilet and bawled. I wouldn't come out. Not even when my husband bought me ice cream. Even giving birth was not as painful," says the 45-year-old housewife.
The mother of one confesses that she was so devastated she did not want to ever take in another child again.
Yet, two months later, she gave her love to a three-year-old who needed help.
Her natural son, Jarryll, then seven, had egged her on. He told her: "Mum, there're a lot of other kids out there who need a home."
Foster families such as Madam Audrey's provide shelter, stability and love to children who have been abandoned, neglected or ill-treated, or when their birth parents cannot look after them due to physical or mental illness, incarceration and other social issues.
There are 310 children under foster care and 254 foster parents registered under the fostering scheme by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).
More than 5,000 children have benefited from the scheme since its inception in 1956.
The ministry held a roadshow at Compass Point earlier this month to recruit more foster parents. Seventeen families signed up.
"By recruiting more foster parents, we hope that every child in need will have the opportunity to live in a caring home-based environment, feel safe and loved as well as have his potential fulfilled," says Ms Fong Wai Mian, senior assistant director of MSF Fostering Service.
Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing had said in Parliament last year that his ministry was looking to enlarge its fostering scheme for children in need of a home.
While the scheme previously provided care for babies and children under six, it has now expanded to include older children below 18 as well.
Madam Audrey has fostered 11 children so far.
Her current charges are two boys: John, five, and Michael, nine, who has been with her since he was six weeks old. We are not using their real names as their identities are protected under the law.
While Jarryll can be accommodating, Madam Audrey has had to deal with sibling rivalry among her foster children. She tells The New Paper on Sunday: "Michael says John cannot call me mummy."
Madam Audrey treats all her foster children as if they were her own. She showers them with love, guidance and care, and also disciplines them where necessary.
She takes them to the hospital and cares for them when they are sick.
"My bond with Michael is the strongest as he falls sick more often and gets admitted frequently. Once he had pneumonia," she says. "He has taught me a lot of things. Even though he is in this unfortunate situation, he still loves us unconditionally.
"He has taught us a deeper meaning of love."