To encourage more people to be foster parents and better support existing ones, the first two dedicated fostering agencies will be set up by June. More will follow thereafter.
The two agencies will be run by voluntary welfare organisations MCYC Community Services Society and Boys' Town, said Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing during a visit to Boys' Town yesterday.
This move is part of an $8 million, three-year pilot scheme announced last year to place more children in foster families instead of institutional settings.
"We know from our own experience and the experience of other countries that no matter how hard we try, the children's homes are still an institutional environment and not the most natural environment that our children can grow up in," said Mr Chan.
The agencies' roles include recruiting and screening foster parents, and providing them with better support.
For example, they may be trained to integrate the new child into their families.
Some of these functions are carried out by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), but the aim now is to have social workers from the fostering agencies - who are more familiar with issues on the ground - help these families instead.
MCYC has been running training programmes for foster parents for the last nine years.
Boys' Town runs a residential home and has been reaching out to troubled youths for more than 60 years.
With the two operators appointed to run the agencies, MSF will play a mentoring and regulating role to support staff from the agencies as well as foster families.
There are 330 children under the fostering scheme today, taken care of by 280 foster parents, usually middle-aged married couples. MSF hopes that up to 600 children can be cared for in foster families in the next five years.
Another 800 children and young people live in 23 children's homes run by welfare groups.
Mr Chan said fostering can be challenging because, unlike adoption, foster parents need to be prepared to care for a child for an indeterminate period of time.
This can range from months to years, depending on when the child and biological family are ready to reunite.
This might be partly why only about 5 per cent of the 500 to 600 people who called MCYC annually in the past to express interest in fostering ended up doing so.
A way to help those apprehensive about making the leap, said Mr Chan, is to ease them in with short initial periods of stay.
"The initial stages are usually very trying as it can be emotional for the child and can take a lot out of relationships within the family itself," said MCYC executive director Tan Khye Suan.
Housewife Audrey Lourdes, 46, who has taken in 10 foster children over the past decade, said: "When they first came, some would just sit at our doorstep and refuse to come in."
"There are a lot of anxieties, emotional baggage and different personalities to deal with, so having more specialised training will definitely help us."
To find out more about fostering, call 6354-8799 or visit www.msf.gov.sg/fostering
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