More stepping up to be foster parents
"She was sobbing and trembling when she first came to me," recalled Madam Sarimah Amat, 49, on meeting her foster daughter Leela four years ago.
"We hugged and she hung on to me, maybe because she felt like I was there to rescue her. It was then that I knew I was doing the right thing."
With three children of her own - Mr Alfi Muswaadi Appathi, 25, Ms Syira Nurul-Ain, 23, and Mr Alif Mulyaadi Appathi, 20 - Madam Sarimah found room in her heart to care for more.
Before becoming a full-time housewife, Madam Sarimah was a childcare teacher by day and a silat instructor by night. A knee injury sustained in a bad fall forced her to stop working in 2010.
"It was too quiet at home as the kids had all grown up," she said. When she heard about the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) fostering scheme from her relative, she applied for it with her husband's support.
"Children are innocent and they should be loved and provided for. If we can't go to them, we will bring them to us," said Madam Sarimah on her decision to foster.
Over the past four years, she has fostered three children. Leela was her first and is still living with her.
The other two, Fazly and Ahmad, were under her care for half a year each. All her foster children are Malay/Muslim, but their names have been changed as their identities are protected by law.
Children who are placed on the fostering scheme lack alternative kinship care arrangements for various reasons. Their parents could have a physical or mental illness, or they could be victims of neglect and abuse.
More foster parents have been stepping forward in recent years. The number of foster parents registered under the MSF fostering scheme grew from 254 in 2014 to 370 this year, a step closer to the government target of 500.
The increase could be attributed to greater awareness of how vulnerable children can be helped.
A survey conducted by MSF among 246 foster parents last year showed that almost half of the respondents found out about the fostering scheme through newspapers, television or other forms of media.
More than 5,000 children have benefited from the scheme since its inception in 1956. The ministry matches the race and religion of the child to those of the foster family as closely as possible.
Now eight, Leela has grown in confidence. A bright and cheeky Primary 2 pupil, she looks forward to silat class every Thursday and enjoys playing sports with her foster siblings.
"Leela has brightened up our household and every day is like Hari Raya. All of us sayang (Malay for 'love') her the most as she is the youngest in the family," said Madam Sarimah.
Leela is closest to Ms Syira, with whom she shares a room. Snuggled up close to Ms Syira in a one-seater sofa, Leela said she loves drawing and baking with her foster sister.
To show her appreciation for her foster mother this Mother's Day, Leela made a card with a drawing of her and Madam Sarimah. It read: "Happy Mother's Day mama. I wish mama to be happy always. I love you very much and I love you forever."
With Ms Syira's help, she also baked chocolate cupcakes, knowing her foster mother's love for sweets.
"I was very touched by her efforts. Moments like when she first started calling me 'mama' and including me in her prayers moved me greatly," said Madam Sarimah.
Though it is inevitable that Leela will return to her natural family one day, Madam Sarimah said that it will be very hard for her family to see her leave when the time comes.
"We have grown very close. She tells me everything that happens in school when we walk home, like when she scored full marks for her Malay test or when a boy disturbed her," she said wistfully.
"I am very proud of how far she has come. We really treasure the moments we spend with her as a family, even if it's as simple as having dinner together."
Letters, cards and drawings that children have done for their foster parents will be on display during a fostering roadshow themed "What my family means to me" at Nex mall from tomorrow to May 15.
To find out more about fostering, call 6354-8799 or go to www.msf.gov.sg/fostering
This article was first published on May 8, 2016.
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