More support, training for foster parents

Dealing with her three-year-old foster son's daily tantrums and screams was a challenging task for Madam Norlia Ali Marican when she first took him in.

But after attending a course conducted by the Rainbow Centre, a voluntary welfare organisation catering to special needs kids, the 49-year-old housewife found a simple solution: she hugged him firmly.

Foster parents like her will get more help as the Government studies ways to provide them with better support and training.

This could include building up a small pool of foster parents who are already trained to deal with special needs children, said Ms Audrie Siew, deputy director of the Children In Care branch at the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF). About 10 per cent of the 336 foster children in Singapore have special needs.

While foster parents typically go through a five-day parenting course, those who take in kids with conditions such as autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder require more targeted training, Ms Siew explained.

Such training could be done before the foster child arrives, instead of after as is the case now, she said at an annual foster family party held at the Singapore Expo yesterday.

The MSF is also looking into more formalised partnerships with community agencies, which will make it easier for foster parents with special needs kids to get childcare help and medical support, she added.

And while younger children are usually given priority when it comes to fostering, MSF is looking at putting older ones into foster care as well. Ms Siew believes teenagers could also benefit from a home-based environment.

However, this would require more foster parents to come onboard, and the Government has targeted doubling current numbers in the coming years. About 275 parents are now registered as foster parents.

There are about 800 children and young people in 23 homes run by voluntary welfare organisations.

During yesterday's event, Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing called on foster parents to get other parents they know to join the scheme.

He said the Government will strengthen training and counselling help for foster families. Support groups will be formed so the parents can share tips on caring for the children.

"Together, we will be able to reach out to many more children in need, to place them in a more natural environment, so that they too will have the best opportunities possible to grow up as healthy, well-balanced individuals, just as many other Singaporeans would," Mr Chan added.

adrianl@sph.com.sg

TIMELY HELP

Just three months after she was born, Mary (not her real name) was fostered out to a family at the request of her relatives, to keep her safe from her birth parents.

Mary's father has schizophrenia and is prone to violent outbursts, while her mother suffers from depression.

Although she has lived with her foster family all her life, Mary, now 29, occasionally visited her birth parents when she was a child.

These visits were arranged by social workers. And during one of those visits, when she was five, she recalls her dad punching her mum in the nose after an argument.

"I don't remember the emotions but I was probably fearful," she said, adding that the "unpleasant" incident has stuck with her till today.

Despite the rocky start to life, Mary believes she has been "blessed". She says she is treated no differently from her foster parents' own children, and while she was raised in a strict environment, she acknowledges that this has helped her in life.

"When I was at kindergarten age, my mother would teach us alphabets, spelling, multiplication table... She made sure I learnt what I needed to."

A degree holder in business administration, Mary works as a private tutor today. "I was in a bad situation, but I got help... I may have been better off than some of the people in normal families."


This article was first published on Nov 30, 2014.
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