Friday 31 October 2014

More vulnerable children, youth to be placed with foster families

By Laura Elizabeth Philomin, TODAY, 30 Oct 2014

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) is seeking to move more vulnerable children and youths living in institutional homes into the care of foster families, with the aim of doubling the number of foster parents over the next few years.

To that end, it announced today (Oct 29) an S$8 million three-year pilot that would appoint voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) to set up fostering agencies. From next year, the appointed agencies will help to recruit more foster parents, and provide better support services for them in the form of counselling and training, for example.

Currently, the MSF is the only formal provider of foster care. There are over 235 foster parents in its existing Fostering Scheme, and it intends to increase the number 500. The aim is for more of the 700 to 800 children in the 23 children’s homes to join the existing 325 children placed with foster families.

Social and Family Development Minister Chan Chun Sing noted that despite the best efforts, the institutional environment in children’s homes is “artificial at best”. “If we believe that a homely environment is best for our children, then it’s incumbent upon us to do what we can to see how we can generate this more homely environment for low-risk children in need,” he said at the Rehabilitation and Protection Care conference at Mandarin Orchard hotel.

Mr Chan noted that many Singaporeans are apprehensive about taking on the responsibility of fostering. “Our challenge is to learn from others to see how we can better support foster families and encourage more to come onboard,” he said.

While the Fostering Scheme caters mainly to children below six, the MSF hopes the expanded pool of foster parents will give older children more chances of being placed with foster families.

Under the pilot programme, those applying to be foster parents will have to undergo a stringent screening and assessment process by the fostering agencies, after which the MSF will give the final approval.

Applicants must also fulfill several criteria, such as being a Singapore resident, preferably married, with a minimum household income of S$2,000, and have experience caring for children.

They will also have to show that their household members have the ability to meet the children’s needs, and assessments on their eligibility include home visits and interviews.

The Fostering Scheme provides a monthly allowance to cover basic needs of the children, such as food, clothes, transport and school fees.

While the scheme caters mainly to children aged six and below, the MSF hopes the expanded pool of foster parents will give older children and youths more chances of being placed with foster families.

Sister Marilyn Lim, chairman of Canossaville Children’s Home, said fostering older children, especially teenagers, can be challenging as they “carry along with them a lot of baggage ... a lot of pain”. These children need to be given the opportunity “to work out their issues first”, said Sister Marilyn, whose home is keen to join the MSF pilot.

Ms Irene Loi, executive director of Boys’ Town — one of the VWOs invited to become foster agencies — said it would be a challenge to maintain a pool of foster parents, since their own family circumstances tend to change. “A family may sign up now but ... they drop out of the scheme and we have recruit new ones to replace,” she said.

Some foster parents told TODAY that they welcomed more avenues of support available in the pilot programme.

Retiree Yap Nyat Yong, 69, said parenting skills workshops have helped her raise her two foster children for over 10 years. Looking forward to more training courses that will be offered by the fostering agencies, Madam Yap said the support is still needed even as the foster children grow older.

Madam Sarimah Amat, who has three children of her own and two foster children, said fostering is “quite an effort”, and counselling courses to help her deal with her own emotions would be useful.

Referring to her own previous experience with a special needs foster child, the 47-year-old housewife said: “You need certain skills and training to handle special children. I think I would have been more confident if I had the necessary skills, then I would know how to handle the child better.”

Government to provide more support for foster families
By Alice Chia, Channel NewsAsia, 29 Nov 2014

The government will provide more support for foster families, so that children in need can receive care in a home environment.

These may be children who were abandoned or ill-treated by their parents. Foster parents will get more targeted training customised for the needs of the children - for example, managing trauma. Also in the works is more training for foster parents of special needs children.

Currently, there are 336 foster children registered under the Fostering Scheme administered by the Ministry of Social and Family Development. About 10 per cent of them are children with special needs.

Social and Family Development Minister Chan Chun Sing said: "We are going to strengthen the training and counselling help to be made available to all our foster families. We are going to form support groups amongst our foster families so that we can share experiences, good practices and comfort each other when in need."

He added: "We will also learn from the experiences of other countries where we set up phone lines and hotlines to allow our foster families to access help and support if there is a crisis or event that requires more resources to be put in place."

Mr Chan also appealed for more to step forward as foster parents. Currently, there are 275 parents registered under the scheme, and the Ministry hopes to raise the number to 500. With more foster parents, the Ministry hopes the service can be extended to older children, especially those in primary schools. Currently, the majority of the children are of pre-school age at entry level.

Madam Audrey Lourdes and Mr Rajev have been foster parents since 2004. Their son and only child, Jarryll was just six years old when he asked for a little brother or sister with whom he could share his toys with. His request led Madam Audrey to sign up for the fostering scheme.)

Said Madam Lourdes: "Our boy who was six years old then, told us that there were many other kids out there who need parents like us to foster them, and that is why we continued doing what we did. And we are loving every minute of it.

She added: "Fostering is not only about us foster parents, but what we instil in our own children."

Facts and figures about the Fostering Scheme:
- The scheme was started in 1956
- More than 5,000 children have benefited from the scheme
- 336 children currently registered
- About 10 per cent of the children have special needs

Criteria to be foster parents:
- Must be residents of Singapore;
- Preferably married;
- At least 25 years old; and
- Must be medically fit to care for children.

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