SINGAPORE: It was with some trepidation that Madam Noor Hayatee Nordin, agreed to care for a 12 year-old foster child in 2016.
“I had some misconceptions about older children, that they would be sulky and rebellious,” she recalled. “I also thought he would try to ‘test the water’ a lot.”
But she was pleasantly surprised when Adrian* first appeared on her doorstep. “When he arrived, I saw him at the gate, and he was waving at me,” she said. “I thought he was going to be unfriendly, but he proved me wrong.”
“I immediately invited him in and I knew he was going to be happy here.”
Decorated in bright, cheery shades of pink and green, her flat in Punggol is currently home to two foster children – seven-year-old Yasir* and 11-month-old Arif*. Yasir, her first foster child, joined her family when he was five, while Arif, a wide-eyed, smiling baby, turned up in January this year. Adrian has since left her care after being with her six months.
Yasir enjoys drawing, and some of the work he and Mdm Hayatee have done together decorate the walls of his room. Some of the pieces bear the word ‘Ibu’: which is what Yasir and the rest of the foster children call Mdm Hayatee. Mother.
MORE FOSTER PARENTS NEEDED FOR OLDER CHILDREN; THOSE WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
Mdm Hayatee’s earlier misconceptions about older children is a possible reason why most foster parents indicate a preference for younger children – defined as below the age of seven.
In this year’s Committee of Supply Debate, Senior Parliamentary Secretary Faishal Ibrahim noted that more children were being placed on the fostering scheme. There were 420 foster families in 2016, which is a 73 per cent increase from the 243 families in 2013.
But he also stressed the need for foster parents for older children or those with special needs.
“Older children generally have a bit more awareness and the maturity to understand things around them,” explained Amina Maisara, a senior foster care officer with the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF). “They would have gone through more and seen more of their family environment. And on top of that, children over 12 would also have typical teenage issues which could be a bit of a challenge.
"That’s why foster parents are usually a bit more hesitant to come on board to care for these children.”
Some of the reasons foster children come into care is if they have been abused, neglected or abandoned. Their parents could also have passed away, are in jail, or are otherwise unable to care for them.
Of the 430 foster children on MSF’s fostering scheme, about half of them are aged seven years or older. MSF was unable to share figures on the number of foster children with special needs, but they generally have medical issues or have been diagnosed with conditions like autism.
“Foster parents for children with special needs would have a higher commitment,” said Ms Amina. “It can be more onerous, because they have to attend to the child...not just basic care, but medical needs as well.”
To this end, MSF provides a higher monthly allowance of S$1,114 for each foster child with special needs that a foster parent cares for, compared to S$936 for a child without special needs. The allowance is intended to cover the daily expenses of the child, like food and tuition. All foster children also have a medical fee exemption card to cover all their medical expenses at polyclinics and government hospitals.
NOT LOOKING BACK
When Mdm Hayatee first signed up to become a foster parent, she had indicated a preference for children up to the age of four.
She explained that she had no children of her own, but had been a babysitter to a two-year-old toddler before. “I felt more comfortable taking care of younger children,” she said. “But when MSF gave me a call and asked me to accept a five-year-old, I decided to just give it a shot.”
And she has not looked back since.
“I won’t deny that there are challenges – whether with a five-year-old or with a 12-year-old, but it all depends on how you handle them,” she said, adding that the satisfaction of loving and caring for these children far outweighs the challenges.
“When they misbehave and I need to punish them, I know they will not hate me for it or resent me,” she said. “They understand and accept my gesture, and sometimes they will come up to me, say they’re sorry and hug me.
“Once, they said I was the best Ibu in the world, and they have never felt like this before,” she added. “I was so touched I cried, and they hugged me. We all ended up crying together.”
And older foster children can indeed be more aware of the love and care of their foster parents, according to 19-year-old Amanda*, who has been in a foster family since she was seven.
“I guess if I hadn’t been in a foster family, I would have been in a children’s home, and I don’t think the care they would have given me would’ve been the same as what my foster mother gave me. It’s exactly what my mother and father could have given me,” she said.
She admitted that there were points in time where she rebelled and lied to her foster mother, resulting in “very bad scoldings”.
But she said she knew her foster mother was doing it out of love.
“I think a lot of people may think that it’s when a child is young that you get the chance to mould them, but it was different for me,” she added. “The child you’re taking care of can feel the love, care and concern you’re giving them, and even if they’re rebellious, they can see that you’re trying to change them into a better person, and they will feel it and change.”
Moving forward, Mdm Hayatee hopes to care for a child with special needs next.
“When I see stories about children waiting for foster parents to take them home, I feel that I just want to take them all,” she said.
“I know I can’t – but I hope that other foster parents out there will be able to take them in, because they need you and they need us.”
*The names of the foster children in this story have been changed for privacy reasons.