“Every Child Deserves To Be Loved”: Fostering A Child With Mild Autism

Raising a foster child is indeed a selfless act. Discover the inner workings of the Ministry of Social and Family Development’s (MSF) Fostering Scheme, and how two public officers stepped up as foster parents. Some names have been changed.
Not every child is fortunate enough to receive a loving home.

Every child deserves a loving home. But for some, this does not come naturally.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development’s (MSF) Fostering Scheme provides children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned by their natural parents with safe homes and a nurturing family environment.

Family-based care is important as children are better able to create personal bonds with a consistent caregiver in their foster families. Such bonds are crucial for the development of the child’s social, emotional and mental wellbeing, says Ms Tiffany Goh, a Senior Foster Care Officer (FCO) at MSF’s Children In Care Service.

Unlike adoption, foster care is a temporary arrangement to meet the care needs of a child, with an end goal of reuniting them with their biological family.

With the best interests of foster children in mind, MSF maintains a set of eligibility criteria for the selection of foster parents. This includes being married, having a household income of at least S$2,000 a month, experience with caring for children and a willingness to work with MSF for the child’s best interests.

Applicants go through a series of assessments, which include interviews and home visits by an assessor, as well as medical examinations.

Potential foster parents undergo a strict and thorough assessment for their eligibility to foster children.
The number of foster families has doubled from 243 in 2013 to 530 in 2019, with more children finding stable homes under the care of foster parents – a result of MSF’s efforts to transform the out-of-home care sector to place a higher proportion of children in foster care.

Facilitating Foster Care

MSF’s FCOs are trained in social work or related fields, and are keenly aware of the impact of trauma on children. In supporting the placement of children in foster homes, they assess what is in the children’s best interest, taking into account a variety of factors including:

  • The profile of the foster families,
  • The foster parents’ capabilities to meet the needs of the child (including physical, psycho-social and spiritual needs), and
  • Proximity of the child’s school to the foster parents’ home

New foster parents are required to go through training conducted by the Social Service Institute, and FCOs also provide support to foster parents through frequent phone calls and home visits.

According to Tiffany, difficult conversations with foster parents and children can stir up one’s emotions, and be emotionally overwhelming for FCOs too. In such situations, resilience and empathy are key.

“Working with people is at the heart of what we do, so dealing with our emotions is vital in managing ourselves in this line of work,” she said. FCOs have regular one-on-one meetings with their supervisors to reflect on being more effective and resilient social work practitioners.

A strong support system at work includes her supervisor and colleagues providing a listening ear “and tissues”, said Tiffany. She also practises good self-care by setting aside time for social activities and regular exercise.

“We often remind our foster parents that they cannot fill their child’s emotional jar if their own jar is empty – advice that we, too, have to practise to stay energised in our work.”

Going Digital in Foster Care

With technological advancements in communication platforms, including video calls and messaging apps, FCOs can now check-in with foster families more regularly and stay connected with partners such as teachers and school counsellors.

FCOs also use online resources and materials to creatively engage foster children, for example, using Google Jamboard to draw and share concepts.

Taking the First Step into Foster Parenthood

Mr Syed Shahril Syed Yusoff, 47, and Ms Siti Norasidah Ismail, 41, first came to know about fostering from one of their colleagues, whose parents were foster parents. Though it piqued their interest, the topic remained at the back of their minds for some time.

They attended a Foster Care roadshow six months later. After much deliberation, they decided to send in their application to be foster parents. But the couple’s decision was not without concerns.

“Shahril was hesitant about our ability to cope with the caregiving and whether the child would be able to adapt to the new environment,” said Siti.

“But once we interacted with our colleague’s parents’ foster child, we realised that with children, all you have to do is help them feel comfortable.” 

Both Siti and Shahril were required to attend training sessions to better understand the role and responsibilities of foster parenting.
Foster parents Mr Syed Shahril Syed Yusoff and Ms Siti Norasidah Ismail welcomed foster child Matin after doing several interviews and training sessions.

Love at First Sight

After several interviews and a medical check-up, Siti and Shahril were approved as foster parents. They also attended training sessions for newly-approved foster parents. Then came a call from MSF, and the couple agreed to welcome 18-month-old Matin (not his real name) into their lives.

The unexpected call was followed by frantic last-minute shopping for clothing, shoes and diapers before the couple rushed to greet their new foster child at the hospital.

“It was love at first sight. He was so excited and active, running around the ward,” the foster parents recalled.

Like all new parents, however, Siti and Shahril’s initial journey through parenthood was fraught with challenges.

The couple, who are both full-time public officers, had to find a suitable childcare centre for Matin. They also had to arrange their schedules so that they could take turns to send him there and pick him up at the end of the day.

Matin adapted easily to his new environment, but began to develop frequent high fevers, sending Siti and Shahril on another quest to find an appropriate paediatrician.

“As he grew older, we realised that he failed to make eye contact whenever we spoke to him and noticed that he had difficulties expressing himself, which led to frequent tantrums,” the couple shared.

A subsequent psychological test confirmed that Matin had mild autism.

Following Matin’s diagnosis, Siti and Shahril dived into doing research. With the support of their assigned FCO, the couple attended workshops and signed Matin up for speech therapy sessions conducted by KK Hospital.

When asked how they prepared for the challenges of being foster parents, the couple chalked it up to their positive mindsets and eager-to-learn attitudes.

“We wanted to learn as much as we could, so that we could provide better care for Matin,” Siti said. “Along the way, we learnt to support each other in this journey.”

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Foster or Not, We’re a Family

As with many foster parents, Siti and Shahril’s greatest satisfaction comes from seeing their child flourish over the years.

“Now, he talks a lot and can express himself well,” said Siti of his speech improvement. “We also enjoy family time together. Matin is very active, so we usually bring him to parks where he likes to run around.”

When it is time for Matin to return to his natural parents, Siti and Shahril know that there will be feelings of sadness after having built a bond and attachment with him.

“But we will also remind ourselves that we should be happy for him when he is able to return to his own family… We will miss him and continue to pray for his well-being.”

The couple looks forward to fostering more children in time to come.

Their advice to others considering fostering: “Every child deserves to be loved. If you feel that you have the love to shower upon these children, become a foster parent.”

Applicants who are interested to become foster parents can apply online at the MSF Fostering website or by email.

    Feb 10, 2021
    Chee An Lyn
    Siti Maziah Masramli
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