Pastoral Perspectives

Foster Care

Many don’t know what fostering is and they may mistake it for adoption. The two are different. Adoption is a process which legally removes the rights and responsibilities of the child’s birth parent(s), and transfers them to adoptive parent(s). The child will lose all rights of inheritance from his birth family, and will take the surname of his adoptive family. Fostering is placing a vulnerable child in another family temporarily — from a few weeks to more than 10 years — until her natural family is ready for her to return home. Legally, the child still belongs to her biological family.

In 2014, the government via the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) push launched the fostering movement in a bid to raise public awareness and encourage more people to step forward as foster parents. If you can remember, at this year’s Good Friday Service at the Expo, someone from MSF via PCS (Presbyterian Community Services) also came to share with us the increasing need for foster parents. As more children enter into the foster care system, inevitably the demand for foster homes will rise.

Children who come under MSF’s radar range from new born to 18 year-olds. They have been seriously abused, neglected or abandoned. Others may have parents who are incarcerated, chronically ill or dead. I understand from our church member Priscilla Ang who is with Prison Fellowship Singapore and oversees the Care Club that she is aware of inmates’ children who are in need of foster care.

If no suitable foster family is found, the child will be placed in a children’s home. The government’s motivation for the fostering scheme has always been tied to the belief that children grow up best in a caring family environment. Studies have shown that children in foster families are less prone to anxiety and depression; they feel more secure and thereby more able to relate with others. On the other hand, children living in children’s homes tend to exhibit higher levels of hyperactivity, delinquency and aggressive behaviour.

At present, MSF’s fostering scheme protects vulnerable children and tries to reunite them with their families until they turn 18. Beyond that, if reintegration fails, the teenagers land up living on their own which is a big challenge because most of them are still studying and there is no way they can support themselves.

Over time, other agencies have sprung up to plug the holes in the system. One such agency is The Bezer Initiative which one of our young adults, Emma Lee, did a summer internship with. ‘Bezer’ in the Bible was one of the cities of refuge (Deut. 4:41-43) for those who had killed their neighbours unintentionally. The person who adopted this name for the initiative saw that he and his team could be instrumental in providing a place of refuge for displaced youths. I conducted an interview with Emma via WhatsApp so as to help you appreciate the work of such an agency.    

Me: Of all the places, why did you choose to do an internship with The Bezer Initiative?

Emma: Hmm… I guess it’s because I was very surprised and convicted by the vision of discipleship behind The Bezer Initiative and the earnestness and genuity of the heart that go along with it. If all of us were to really live as Disciples of Christ in our own specific capacity and situation, to feed the hungry and clothe the poor, how different could the world look?

While we seek to provide a place of refuge for displaced youths, it’s also how we can show Jesus to anyone in need or in crisis, which can honestly be anyone of us if our lives take a bad turn. That realisation for me — that I could be the displaced youth if my life panned out differently — made me want to do more with the current privileges that I have. I’ve been discovering a lot more lately about social issues, be it mental health or migrant workers or sex workers. When I heard about the work of The Bezer Initiative, it aligned with the desire I had on my heart to serve others!

Me: In your time with The Bezer Initiative, what encouraging stories have you come across where displaced youths were rendered help?

Emma: I think the most memorable one was in the case of a boy, D (for anonymity). D came from a family where his father did not know how to manage him because he had ADHD. However, the treatment was not significant enough to warrant a Child Protection Act from MSF. Even then, it’s not the best environment for any person to live in a home with conflict. D lived with two foster families (the second family stepped in when the first went on holiday). This allowed him to experience two alternative forms of parenting apart from what he was used to, and this was very beneficial for him because he could develop greater social skills. On top of that, the time away from his biological family allowed social workers to put the family through therapy, slowly integrating them back together. Now, D has strong relationships with the two couples who invited him into their homes and a much healthier relationship with his father and is now involved in the family business. It astounded me that at sixteen, he was able to say that he understood why his father treated him the way he did. To me, that showed a great degree of emotional maturity and growth!

Me: What are some misconceptions people have so that they are hesitant in coming forward to extend foster care?

Emma: There’s a lot of stigma around displaced youths in Singapore, because a lot of them are seen to be delinquents. (Some are, of course, but they are the products of unhealthy environments and influences). On the contrary, some of them are studious and hardworking, filial and giving. Also, Singapore has seen the shrinking of the family unit over the decades and people putting a high premium on their privacy. Therefore, they prefer to keep strangers at many arms’ lengths.

Thirdly, the stakes seem very high. They fear that they need to be responsible for caring for the youth 24/7 or be totally responsible for everything that happens. However, through Bezer, we integrate the host parents and the youth into a healthy ecosystem supported by a cell group, social workers and couples who have previously fostered to offer holistic support. I guess people think it seems like a big huge mountain to climb, but many of our fostering families have seen that it’s not actually the case! Some parts are difficult yes, but not unbearably and they’ve found it more worthwhile than expected.

Me: Is there something that you would like to say to us, which you have not had the chance to say thus far?

Emma: Hmm… I guess it’d just be a question — what does it mean for all of us to live as Disciples of Christ wherever and whoever we are? I think when we really consider that question we’ll see the difference God can make in our lives and in the lives of others through us! And it’ll be worthwhile.

If there is a stirring in your heart towards extending foster care, feel free to approach Priscilla Ang ([email protected]) and Emma Lee ([email protected]) and they will be most delighted to answer your queries and connect you with the relevant people and agencies for you to practise loving your neighbour as yourself through this particular ministry.

Rev Lee Kien Seng

August 25, 2019