During the season when God places foster children with us, we can also deposit into them His love and healing.
If every church in Singapore fosters just one child, we can provide foster homes for most of the vulnerable children who can benefit from a family environment.
Yet, according to the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), only a quarter of 1,200 vulnerable children, separated from their birth parents who are unable to take care of them, are in foster care. The rest are residing in children’s homes, where they will assuredly receive the care they need, but not, and never, the security and stability of a home environment, and the nurturing love of foster parents.
Of the foster parents who have opened hearts and homes to bring into their fold a hurting or vulnerable child, just 40 per cent of this pool (excluding Muslim families with whom children of Muslim parents are placed due to religious practices and dietary considerations) are Christians or Catholics.
Providing a home environment for these hurting children and building up a relationship with them in their most impressionable years – and at a time when they are at their most vulnerable, in need of love, care and compassion – can translate into transforming these lives for Christ.
However, there do not seem to be enough Christian foster carers coming forward, when this is one way, as disciples of Christ, to put His teaching into action: “to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27).
Is it because it’s not convenient? Is it because we’re fearful of becoming too attached to them? Is it because we are just too busy with our lives?
Do we say “Let others take the risk to love and care for them”, or should we say to the Lord: “Yes, help me to take this step in faith, that You will provide and equip”?
Children and young persons are admitted to either foster care or one of Singapore’s 23 Voluntary Children’s Homes because they come from dysfunctional families and are in need of shelter; are abused or neglected; are in need of care and protection; or are beyond parental control or in conflict with the law.
Ms Vivienne Ng is a passionate advocate of opening one’s home and heart to provide foster care to a child at risk.
A member of Wesley Methodist Church and Chief Psychologist at the MSF, Vivienne, who spoke in her personal capacity, shared: “The kids and teens I work with frequently ask me: ‘If my own parents do not care about me, then how can I possibly be of any worth?’ ”
Often these children, many of them as young as two or three, blame themselves for the trauma they suffer. They are
unable to understand that they are not at fault, even when they are beaten and caned. They also often want to return home as it’s the only place they have ever known.
The Children and Young Persons Act empowers the MSF to protect these children through finding alternative care arrangements by family members or close friends.
If this is not possible, then the next option is to place the child in foster care as a temporary measure which can last from a few weeks to several years. Placing the child into an institution like a children’s home is often the last option.
Vivienne noted: “A child under 10, especially, should be living with a family, instead of in an institutional home. All they need is someone to care for and guide them. Some children have been looked after by multiple caregivers before MSF steps in, and when young children are not shown positive and consistent care, they will not be able to trust people and be secure enough to explore the world.
“When they don’t explore, they don’t learn and they can’t build up social skills. It is thus difficult for the child to develop fully in so many ways. Living with a stable foster family could help them to do that.”
Vivienne practises what she preaches – both she and her husband participate in the Fostering Scheme. Five-year-old Emma (not her real name), who had been physically abused and had gone through multiple carers, came to live with them in early 2013. There have been difficult moments, sad moments, but many more happy ones too.
Vivienne adds: “As a clinical psychologist for the past 24 years, I have witnessed how debilitating the outcome can be when a child has not bonded with a significant adult during childhood. God created us as relational beings, and attachment is the basic building block of all child development.
“Without attachment to at least one committed and loving caregiver in their growing years, children grow up with a deep mistrust of people, and are not able to regulate their emotions, which then snowballs to behavioural problems, cognitive difficulties which affect their studies, a lack of self-esteem, and difficulty in socialising and making friends.
“By fostering, we minister to the children in our care so they know that someone loves them and is looking out for them. At the same time, we’re also helping the birth families of these children who may desire to have their children back with them, but are unable to do so for the time being. Many are still struggling with mental illness, family conflict, financial problems etc. During the season when God places foster children with us, we can also deposit into them His love and healing.”
Vivienne’s foster child, Emma, is now a chatty, sociable and confident little girl – completely different from the fearful, hyper-vigilant person that she was before, with eating problems and crying spells.
Let us extend grace and compassion to these hurting, vulnerable children who are living right in our very midst. Even if it’s one child at a time, we can make a difference.
Without attachment to at least one committed and loving caregiver in their growing years, children grow up with a deep mistrust of people.
PREACH * from the pulpit about fostering. It’s a subject close to God’s heart.
PRAY * for children in crisis, parents in crisis and our hearts to be broken by the things that break God’s heart. Be a champion for fostering in your church.
FIND OUT MORE * about caring for children in crisis – through fostering, befriending, or supporting a family who is fostering. Visit www.msf.gov.sg/ fostering
BE INSPIRED * Write to viviennemok@yahoo. com or firstname.lastname@example.org
A BIBLICAL CALL * Krish Kandian of the UK-based Home for Good campaign gives the Church a moving call to action – www.homeforgood.org.uk
All photos used in this article are stock images
Christina Stanley is Editor of the Methodist Message and has been a member of Wesley Methodist Church since 1987.