Fostering To Make A Difference

November 12, 2018

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Written by Sarah Giam
Edited by Asst Prof Andrew Duffy and Lee Rou Urn

Desmond and his wife Wendy may not have children, but the couple fostered Tom (not his real name), an eight-year-old boy, last year. After just five months under their care, he returned to stay with his birth mother for an extended period of time – as his biological family’s home environment had stabilised enough for him to do so.

Desmond, a 43-year-old professor in a local Bible college, spoke about their decision to foster, “We’ve been exploring adoption for some time, and our friends suggested that we consider fostering in the interim.”

Tom’s Transformation

When Tom first arrived, he needed to be around Wendy or Desmond all the time. He was scared of many things, including the dark, the swimming pool, and being alone.

However, after just two months, he learnt to play on his own and no longer feared the dark. He also started to swim, thanks to the swimming lessons the couple sent him for.

Tom also used to speak loudly and swear, but amazingly stopped within a week.

When asked what they did to help Tom, the couple said that they tried to create stability and security for him. Desmond said: “We set routines in place – for example, he wakes up and eats breakfast at a certain time. We created a stable environment as far as possible, so that he knows exactly what’s happening next.”

“Also, the moment he raises his voice, I turn away from him. Very quickly, he learnt to talk at a normal volume to get my attention. We were surprised,” added Wendy, 44, a homemaker.

Desmond and Wendy worked to instill good values in Tom. They took him to museums and signed him up for art lessons. They had conversations with him about the importance of being honest and living a morally upright life. “If he lied, it just took one look from us, and he knew we’ve seen through it. He thinks we’re all-knowing,” said Desmond with a chuckle.

Under their guidance, they also witnessed Tom becoming more hardworking. “We told him that he has to study so that he can work, travel, and buy the food he likes in future. He really loves eating,” said Wendy.

“Tom has a healthy sense of respect for us – I can reason with him, there’s no need for scolding. Moulding his character was a moment-by-moment thing; there was no fixed formula,” said Desmond.

Beliefs about Fostering

From day one, the couple took steps to reintegrate Tom to his natural family.

“We were aware that the foster child is never ours,” said Desmond.

He added: “Tom used to get jealous whenever I talked to my niece. I would then gently remind him that although we love him unconditionally, he’s a guest but my niece’s my relative.”

“It may seem cruel, but it’s necessary – especially when the child oversteps boundaries. We love him, but there is a distance we need to respect,” added Wendy.

Consideration for Tom’s Natural Family

Initially, Tom was not keen to visit his natural family, but eventually started to look forward to the weekly visits under the couple’s care.

“When Tom expressed anger at his parents’ supposed wrongdoings, we helped him understand that people make wrong choices at times, using the times he misbehaved as examples. We worked on helping him forgive his parents,” said Desmond.

The couple also knew that Tom exhibited certain behaviours which could be undesirable to his family. They got him to visualise his parents who would be tired after a long day of work, and therefore not take well to his fussing.

In addition, they got Tom to call them Uncle Desmond and Aunty Wendy.

“Some foster children call their foster parents ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’, but we think that might lead to a confusion of identity for an eight-year-old,” said Desmond.

Wendy also opined: “Who would like to hear their own children call someone else ‘Mummy’ or ‘Daddy’?’”

Finally, the couple also refrained from giving Tom a lifestyle which his natural parents might not be able to sustain.

“We don’t throw big birthday parties or over-indulge him, although he still gets little gifts,” said Wendy.

Advice for Foster Parents

The couple advises prospective foster parents to learn as much as possible about their foster child’s background.

“You’ll instinctively get angry when the child behaves in a certain manner. However, if you’re aware of how he came to develop such behaviours, you can get past the emotions and think ‘Okay, correction time,’ more quickly,” said Wendy.

Desmond added: “Also, go for all of MSF’s induction programmes. They will teach you how to better manage your foster child.”

Finally, the couple advises foster parents to look ahead and plan for the child’s departure, especially if they know that he/she is not a long-term placement.

“Although you’ll inevitably want to protect and feel a lot for the child, you’re never the foster child’s saviour, if I may say so. We can only do our best,” said Desmond.

The Road From Here

Desmond and Wendy are taking a break for now, after Tom’s return to his natural family. However, they said that they would consider fostering teenagers in future.

“Maybe even 16, 17-year-olds? These are the people most families would not want to take,” said Desmond.

“We foster because we have received unmerited grace and love, which we would like to extend to others. If you have love and resources, why not foster? Just do it with your eyes open,” said Wendy.

This article was adapted from ComingHomeSG.

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