Foster Care: How Do I Become a Foster Parent in Singapore?
What is Foster Care?
Foster care is a temporary care arrangement between a foster parent and a foster child under the age of 18. It aims to provide the child a stable family life, by having the child move into the foster parents’ home.
The goal of foster care is to eventually reunite the child with his/her natural parents. To do so, foster parents are expected to encourage and facilitate meetings between the child and his/her natural parents, during the period of foster care.
Why Might Children be Placed Under Foster Care?
Children may be under foster care for the following reasons:
- They have been abused, neglected or abandoned.
- Their parents are unable to care for them due to:
- Physical or mental illness; or
- Death of one or both parents.
What is the Difference Between Foster Care and Adoption?
Foster care is temporary and foster parents do not become the legal parents of their foster child. Instead, the child’s natural parents remain his/her legal parents. Foster parents therefore, do not have legal parental rights over the child either.
On the other hand, adoption is a legal process where an adoptive parent assumes the rights of the child’s natural parents. The adoptive parents become the legal parents of the child.
Adoption is the only process that permanently severs the relationship between the natural parents and their child and, simultaneously replaces it with a relationship between the adoptive parents and the child.
What is the Difference Between Foster Care and Legal Guardianship?
A legal guardian, who may be a natural parent or a non-parent, is a person entrusted by a court order to have custody over the child. Meaning, the legal guardian would have the power to make decisions on behalf of the child.
On the other hand, foster parents do not have custody over their foster child. Foster parents only assume the responsibilities in caring for the child (see below), as they would for their own children.
Hence, contrary to legal guardians, foster parents do not have the legal right to make decisions on behalf of the child.
What is the Eligibility Criteria to Become a Foster Parent in Singapore?
There are several guidelines to becoming a foster parent:
- You must be a Singapore resident.
- You must be at least 25 years old and married.
- You must be medically fit to care for children.
- You must have a minimum monthly household income of S$2,000 and a Per Capita Income (PCI) of at least S$700.
- You should have attained secondary school education.
- You should have experience caring for and living with children and/or exhibit strong parenting skills.
- You should be willing to provide and ensure a child-safe home environment for the foster child.
- You must be willing to work with the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and other professionals for the child’s best interest.
Most importantly, you should have a love for children and be keen to assist them in their time of need.
Can LGBT couples apply to be foster parents?
Unfortunately, homosexual couples cannot apply to be foster parents.
This is because, MSF requires foster parents to be legally married (as mentioned above), but same-sex marriages are currently not legally recognised in Singapore.
If you have undergone a sex re-assignment procedure, your new gender reflected on your identity card must be the opposite gender of your partner at the time of solemnisation.
For example, if the gender on your updated identity card states “female”, the gender on your partner’s identity card must state “male”. Only then will your marriage be deemed valid and, you and your spouse can apply to be foster parents.
Becoming a Foster Parent
The application process
1) Submit your application
There are three ways to submit your application form:
Publicity and Recruitment Team
The MSF Fostering Service
Children In Care Branch
512 Thomson Road #11-00
The following supporting documents must be submitted together with your application form:
- Copy of NRIC/Employment Pass/Dependant’s Pass of male and female applicants.
- Copy of Birth Certificate/NRIC/Dependant’s Pass of immediate and household family members (including any tenants and domestic helpers).
- Copy of latest payslips of income earners. Employment Letter/Income Tax Return Form may be provided if payslip is unavailable.
- Marriage Certificate.
There will be no chargeable application fees.
2) Assessment by MSF or an MSF-appointed agency
Within 3 days of receiving your application, you will receive a short phone call by the MSF Fostering Scheme division to confirm that you have met all the criteria. After the phone call, your application will be sent for processing.
If you meet the criteria, an interview will be conducted by MSF or an MSF-appointed agency to get to know you better.
They will get in touch with you to arrange a date to conduct face-to-face interviews with you and your household members. This is to ensure that everyone is open to the arrival of the foster child. Interviews with your household members will usually be held at your house.
Assessors will also pay a visit to your home to check for home safety features, such as the installation of window grilles. This is to ensure that your home is safe for the child.
If you live in a high-rise apartment and your foster child is below the age of 12, window grilles are compulsory. If you are unable to install window grilles, MSF will only be able to place youths above the age of 12 under your care.
You will also have to undergo a basic medical screening to ensure that you are physically fit to care for the foster child.
After MSF has received your application and physical assessment report, your application will be presented to a panel at MSF for discussion and approval.
MSF or an MSF-appointed agency will then contact you to inform you of the outcome. On average, you will know the results within 2-3 months of your application. You will officially become a foster parent when your application gets approved.
MSF will then do their best to match you with a suitable foster child and inform you as soon as that happens.
Can I choose my foster child?
You will not be able to choose a specific one, but you may indicate the preferred age and gender of your foster child in the application form.
If you do not indicate any preferences, the assessors will pair you with a foster child that you may be most suited to care for based on their assessment of your home, experience and comfort level.
What Happens If My Application to Become a Foster Parent is Successful?
Foster child moves in with you
Upon approval of your application as a foster parent, you will be given an advance notice before your child moves in with you. However, in cases of emergency, your foster child may need to move into your home immediately.
Attend weekend training sessions
Before being placed with a foster child, you will have to attend 5 training and induction sessions that will occur over 5 consecutive Saturday mornings. The purpose of these sessions is to equip you with the skills that will be relevant and required of you as a foster parent.
The dates of training will be shared with you during the assessment process.
The training curriculum for foster parents are as follows:
- Foster Care in Context
- Bonding and Attachment
- Grief and Loss
- Abuse and Trauma
- Identity and Birth Family Contact (Access)
- Managing Challenging Situations
- Managing Closure
Maintain contact with a Foster Care Officer (FCO)
A Foster Care Officer (FCO) will be attached to every foster parent to provide guidance and support. Your foster child and you will have to maintain contact with the FCO through regular phone calls. The FCO may also make home visits.
What are My Duties and Responsibilities as a Foster Parent?
The main responsibility of you as a foster parent is to provide a secure, loving and nurturing home environment that facilitates the restoration, healing and development of your foster child.
This will help the children, whom are vulnerable and in need of care, to heal and grow.
To do so, there are a couple of commitments expected of you:
- Facilitate the foster child’s access to his/her natural family by arranging for them to meet.
- Bring the child for any medical appointments.
- Spend quality time with them.
- Provide love, shelter, food, education, security and an opportunity for your foster child to play and interact with other children.
Can I take my foster child on overseas trips?
If you wish to bring your foster child overseas, travel consent has to be obtained from the child’s natural parents.
If consent is not granted, and/or you are unable to care for your foster child during the period of travel, you may request for respite care (i.e short-term care) from another MSF-registered family or MSF-approved respite carer during this period.
You can work with your foster care officer to make the necessary arrangements.
What happens if my foster child is exhibiting emotional/behavioural problems?
Training on dealing with children with trauma, attachment issues, emotional and behavioural needs will be provided during the 5-week training program (as mentioned above). In such scenarios, being patient and caring towards the child is very important.
There are also self-administered support groups where foster parents can share their experiences and best practices with one another. You may be able to pick up techniques to deal with such problems from them. These support groups also offer as a source of emotional support and encouragement for you.
In addition, if the child requires professional help, the Child Protection Officer (CPO) from the Child Protective Service (CPS) division of the MSF can refer him/her to a psychologist or counsellor at MSF or at a social service agency.
The CPO serves as to provide statutory intervention and support services to meet the needs of the child.
In case of an emergency, you can obtain immediate support via MSF’s emergency hotline at 63548799 or 96458231. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
What are Some Do’s and Don’ts I Should Take Note of When Caring for My Foster Child?
Qualities that make good parenting, such as patience, understanding, perseverance and firmness, is expected of you as it will help to create a good foster care relationship between you and the child.
The “do’s” and “don’ts” will be shared with you when you undergo the training programme.
The following are a few important ones you may wish to keep in mind:
Don’t use physical punishment
Some of the children may be emotionally and psychologically vulnerable, with some having sustained abuse from their natural families.
Hence, at all times, physical punishment towards foster children is not condoned.
Do use positive parenting techniques
Positive parenting techniques should be used to encourage good behaviour in the child. Examples of these techniques include setting boundaries, explaining consequences and time-out sessions.
Do be sensitive to your foster child’s emotions and respond positively
Foster children hurt by abuse or neglect may require special attention when coping with their feelings. Being patient, caring and attentive can help the child cope and in time, heal and overcome his/her difficulties.
If possible, work with your FCO to resolve any issues presented by the foster child that you are having trouble coping with.
Do provide adequate living arrangements
Your foster child should have adequate space and privacy for keeping their belongings.
You will also have to provide your foster child with proper sleeping arrangements. For example, your foster child should not be sharing rooms with children of the opposite gender.
In addition, as your foster children grows older, he/she should not sleep in the same room as you and your spouse.
What happens if these do’s and don’ts are not complied with?
If strict policies such as that of no physical punishment are not complied with, the FCO attached to you will intervene and step in whenever necessary.
If the matter is serious, where you have found to be physically abusing the child, officers can make the decision to remove the child from the foster parents’ care, or foster parents can be sent for compulsory retraining.
Support for Foster Parents
You may receive financial assistance from MSF in the cost of caring for the foster child.
- Fostering Allowance: For every foster child under your care, MSF provides you with a monthly allowance of S$936 or S$1,114 (for a child with special needs) to cover the child’s daily expenses such as food, clothing, education, tuition and transport expenses.
- Childcare and Medical Subsidies: A maximum of S$200 will be charged to you if you wish to place your foster child in a student, child or infant care centre. The foster child is entitled to have all his medical expenses at polyclinics and government hospitals covered when he/she uses his/her Medical Fee Exemption Card (MFEC).
Are foster parents entitled to childcare leave?
Foster parents are not entitled to childcare leave. This is because parents are entitled to childcare leave only in respect of their birth children, adopted children or step-children.
Ending the Foster Care Arrangement
For how long can I be the child’s foster parent?
Your duration as a foster parent varies. This is because of the nature of fostering, which is to one day reintegrate the child with his/her natural family.
When the FCOs have assessed the stability of the child’s natural family’s situation and deem it suitable for the child to return to and develop in, you will have to be committed and prepared to facilitate reintegration for the child to return home.
What happens when I have to let go of my foster child?
The CPO and you will have to prepare the child and help him/her understand the move back to his/her parents.
The child will then return home under the close supervision of the CPS. To ensure the safety of the child, the CPS will continually make unannounced visits to check on the level of care provided by the natural parents.
Can I remain in contact with my foster child?
As long as the natural family is agreeable to it, you will be able to remain in contact with your foster child. The method of contact varies from case to case.
Face-to-face meet-ups or phone calls are possible, depending on the arrangement between the foster parents and natural parents.
Can I adopt my foster child?
Generally, you are not allowed to adopt your foster child. However, there have been instances where foster parents may adopt the child.
For example, where the foster child is abused after being returned to his/her natural parents, or the child’s parents cannot be found, foster parents may be able to adopt their foster child if this is in the child’s best interests.
The love of a family is life’s greatest blessing. These young children have been through unpleasant experiences and have not had the privilege of experiencing the simple bliss of a stable and loving family.
Fostering is a respectable deed that comes forth from a big and gracious heart. By being a foster parent for these children, you are providing them with a loving home.