Fostering children is one of the biggest commitments that parents can make. Fostering is a temporary arrangement to meet the emergency care needs of a child, with the ultimate goal of returning them to their natural family. Such a process can be something of an emotional roller-coaster for the foster parents, who can experience happiness and grief in equal measure. Senior pastor and mother-of-four Joy Shuo fosters children through the Singapore Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).
Mummyfique caught up with her to the get the low-down on becoming a foster parent and she candidly shares her experience.
How many kids have you fostered to date and what made you decide to embark on the fostering journey?
We have fostered a total of four children. I was contemplating my life one day and asked myself this question: if I live my life just to impact one life, whose will that be? The answer came in a whisper that I can love a child. I knew I could do that because I have four children of my own.
At that point, I didn’t know where I could find a child in need until I came across a fostering brochure at a church. I took it home and thought about it for a while. A few of my friends were involved in social work and I told them about my idea of being a foster parent. They were very supportive and excited for me.
What does fostering entail? How is it different from adoption?
Foster care is not permanent like adoption. It is a temporary arrangement to meet the emergency care needs of a child, with the ultimate goal of re-integrating them with their natural family.
What were some of the challenges you faced when you first started fostering?
The challenge I faced was having to deal with grief. To deal with the fact that after you pour out your love and attention into this child, he/she is going to return home someday. The reality of the grief will hit you at times when you least expect it. I sometimes find the emotional roller-coaster and mental turmoil hard to manage.
How did your own children take to the idea?
My children were pretty young when we first told them that we were bringing children who have no home back into our ours. They were open to the idea as it meant more playmates. However, as they get older, they understand that every additional child means more intrusion into their personal and physical space. Our children have embraced fostering as a family mission. They are very supportive and have become champions for fostering in their schools and communities.
Was cost a factor? Are there any funds available?
Cost was never a concern as we have more than enough to share. In addition, MSF provides an allowance to foster families for every child placed.
What have you learnt through the process?
Although we cannot completely eradicate a foster child’s hurt, we can play an important part in their healing process. I have discovered the power of showing them genuine care and concern, and providing words of affirmation, as this shows them they are valued as an individual. Also, every time I feel the pain and grief of separation, it shows that I have loved fiercely and cared deeply. I love with no regrets.
How has it impacted on your life and that of your family?
Fostering has had a profound impact. It has taught us that we can live for something bigger than ourselves. Life is not just about pursuing and satisfying what we want but the impact our lives have on others. We realised that our capacity to love can grow and we learn to develop empathy for people who are different from us.
One of the beautiful things about fostering is that it brought our family closer together as we take this as a family mission. Our children learnt to treasure family even more when we had the opportunity to grieve together as we returned one of our foster children to her family. We found strength, comfort and support from each other during this time of loss. This made us stronger as a family and we know that we can weather any storm together, whatever comes our way.
What should potential fosterers know before embarking on this journey?
Potential foster parents should plug themselves into a fostering community for support. They should also attend workshops and info-sharing sessions organised by MSF.
What tips can you offer to potential foster parents?
I have often been asked the question: ‘How will I know if I’m ready to become a foster parent?’ The truth is, no amount of preparation and information you gather can prepare you for this life-changing journey. You are made ready in the journey. The key is to open our hearts and be willing to face our fears. Do not let fear stop you but let it give you courage and strength to launch out to do what you truly believe — that every child deserves to be in a loving home and love can change even the hardest of hearts.
MSF is currently looking for more stay-at-home-mums who can care for infants in need of a home. You can call MSF on 6354 8799 or visit its website at www.msf.gov.sg/fostering for more information. Photography by Shann Lim from Scintilla Studio