Kathryn Ortiz details her very rewarding experience being a substitute parent to a special-needs child.

"We took in a special needs child"

“My husband and I first learnt about fostering during a church conference in June 2011 when a speaker touched on the plight of children who need foster care. It struck a chord with us. To this day, the speaker’s words remain with us — ‘If there is room in your home for a child, why not foster? ’

Indeed, why not provide a safe haven for a needy child during his or her formative years? But fostering was not a spur-of-the-moment decision for us. Discussions were thrown back and forth. We even held extensive consultations with family members and friends. As we do not have children of our own, we wondered if we’d be suitable candidates.

After six months of pondering, we took a leap of faith. We filed an application with the then-Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (now known as Ministry of Social and Family Development) and underwent the assessment process. We were approved as foster parents in March 2012.

Our first foster child was a 9-year-old with special needs who came to us for respite care for two weeks. It was challenging and fun as our home turned into a ‘summer camp’ for her. I learnt to plan activities throughout the day to engage her, and became her ‘camp commander’ and playmate. Having gone through that, I felt like I earned a badge for childcare — if there is such a thing! That experience gave me confidence to take on the full responsibility of being a foster parent. But when I was told that another child with special needs would be coming to us, I felt scared.

Born prematurely with a low birthweight, Danny was diagnosed with Global Development Delay. Such a child may have significant developmental issues in at least two areas, including gross motor, fine motor, language, cognitive and social-emotional skills. Before coming to live with us, Danny had been under the care of a French couple. Initially, we were afraid that we would not be able to cope, but our fears and doubts vanished when he came into our lives. Danny is such an adorable child! Overnight, we became parents to a 14-month-old baby who is, and has always been, a very active child.

Our daily routine consists of therapeutic play, and although Danny struggles with mobility and motor skills, watching him hit his milestones fills us with great pride and love. After undergoing physiotherapy sessions, Danny can now talk, walk and move like any child his age. Nor does he shy away from the limelight because he loves to sing and dance. We’ve watched Danny develop into a sociable boy who gets along with his peers at nursery school.

He always reminds us that we made the right decision three years ago — witnessing Danny grow up to be a happy, healthy child is an experience beyond words. And it’s not just his life that has changed. We are blessed to have him and our home is an obvious reflection of it — there are toys and books strewn everywhere, and our home is often filled with a child’s laughter.

It’s not all sunshine, however. Fostering can be physically and emotionally draining. Looking back to that day when Danny came into our lives, it was an emotional ride for everyone. It was tough for the French family he was leaving behind; difficult for Danny to accept his new environment; and challenging for us to make him secure in his new home — and for him to accept us.

Since foster children are not born into your home, you begin your relationship with them as strangers. Initially, these children find it difficult to trust and to reciprocate love, as they have been shown so little of it, or experienced how easily it is taken away from them. Some may have survived traumatic experiences that we can’t even begin to imagine. That’s why it is so important that they receive our love.

The hardest part about being foster parents is that we will have to part ways — it is, after all, a temporary arrangement. Despite knowing that Danny will leave us one day, we cling to the knowledge that the care we have shown him will make him stronger and more resilient. We hope all will be well with him when that day arrives.

In choosing to foster, we found that our lives, as much as Danny’s, have changed for the better.”

Kathryn and Roberto Ortiz, both 40, live in the western part of Singapore with their foster son Danny, 4.

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Photo: INGimage

Fostering: the facts

Fong Wai Mian, senior assistant director of Fostering Service, Children in Care Service, Rehabilitation and Protection Group at the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), has details about the fostering programme.

How does MSF screen foster- care applicants?

MSF sifts through foster care applicants using criteria that includes the following:

Is a Singapore resident.

At least 25 years of age. Medically fit to care for children.

Household income of at least 2,000 a month.

Preferably married couples.

Preferably experienced in caring for children, with a strong commitment to the well-being of the child.

Willing to ensure a child-safe environment.

Can the foster parents adopt the child if his biological parents can’t care for him?

Successful reintegration with the biological family is important for the foster child. But if reintegration is not possible, then alternative care arrangements will have to be made, either via adoption by the child’s foster parents or another adoptive family. However, adoption is a complex process and is subject to the facts of each specific case.

What if the foster child requires medical intervention under the fostering scheme?

MSF provides each foster child with a medical exemption card, so that he need not pay for a wide range of medical fees at government agencies such as polyclinics and government hospitals.

Call 6354-8799, e-mail fostering@ msf.gov.sg, or visit http://app.msf.gov.sg/fostering for more info.

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