Fazly, 15, curses out loud. Aqib, 13, screams for no reason. Eli, 10, wanders around in a mall or supermarket.
They have learning or behavioural problems and need special care – but to foster mum Norli Fargi, 51, they are perfect just the way they are.
“They are good children but there are times I wonder where they come from and feel that they need to change,” she says, referring to her foster children’s family background.
“If you give them love, if you care for them, if you talk to them nicely, surely they will change.”
Norli fosters Fazly, Aqib, Eli and a girl, Siti, 16 (their names have been changed and we are not naming their specific conditions to protect their identities).
Children who are placed on the fostering scheme lack alternative kinship care arrangements due to various reasons. Their parents could have a physical or mental illness and are unable to care for them, or they could be victims of neglect or abuse.
DIFFERENT BUT THE SAME
Contrary to popular belief, the needs of children with learning or behavioural challenges do not differ much from other children their age.
Th!nk Psychological Services‘ clinical psychologist Matilda Chew says: “While these children may indeed require more care, particularly if they are not catching up with their peers in terms of development and learning, children with special needs flourish in a consistently nurturing and structured environment — just like typically developing children.”
Norli agrees: “I don’t see them as any different from other kids. I treat them all the same way. We just have to know how to tackle them.” She has to slowly repeat herself several times before her three special needs foster children can understand her.
Fazly, who goes to a mainstream school, used to stammer and had difficulty understanding his teachers. For a period of time, he even hid his homework from Norli because he did not know how to complete it.
An exasperated Norli found out only when she spoke to his teachers. From then on, she kept in close contact with his teachers, who would visit her five-room flat in the north-western part of Singapore whenever there is homework for Fazly. He now goes for reading and speech therapy classes and is “almost like a normal kid”, she says with pride.
Eli, who has delayed learning abilities, tends to wander around whenever she is in a mall or a supermarket. “I make her push a trolley so that she can’t run,” says Norli.
Aqib, who joined his siblings Fazly and Siti two years ago, knew nothing about social norms. He would speak loudly, scream or throw tantrums.
“When he first arrived, he would get frustrated very quickly. Then he would bang on something with his fists,” says Norli. Aqib also seemed unable to do things children his age could, like taking the MRT.
“He would ask questions like ‘Why is the MRT crowded?’ or ‘Why is this round?'” says Norli. “He doesn’t know a lot of things that may seem normal to us. But it’s good that he likes to ask questions.”
She talks to Aqib about cars, which he is fond of, to motivate him to learn and ask more questions.
UNDER ONE ROOF
Norli’s two biological daughters, Nur Hidayah, 12, and Nur Khairunnisa, 19, get along well with their foster siblings. The family of eight depend on what Norli’s husband, Jafri Mohd Yusof, 51, earns as a warehouse assistant and a monthly fostering allowance provided by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).
The allowance pays for the foster children’s needs, like food, clothing, transport and school fees. For every foster child, a foster parent gets $936 every month, and $1,114 if the child has special needs. Foster families also enjoy childcare subsidies and exemption from medical fees.
There were 355 foster parents as of last December, but MSF hopes to grow the pool to 500 in the next five years.
Since she started fostering in 2003, Madam Norli has parted with four foster children who stayed with her for weeks or months before they returned to their families. “Of course I felt sad,” she says.
“But my husband gives me emotional support. He always says that when one goes, there are more out there who need us.”
The heartwarming moments, to Madam Norli, are the most rewarding part of fostering.“Sometimes, when I feel sick, they ask me, ‘Mummy, how are you today?’
“You see, it’s very touching. They even plan surprises with my husband for my birthday.
“As long as I am healthy and have the support of my family and MSF, I’ll do it.”
To find out more about fostering, call 6354-8799 or click here.
A version of this article first appeared in The New Paper.
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