SINGAPORE: He can’t speak properly, but Eugene’s* doleful eyes say it all. He wants more cake.
The little boy climbs onto Alan Tan, or “daddy’s” lap, stretches out his arms for the box of kueh right at the tip of his hands. Mr Tan, with his hands on Eugene’s waist, pulls him back gently. He doesn’t chide the child or raise his voice.
Ever since Mr Tan and his wife Elizabeth Choo, learnt of Eugene’s conditions, they vowed to be the most patient and gentle they could with him.
The three-year-old is one of 92 children with developmental needs out of 542 foster children in Singapore as of June 2019, according to data from the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF). While the ratio of foster children with developmental needs has remained at about 15 per cent over the last three years, MSF said it can be challenging to place them in foster care because they may require higher levels of care and commitment.
Eugene was diagnosed with global developmental delay in 2017 and autism in May 2019. “We feel sad seeing this child go through so many hurdles,” Mr Tan said.
“FELT LIKE THIS WAS FATED”
Mr Tan and Mdm Choo, 46 and 47 respectively, first heard about fostering in 2010. Mdm Choo’s interest was piqued after she listened to an interview with a foster family over the radio. She told her husband, but they shelved the idea. They weren’t feeling up to the task yet.
Four years later, Mr Tan was volunteering at the then-Canossaville Children’s Home when he was told about the local fostering scheme.
Mr Tan broached the topic with his wife. This time, they went ahead. In 2015, they began the application process, and underwent foster care training in 2016. They brought Eugene home in September that year.
MSF said that details about Eugene’s background cannot be revealed to protect his identity, but they shared that children are put up for foster care either because they have been abused, neglected or abandoned. In other cases, their parents are unable to care for them due to imprisonment, physical or mental illness, or one or both parents are dead.
A week before they brought Eugene home, Mr Tan and Mdm Choo spent a few hours every day at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, studying how the nurses fed him, changed him, bathed him. The boy was born three months early with breathing difficulties. They had to learn to be extra careful with him.
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