11-year-old with autism among foster kids awarded for achievements at MSF ceremony, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper
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11-year-old with autism among foster kids awarded for achievements at MSF ceremony

Civil servant Gerard Peter Almonte and his wife, Madam Susan Wong Lai Fung, both 59, have been fostering an 11-year-old boy with special needs since his birth.

Raymond (not his real name) was aggressive as a young child, and could not speak or make eye contact with others. He also walked awkwardly, on tiptoe.

He was diagnosed with autism at the age of four and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder at age six.

“It was hard to accept the diagnosis. We were apprehensive, as we weren’t sure how to help a special needs child,” said Mr Almonte. The couple also have two biological children – a son, 26, and a daughter, 18.

They signed Raymond up for speech therapy and physiotherapy.

The child did well on IQ tests and qualified for a mainstream primary school, but because of his anxiety, his foster parents enrolled him in a special education school.

The school taught him how to make eye contact and speak, and over the years, he learnt to express himself, control his emotions and make friends. He even won the school’s Most Compassionate Pupil Award in 2021.

Raymond is among 27 foster children who were recognised on Saturday for their achievements at the ninth annual Awards Ceremony for Foster Children and Youth, organised by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).

Two foster children received the Outstanding Achievement Award, which recognises foster children and young people who have displayed well-rounded and consistent achievements in areas such as academics, character development and leadership.

Twenty-five other foster children received Commendation Awards for their achievements in academics (13), character development (eight), and sports and arts (four).

Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli thanked foster parents at the ceremony, which was held at the Enabling Village in Lengkok Bahru.

“You responded to our call to welcome the children into your homes and provide them with a loving and safe environment. You made sacrifices and adjustments to your daily lives and ensured that their needs are met,” he said.

“I commend your commitment to support our children and mould the next generation.”

Mr Masagos noted that the allowance for those caring for foster children was increased in September as part of measures to support foster families. Other measures include childcare and student care subsidies, and childcare leave.

Foster parents now get a monthly allowance of $1,100, and those looking after children with special needs get $1,500 to better support their therapy, intervention and transport needs.

There are about 550 children in foster care, and about 20 per cent of them have special needs.

There were 595 foster families in 2021, up from 564 in 2020.

Under the fostering scheme, foster families provide a nurturing home environment to children and young people who have been abused, neglected or abandoned.

Foster care is a temporary arrangement and the end goal is to reunite them with their natural families, if possible.

On Raymond’s Character Development Award, Madam Wong, a housewife, said: “(The award) is a good milestone and I’m very happy he made it.

“He’s achieved a lot, from not being able to walk or talk or interact with people – things we take for granted that he could actually not do – now he’s able to (do). He is able to go buy a meal at McDonald’s, go to the library.”

Another recipient of this award is 10-year-old Hadi (not his real name), who has been fostered by senior process technician A. Rahim Suman and housewife Triantina Fahmi, both 53, since he was four.

The couple, who do not have children of their own, have fostered two other children – a two-year-old girl and another 10-year-old boy.

When the couple found that Hadi was not familiar with the alphabet in Kindergarten 1, they created a mini library at home to nurture in him a love for reading.

They also set up a play corner with Lego bricks and other toys, which they encourage him to play with instead of online games.

Madam Triantina said Hadi has grown to become a sensitive child who helps with household chores and keeps her company when her husband works the night shift.

Madam Wong said caring for Raymond can get tough, but she will not give up, as he is part of the family.

“I pray every day for strength and guidance to look after him. My family accepts him although it’s challenging. We’re his family. He can count on us.

“I will ask for help when it gets tough but I will never give up. He is very much loved and we support him in every way we can.”

parentingSPECIAL NEEDS/SPECIAL EDUCATIONautism