When we first meet Nur, her two foster children – a 7-year-old girl and a 3-year-old boy – hang around shyly behind her. Glancing at her kids knowingly, she assures us that they just need some time to warm up to new visitors. Sure enough, they break out of their shells within ten minutes of our arrival. They run about cheerily, pausing on occasion to ask us an endless stream of questions. As we observe the family’s interactions with each other, we could see how secure and well-adjusted the little ones are in their home environment.
Nur, a home-based entrepreneur, and her husband Najib, a technician, have been foster parents for the past five years. Since 2018, they have opened their home and hearts to caring for foster children.
According to the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), fostering provides vulnerable children and young persons who have been abused, neglected or abandoned with a safe and stable family environment. The aim is to reunite the children with their birth families when their family situation has stabilised. As of December 2021, there were 541 foster children in Singapore, cared for by close to 600 foster families, including Nur’s.
Taking the leap into fostering
Nur was first introduced to fostering while she was working full-time in the mental health sector. “I had an ex-colleague who was a foster parent. Since I was curious about the concept of fostering, I asked her many questions about it.
Due to challenges in having biological children of their own, Nur and Najib originally considered adopting. However, they realised there was a bigger need for foster parents after learning more about fostering at a roadshow in 2016. “We felt at the time that we could open our home to children from unfortunate circumstances, and offer them some stability and care,” she says.
Before formally applying to be foster parents in 2017, the couple took time to consider their decision, which involved conversations with their family members and other foster parents. Nur was especially mindful about what her parents would think. “We asked whether they were open to the idea of us being foster parents. We were going to welcome children into our lives, and these children would also be in theirs. They gave us their fullest support – that was when we really dived in.”
(Photo by Type A)
After applying, Nur and Najib had to undergo interviews with MSF, and attend training courses related to fostering. After completing them, the couple were subsequently matched with their first foster child in 2018.
Adjusting to a new family
Being a step closer to becoming a first-time foster parent, Nur recalls having mix emotions –excitement, curiosity and nervousness.
It was not always smooth-sailing at the start. In the early days as foster parents, their then-16-month-old girl would appear happy in the day, but would cry her heart out at night.
“She was inconsolable,” Nur recalls of those late-night moments. “It was as if she was going through some sort of loss, but was not able to verbalise it. All we could do each night was carry her, console her, and put her to sleep.”
It took six months for the young girl to adjust to her new environment and family. Now a Primary One student, Nur’s foster daughter is sociable, confident, and able to express how she feels through words. “She used to be very closed off. Now, she feels more comfortable telling me about her preferences. This is the kind of environment I try to bring up the children in. I would tell them, ‘Use your own words. Tell me how you feel.’ There is a lot of trust between us. She relies on us and looks towards us as a source of comfort.”
As for their younger foster son, who has been with them since 2021, the family has had to adapt to his high energy levels. “He was constantly climbing the sofa and dining table when we first welcomed him into our home!” Nur exclaims, chuckling at the memory. “We have to be more alert because he is a climber, runs around a lot, and expresses himself through actions. But he is simply a bundle of joy to be around.”
Do the kids get along well with each other? “Well, it's like any typical sibling behaviour,” she says matter-of-factly, “Sometimes they want to play with each other, sometimes they don’t; sometimes they get along, sometimes they don't.”
“It’s always about the children.”
Nur says that a key attribute of a foster parent is being flexible.
“As foster parents, we need to keep our ‘plate’ half or three quarters full. Even with our various obligations, our plate cannot always be filled to the brim. When these children enter our lives, we have to make sure that there is always space for them, and be flexible enough to care for their needs.” One example is how she had to quickly learn about managing her younger foster son’s high astigmatism and eczema.
Even amid challenging times, giving up was “never an option” for Nur, as this would mean having to move the children to another home. Thankfully, both Nur and her husband have each other to count on for emotional support. The couple would have regular check-ins after putting the children to bed, to connect and catch up on each other’s day. “We would talk about how we felt that day, or point out areas that we need more of each other’s support. Sometimes it’s not about needing solutions, but more of having someone to hear us out.”
Though she knows that there will come a day when the children eventually return to their birth families, Nur is always amazed at how far they have all grown together as a foster family.
(Photo by Type A)
“It is everything to me to see the children happy, thriving well, and feeling safe to express themselves. We will definitely feel sad when they leave. They are a part of us, a part of our family, a part of our home. But it is never about the foster parents; it is always about the children. All we hope is for them to return to a more stable home environment, with good values instilled in them.”
The meaning of family
Before Nur became a foster parent, her idea of ‘family’ was about those who were related by blood. However, this has changed since she became a foster parent.
“There’s a saying: ‘If home is where the heart is, then family is the heart of a home.’ I would add to that by saying that family is also about embodying values like love, stability, and kindness. It is about providing a sense of belonging, and a safe place to be oneself. This is how I think a family, and a home should be.”
(Photo by Type A)
For those who are considering becoming foster parents, Nur suggests getting a better understanding about fostering through volunteering first. “There are a lot of ways that volunteers can support foster children, like driving them to appointments, or doing activities with them while their foster parents are away. These opportunities can give them a taste of what it is like to be among these children.”
“Most importantly,” Nur points out, “come into this with an open mind, and not have any pre-conceived notions about the children. These children are just like any other, and they want nothing more than to grow up happy, in a loving home.”
- Nur Halimah Binte Ali, 39, entrepreneur and foster parent of two
To find out more about being a foster parent or other volunteering opportunities, visit www.msf.gov.sg/fostering or call 1800-111-222.