I was a fulfilled mother with 2 happy confident primary school kids and a happy marriage.
I remembered distinctly that typical HK autumn day 18 months ago like it was yesterday. I came home from school where I work as a teacher. I had had a tiring day and with the same thought going on in my mind again like every day since the past month. That night, after giving it much thought I voiced it out to my husband, Zolas.
What did he think about becoming a foster parent?
Zolas had numerous fears and logical concerns. To start with he was happy with how our family was going and wasn’t sure we would have the time to devote to a third child who was not even ours. We liked the idea of sharing our blessing with a “young” child and giving it a temporary home, but he not sure to understand the responsibilities that came with fostering a child.
Fostering children, we learn through google, typically involves children under 18 years of age with normal health or with mild mental/physical disability or other special needs and being assessed as fit for family care.
It is meant to provide stable and temporary care which could be from a couple of weeks to a year or more depending on the needs of the child, who for some reason cannot be adequately cared for by their own families, to where they can be loved and enjoy family life. A foster family welcomes a child into their home to provide safe and loving care until the child can return home to their birth family, or join an adoptive family.
“Temporary” was an important word for us as we were not looking to adopt but just to spread some happiness and support children in provisional need of a home.
As a first step, we decided to get more informed on this subject. We chose the information session on fostering a waiting child initiative championed by Mother’s Choice, a women's charity based in Mid-levels.
When we arrived at the Mothers Choice, I was secretly heartened to see that there were a quite a few of us attending the session that evening. The info session had a number of speakers to provide info and sharings to help participants like us understand the hows and the whats of fostering with them. It also gave Zolas and me the chance to chat with the team and share any questions or concerns that we had.
Mother’s Choice we understoood, runs two foster care programs – Ordinary Foster Care and Project Bridge.
Ordinary Foster Care (OFC) is overseen by the Central Foster Care Unit (CFCU) of the Social Welfare Department of which Mother’s Choice is one of 11 children welfare agencies providing foster care. Children in OFC can range in age from 0-18 years and typically need longer term care as many are waiting to be reunited with their families.
Project Bridge was piloted in 2015 to expand the pool of foster families to meet the needs of waiting children with a focus on children 0-3 years. Like OFC, this program is focused on giving safe, loving, temporary care for children, whilst they wait to rejoin their birth family or be adopted. Project Bridge recruits, trains and supports highly motivated volunteers. The focus of Project Bridge is to see children spend a shorter amount of time in care and to achieve permanency more quickly.
At this session we also learnt about through fostering a child, what a foster family like ours could expect:
• Experience the joy: That comes with fostering a child, and the bittersweet experience of loving a child and then letting them go to their forever family
• See the whole family changed: By the experience of working together to care for a child in need
• Complete support: From the charity staff, volunteers and social workers with a dedicated caseworker for the bridge family, trainings and a tailored child development plan.
Fostering clearly came with responsibilities similar to adopting, vital difference being in the duration. Also, fostering is a temporary way to care for a child while adoption is a permanent legal transfer of parental rights, a “forever” family.
To be eligible as a Bridge Family are those with:
• A passion to make a difference in the life of a child
• Strong family relationships, including a stable marriage (single applicants can also be considered on a case-by-case basis), good health and no criminal record
• Clean and safe living conditions with sufficient space for a child
• Residency in Hong Kong for one year and plans to stay for two more years
• Age of 25 or over with secondary school education
• Fluency in Cantonese OR English
We ticked all the boxes.
Little after the info session, we applied to be a Bridge family and 4 months into the info session, after a series of interviews, assessments and training we were approved and finally matched to our first foster child who was 3-year old girl who stayed with us for 5 months.
Since then we have fostered another 4-year-old boy. Both the experiences have been lovely to say the least. The foster kids were a great addition to our family, and it feels like we have grown as human beings, our children have learnt sharing and we seem to have come closer as a family.
We are now big promoters of fostering of kids, among our friends both single or otherwise, who are both emotionally and economically able.
One of the regular concerns from friends is what if both the foster family and the foster kid get attached? It will be traumatic experience for both when the foster child leaves!
I suggest to these friends that if the idea of fostering a child is something they could consider, then they should first and foremost attend an info session or free seminars organised by various organisations/charities all across Hong Kong to get informed.
What I can say is that when fostering a child from whichever organisation it be, there will be a social worker who walk alongside with the fostering family providing with 24/7 care and guidance, helping each step of the way. While parting is not always easy, the fostering family has to understand that the key here is about the child, the benefit/the good for the child to re-unite with his/her permanent family.
According to Mother’s choice, almost 4,000 children in Hong Kong live in institutional care, with hundreds more without safe, loving, and permanent homes. Some of us can make a difference to the lives of these children.
For more information on Foster care in HK:
For more information on Project Bridge: https://www.motherschoice.org/en/what-we-do/for-families/foster-a-child/
Thanks to the charity, Mother’s Choice for help on this article.