Wed, May 17, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Foster parents open up their homes

FAMILY CARE The nation's foster system, established more than 20 years ago, places kids in need of care with foster families or agencies, but it isn't always easy

By Jean Lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

When foster mother Sung Kan-mei (宋甘妹) in Miaoli County took in a sexually abused junior high school girl as a foster child, she wanted to give the child what she had always lacked -- a safe, stable and happy family.

However, it was not as easy as she had thought it would be.

Sung said that the child hid in her room and attempted suicide numerous times.

One day, Sung and the child were grocery shopping when they saw a disabled person selling gum on the street. Sung gave the person some money and then seized on the opportunity to tell her foster child: "See how that person, even without arms and legs, cherishes his own life and strives to survive?"

Now, many years later, although home with her real mother, the child still contacts Sung and her family because she believes that they taught her about love and life.

Sung has taken in 20 foster children to date and has been a foster mother for more than 15 years.

It started when she was a babysitter, taking care of a child that belonged to a single-parent family.

The Taiwan Fund for Children and Families found out that the child was being neglected and decided to temporarily remove her from that environment. Since Sung was the babysitter at the time, the child was sent to her.

"I treated every foster child like a part of the family and I still keep in touch with them," Sung said. "I'm so happy to see that they are leading better lives and that we had provided them with few happy years during their childhood."

But of course, it is not only about changing the lives of foster children. The lives of foster families have also been changed.

Another foster mom, Huang Su-chu (黃素珠), from Taipei, said that her eldest son suffers from cerebral palsy, but was delighted to play a role in helping take care of the foster children, such as helping them with homework.

Huang's second son, who was very rebellious in the past, suddenly realized how well Huang treated children.

"My second son has become a new person because of the foster kids," Huang said. "He has realized through watching me take care of other kids, how much I care about him."

Huang Pi-hsia (黃碧霞), director of the Child Welfare Bureau under the Ministry of the Interior, told the Taipei Times that the bureau has been helping child victims of physical and sexual abuse to be relocated to foster families or agencies.

The nation's foster family system was modeled after the US system and has been operating since around 1983, Huang said.

"There are currently 1,398 foster families, which is quite a lot, but we are hoping to find and train more families," Huang said.

Usually social workers try to place an abused child in the home of a close relative, but if not, a foster family is the second choice, Huang said.

She said it was better for a child to be in a familiar environment, but usually younger children fit in better with a foster family.

Teenagers usually have a harder time getting used to a new family, so are often sent to foster agencies, she said, adding that the agencies are also always available in case of an emergency in which a child needs immediate protection.

Chou Su-ching (周素卿), a social worker who has worked at the Ta Tzu Children's Home in Kaohsiung County for almost 23 years, said that foster agencies offer a long-term "home" for children -- up until they are in college or graduate -- while foster families are temporary.

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