Building Better Futures for Vulnerable Children – Growing Fostering as the Pillar of Out-of-Home Care
Ministry of Social and Family Development

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
In Singapore, there are children and young persons who have been abused, neglected or abandoned by their parents or guardians. Some of these children and young persons may not have suitable caregivers as their family members are incarcerated, ill or otherwise unable to care for them. Many of them are amongst the most vulnerable members of the Singapore society as they are unable to stay with their own families or kin safely and therefore require Out-of-Home Care (OHC). At any one time, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) oversees the OHC sector which serves approximately 1,100 of these most vulnerable children and young persons in Singapore. The main care options for OHC are fostering or residential care. MSF saw that although family-based care would provide a better environment for these children and young persons, there were a number of legacy issues in this sector and there was little capacity or capability. Many of these children and young persons have gone through traumatic experiences and a caring family environment would be the best option for them to heal and develop. MSF conducted a series of in-depth reviews of the care of vulnerable children from 2011-2013. These reviews deliberately incorporated the voices of vulnerable children and key stakeholders such as the National Council of Social Service (NCSS), Courts, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), law enforcement, hospitals and other community agencies revealed that improvements to the current OHC landscape were needed. The reviews noted that there were systemic gaps in enabling the primacy of family-based care for the care of vulnerable children and young persons. These issues permeated the way services were delivered. For instance, MSF’s guiding principles for placement focuses on preserving children and young persons with their families or kin before exploring foster care and then residential care. While MSF works actively to keep children safely with their natural family and kin, there was a stark shortage of foster parents which made foster care an impossible option for most vulnerable children. Key recommendations of reviews included the set-up of a dedicated department to spearhead changes to the OHC sector and to ramp up fostering urgently. Growing fostering is no easy feat. There was a lack of awareness on fostering across Singapore and recruiting foster parents was extremely challenging. NGOs were not provided government funding for fostering services and did not have the technical know-how. MSF, as a government agency, became the only provider for structured fostering services in Singapore for over 60 years. As a result, capacity of the fostering system was very limited and MSF’s Fostering Scheme could only cater primarily to children under 6 years old and serve one-third of children in OHC. There was an urgent need to address the systemic barriers, ramp up fostering to meet the needs of the vulnerable children and young persons and reduce the overreliance on residential care.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
To develop and embed fostering as the foundation of care for vulnerable children in Singapore’s OHC landscape, MSF focused on 3 key strategies: (i) Change public mindset towards fostering and intensify foster parent recruitment efforts, (ii) Enable NGOs for fostering services, (iii) Review and strengthen capability development.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
1. Changing Public Mindset towards Fostering and Intensifying Foster Parent Recruitment Previously, ground feedback indicated that only 1 out of 10 people would have heard about fostering in Singapore. There was also feedback from multiple groups that fostering was not feasible in Singapore due to increasingly busy lifestyles, higher cost of living, Singaporeans’ reluctance to have children and smaller living spaces. Against this backdrop in 2013, MSF intensified efforts to change public mindset and raise awareness on fostering through media partnerships and roadshows, and by working with community organizations, religious groups and private organizations. MSF mounted multi-modal campaigns to open the public’s mind to the needs of these vulnerable children and young persons. We roped in foster parents, who were often regular citizens, to front the media efforts so that the public find fostering more relatable. For the past 3 years, MSF has been holding a large scale annual fostering party for about 1000 foster families and have involved political office holders and the media to raise the signature of fostering in Singapore. The President and Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore have both been Guests of Honour for these events. Further, MSF executed year-long initiatives to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Fostering. This included the launch of the inaugural Foster Care Week to encourage families to be part of the fostering movement, the production of a commemorative cookbook with recipes and stories from foster families and multiple roadshows by MSF and community partners across Singapore. With these integrated efforts over the past few years, there has been a tremendous leap in public awareness of fostering. As compared to 2013, there has been a 335% increase in enquiries which in turn translated to a 792% increase in application forms. 2. Enable NGOs for Fostering Services After being the only provider of fostering services for 60 years, MSF recognised the need to enable and grow the NGO sector for fostering. MSF recognised that NGOs have a unique role in the community and are in a good position to reach out to the larger society. To expand the capacity of fostering to provide care for more vulnerable children, MSF therefore enabled NGOs to build up fostering services in the community through the set-up of Fostering Agencies (FAs). In less than 2 years, the first batch of FAs have grown to become full-fledged fostering service providers and currently care for one-third of the total children in fostering. 3. Boosting Capability To enable capability development and transfer of technical know-how, MSF established a strategic partnership with NCSS to centralise and boost capability development efforts for the OHC sector. Together with the Social Service Institute (SSI) under NCSS, we have developed 18 new training modules, conducted 29 training runs and trained close to 240 foster parents and all FA staff in 2016. In Singapore’s social service sector, low capability levels and awareness of child welfare issues have been linked with the poorer quality of services for vulnerable children. This centralised training model has enabled standardisation and better quality of services across the sector and ensured that foster parents and FA staff are well equipped to provide safe and high quality care to vulnerable children in OHC. Through these systemic efforts, the number of foster parents have increased by more than 70% over the last 3 years, enabling more vulnerable children to have access to stable, secure and loving care in a family setting. To date, there has been a 40% increase in the number of children placed in foster care and a 15% decrease in the number of children placed in residential care.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
The first innovative aspect was the multi-systemic and collaborative approach adopted. To bring about sustained change and better outcomes for the children, MSF recognised the need to look at systemic barriers rather than take a narrow view of the problem. This led to the pioneering move to build fostering capabilities in the community through the set up of the first two FAs and the first-ever partnership with NCSS to develop the capabilities of the sector. The second innovative aspect is the multi-modal outreach and recruitment strategy. To reach out and engage the public, MSF a) partnered with private organisations, religious and grassroots groups to cultivate a stronger presence in the community, b) engaged existing foster parents to serve as the “face of fostering”, c) leveraged on social media platforms to increase awareness on fostering, d) ride on marquee events and social movements such as newly launched the inaugural Foster Care Week to raise the signature of fostering, e) launched the commemorative cookbook with recipes and stories from foster families to reach out to more Singaporeans and e) developed the Refer-a-Family (RAF) scheme to encourage existing foster families to refer their relatives/ friends to sign up as foster parents.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The initiative was spearheaded by the Children in Care (CIC) Service under the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF). MSF is a ministry of the Government of Singapore that focuses on three key areas: a) development of families, b) enhancing social safety nets for low-income and needy individuals and families to improve their circumstances and c) improving the delivery of social services by raising sector capability and improving service coordination. The CIC Service maintains oversight of the development, delivery and management of OHC options and support services for vulnerable children. The policy shift towards foster care will affect 100% of vulnerable children under the care of MSF, estimated to be 2,800 over the last 3 years. The total number of children in foster care today is 430, a 40% increase as compared to 2013. With the embedding of fostering, we expect the numbers to rise. These vulnerable children have usually experienced abuse, neglect or abandonment and are the most vulnerable groups in the Singapore society. Many other families and children can be helped by other social services available in the community. Coming under state care is the last resort in Singapore and such children or their families would usually have gone through other community services first. By the time they come into care, other safety nets would have been unable to address their needs and they would have experienced significant trauma and disruption in their lives.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
The elements would involve the set-up of a dedicated department, secure resources, set up structures to transfer technical know-how and engagement of stakeholders. a) Set up of the Children in Care (CIC) Service MSF conducted several reviews of the child welfare landscape from 2011-2013. These reviews, which incorporated the voices of vulnerable children, NGOs and other community agencies such as the courts, hospitals and law enforcement. One of key recommendations was to set up the CIC Service, a dedicated department within MSF in 2013 to spearhead the initiative. CIC was a key driving force for the transformation of the OHC landscape. b) Secured Funding for New Projects MSF put up proposals articulating the importance of growing family-base care and secured funds from the Reinvestment Fund under Ministry of Finance (MOF) which supports innovative projects by public agencies to improve public sector delivery and productivity. Resources were provided to raise the number of foster parents, the development of the FAs by NGOs and capability development initiatives. Financial allowances are given to foster parents for the care of the child. Funding was made available for increase in this expenditure through re-prioritisation within MSF. c) Expansion of Existing Initiatives To change public mindset and intensity recruitment efforts, MSF cultivated stronger partnerships with the media and community agencies to raise awareness on the need for fostering. Besides print and broadcast media, we also leveraged on social media, community roadshows and launched a new fostering website: The website is a one-stop portal for members of the public to learn more about fostering through videos, articles and stories from foster families. To facilitate a stronger presence in the community, we expanded the number of partnerships to include government and private organisations, religious and grassroots groups. We ran roadshows at grassroots events, hospitals, religious organisations, shopping malls and other community locations. d) Engagement of Key Stakeholders to get Buy-in To build a shared vision across the OHC landscape, MSF had to actively engage stakeholders. Foster Services has always been provided by MSF. Most of the existing OHC NGOs have been providing residential care for years and fostering was therefore a new area for them. MSF recognised the need to partner and harness the vast experience of existing OHC NGOs and executed a multi-modal engagement plan that leveraged on building sector advocates, ground engagement, peer sharing and in-depth consultation. MSF also actively engaged other key stakeholders such as the courts, hospitals and other NGO community agencies in supporting the care of vulnerable children. e) Set up of Structures to Support the Initiative To increase the capacity of fostering, MSF built fostering capabilities in the communities through the set up of the FAs. The FAs will help broaden foster family outreach and recruitment efforts and provide support to foster parents to extend better care for their foster children. MSF used its in-house technical expertise to develop the service model and provide operational consultations to the new FAs. MSF intends to appoint the third fostering agency in 2017. MSF also initiated a strategic partnership with SSI under NCSS to strengthen the capability of foster parents and the FAs structured training and intensive coaching and mentoring. The decision to centralise training was a deliberate one by MSF to ensure consistency in quality of care for all vulnerable children. f) Evaluation These initiatives are reviewed regularly to evaluate if the initiative is meeting the desired objectives and targets as well as to inform improvements to service delivery.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
While MSF spearheaded and set the overall direction for the initiative, we engaged a wide spectrum of stakeholders including public organizations, NGOs and citizens. Input from vulnerable children, NGOs, foster parents, the courts and other key stakeholders were involved in the early conceptualisation and design of the initiative. OHC NGOs were also included in study trips/learning journeys and in-depth discussions to co-create solutions. To enable the initiatives, MSF engaged MOF extensively to secure resourcing. MSF bidded for resourcing under the Reinvestment Fund windows, which specifically funds new and innovative projects by public agencies to improve public sector delivery and productivity. After a rigorous evaluation, MSF was awarded the funding by MOF. To drive implementation, MSF also actively engaged partner NGOs and share the vision to align the larger child welfare sector from the point of placement by the Courts to NGO partners who provided residential care for these vulnerable children as well as the larger public. To enable effective outreach, MSF worked with foster parents to be ambassadors and spread the fostering message at various media platforms/roadshows. We also partnered with community agencies and grassroots organizations to increase awareness and change public mindset. We worked closely with the identified OHC NGO partners to set up the first two FAs in Singapore. As capability development is crucial to the delivery of OHC services, MSF established a strategic partnership with NCSS to address capability gaps for the sector through a centralised training institute, SSI. NCSS is the umbrella body for some 460 social service NGOs and provides leadership in enhancing capabilities and capacity of their NGO members, advocating for social service needs and strengthening strategic partnerships. NCSS was a natural partner for the implementation of measures to raise capabilities of the OHC sector.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
Many of the vulnerable children and young persons in OHC have experienced significant trauma and disruption in their lives, largely due to abuse, neglect and other traumatic childhood experiences. This often has a negative impact on the holistic development of the child. Unlike the majority of Singaporean children whose families and communities provide a nurturing environment and support their overall development and well-being, these vulnerable children and young persons have no or limited access to these essential scaffolding for their growth. These children and young persons have been through situations where there was a lack of food, safety and supervision and this potentially puts them at a high risk for maladaptive outcomes in the future. The inequality between these vulnerable children and young persons and the rest of the children in the Singaporean society is extremely stark. The most successful outputs of the initiative are as follows: a) Organised 170 community outreach events and roadshows b) Established 154 partnerships with public agencies, community groups, grassroots organizations, private agencies and religious groups c) Conducted 292 media outreach activities (includes print, radio, television and social media) d) Facilitated 792% increase in foster parent applications e) Set up of 2 FAs These outputs have led to an increase of foster parents by 70% and a 40% increase in the number of children and young persons placed in foster care as well, thereby promoting the overall well-being and increasing opportunities for vulnerable children and young persons in the longer-run.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
a) Low Receptiveness towards Fostering With increasingly busy lifestyles, higher cost of living, reluctance of Singaporeans to have children and shrinking families, there were concerns as to whether Singaporeans would be receptive and willing to open their homes to these children. Foster parents need to provide 24 hour care, manage behaviours that may arise due to trauma and manage complex dynamics with natural parents. Members of the public, even if moved by the plight of these children, often feel daunted by the commitment required to be foster parents. There was also very low awareness on fostering. 9 out of 10 Singaporeans at MSF’s roadshows had not heard about fostering previously. Many also felt that residential care was a better care option for these vulnerable children due to the greater public oversight as compared to fostering which is within the private sphere of foster families. MSF embarked on efforts to change public mindset towards fostering through the media and other community outreach activities. To help families feel more empowered to come forward, MSF partnered experienced foster families to share about how they came into fostering and overcame some of these challenges. This approach has helped to make fostering less intimidating and inspired many families to come forward. b) Building Capability for Fostering in the Community As fostering was a new area of work for the community, there were concerns amongst OHC NGOs if they have the relevant expertise to work to provide quality care for vulnerable children. To better support, MSF took a proactive approach and established a strategic partnership with NCSS to embed capability development in the sector through structured training and coaching/mentoring for sustainability and scalability. To enable this, MSF provided NCSS with professionals with the requisite technical know-how to ramp up the capability in the FAs.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
The initiative has had clear benefits to vulnerable children, foster parents, OHC NGOs and the larger Singapore society. Vulnerable Children: The initiative has rapidly increased access to quality foster care for vulnerable children. Children grow best in families. Family settings provide more individualised and nurturing attention and enable these children and young persons to form secure attachments to a consistent caregiver, thereby promoting the child’s overall social and emotional well-being. This is especially crucial for these vulnerable children and young persons who have been through abuse, significant trauma and disruption in their lives and would need a caring family environment to recover from these negative experiences. Over the last 3 years, MSF has enabled 40% more children and young persons to be placed in fostering. Foster Parents: Foster parents are regular citizens who step forward to open their hearts and their homes to vulnerable children and young persons. The growth of the fostering system has benefitted foster parents in many ways. The strategic partnership with NCSS has equipped them to provide better care for these children and young persons. This has helped foster parents feel more enabled for their role. The newly set up FAs also provide them more support. With the growth of fostering, organic foster parent groups have grown as well. One such example is the Home for Good group, which is a support group for foster parents by foster parents. With the increase in awareness and rising signature of fostering in Singapore, foster parents now feel more recognised and appreciated for their life changing contributions to vulnerable children and young persons. OHC NGOs: MSF has enabled OHC NGOs with the funding, support and technical know-how to work with these highly vulnerable and traumatized children. The mission of these NGOs are to help vulnerable children. With MSF’s holistic support and collaborative approach, they are now enabled to play a bigger role in society and perform their mission better. These OHC NGOs are better equipped to respond to the needs of vulnerable children and young persons. Society: By increasing awareness on the need of fostering and the plight of these vulnerable children and young persons, MSF has cultivated a more caring and inclusive society that is willing to open their homes and hearts to care for these children and young persons. The growth of fostering helps the Singapore society grow in confidence that fellow citizens are able to go beyond their comfort zone and care for the most vulnerable members of society. The stories of fostering have inspired Singaporeans to do more to help other needy groups as seen in social media platforms. In addition, it is well known that such vulnerable children and young persons who are not well-supported are at risk for a number of maladaptive outcomes. These efforts will therefore reduce longer term societal implications from mental illness, anti-social, disruptive and possibly criminal behaviour and enable these vulnerable children and young persons to break out of intergenerational violence and poverty cycles.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
Public accountability and integrity has always been key values for the Singapore government and also for child welfare services. MSF has embedded accountability systemically through the following structures/processes: a) Keeping Fostering Safe Accountability for the safety of the children and young persons while in care is always a key consideration. MSF has developed the FA Manual to provide clarity for NGOs and ensure safety of children and young persons. Caseworkers from MSF or FAs visit regularly foster parents regularly to support and ensure that the child is well taken care of. Caseworkers also gather feedback from parties interacting with the child such as child protection, schools, social service agencies, child’s natural family or volunteers. Allegations on possible abuse of the foster child is investigated within 24 hours. MSF has also adopted evidence-based tools such as the Structured Decision Making® (SDM) model and the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS) assessment to improve the consistency and the accountability in our decision-making processes. b) Quality and Safeguards To ensure good use of public funds, MSF has put in place key processes/practices to monitor and evaluate the progress of the FAs. Each FA signs a funding contract with MSF and are required to meet key operational performance indicators. MSF has regular review meetings for FAs to discuss progress in performance indicators. Regular audits by MSF are also carried out to ensure standards. NGOs are required to submit audited financial statements. MSF has also put in a new IT system to enable FAs and MSF to key in case management information. Monthly financial allowances to foster parents and NGO funding are paid based on an electronic database. After checks by case managers and supervisors of FAs, both CIC Service and the Finance Department in MSF will have sign off before electronic payments to foster parents are effected. There are also regular audits on OHC payment systems by internal and external auditors, thereby reducing the possibility of corruption. c) Regular Communication to the Public and Stakeholders To ensure greater transparency, MSF has announced the initiative and has been providing periodic updates at various platforms and communication platforms, including key MSF events, annual Committee of Supply Debate and through media reports. In addition, MSF has also established communication platforms such as Quarterly Networking Sessions with OHC NGOs to provide periodic updates on the progress on the initiative and solicit feedback.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
This initiative targets one of the most vulnerable populations in Singapore and seeks to improve outcomes for this population. Currently, about half of vulnerable children in foster care are girls. Foster care professionals who case manage the care of these children and young persons provide individualised support and tailor their efforts to the needs of the child. The needs of girls are definitely taken into account when professionals work with these cases and equal access to services is provided. MSF holds strongly to the belief that all vulnerable children and young persons should be provided the best quality of care and that there should be no discrimination based on gender.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Ministry of Social and Family Development
Institution Type:   Ministry  
Contact Person:   Audrie Siew
Title:   Director  
Telephone/ Fax:   63547637
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Address:   512 Thomson Road, MSF Building
Postal Code:   298136
City:   Singapore
State/Province:   Singapore

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