Having to feed nine people under one roof might seem impossible to the average Singaporean, but for Senior Station Inspector 2 (SSI2) Gerard Nonis and his wife Madam Susanna Daniels, it is a lived reality they have happily embraced for more than a decade.
For the past 15 years, SSI2 Nonis and Mdm Susanna Daniels have not only put a roof over the heads of their biological children, but also foster children who temporarily need a safe place to call home.
Their home, a modest 5-room Housing Development Board (HDB) flat in the west of Singapore currently houses both of them, their biological four children, along with three foster children placed under their care.
An average-sized dining table that sits five, which is placed right next to the kitchen, along with two long couches make up a cosy living room. It is not much, but for the foster children it is a world of order, comfort and a harbour of safety.
“We have one room for the boys and one room for the girls, both with double decker beds… if they want to watch TV to get to sleep, they can just sleep on the couch,” said Mr Nonis, who is an instructor with the Singapore Police Force (SPF) Special Tactics and Rescue (STAR) unit. “Every night is like a night out with friends…it’s a comfortable, happy kind of crowdedness.”
When SSI2 Nonis and Mdm Susanna first started to foster children in 2000, they did not expect to continue doing so for this long. According to SSI2 Nonis, they feel a deep sense of satisfaction when they see the kids able to enjoy life in a caring environment.
*Daniel (not his real name) has been with the Nonis family since he was just seven-months-old. The 14-year-old who is now in secondary school said that growing up in the Nonis household has been “fun and enjoyable” and that he feels “very blessed.”
One of the foster children who used to be under the care of the Nonis family is now happily married.
"It makes the sacrifices worthwhile," the 52-year-old gentleman said. "If we're healthy enough in the next 15 years, I don't think it's an issue (to continue fostering children)."
The couple, who first met in Namibia when SSI2 Nonis was posted there as part of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in 1999, weren't prepared for the emotional cost of bringing a child into their home only to see them leave shortly after. The Nonis' first foster child was a three-month-old baby who was adopted by another family when she turned two.
“The attachment was very strong because we had the child since she was that young…the feeling of letting go is like losing your own child,” said SSI Nonis, adding that it took them six months to emotionally recover.
Under the auspices of the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), the Fostering Service allows foster families like the Nonis’ to provide shelter and stability to children whose parents or guardians are ill and are unable to look after them.
Some children have also been abandoned or ill-treated by their parents and guardians.
According to MSF, the fostering scheme is “an alternative care arrangement for these children so that they can benefit from a safe, stable and nurturing home environment which facilitates their growth and enables them to fulfil their potential.”
When a child is placed under the care of a foster family, foster care officers continue to work with the child’s biological family with the goal to reintegrate them back home.
There are currently 339 foster children and 278 parents registered under the scheme. Since its inception in 1956, more than 5,000 children have benefited from the Fostering Scheme.
“Foster homes provide a caring home environment where the children can develop and grow up in. Although we have seen a positive increase in the number of foster families, more foster families are needed to provide a home for the children,” said Ms Fong Wai Mian, Senior Assistant Director of the Fostering Service. “We hope that more people will come forth and volunteer as foster parents to provide a home and love for the children in need.”
Mr Nonis admits that while the feeling of letting go of their foster children is one that he can't get used to, he feels that "it's really worth the effort…I still strongly believe in the fostering scheme."
"Every child needs to have a father, mother, and siblings to interact with. There's no better place for that than a home."