Their motto is “a labor of love” and after meeting with Noel Tan, one of the founders and now the “beating heart” of Sanctuary House, we understand why. Noel is a younger man with small children at home, his youngest being 3 years old. Together with two other dedicated staff members they are available 24 hours a day – 7 days a week to provide crisis pregnancy services, emergency infant care, pre-adoptive infant/ childcare, and post-adoptive services.
Their location is very unassuming, being office space in a building close to Novena Square. The room we sit in is a small brightly colored makeshift classroom filled with neatly arranged children’s books and art supplies. There are stacks of packaged diapers behind a curtain in the corner and in the room next to ours is the office with computers and desks on one side and a long wall with shelves on the other side packed floor to ceiling with plastic boxes. Each box is precisely labeled with everything from toys, baby formula, and diaper rash crèmes, to clothing per age (0-16 years) for either boys or girls. There is additional storage space that can be turned into makeshift sleeping facilities for them and the “little ones” in emergency situations with cribs and other donated items ready for the next occupant.
Noel tells us a recent study concluded that in Singapore there are currently 17.000 orphans either because their family has passed away, or the families are dysfunctional (parents on drugs or in prison, abusive, or not willing or sometimes not mentally prepared to handle the responsibility of a baby and sometimes the older siblings as well). The children’s homes are full to capacity and there are cases of abuse occurring in these homes as well, often by other orphans acting out, rather than by the caregivers.
The number of cases is increasing and the hospitals are sometimes having to function as a halfway house in the interim as they may be the safest place to keep a baby or child who at that point has no other options. Cases are typically referred to Sanctuary House through Social Workers at various organizations and through obstetricians.
They receive little to no “official” financial aid, but are fortunate to have the support from a pool of pediatricians and psychologists who do free consults and assessments when needed. Items like diapers and formula and immediate care products are sponsored by various outside sources. Sanctuary House get children’s clothing and toy donations in spurts and are currently pretty well stocked.
One of their biggest costs is transportation related, as Noel and his staff are forced to take taxis daily, with costs in the range of $4.000 per month.
Annually they deal with anywhere between 50 – 80 cases of which 40% are babies. On a regular basis they deal with 30-40 kids at a time, with 4 to 5 of the children in and out of Sanctuary House for various reasons every day. They spend about 85% of their time off the premises when they deliver supplies of diapers, formula or other necessities to foster parents and use these supply drops as child assessment opportunities to see how the child is coping.
Some biological parents want to see their children and have an opportunity to visit an hour or two per week with them at a supervised location – mainly during the weekends. So Noel and his limited staff are shuttling children to and from the meeting locations, to and from schools, and for doctors appointments, surgeries or therapy depending on the needs of the child.
They also train foster parents on a case by case basis to understand the “mental baggage” that the child may bring into their home – so the foster parents can learn to read the “signs” and understand the trigger moments that may send a small child into a rage “for what may seem look like no apparent reason”.
Sanctuary House is always looking for foster parents. Expats are their primary volunteer pool and the foster parents are mainly asked to take in an infant or child in the process of being adopted, which is a process that generally lasts 2 to 4 weeks. All the supplies are provided by Sanctuary House and the only “ingredient” they ask the foster parents to provide is LOVE.
If you miss having a little one at home, or have room in your home and heart for an extra little one at your house, and would be interested in taking in a baby or child for a short period then please contact Gerard, who has replaced Noel now at Sanctuary House. The phone number is 6221 0588.
In summary if you are in a position to either make a monetary donation, or volunteer to drive them once in a while (thereby helping them cut transportation costs) or if you are able to temporarily turn your home into a safe “sanctuary house” for a baby or child with no other options – you will be welcomed with open arms.