All they need is losts of love
DEANA Man jokes that she and her Chinese husband are now ''familiar faces'' to Hong Kong's Central Foster Care Unit. Eight-month-old Peter, who she collected last week, is the 10th ''special needs'' child they have fostered in the past eight years.
Yvonne Dauncey, picking up eight-month-old ''Jane'' on the same day, is a first-time foster mother, nervously looking forward to what she describes as the ''loving task'' of providing a temporary home for the Down's Syndrome baby.
According to the charity Mother's Choice, which has helped organise both placements, there are more than 400 such foster-care placements in the territory, and the search is on for more. The charity receives increasing numbers of referrals daily, from hospitals, doctors and other agencies.
The Central Foster Care Unit, under the Social Welfare Department, wants to increase its capacity to 600 places by 1997 to meet the growing demand for children needing temporary homes.
September will see Mother's Choice embark on a concentrated recruitment drive to encourage new families to foster special needs children. Out of 14 fostering placements currently in the Mother's Choice programme, half are Chinese children being fostered by Chinese families while they wait to be reunited with their families. But there are no Chinese parents fostering special needs children.
''We currently have 12 special needs children who could be placed in foster care. It's difficult to find homes that are open to accepting special needs children, for a variety of reasons. Our campaign will be geared more towards Western families, although we welcome Chinese,'' said Janette Pepall, social work supervisor at Mother's Choice.
''The majority of these children will be adopted overseas. So apart from receiving family-based care, they're also learning about new faces, food, culture and language. When the transition to adoption is made, they're already three quarters of the way into the adjustment process,'' she said.
According to Mrs Pepall, children fostered by families after being in institutional care often show dramatic improvements in their health and development.
''They usually gain weight, they grow, their education improves, they're just happier. They blossom. They get the message that they're loved for themselves,'' she said.
This has been the case time and again for Mrs Man and her family. She decided to focus on special needs children, having had four happy and healthy children of her own.
''I knew that in Hong Kong there were a lot of children who were in need of a lot of love,'' she said. ''I felt that I could help even if it was just one child.'' That first child, a three-year-old boy with Down's Syndrome, began for her an eight-year stint as a foster mother that shows no signs of stopping.
Even after 10 children and four of her own, she was still excited about the arrival of a new child, she said.
''I've had all types of children, battered and abused,'' Mrs Man said. ''Abused children need continuous training more than other children because they've been through so much. A couple of children came to us with poor behaviour. They were disturbed. It was hard, but I seemed to get more rewards back from them. It's one more reward for me every time one of those children progresses.
''One child lived in a world of silence; that was hard. There was a lot of hard work with her. I got her confidence after about a month. I got a tremendous amount of pleasure out of it. Special needs children need a lot of work, but they give me so much love and happiness.'' She admits that after taking time and trouble to make such children part of the family, saying goodbye can be the most difficult part. ''I do get sad saying goodbye but I have made myself realise that these children are not mine and we are just temporarily looking after them to give them a better start,'' she said.
At present, there are three foster children living with the Man family at their home in the New Territories. Far from being resentful of the extra attention their parents lavish on the foster children, their own four children, who range from four to 18, appear to be extremely supportive of their parents' fostering.
Her 16-year-old daughter Serena is so supportive of her mother's actions that she now works voluntarily at the Home of Loving Faithfulness with her father and is planning to be a nurse.
''I think it's really great what my mum's doing. I help her quite a lot. I do get attached to the children - I got very attached to Malia [Lauer, the Down's Syndrome baby who left the territory two weeks ago to join an adoptive American family]. I got upset when she left.'' Deana describes her husband as an exceptional man, but his parents, she said, had initially found their decision to be foster parents difficult to comprehend.
''It was quite difficult for them to understand why I should want to foster children, let alone those with special needs. Even normal ones were considered to be a bit odd. But they've got used to it now,'' she laughed. ''They just consider it part of me.'' First time foster mother 38-year-old Mrs Dauncey was thrilled by the response of her family and friends to the news that she was fostering a Down's Syndrome baby, Jane.
''They have been so supportive. We've had a really good response from everybody. They heard about it and just turned up with big bags of clothes. We've got nearly two of everything so I'm keeping it in case anyone else needs it,'' she said.
The decision to foster came as a result of her work as a volunteer at one of the Mother's Choice centres.
The family was then subjected to a rigorous round of interviews and home studies by the Central Foster Care Unit, before the baby's referral worker considered the family a ''good match''.
''I've known that we were going to have Jane for about a month. She had been hospitalised for a while. When I first saw her I visualised her in a month or two. We picked her up and she was asleep. She opened her eyes and gave a big grin, like: 'Oh, you're here then.' That was really sweet, really precious. It just felt very natural,'' she said.
''It's perfectly acceptable for families to grieve when the children leave,'' Mrs Pepall said. ''We're asking them to do this amazing thing - make these children part of their families, give them all they've got emotionally and then give them away.'' ''I know it will be right to grieve [when she goes],'' Mrs Dauncey said, cuddling her new charge. ''For now I just want her to be healthy and beautiful for her adoptive parents. I want to see her blossom.''