Fostering Children with Special Educational Needs

No one is perfect, but every person is whole. The foster child that you have is as complete a person as anyone else, even if he or she has learning difficulties. Your resolve to become a foster parent is all the more important now to help your foster child reach his or her fullest potential with your patience and nurturing.

Foster parents can make all the difference in helping children with learning difficulties develop and thrive as individuals. In Singapore, there are about 13,000 students in mainstream schools with learning difficulties or mild Special Educational Needs (SEN).

Defining Special Educational Needs (SEN)

According to the Ministry of Education, a child is considered to have SEN when the following three conditions are present:

  1. Has been diagnosed with a disability. Some of the disabilities commonly seen among school children in Singapore include autism spectrum disorders, intellectual disability and visual or hearing impairments.
  2. Shows greater difficulty in learning as compared to the majority of his peers of the same age.
  3. Requires different or additional resources beyond what is generally available for the majority of his peers of the same age.

Get diagnosed
Though SEN may be identified at an earlier age, they are often spotted when a child enters the formal education system. Often, parents play a critical role in noticing the struggles that their child has by paying attention to how he is coping socially, emotionally and academically. Look out for tell-tale signs, for example, refusal to go to school, difficulty in doing his school work, problems with reading and writing, or difficulty making friends.

It is important to raise any concerns or observations you have with your child’s teachers or school principal. Make arrangements to see the school counselor and have your child assessed by professionals, like an educational psychologist. Once your foster child has been professionally diagnosed, it is important to put in place the plan of care and support from doctors and therapists.

Find help
The issues associated with having SEN seem daunting, but know that there is help available. The Ministry of Education has produced a handbook on SEN – a useful resource book which provides a step-by-step guide on what you can do for your child should he have a learning disability. There is even a list of alternative schools that your foster child can be sent to, if you feel he needs more dedicated educational support. Make it a point to stay in close contact with your child’s teachers, learning support department or counsellors.

Know that the challenges you face in helping your foster child cope with his challenges are not unique to you. There are many support groups for parents whose children have SEN. Make an effort to get connected with others so you can learn from their experiences, share your concerns and get ample peer support.

Support your child
A child cannot help himself in this area. Care and intervention from the family is paramount to helping your foster child cope and minimise the fear, apprehension and shame that your child is likely to experience when struggling to keep up with his peers and academic demands.

Make time to listen and understand the specific struggles and emotions your child faces. Continue to strengthen the bond that you have with him apart from getting support from professionals. Spend time with him and be present – this will help him trust you, as he knows that you are there to provide support. Remind your foster child that though often the challenges he faces cannot be resolved completely or all at once, he does not have to handle them alone.

Press on
There are no quick answers and often, no complete solutions. Every day will likely throw up new challenges. Take it one day at a time, and do not be afraid to seek help. As a foster parent, you can make a huge difference to the quality of life your foster child leads, and the kind of future he has. Often with appropriate intervention from professionals, and the constant support from parents and family, children with learning difficulties can thrive and go on to lead meaningful lives.

© 2015 Focus on the Family Singapore Ltd.

Fang, J. (2015, February 7). The Big Read: In mainstream schools, children with learning disabilities still face challenges. TODAY Online. Retrieved from

Ministry of Education, Republic of Singapore. (2012). Choosing the Right School: A Parent’s Guide for Children with Special Educational Needs. Retrieved from


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