Sanctuary Care: A safe space for kids, a respite for parents
When both her parents passed away, 29-year-old Alicia’s life came to a breaking point. And as a single mother attending to the daily needs of four children, she could barely keep it together.
“I was on the verge of breaking down. At some point, you think that they [the kids] are just annoying you, and you want a moment for yourself,” she admits.
With no one else to rely on, the daily grind of taking care of four young children took a toll on her physically and emotionally. Tending to their everyday needs left her exhausted as she continued to struggle with the loss of both her parents.
When she tried talking to others about her experience, she remembers being labelled ‘attention-seeking’. “That’s what made me totally shut down from everyone. I kept my silence from my friends and family,” she shared.
The social isolation of being misunderstood, coupled with the grief of losing her parents and the stress of parenting four children pushed Alicia further into a corner.
“Knowing that you failed to do things as a mother, you will feel very, very down. In my mind, I was suicidal.”
That was when she reached out for help.
A SANCTUARY OF RESPITE
Her social worker then referred her to Sanctuary Care (a service of charity Boys’ Town), an organisation that facilitates short-term care and shelter for children while their parents manage a crisis. This programme reaches out to all families in need, regardless of their socio-economic, ethnic or religious backgrounds.
Sanctuary Care, through their network of social workers and respite carers, helps mothers like Alicia navigate difficult periods by providing a helping hand with child rearing while the mothers take the time needed to care for themselves.
Like any mother, Alicia was initially hesitant about being separated from her children, “What if they don't want to come back? What if they are in short term care and they see a very conducive place? And what if the children think that I don't love them anymore?”
But the desire to better care for her children outweighed her fears and she handed them over to Magdalene, a case worker from Sanctuary Care, fully assured that it was only a temporary situation.
IN GOOD HANDS
Case workers like Magdalene play an important role in facilitating the programme.
“When a case is made known to us, we will try to reach out to as many suitable carers as possible to take care of these children,” Magdalene shares. “We speak to carers to assess who is best suited in terms of time and commitment to manage the children during this period of placement.”
Besides ensuring the right match between respite carers and mothers-in-need, she also verifies that the children’s daily routines are not disrupted during this period. Frequent visitations helps her assure parents that their children are well-adjusted in their new environment.
“We also pre-empt the carers on what they might need to take note of so that they are aware, and to ensure a smooth transition,” Magdalene adds, as she takes into account the valid concerns of parents.
The saying - “It takes a village to raise a child” - rings true when a community steps in to help a parent in need. Volunteer respite carers, like Roma, understand the anxieties both parties feel during parent-child separation, and will do what she can to support the family unit. She works closely with case workers to understand the needs of the family and to make both parent and child feel as comfortable as possible.
“When I did a video call with Alicia, I made a point of saying ‘Don’t worry, they are coming back home to you as soon as you’re ready. I’m sure they miss you,’” Roma shares. “Because I know how I feel as a mom over my two kids, and the thought of not having them with me is horrible.”
Being a single mother herself, Roma identifies with Alicia’s struggles.
“I know that’s a lot of work, and I have Aye Myo here to support me full-time,” Roma says, referring to her helper. “I know she’s [Alicia] doing it alone and that’s really tough, so I would have said 'yes' no matter what, but my heart definitely goes out to that struggle.”
Magdalene, who makes frequent visits to Roma, sends Alicia updates to give her comfort that her kids are in good hands.
“I was very relieved actually,” Alicia describes, “It really makes you feel like ‘Okay, they’re safe’ and you are doing a good job for yourself, and a better you as a mother.”
Once her mind was at ease, Alicia was able to begin the painful process of coming to terms with the loss of her parents.
“On the first day when I came back home, it was quite empty, and I decided to go to my late mother’s house to sleep over, ” she recounts. “I really took the time to process what actually happened.”
And eventually, with the help of family and friends, Alicia remembers, “The thoughts of suicide, and everything just went away completely.”
CREATING A HOME
Feeling better, she turned her attention to creating a better home for her kids.
“I started to clean up to make it a conducive place for the children where they can play, have fun and enjoy being at home at the same time,” she adds, “So they will come home feeling very secure.”
Alicia recounts the times her children came home and compared their rooms with their friends’, “I felt a little sad, but I told them not everybody has the privilege to have an aircon, or television inside their rooms.”
Decluttering her physical space also helped her mentally and emotionally. She wanted to instill in her children the importance of discipline and respect for others, “So as they grow older, they know how to keep themselves organised.”
After 10 days of self reflection and setting the house right, Alicia welcomed her children home with open arms. And she was rewarded by the delight on their faces, as they admired how different and clean the house was. She says happily, “It was quite a blissful thing to see, and it’s very meaningful for me.”
TIME WILL HEAL
The time apart spent on self-care and healing also brought Alicia closer to her children and made her more aware of her own needs.
“I’m much more mentally stable and can manage to reserve my energy for each individual child,” she shares on her current state of being, “It’s a much better me actually…Now, everyone looks forward to coming back. Home is where you should really, really feel safe.”
As Alicia continues to bond with her kids, her advice to other parents who are struggling is, “Take a leap of faith. This is where you can turn your life to be a better person, become a better parent. For me, Sanctuary Care definitely helps a lot.”