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The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) invites the public to give feedback to help children find an adoptive family in Singapore.
2 Adoption is a legal process that ceases the rights and duties of birth parents in caring for a child, and transfers them to adoptive parents. Where birth parents are unable or unwilling to care for their children, adoption helps these children find a lifelong family to care for and nurture them.
3 People choose to adopt for various reasons. Before deciding to adopt, a couple may have difficulties conceiving or have medical conditions that do not allow a child to be safely carried to term. A handful may wish to adopt a child in the hope that it would strengthen their marriage or reduce loneliness. Yet others want to adopt unwanted children in order to lift them out of poverty and to give them a better future.
4 In Singapore, the Adoption of Children Act (ACA) sets out the requirements to be fulfilled and the powers of the Court in deciding whether to grant the adoption. The Court also appoints the Director-General of Social Welfare (DGSW) to act as the Guardian-in-Adoption (GIA), who has a statutory function of ensuring the best interests of children involved in adoption proceedings. To keep pace with international developments and for Singapore to continue to be a good place to raise children, MSF is reviewing the ACA.
5 MSF has engaged a range of stakeholders to understand their experiences and hear feedback on adoption. They include children who were adopted, their adoptive parents, adoption agencies, agencies supporting foster parents, hospitals, pregnancy crisis support agencies, lawyers, and the Courts. The stakeholders naturally brought different perspectives, and shared both common and sometimes competing interests. With the child as our focus, MSF received good feedback on proposals to:
a. Eliminate unethical behaviour in the adoption sector;
b. Find a good home for every child put up for adoption; and
c. Break cycles of abuse and neglect.
A. Eliminate unethical behaviour in the adoption sector
6 Although the adoption landscape is complex with both domestic and foreign players involved, a common trait observed by MSF in the course of our engagements was that stakeholders want the best for the children. Stakeholders also shared observations of undesirable adoption practices, such as tricking birth parents into providing consent to give up their child for adoption, hiding important information during the adoption process, and ‘marketing’ and ‘testing’ of children’s “adoptability” as if they were up for sale.
7 To address their observations about the adoption sector, stakeholders, including adopters and agencies that provide adoption services, agreed with the need to introduce new offences against undesirable and unethical adoption practices, and impose penalties for persons found guilty of these offences. The proposed new offences include:
a. Obtaining of parental consent to adoption through fraud, duress and/or undue influence;
b. Providing incomplete, misleading or false documentation or information;
c. Children being placed with or cared for by applicants who have not yet been assessed to be ready or suitable for adoption; and
d. Violating the privacy of adoptees and adopted children.
8 To enable every stakeholder to take reasonable steps to protect the welfare of the children, MSF intends to require all persons and entities involved in adoption applications to report any non-compliance with adoption requirements. MSF also proposes to require adoption agencies to make public up-to-date information on their fees and services, to enable applicants to make informed decisions.
B. Find a good home for every child given up for adoption
Readiness and suitability of applicants
9 Stakeholders agreed that adoptions must consider the child’s welfare. The proposed amendments thus aim to better ensure that an adopted child will grow up in a safe and suitable home.
10 Require all applicants to undergo a readiness assessment. At present, social service agencies conduct a preliminary assessment of applicants who are thinking of adopting a child from a foreign country. This process helps applicants understand their readiness to manage the challenges of the adoption journey and the support that they may require. As the assessment also ensures that the child would have a safe and suitable environment to grow up in, stakeholders including adopters and legal professionals were broadly supportive, but noted that making such readiness assessments mandatory would entail additional costs. To effect this, MSF would make legislative changes to require all applicants to obtain a favourable “Adoption Readiness Assessment” before they make an adoption application to the Court. Applicants have to be physically present in Singapore for at least one year immediately preceding the date of the assessment, to ensure that they are settled and have support networks here. Some applicants, such as long-time foster parents who wish to adopt the child, may undergo a simpler assessment process.
11 Give priority to applicants with strong ties to Singapore. At present, the legislation allows any person who is “resident in Singapore” to adopt here. In line with international norms, and amidst a global decline in inter-country adoptions, MSF aims to prioritise applicants with strong ties to Singapore. Specifically, MSF proposes to:
a. Require applicants to be habitually resident in Singapore1 and require at least one of the applicants to be a Singapore Citizen, or both to be Permanent Residents; and
b. Allow exceptions to the criteria in exceptional circumstances, based on the facts of the case.
12 Scrutinise applications where there have been convictions for serious offences. Currently, the Court has to be satisfied that the adoption will be for the welfare of the child before granting the adoption. The proposed amendment makes it clear that certain convictions, such as for sexual, violence and drug offences, will affect the Court’s assessment of an applicant’s character and fitness to adopt. As suggested by stakeholders such as adopters and social service agencies, exceptions may be made if the applicant is able to show that there are special circumstances (e.g. the offence was committed decades ago and the applicant has turned over a new leaf), and the adoption is in the child’s interest.
13 A local study in 2014 found that 86% of the respondents were supportive of adoption, while nearly half were in favour of open adoptions2 i.e. where both adoptive and biological parents know each other’s identity. The fears and concerns of children being aware of their adoptive status, were about the impact on the adopters’ relationship with the adopted child, and whether the child would leave them for their birth parents. The study also concluded that there was a need to raise the general public’s awareness on adoption, to debunk myths and dispel negative stigma and discrimination.
14 In the child’s interest, MSF hopes to see greater openness and acceptance of adoption over time. Adopters and social service agencies also saw the benefits to the child if he/she was aware and able to confide in his/her family about being adopted. Nonetheless, stakeholders highlighted the sensitivities involved if birth parents and adoptive parents themselves and their families were not ready, and had mixed views as to the pace of change in Singapore. MSF wishes to hear more views on whether and when to proceed with the following preliminary ideas:
a. Greater disclosure of adoptive status to the adopted child. Some stakeholders have suggested that adopted children have a right to know their roots and have information about their birth family and the circumstances in which they were given up for adoption. MSF is seeking views on whether to minimally make it compulsory for applicants to attend disclosure workshops to understand why adoptive children may want to know about their adoptive status and learn how adoptive parents can communicate this appropriately to them, and for applicants to share their views in the adoption readiness assessment. Another idea was to establish a register that children can check for details about their adoption, under appropriate guidance, after the child reaches a certain minimum age.
b. Post-adoption support for adoptive families. Some stakeholders suggested that all adoptive parents and adopted children should receive mandatory post-adoption support (e.g. regular check-ins by a social service agency) for a period of time, to ensure the safety of the child and stability of the family after the adoption order has been passed. Yet other stakeholders felt that the adoptive parents should have the right to decide if they wanted to receive post-adoption support. MSF would like to invite feedback on whether such support should be made mandatory.
C. Break cycles of abuse and neglect
15 Not require the consent of some parents/guardians. There are some children whose parents are unable to care for them despite their best efforts, even with the support of professionals and the community. In some cases, these children could be placed in a children’s home or be in foster care for many years. Adoption may help these children find a lifelong family who can shower them with love and attention. However, the children’s parents may object to them being adopted, even in instances where they do not want to continue caring for the children. To overcome such objections and enable the child to be adopted by a loving family, with the aim of giving such children a better chance in life, MSF proposes to enable the Court to dispense with consent if the parent/guardian (whose consent is required for the adoption by default):
a. Has abandoned the child or cannot be found;
b. Has neglected or ill-treated the child, and has not adequately resolved the conditions that pose a risk of harm to the child within a specified period;
c. Has failed, without reasonable excuse, to care for the child independently or to fulfil his/her responsibilities for the specified period;
d. Has been institutionalised (e.g. imprisonment), for a period of time that would make it highly unlikely for him/her to care for the child;
e. Is a chronic drug abuser, or has displayed a continuous pattern of repeated offending;
f. Has been assessed by a qualified assessor3 (i) to be unable to have care and control of the child at the time of the assessment, due to physical or mental incapacity; and (ii) to unlikely be able to resume care and control within a reasonable period of time;
g. Ought to have his/her consent dispensed with, in the opinion of the court and in all the circumstances of the case.
16 In recognition of feedback from legal practitioners and social service agencies about striking a balance to protect parental rights, MSF intends to amend the legislation to make clear that applicants must inform the parents and guardians of their adoption applications, so that they are able to contest the application in Court if they wish to do so.
17 We invite the public to share your views on the proposals to help children find an adoptive family in Singapore, via this link: https://go.gov.sg/adoption-2021 by 21 March 2021. In particular, we want to hear from the experiences of adoptive parents and persons who are adopted.
18 We encourage all respondents to share your background or experience in relation to adoption, and provide data, reasons or examples to help us understand your views. Do also provide your name and the organisation you represent (if any), to allow us to follow up with you where relevant. We assure you that all views will be non-attributable, unless consent is given.
19 The full list of legislative proposals is in the Annex. After the deadline for feedback closes on 21 March 2021, MSF will publish a summary of the key feedback received and MSF’s responses on this website, when ready.
MINISTRY OF SOCIAL AND FAMILY DEVELOPMENT
22 February 2021