Ministry of Social and Family Development
Ministry of Social and Family Development
Consultation Period:
22 Feb 2021 - 21 Mar 2021
Status:
Closed - Summary of Responses

Consultation Outcome

SUMMARY OF FEEDBACK FROM CONSULTATIONS ON PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO THE ADOPTION OF CHILDREN ACT 

Introduction

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) sought public feedback from 22 February 2021 to 21 March 2021 on the proposed amendments to the Adoption of Children Act (ACA). MSF received over 130 written responses from the public, including adopted children, adopters, and prospective adopters. This is in addition to the other stakeholders that MSF had been engaging in 2020 and 2021, including adopters, adoption agencies, social service agencies, children and young persons homes, pregnancy crisis support agencies, and lawyers.

2. Stakeholders and the public (‘respondents’) were supportive of the amendments proposed for the Adoption of Children Bill (‘the Bill’). Good suggestions were contributed, some of which are proposed for inclusion in the Bill. The key feedback and MSF’s responses are summarised below. 

Find a good home for every child identified for adoption

Require all prospective adopters to undergo a suitability assessment

3. The majority of respondents agreed that prospective adopters must be properly assessed by qualified professionals before they are allowed to adopt. Respondents also expressed that such assessments helped to prepare prospective adopters for parenthood and ensured that they were able to provide a suitable home for the child. 

4. MSF agrees with the public’s suggestions to name the pre-adoption assessment “Adoption Suitability Assessment” (ASA), rather than an “Adoption Readiness Assessment”, as the term “suitability” emphasises a prospective adopter’s ability to meet a child’s needs, rather than how ready a prospective adopter is to adopt. The proposed ASA replaces the existing Home Study Report, and will be conducted by MSF-authorised adoption agencies. Based on feedback received, MSF will also simplify the pre-adoption assessment for prospective adopters who are related to their child (e.g. a step-parent). 

Give priority to prospective adopters with strong ties to Singapore

5. Most respondents supported prioritising prospective adopters who are Singapore Citizens (SC) and Permanent Residents (PR) in view of the small number of local and foreign children who are identified for adoption. Some respondents felt that a prospective adopter’s suitability, motivation, and ability to provide care should take precedence over residency status. Nonetheless, MSF is proposing to prioritise SC and PR prospective adopters to better ensure that Singapore does not serve as an adoption hub of convenience. 

Prevent persons convicted of serious crimes from adopting

6. Respondents supported the proposal to bar persons convicted of serious crimes from adopting, to safeguard the child’s safety and well-being. Some respondents suggested that the prescribed offences be carefully scoped and for exceptions to be allowed on a case-by-case basis, as ex-offenders may turn over a new leaf. MSF agrees that the prescribed offences must be clearly defined and scoped to avoid inadvertently disqualifying prospective adopters who were convicted of offences that do not affect their ability to be a good parent. These offences will be prescribed in legislation. 

Disclosure of adoptive status

7. Most respondents agreed that adopters should be encouraged to disclose the child’s adoptive status to him or her when the child is younger and mentally ready. Nonetheless, some respondents felt that adopters would know their child best and should be the ones to decide if and when disclosure should be done. Adopted children and adopters consulted said that disclosure is important for the child’s sense of security and belonging, particularly during the teenage years. Some respondents observed that adopters should have access to resources and support (e.g., counselling from social service agencies and religious groups) to prepare them for disclosure in an age-appropriate, child-centric manner.

8. In view of the feedback, the proposed amendments will mandate attendance of all prospective adopters at disclosure briefings to explain the benefits of disclosure and equip them with the necessary knowledge and skills on when and how to disclose. 

9. A few respondents supported setting up an Adoption Register (‘Register’) accessible by an adopted child, adopters, and birth parents under certain conditions and with appropriate guidance. The Register could contain information on the child’s birth family. However, respondents also highlighted that an adopted child might not want his or her personal data to be accessed by his/her birth parent(s), and that the birth parent(s) might want to keep his or her information confidential. As the feedback on the Register was mixed, MSF will study this suggestion in more detail for future amendments. That said, MSF strongly encourages adopters to disclose a child’s adoptive status to him or her when the child reaches an appropriate age. 

Post-adoption support for adoptive families

10. Respondents agreed that post-adoption support would be useful to ensure that the parent-child relationship is stable, the child is developing well, and the adopters are coping. Some respondents said regular support could help prevent post-adoption breakdowns, as parent-child issues could arise several years after the adoption. Notwithstanding this, the majority of respondents felt that such support need not be mandated, so as to strike a balance between supporting families that require additional assistance, and not imposing the post-adoption support on families that do not require such assistance. 

11. MSF’s proposed amendments therefore empower the Court to order attendance of relevant support services, such as counselling and mediation, if required at any point during the adoption proceedings or after an order has been made. Adoptive families with high needs may be provided the intensive, evidence-informed Functional Family Therapy – Child Welfare programme to address complex family issues (e.g. serious behavioural issues) to prevent post-adoption breakdowns. 

12. A few respondents suggested that birth mothers who have given up a child for adoption should receive support for their emotional needs. MSF encourages birth parents to approach Social Service Agencies near them to seek support. 

Break cycles of abuse and neglect

13. MSF received diverse views related to the thresholds for dispensation of a relevant person’s (e.g. a birth parent’s) consent for adoption. Some respondents felt that it is a sacrosanct right for a child to be brought up by his/her birth parent, with the corresponding view that higher thresholds should be met before their consent is dispensed with. On the other hand, others were supportive of lowering the threshold of dispensation, especially for children who have remained in state care for a prolonged period. Nonetheless, most respondents agreed that there is merit to dispensing with the birth parents’ consent if they are unable or unfit to bring up the child, although reasonable notice should be given to them before dispensation. MSF has taken all feedback into account in calibrating the threshold for dispensation of consent.

14. Relatedly, some respondents provided feedback that the child’s wishes should be sought before dispensation. MSF wishes to clarify that such processes are already in place, and the child’s views are taken into account when the Court decides whether an adoption order should be made. 

Deter undesirable behaviours in the adoption sector

15. Respondents welcomed the proposal to introduce offences to protect the child’s well-being and ensure the integrity of the adoption process in Singapore. MSF’s proposed amendments will introduce offences to deter behaviours that compromise the child’s welfare, such as broadcasting identifiable information advertising a child for adoption, inducing a birth parent’s consent for the child’s adoption through fraudulent means, providing false or misleading information during adoption assessment, and placing a child with prospective adopters when they have not been preliminarily assessed as being suitable to adopt. 

16. Some respondents suggested imposing an obligation on adoption agencies to conduct checks on local and overseas parties involved in the adoption process. MSF recognises that certain unethical activities, such as obtaining the birth parents’ consent through fraud, can take place beyond Singapore’s shores. The proposed amendments to the ACA will make clear that there will be extra-territorial applicability for offences, and enforcement action may be taken against the relevant parties when they enter Singapore. 

17. Some respondents suggested regulating adoption agencies and the prices they charge. MSF recognises that agencies presently charge different rates due to various considerations, e.g. childbirth and travel expenses differ across countries. Hence, as a first step, MSF proposes to require all adoption agencies to be more transparent in adoption fees charged, and make clear in legislation what types of adoption payments are permitted. 

Conclusion

18. MSF would like to thank all stakeholders and members of the public who took the time to provide feedback on the proposed amendments. If passed in Parliament, the Adoption of Children Act will strengthen Singapore’s legislative framework for the adoption of children to find a good home for every child identified for adoption, break cycles of abuse and neglect, and deter undesirable behaviours in the adoption sector. 

Detailed Description

Public Consultation On The Adoption Of Children In Singapore

Aim

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) invites the public to give feedback to help children find an adoptive family in Singapore. 


Background

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.

Child-centric perspectives

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. 


Providing Feedback

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


1Habitual residence is determined on a case-by-case basis, but generally relates to the country that has become the focus of the person’s domestic and professional life.

2Mohanty, Jayashree. “Attitudes Toward Adoption in Singapore.” Journal of Family Issues 35 no. 5 (2014): 705-728.

3A “qualified assessor” will be defined as a person that the Guardian-in-Adoption considers qualified to assess the mental or physical capacity of an individual, and includes a registered medical practitioner, a psychologist or a psychiatrist.