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Singapore Government

MSF Introduces Adoption of Children Bill to Better Protect Welfare of Children Identified for Adoption

MSF Introduces Adoption of Children Bill to Better Protect Welfare of Children Identified for Adoption

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Published On
04 Apr 2022

1          Minister for Social and Family Development, Mr Masagos Zulkifli, introduced the Adoption of Children Bill in Parliament today. The Bill seeks to repeal the Adoption of Children Act 1939 and re-enact a new Adoption of Children Act 2022. With the child’s welfare as the primary guiding principle, the proposed changes aim to (a) find a good home for every child identified for adoption, (b) break cycles of abuse and neglect, and (c) deter undesirable behaviours in the adoption sector. 

2          The Bill takes into account feedback from adopted children, adopters, MSF’s stakeholders, social service agencies, and the public. A summary of responses of the feedback can be found in Annex A

Key amendments

Find a good home for every child identified for adoption

Require attendance of pre-adoption and disclosure briefings

3          Presently, prospective adopters are administratively required to attend a pre-adoption briefing. The Bill proposes for all prospective adopters to attend both a pre-adoption briefing and a disclosure briefing before an adoption application can be made. The briefings will be conducted by MSF-authorised adoption agencies to familiarise prospective adopters with the adoption process, how to parent an adopted child, the importance of and appropriate manner to disclose a child’s adoptive status to him or her, and how adopters can support their adopted children in embracing their adoptive status.

Require all prospective adopters to undergo a suitability assessment

4          MSF currently requires persons who wish to adopt an unrelated foreign child to undergo a home study assessment with MSF-authorised adoption agencies after they attend the pre-adoption briefing. The home study assessment must be completed before the prospective adopters can identify and have a child placed with them. The Bill proposes for this assessment – called the ‘Adoption Suitability Assessment’ (ASA) – to be a pre-requisite for all adoption applications. Those seeking to adopt a related child (e.g. a step-child) may qualify for a simpler ASA. The Bill elaborates on the proposed powers to be granted to the Guardian-in-Adoption, and authorised adoption agencies in the suitability assessment process. 

Give priority to prospective adopters with strong ties to Singapore

5          The Bill proposes to prioritise Singapore Citizens (SC) and Permanent Residents (PR) for adoptions in Singapore, in view of the small number of children who are identified for adoption. This will better ensure that Singapore does not become an adoption hub of convenience.

Prevent persons convicted of serious crimes from adopting

6          To protect the child’s safety and well-being, persons who were convicted of serious offences (including sexual, violence and drug-related offences) will not be eligible to adopt, unless the Court determines that there are exceptional circumstances (e.g. prospective adopter committed an offence over 10 years ago and has been reformed). These offences will be prescribed in legislation. 

Ensure that parties involved in the adoption process who require support receive the necessary services

7          The Bill proposes to empower the Court to order the child, prospective adopters, and relevant persons (e.g. birth parents) in the adoption process to attend counselling, mediation or other relevant programmes during the adoption proceedings and/or after the adoption order has been made, if required. 

Break cycles of abuse and neglect

8          There are some children who have been placed in foster care or a children’s home for many years, as their birth parents continue to be unfit or unwilling to care for them despite support from professionals and the community. Stakeholders consulted  have agreed that adoption would be in these children’s interest, so that they can grow up in a safe, stable and loving family. However, couples who wish to adopt them may face challenges in doing so, if the birth parents do not consent to the adoption. To facilitate the adoption of these children, the Bill makes clearer the proposed thresholds and circumstances and specifies more grounds under which the Court may dispense with a relevant person’s (e.g. a birth parent’s) consent to the adoption. This will include cases where the birth parents intentionally caused grievous hurt to the child or have failed to provide suitable care for the child over a prolonged period, causing the child to be in need of care and protection.

Deter undesirable behaviours in the adoption sector

9          The Bill seeks to introduce offences to protect the welfare of children identified for adoption and ensure the integrity of adoption processes and practices in Singapore. The Bill will criminalise undesirable behaviours that compromise the child’s welfare, such as advertising children for adoption, inducing birth parent’s consent for the child’s adoption through fraudulent means, and providing false or misleading information during the adoption process. 

10          The Bill also aims to encourage transparency in the adoption sector by proposing permissible adoption-related payments, and the requirement for all adoption agencies to publish information on their fees.

Conclusion

11          If passed by Parliament, the re-enacted Adoption of Children Act will better ensure that children identified for adoption are placed and raised in loving, safe, and stable families, and strengthen safeguards in the adoption sector. 


 

Annex A: Summary of Feedback from Consultations on Proposed Amendments to the Adoption of Children Act 

Introduction

1          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. 

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Annex B: MSF-Authorised Adoption Agencies 

 

- Apkim Centre for Social Services
o Webpage: www.apkim.sg 
o Email: info@apkim.com 
o Phone: 6295 1011

- Fei Yue Community Services
o Webpage: www.fycs.org
o Email: adoption@fycs.org
o Phone: 6416 2188

- Lutheran Community Care Services
o Webpage: www.lccs.org.sg 
o Email: adoption@lccs.org.sg
o Phone: 6441 3906

- Touch Community Services 
o Webpage: www.touch.org.sg 
o Email: adoption@touch.org.sg
o Phone: 6709 8425

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