Mr Deputy Speaker, I support this Bill. I note that the Bill maintains certain provisions of the existing Act while also codifying certain current practices. I would like to seek clarifications on certain parts of the Bill.
Adoption Suitability Assessment
Mr Deputy Speaker, this Bill requires that an adoption application must henceforth be made by an applicant who has a favourable Adoption Suitability Assessment under Clause 14 (or in short, ASA). ASA is required to be issued by an authorized adoption agency pursuant to the requirements of the Bill. Clause 14 further provides that a valid ASA is one that is issued in the form specified by and contains all the necessary information required by the Guardian-in-Adoption.
May the minister clarify what additional information is required as prescribed under Clause 14(3)(a) and (b)?
Currently only limited categories of prospective adoptive parents are required to obtain a favourable Home Study Report (HSR) before they are allowed to adopt e.g. for overseas adopted children. The HSR assessment is usually carried out by one of the 4 social services agencies specifically authorized by MSF to provide certain adoption services. One such organization, Touch Community Services, provided a helpful explanation of the purpose of the HSR on their website. They explained that the HSR is to assess a person’s suitability and readiness to adopt a child. The HSR assessment is required before the adoptive parents start searching for a suitable child or before initiating legal adoption proceedings. The home study process involves interviews, screenings and home visits and applicants will be assessed on areas such as their motivation to adopt, views on adoption, family, marital, medical and employment history, childcare arrangement, parenting styles, and other relevant information involving adoption and adoptive parenting.
I would like to ask the minister whether, for the categories of adoption applications currently requiring HSR e.g. adoption of foreign or local children not previously known personally to them, would the HSR still be required and whether the ASA will replace the HSR and if the ASA will not replace the HSR, and if so, how would the ASA value add to the current HSR regime beyond the ASA being a formal certification by the adoption agency that these applicants are suitable to be adoptive parents?
For any other group of applicants not currently subject to the HSR procedure e.g. a step-parent adopting a child of his or spouse from a previous marriage, may I know what is the expected rigority of the ASA assessment expected, for example when compared to the current HSR process?
How will the Guardian in Adoption ensure that all ASAs comply with the requirements and standards expected under the Bill or any subsidiary legislation?
I am also curious why the Government did not consider fit to allow the current 4 social service agencies to issue the ASAs instead of getting the authorized adoption agencies to do so. Since the 4 social service agencies are already issuing the HSRs, it would seem reasonable and consistent for them to do the ASA assessment and issue the ASAs.
I am also concerned about the additional cost to adoption which may arise from the requirement of the ASA. The expenses for the adoption of overseas children are already quite significant and is not easily affordable to some. Bearing in mind that each HSR cost $2000 and the HSR process is currently undertaken by commercial agencies, is the minister able to indicate for now the estimated fees which the Government expects the adoption agencies to charge for the ASA? Would this be capped by the Government?
Authorised Adoption Agency
Mr Deputy Speaker, I have earlier spoken on the new requirement of the adoption agency issuing an ASA for adoptive parents. Section 10 of the Bill allows the minister to designate authorized adoption agencies. May I ask the minister to share with the house what are the specific requirements for an adoption agency to be an authorized adoption agency?
Mr Deputy Speaker, I agree with the Bill setting guidelines for permissible adoption-related payments, require all adoption agencies to publish information on their fees as well as other provisions criminalizing undesirable behaviour. It is important to ensure that agencies uphold acceptable standards and practices. However, I am concerned with the possible compliance costs which may be incurred by such authorized adoption agencies and whether such costs will be passed on to the adoptive parents. I am concerned that the requirements should not lead to an increase in the cost of adoption fees and expenses. Certainly, for the many adoption cases involving children from overseas each year, the cost is already considerable. I urge the Government to take steps to ensure that this Bill will not lead to an increase in the cost and expenses of adoption.
Adoption of children placed in foster home or children’s home
Mr Speaker, this Bill also helps to facilitate adoption of 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. I can understand with some of these difficult cases, the concerns about their birth parents being continually unfit to take care of their children or even be abusive. I can also understand that some of these children may even have good and close relationships with their foster parents, making adoption a worthwhile consideration. Nevertheless, people may change for the better over time and live to regret their past actions, while legal adoption, unlike fostering, adds a permanent and irreversible seal to an end to the legal relationship between birth parents and their children. Rehabilitation efforts may, for some, involve a longer time than others. How do we decide between continuing a child under foster care or put the child in foster care up for adoption? There will not be easy, one-size-fits all solutions and even after the passing of the bill, it will not and should not be an easy decision for the court to make based on any set of general conditions such as those in Clause 37, for example, the time consideration which should be given to the parents in each type of situation listed in the clause or for each particular case. I seek the minister’s assurances that there will still be sufficient safeguards to ensure that any adoption in these circumstances be allowed in perhaps only the most appropriate of cases.
Clarification on the need to take the Oath of Renunciation, Allegiance and Loyalty at 21
Next, I understand that adopted children who were foreigners at the time of birth are given citizenships at the time of the formalization of adoption. However, ICA requires such children to take the Oath of Renunciation, Allegiance and Loyalty when they reach 21, pursuant to Article 124(1) of the Constitution. Would the Government consider amending the law to dispense with the need for such adopted children, not born in Singapore, to take this Oath, especially for children who were formally adopted by Singaporean parents under Singapore law within a short time after birth e.g. say, not more than 1-2 years after birth and whose adoptive parents are also Singaporeans at the time of issuance of the children’s Singapore citizenship certificate and birth certificates. There are no other options for these children unlike other categories such as children who keep dual nationalities from birth either by the parents’ choice or at least one of the adoptive parents has a foreign nationality. Many of the adopted children would have severed their ties with their former countries as well as their birth parents.
This Bill codifies the existing practice required by MSF for all would-be adoptive parents to first attend certain briefings including a briefing on disclosure of adoptive status in clause 13.
Currently, MSF states in its website that prospective adopters are strongly encouraged to attend a Disclosure Workshop on talking with one’s adoptive child about adoption and the workshop will help one to understand why adopted children should know about their status and how adoptive parents can approach the subject.
These briefings have been a part of the adoption procedure for some time now. While still not mandating disclosure by parents to their adoptive children of the status of their adoption, the inclusion in the Bill of the disclosure briefing is still, in my view, extremely significant as it would help to enshrine the importance of disclosure.
There is quite a lot of literature on the benefits of disclosure, particularly early disclosure of the fact of adoption to the adoptive child.
In the days of old, many parents would not tell their adopted children the fact of their adoption and some would find out later on in their life through different sources or by accident. Many adopted children do not react well to discovering this later in their life.
Some time ago, a father shared with me his painful experience. He and his wife had adopted a child from a neighbouring country some years ago and did not disclose the fact of adoption to the child. As the child develops a different complexion from his adoptive parents as he got older, he was teased about it and had a tough time in school. One day he confronted his parents about it and his parents admitted to him that he was adopted. However, he struggled to accept the revelation in his mid-teens and why he was not told about it earlier. He developed difficult behavioural issues right through his early adulthood. Sadly, the episode also took a toll on his parents’ marriage.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I am myself an adoptive father. I was glad that in the early stages of adoption, I was briefed and made to understand the importance of disclosure. Though not mandatory, my wife and I agreed at the onset that we should disclose to our child that she is adopted. We started by sharing with her stories of adoption even when she was a baby. In recent years, we started telling her that we are her adoptive parents. She knows she has a tummy mummy and a forever mummy. My daughter is still young – she is still in primary one this year- and it is still work in progress in our disclosure journey. We expect that in future years, we will have more and deeper conversations with her about her adoption but we are glad that we have started this journey of disclosure some time ago.
Mr Deputy Speaker, though the Bill does not make it mandatory for parents to disclose the fact of adoption to their adopted children, once passed into law, the requirement in the legislation for prospective adoptive parents to attend briefings on disclosure is a symbolic step in the right direction. I understand that there may still be parents who may not be comfortable with disclosure. I sincerely hope that by my sharing, I can encourage some of those who may still have doubts.
I am in a support group of adoptive parents which was initially set up by the social service agency who helped us with our HSR, the Lutheran Community Care Services. Pre-Covid, the group’s parents and children had met from time to time. I hope the group will be meeting soon again with the relaxation of SMM conditions. My daughter also meets up with other friends who are adopted. Recently, a staff worker from the agency sent to our group a video on disclosure which I found to be very encouraging and thought-provoking.
I hope that adoptive parents and all stakeholders can continue to work together to encourage more parents about the benefits of disclosure and also to help adoptive parents and children along both their disclosure journey and indeed their adoption journey.
Mr Deputy Speaker, in closing, I support the Bill.