Adoptive parents welcome change

SOME 400 couples adopt children each year and the working mothers in this group will qualify for four weeks of adoption leave, to be made mandatory from May.

Adoptive parents welcomed the move as something they have long asked for, though they also identified some other policy gaps such as medical subsidies and paternity leave that they still do not qualify for.

The change is one of several that the Government announced on Monday as part of its enhanced Marriage and Parenthood Package.

The number of child adoptions in Singapore has hovered at around 400 in the past two years, with 418 cases in 2011 - a general decline from 703 cases in 2001. This is due to the introduction of more stringent checks for overseas adoptions and more childless couples turning to fertility treatments.

The new adoption leave means from May 1, employers must give adoptive mothers four weeks off work within 12 months of the child's birth.

To qualify, the mothers must be married and must have worked for their employer for at least three months before the point of formal intent to adopt. The child must be below the age of 12 months, Singaporean or become one within six months of adoption.

Just over half of adopted children are born overseas, mostly in neighbouring South-east Asian countries.

The typical adoptive parent here is Chinese, between 35 and 50 years old and with a median household income of between $6,000 and $7,000 a month.

Almost all - nine in 10 - adopt the child with their spouse, the Ministry of Social and Family Development said last November in a written answer to a parliamentary question.

An adoptive father who only wanted to be known as Mr L welcomed the move to make adoption leave mandatory. The 47-year-old and his 46-year-old wife adopted their daughter 11/2 years ago from Malaysia.

His wife, who works in a bank, took around two months of adoption, annual and no-pay leave.

But Mr L asked why paternity leave was not extended to adoptive fathers. "Pro-family measures should involve both parents," he said.

Another adoptive father, Mr Lee C. M., 47, agreed with Mr L: "I'm happy the Government has taken a more open stance towards adoption, though I think we could do with a lot more because the adoption process is tough. We do love children and we really want to make a difference."

The school counsellor and his wife adopted a newborn Singaporean boy three years ago after nearly 20 years of marriage.

Mr Lee added that subsidies for adopted babies' medical expenses and legal adoption fees would help. It costs between $25,000 and $30,000 to adopt a child from overseas.

Another adoptive mother, who declined to be named, said of the new adoption leave: "I'm happy that something is finally being done."

But the 45-year-old health-care sector employee said it was still hard for her to take leave to care for her two-month-old as "there's no one I can delegate my work to".

Mr L recalled the moment he first laid eyes on his daughter, who was then just a week old. Said the proud father: "There was this tenderness for her when we looked at her. We felt that she was the baby for us."