New adoption law to add more grounds to dispense with parental consent, breaking cycles of abuse

A new proposal aims to specify more grounds under which the court may dispense with the need for birth parents to consent. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - The four-year-old girl was abused by her stepfather and later ostracised by both her parents, but her mother refused to let her be adopted by another family.

The girl had been placed in the care of foster parents to remove her from her abusive stepfather. When she finally went home, the physical abuse stopped but the couple began to shun her and favour the two children from their new marriage.

Ms Ng Kwai Sim, centre head of Heart@Fei Yue, a child protection specialist centre, said they asked the mother to place the child for adoption for her safety and psychological well-being.

"The birth mother rejected the option (of adoption) for fear that she would be seen by her family and friends as a lousy mother," Ms Ng said.

"The lack of a stable home environment and a secure caregiver often result in a child feeling rejected. Many of these children have difficulty forming trusting relationships with others," she added.

A significant proposal in the Adoption of Children Act 2022, which is up for its second reading in Parliament on Monday (May 9), aims to break such cycles of abuse and neglect by specifying more grounds under which the court may dispense with the need for birth parents to consent to an adoption.

The new Bill also clarifies the proposed thresholds and circumstances where consent to the adoption may be dispensed with. They include cases where the birth parents have intentionally caused grievous hurt to the child or failed to provide suitable care over a prolonged period. In addition, the child would have been under the state's care for many years.

Couples planning to adopt a child can also expect extensive changes to adoption laws and practices here, as the new Bill seeks to assess every prospective parent's suitability to adopt and deter undesirable practices among for-profit adoption agents, among other things.

Social workers said they have seen children who have spent their entire childhood under the state's care, either in a children's home or under the care of foster parents. Yet their parents object to placing them for adoption even though they are unable or even unwilling to care for them.

Ms Ng said there is a small group of parents who feel that no one should take away their parental rights and it is their prerogative to parent the way they want.

Children under the care of the state could have been abused or neglected by their parents or unable to be cared for, for various reasons.

The Guardian-in-Adoption, a Ministry of Social and Family Development official who safeguards the child's interest, will carry out the necessary investigations and consider if the birth parents are able to care for their child in the long term or if adoption would be beneficial for the child instead.

If the Guardian-in-Adoption concludes that the conditions for dispensing with parental consent are met, it will recommend that the court do so.

Ms Gracia Goh, director of Children in Care Group at the Singapore Children's Society, said parents may believe they can provide a safe and stable home environment and care for their children, but fail to because of the complex and chronic problems they may be facing. These include drug addiction, poverty and incarceration.

Ms Goh said: "These parents struggle to survive day to day, and many have experienced childhood trauma such as abuse."

She said being adopted gives these children a safe, stable and permanent family that meets their need for love and belonging and helps them build a healthy sense of self-esteem.

She noted that the child's wishes about whether he or she wants to be adopted are a key consideration in the matter too.

Ms Goh said that most children hope to return to their biological parents, though a handful would want to be adopted by another family, especially if they have spent a long time in state care.

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