SINGAPORE - When Mr Christopher de Souza's adopted daughter was young, he and his wife would tell her she "came from her tummy mummy's tummy", but she was born in their hearts.
There are those who may be concerned that the child might be adversely affected by such a disclosure, but having given it much thought, he said it is best to tell a child that he is adopted as early as possible.
Speaking in Parliament on Monday (May 9), Mr de Souza said adoption can be explained to children in a positive and affirming way.
Mr de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) was one of 14 MPs who spoke during the debate on proposed changes to adoption laws.
The new rules include steps to better protect adopted children and equip adoptive couples with parenting skills, such as a mandatory disclosure briefing to learn how to tell children about their adoption at the right time.
During the debate, MPs also touched on the need to regulate adoption agencies and conduct adequate post-adoption checks to ensure the safety of adopted children.
Mr Dennis Tan (Hougang) urged the Government to take steps to ensure the proposed changes do not lead to a rise in the cost and expense of adoption.
Mr Tan, who is an adoptive father, said he benefited from disclosure briefings in the early stages of adoption.
He said: “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,”
Mr Tan said he expected to have deeper conversations with his daughter, now a Primary 1 pupil, in the coming years.
He added: “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.”
Ms Ng Ling Ling (Ang Mo Kio GRC) cited studies that showed adopted children are at higher risk of developing behavioural and emotional issues, such as anxiety and depression, some of which persist into adulthood.
She said the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) could provide support services to adopted children up to the age of 21.
Several MPs called for the regulation of the adoption sector, including the mandatory accreditation of adoption agencies such as through a published registry of accredited agencies, to standardise them and determine their suitability to operate.
Responding to calls to ramp up assistance for prospective adopters, Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli said such assistance measures would include authorised adoption agencies.
To step up support for adoptive families, Mr Masagos said measures like the pre-adoption briefing, which is mandatory under new rules, would provide parents with an idea of what they can expect in the process.
On the matter of disclosure, Mr Masagos agreed with Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC) that disclosure was very sensitive for the different parties involved - the child, the adoptive parents and the birth parents.
Responding to MPs who raised concerns about the cost of adoption suitability assessments, Mr Masagos said: “As adoption suitability assessments are conducted by social service agencies which charge fees to cover their costs in conducting the assessment, fees are charged on a cost recovery basis.”
Beyond mandatory briefings and assessments, Mr Masagos said, prospective adoptive parents could also tap formal and informal support groups during the adoption journey.
“MSF can also connect them with family service centres for support on issues common to families such as parent-child conflict or marital stress,” he said.
To curb undesirable practices in the adoption sector, Mr Masagos said, the changes to the law seek to put in place a strong regulatory framework.