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Adoption register to facilitate contact between children, birth parents being considered

Adoption register to facilitate contact between children, birth parents being considered

Source: Straits Times
Article Date: 29 May 2022
Author: Theresa Tan

An adoption register is helpful to enable adopted children to locate their birth families with the appropriate guidance.

An adoption register which is used to facilitate contact between adopted children and their birth families could be set up here.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) is assessing the suitability of setting up such a register, which contains information on birth parents and the circumstances under which a child was placed for adoption.

An MSF spokesman said it will study how other countries establish and operate an adoption register and will consult key stakeholders here, adding: "Setting up an adoption register is aligned with a culture of disclosure which the MSF strongly encourages."

Speaking about the new laws governing child adoption, which was passed on May 9, Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli mentioned the setting up of an adoption register as a step the ministry could take towards promoting greater disclosure.

Mr Masagos said some adopted children have contacted the MSF to look for their birth parents. If the MSF is able to contact these parents, it would explore if they are open to meeting or talking to the child they placed for adoption.

The MSF spokesman said it is uncommon for adopted children to ask for the MSF's help to find their birth parents. These children include adults who chanced upon their adoption documents and wanted to find out if the documents are legitimate, as well as individuals who were told by their adoptive parents or other relatives "late in their lives" that they were adopted.

The MSF would ask these individuals to consider speaking to their parents first if they suspect they were adopted. It may also advise them to apply to the Family Justice Courts to access documents that were submitted to the courts in relation to their adoption application.

Through such methods, some of these children found and met their birth parents. For others, their birth parents may have died or the birth mother may refuse to meet the child as she had kept the adoption a secret.

Mr Arthur Ling, chief executive of Fei Yue Community Services who is also an adoptive parent, said it is important to have strict guidelines such as who can access information in the adoption register if one is set up here, as not every adopted child or birth parent want to be contacted.

While some parents are open to answering questions from their adopted child, they may not have all the answers. And information such as the birth parents' medical history and issues relating to the child's heritage and identity might become important to the adopted child as he or she grows older, Mr Ling said.

Hence, an adoption register is helpful to enable adopted children to locate their birth families with the appropriate guidance.

Under the new Adoption of Children Act 2022, prospective parents must attend a disclosure briefing, which equips them with the skills and knowledge to tell their child the truth about his or her adoption.

Mr Masagos said the MSF understands some birth and adoptive parents have concerns regarding disclosure, adding: "We are therefore taking an incremental approach towards disclosure. As a first step, we will mandate disclosure briefings but not the disclosure itself."

The new Act takes effect next year and more details of the mandatory disclosure briefings will be announced at a later date, the MSF spokesman said.

Social workers say adoptive parents should tell their child the truth about his or her parentage in order to build a loving and trusting relationship.

Ms Wong Wei Lei, senior social worker at social service agency Touch Adoption, said: "If you don't tell and the child finds out eventually, everything like what the child believes about themselves and their self-identity crumbles and falls apart. And the child may feel whatever his parents have told him up to that point was a lie."

Ms Wong said she has worked with children who felt betrayed after finding out accidentally they were adopted and they rebelled against their adoptive parents.

She said Touch Adoption encourages adoptive parents to tell their child as early as possible and one way to do so is to read books on adoption to their child.

She said: "We encourage parents to practise telling (from) when their child is a baby, as parents get emotional (telling the truth of the adoption). So the parents would have practised many times by the time the child can understand and, by then, the message comes out a lot more naturally."

Last year, Touch Adoption and Singapore Children's Society, a social service agency, started collaborating to run workshops to teach children how to identify and deal with their emotions relating to adoption, and how and when to tell their adoption story.

Ms Gracia Goh, the society's director of children in care group, said: "Children may wonder if it's okay to miss their birth parents or to get angry when their friends ask them about their adoption. So the workshops help them learn that their feelings are valid and to be more confident in discussing their feelings with their parents."

Ms Goh said that some children may act out, such as by throwing tantrums, when they are unable to communicate what they are going through.

And children are often stumped and unsettled when their friends ask them questions like "Why are you given away?" and "Do you know who your real parents are?".

The social workers pointed out that the language used to discuss adoption is critical.

For example, questions like "Why are you given away?" implies that the child is not worth keeping and this can have a devastating impact on the child's self-esteem, they said. So they suggested using phrases like placed for adoption or making a plan for adoption, instead of given away for adoption.

Ms Goh said: "Adoption is not shameful and there is no need to hide it from the child. We encourage parents to tell their child as early as possible as it normalises the adoption and helps to build a healthy sense of self for the child."

Touch and the Singapore Children's Society will run the next children's workshop in September. Those interested can contact them at [email protected]

Source: Straits Times © SPH Media Limited. Permission required for reproduction.

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