Speech on Child Development Co-savings Co-savings (Amendment No. 2) Bill by Nee Soon GRC MP Kwek Hian Chuan Henry in Parliament on 10 Nov 2016
Madam Speaker, I stand in support of the Bill.
There is a beautiful saying about motherhood: “Being a mother is like having a piece of your heart running outside of you”. Most of us have experienced such love. And I would go further to say that such love extends to both parents, and frequently, to our extended family as well.
Our society recognizes the value of these bonds through our policies. This Bill is a solid step to further support parent-hood in Singapore. Our parents welcome the 2nd month of maternity leave mandatory, for it affords them more precious moments with their newborn children. Both our single mothers and adoptive parents also welcome the increase in maternal leave.
It signifies a further step in making our society inclusive. It signifies that every Singaporean child is precious. So there is much to be celebrated with the passage of this bill.
Today, I would like to speak about two other groups which can benefit from more support. They are:
o Foster parents, especially those who are related to the children.
o And adoptive parents who have tried unsuccessfully to have children.
Taken together, families from these two groups may not be large. But they too are part of our society. The children from these families too are precious, and deserve our full support.
Historically, foster and adoptive parenthood has been well-accepted in our society, especially in post-war Singapore. While this number has diminished in our society, many of us know elderly relatives who have been fostered or adopted. Foster and adoptive parenthood is an accepted part of our social fabric. So I believe we can do more to strengthen support foster and adoptive parenthood.
Strengthening Support for Foster Parents
Let me talk about fostering in Singapore. More than 5,000 children have benefited from the Foster Parents scheme since its inception. Against MSF’s target of 500, we are currently around 310 foster children and 254 foster parents. So we are still some way off from achieving MSF’s goal.
The existing MSF criterion for foster parents are:
o Resident of Singapore, at least 25 years old,
o medically fit to care for children,
o household income of at least $2,000 a month,
o preferably married couples,
o preferably experienced in caring and living with parents.
I also understand that there is a monthly allowance per foster child, with more support for special needs.
To strengthen foster parenting in Singapore, I hope that the government can foster parents with similar rights as adoptive parents with regards to leave. Specifically, I hope foster parents can also benefit from:
Childcare and Extended Childcare leave.
Shared Parents leave.
Unpaid infant-care leave.
Foster parents have parenting responsibilities that is not easy for them to discharge, and many of them struggle to do so while holding jobs. Leave for foster parents will go some ways to help them do so.
In addition, to enlarge the pool of foster parents, I hope MSF can relax its income criteria of at least $2,000 per month, especially for relatives such as grandparents, uncles and aunties.
The logic behind the income criteria is that foster parents need to have the means to take care of the children. This logic is understandable. However, there are retirees who have assets but no income who could provide excellent fostering care. Some of these could be relatives, who have a deep love for their foster children.
Also, foster parents are able to tap on our society for resources to help their family. I am also told that foster parents could also benefit from MSF’s monthly allowance. And over the years, we have strengthened our social safety nets, which also help such families. But we can also have a safeguard where that MSF assessment and approval is needed to overcome this criterion.
Lastly, I hope that the government can vest MSF with the power to recommend to the Family Justice Court, when necessary, legal guardianship for a selected group of foster parents.
Family dynamics can be complicated in cases where fostering is needed. Sometimes, it would be wise if the foster parents, especially relatives of the foster children, to get legal guardianship. Currently, it takes about 6-9 months, and $5000 to $7000 of legal costs to achieve it, which could be a burden for some foster parents. So if MSF is empowered to recommend this as needed, we can cut out unnecessary legal fees.
Easing the financial burden on adoptive parents
Next I would like to talk about easing the financial burden on adoptive parents.
Let me first share on the state of adoption today. There is less adoption than there used to be. In 2014, 352 children have been adopted, a sharp drop from 731 a decade ago. The number of adoption agencies has also halved.
For Singaporeans that embark on the adoption process, it is a costly process. Why? It is because there are not many children available for adoption locally, as many unwanted pregnancies resulted in abortions. So many potential adoptive parents have to look at adopting overseas, especially if they want someone that they feel can be a good fit to their family circumstances.
However, internationally, many countries are strengthening the adoption guidelines, and understandably so. The net effect is that the cost of adopting overseas, usually through an agent, has gone up considerably. I was told that the cost ranges from $25,000 to $50,000 to adopt from overseas.
I can think of two ways of encouraging and strengthening adoption in Singapore. Firstly, our government can provide a small grant to subsidize foreign adoption cost for Singaporean couples who failed repeatedly to conceive. Why? Even after the recent generous increase in subsidies for IVF in public hospitals, many Singaporean couples who tried unsuccessfully to conceive have to incur costly and repeated IVF treatment, especially if they do so in the private hospitals. These couples would also have drawn down on their Medisave funds. As such, a small grant to offset some of the foreign adoption cost, perhaps helping all but couples in high income brackets, would be very welcomed.
Secondly, with regards to the Planned Parenthood Tax Rebate, I also hope that MSF and MOF will extend it beyond married adoptive parents, to single adoptive parents who are previously recognized as married under Singapore law, or older single close relatives to the adopted child.
In the course of my work, my grassroots volunteers and I met several foster and adoptive parents.
There is a pair of grandparents from Kebun Baru, whose daughter, a single mother herself, have passed on. So this pair of grandparents are striving their best to be adoptive parents to their grandson. They are in their 60s and 70s. They are both struggling with full-time jobs, so that they can support their grandson who is also their adopted son. From what I can see, they have no less love for their grandson than any parents out there.
And then there is a 52-year widow in Kebun Baru, whom the press affectionately called the Bao Lady. She is a hawker supporting 3 children of her own. She also takes in unwed mothers, as well as homeless children of different races. And from what I can see, she is a wonderful foster parent well-loved by the children.
The two families which I highlighted here – one bonded by blood, the other bonded by conviction and choice and love – can get more help. So I hope that the government can examine the possibilities I propose, and add them to this excellent CDA Bill in due time. Because this small group of families deserves our full support. And because every child in Singapore is precious.
Thank you Madam Speaker, I fully support this Bill.