South West Safeguarding and Child Protection Procedures
South West Safeguarding and Child Protection Procedures South West Safeguarding and Child Protection Procedures

5.2.2 Adoption Panel

AMENDMENT

This chapter was reviewed and slightly amended in November 2015 when reference to rules regarding referral to the adoption panel prior to September 2012 were removed.


Contents

  1. Adoption Panel Purpose and Function
  2. Adoption Panel Membership
  3. Agency Advisor to the Panel
  4. Adoption Panel Meetings
  5. Agency Decision Maker
  6. Adoption Panel Minutes
  7. Reports to Adoption Panel


1. Adoption Panel Purpose and Function

The Adoption Panel contributes to the running and quality assurance of the local authority's adoption service and receives annual reports on the service and its performance.

In doing so it has an overriding responsibility to promote good practice, consistency of approach and fairness in all aspects of the adoption service, in accordance with its procedures and values.

Recommendations

As part of this function, the Panel makes recommendations as to the following:

  1. The suitability of prospective adoptive applicants to adopt;
  2. Whether a child is suitable to be placed for adoption, in some cases - see below;
  3. Whether a child should be placed for adoption with particular prospective adopters.

The recommendations must be unconditional and cannot be 'in principle'.

As from 1 September 2012, not all cases must be referred to the Adoption Panel. Cases where the criteria apply for the local authority to apply for a Placement Order, i.e. the child is the subject of a Care Order or the Threshold Criteria for a Care Order are satisfied or where there is no parent or guardian, will not be referred to the Adoption Panel for a recommendation, but will be referred directly to the Agency Decision Maker for a decision. All other cases (i.e. where the parents have given consent - the child becomes a relinquished child - and there is no application for a Placement Order) will continue to be referred to the Adoption Panel for a recommendation, which the Agency Decision Maker will take into account when making a decision.

Timescales

The adoption agency must decide whether the prospective adopter is suitable to adopt a child within four months of the date on which the agency received the prospective adopter’s notification that they wished to proceed with the assessment process.

Up until 1st July 2013 Adoption Panels make a recommendation on the suitability of a prospective adopter to adopt within eight months of receipt of the formal application.

The adoption agency must decide whether the prospective adopter is suitable to adopt a child within four months of the date on which the agency received the prospective adopter’s notification that they wished to proceed with the assessment process.

Adoption Panels make a recommendation on whether a child is suitable to be placed for adoption (where the parents consent and there will be no Placement Order application) within two months of the Looked After Review where adoption was identified as the child's identified Permanence Plan.

Adoption Panels make a recommendation on the proposed placement of a child with particular prospective adopters within six months of the Agency Decision Maker (Adoption) decision that the child is suitable to be placed for adoption.

Where the timescales are not met, the case will be reviewed by the Permanence Panel and reasons should be recorded alongside clear actions for future permanence planning should record the reasons.

Advice

Where cases are referred to the Adoption Panel for a recommendation, the Panel may also advise on the following issues:

  1. Where prospective adoptive parents are recommended as suitable to adopt, the number of children the adoptive parents may be suitable to adopt, as well as their age range, sex, likely needs and background, and, in the case of inter country adopters, the country from which they are suitable to adopt;
  2. Where it is recommended that a child is suitable to be placed for adoption, what the contact arrangements for the child should be and whether a Placement Order should be applied for;
  3. Where it is recommended that a child should be placed with particular prospective adopters, the proposed adoption support, future contact arrangements and whether/how the exercise of Parental Responsibility by birth parents and/or prospective adopters should be restricted.

Note that in cases which are referred directly to the Agency Decision Maker for a decision, he/she is expressly prohibited from referring a case to the Adoption Panel for advice.

Monitoring

The Adoption Panel monitors the progress of individual children for whom adoption is the plan up to the making of an Adoption Order, through progress reports as required under the Placement for Adoption Procedure, and receives Disruption Reports in relation to any breakdowns in adoptive placements (see Disruption of Adoptive Placement Procedure).

The Adoption Panel should also provide feedback to the adoption agency every six months on the quality of reports and whether there is a fair and consistent approach across the service.


2. Adoption Panel Membership

The Panel Adviser will review the performance of those on the Central List on a regular basis.

The Panel Adviser, in consultation with the Chair, will review their performance on a more formal basis at least annually.


3. Agency Adviser to the Panel

An Agency Adviser to the Adoption Panel must be appointed - this can be the same person as the Panel Adviser. This should be someone with experience as an adoption team leader or someone who has more senior management experience and who has experience of adoption.

The role of the Agency Adviser includes assisting with the appointment (including re-appointment), termination and review of appointment of members of the Central List; responsibility for the induction and training of members of the Central List; responsibility for liaison between the agency and the Adoption Panel, monitoring the performance of members of the Central List and the administration of the Adoption Panel; and giving such advice to the Adoption Panel as the panel may request in relation to any case or generally. The Agency Adviser may on request provide advice to the Agency Decision Maker when the decision-maker is considering a particular case.

The Agency Adviser is not a panel member and cannot take part in the decision-making process. They should be able to contribute to panel meetings by raising issues and providing advice, for example about the agency's procedures and practices.

The Agency Adviser should maintain an overview of the quality of the agency's reports, to both the Panel and to the Agency Decision Maker, and liaise with Team Managers to quality assure the Child's Permanence Report, the Prospective Adopter's Report and the Adoption Placement Report. Where there are concerns about a report, the Agency Adviser and the Panel chair should consider whether it is adequate for submission to the Panel. It will be for the Agency Adviser alone to decide whether the report is adequate for submission to the Agency Decision Maker.

The Agency Adviser should also update the Panel on the general progress of cases it has considered. This is particularly important where the Panel's recommendation or advice was not accepted.


4. Adoption Panel Meetings

Recommendations of the Adoption Panel

In considering what recommendation to make, Regulation 18 requires the Adoption Panel to have regard to the duties imposed on the Adoption Agency under Section 1 (2), (4), (5) and (6) of the Act.

Section 1(2) - the paramount consideration must be the child's welfare through his or her life.

Section 1(4) - the Adoption Agency must have regard to the:

  • Child's ascertainable wishes and feelings;
  • The child's particular needs;
  • The likely affect on the child (through his life) of having ceased to be a member of the original family and become an adoptive person;
  • The child's age, sex, background and any of the child's characteristics which the Agency considers relevant;
  • Any harm which the child is at risk of suffering (within the meaning of the Children Act 1989);
  • The relationship which the child has with relatives and with any other person in relation to whom the relationship is considered relevant, including the likelihood of such relationship continuing and the value to the child of it doing so, the ability and willingness of any of the child's relatives or of any other such person to provide the child with a secure relationship in which the child can develop and the wishes and feelings of any of the child's relatives, or of any such person regarding the child.

Functions of the Adoption Panel in Relation to Prospective Adopters

The Adoption Panel must consider the case of the prospective adopter referred to it by the Adoption Agency and make a recommendation to that Agency as to whether the prospective adopter is suitable to adopt a child.

In considering what recommendation to make the Adoption Panel must consider and take into account all information and reports passed to it, namely:

  1. The prospective adopters report and the prospective adopters observations;
  2. A written report from the registered medical practitioner about the health of the prospective adopter following a full medical examination;
  3. A written report of each of the interviews with persons nominated by the prospective adopter to provide personal references for him/her;
  4. A written report setting out any information about the prospective adopter held by the Local Authority in whose area the prospective adopter has his/her home, which may be relevant to the assessment;
  5. Any other relevant information obtained by the Agency.

The Adoption Panel may request the Adoption Agency obtain any other relevant information which the Panel considers necessary.

'Brief Reports' on prospective adopters whom the Agency considers are unlikely to be found suitable

Where the agency has formed the opinion that a prospective adopter is unlikely to be considered suitable, even though some of the work specified in the regulations for the prospective adopter's report has not been completed, it may notify the prospective adopter/s that a brief report on the application is to be passed to the Adoption Panel and give the applicant/s the opportunity to send in any observations in writing within 10 days. The Panel may request a full prospective adopter's report or it may be satisfied that the brief report provides sufficient information to enable it to make a recommendation that the prospective adopter is not suitable to adopt.

The applicants right to seek a reconsideration by the Panel or the Independent Review Mechanism applies following a brief report just as after a full report.

The Suitability of Adopters Regulations 2005 makes provision as to matters to be taken into account by an Adoption Agency in determining or in making any report in respect of the suitability of any person to adopt a child.

The factors to be taken into account in making a report as to the suitability of the prospective adopter to adopt a child

  • Any information obtained as a consequence of providing a counselling service for the prospective adopter, or as a result of the preparation for adoption work;
  • Any information obtained as a consequence of obtaining an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service;
  • Other information obtained about the prospective adopter as a consequence of the regulations;
  • In the case of inter-country adoptions all additional information obtained about the prospective adopter as a consequence of the applicable regulations;
  • The Adopters' Health report, interviews with referees and the Local Authority report.

The factors to be taken into account in determining the suitability of any person to adopt

  • Prospective adopters report;
  • The report of the interviews with referees;
  • The recommendation of the Adoption Panel;
  • Any other relevant information obtained by the Adoption Agency at the request of the Adoption Panel;
  • In adoption with a foreign element the information required by the applicable regulations;
  • The Suitability of Adopters Regulations 2005 specifically require an Adoption Agency to have proper regard for stability and permanence in their relationship in determining the suitability of a couple to adopt a child.

The Adoption Panel should meet at least one day every month. The Panel Adviser will ask the Panel Administrator to arrange additional special meetings at short notice as necessary, with the Chair's authority, where for example there is a need to consider an urgent placement and/or the Court timetable requires it.

The Panel Administrator will prepare and circulate an annual list of Adoption Panel dates and deadlines in advance of the designated start of the Panel's year.

The Panel Adviser, The agency adviser must be a social worker and have at least five years' relevant post-qualifying experience and, in the opinion of the adoption agency, relevant management experience.

They should be available to the Panel for each meeting to advise  but they are not a member of the Panel. His or her role is to ensure all the necessary reports are available for the Panel, to advise the Panel on social work and procedural matters and to report to social workers and their managers on issues arising from Panel meetings.

Where the Panel is considering a matter relating to an inter country adoption, the Panel Adviser must arrange to provide specialist advice and any relevant information required.

The Panel Adviser's role is also to assist with appointments to the Central List, to arrange induction and other training for those on the Central List, monitor and review their performance and monitor and review the administration of the Panel.

The Panel Administrator, in consultation with the Panel Adviser, will prepare the agenda for each meeting and draw members from the Central List. The agenda and Panel papers for each meeting should be sent to Panel members at least five working days before the meeting.

The Panel's legal adviser should be available to advise for each Panel meeting, but is not required to attend unless requested to do so, and is not a Panel member.

The agenda will include at the beginning an opportunity for any Panel member to declare an interest in any item on the agenda.  If an interest is declared, the Chair must then decide whether the Panel member should withdraw during consideration of the item.

In the event of a disagreement between Panel members, the Chair will consider whether further information is required or whether the Panel should go ahead and make a recommendation on the basis of the majority view.  In this event, any dissenting view should be fully recorded in the minutes.

Social workers presenting reports to the Panel must send their report and any supporting documentation required (as specified in the relevant procedures elsewhere in the Manual; see Placement for Adoption Procedure and Assessment and Approval of Prospective Adopters Procedure) to the Panel Administrator at least 10 working days before the date of the Panel meeting. 

At the end of each Panel meeting, the Panel Administrator will collect all members' papers. Panel members unable to attend a meeting will be asked to return his or her papers to the Panel administrator.


5. Agency Decision Maker

The Agency Decision Maker considers recommendations from the Adoption Panel and, in those circumstances outlined in Section 1, Adoption Panel Purpose and Function, also makes decisions about whether a child is suitable to be placed for adoption without reference to the Adoption Panel. The following principles apply to all such decisions.

In reaching his/her decision, the Agency Decision Maker must consider:

  • The welfare checklist in Section 1 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002*;
  • All the information surrounding the case including the reports submitted to the Adoption Panel (where applicable), and that the authors of the reports are appropriately qualified to prepare them (see Section 7, Reports to Adoption Panel);
  • The stability and permanence of the relationship of any couple under consideration;
  • The recommendation and reasons of the Adoption Panel and any Independent Review Panel under the Independent Review Mechanism; and
  • The final minutes of the Adoption Panel including any minutes from adjourned Panel meetings and the Independent Review Panel;
    1. *The child's ascertainable wishes and feelings regarding the decision (considered in the light of the child's age and understanding);
    2. The child's particular needs;
    3. The likely effect on the child (throughout his life) of having ceased to be a member of the original family and become an adopted person;
    4. The child's age, sex, background and any of the child's characteristics which the court or agency considers relevant;
    5. Any harm (within the meaning of the Children Act 1989 (c. 41)) which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering;
    6. The relationship which the child has with relatives, and with any other person in relation to whom the court or agency considers the relationship to be relevant, including:
      1. The likelihood of any such relationship continuing and the value to the child of its doing so;
      2. The ability and willingness of any of the child's relatives, or of any such person, to provide the child with a secure environment in which the child can develop, and otherwise to meet the child's needs;
      3. The wishes and feelings of any of the child's relatives, or of any such person, regarding the child.

It is good practice for the Agency Decision Maker:

  • To list the material taken into account in reaching the decision;
  • To identify key arguments;
  • To state whether they agree with the process and approach of the relevant Panel(s) and are satisfied as to its fairness and that the Panel(s) has/have properly addressed the arguments;
  • To consider whether any additional information now available to them that was not before the Panel has an impact on its reasons or recommendation;
  • To identify the reasons given for the relevant recommendation that they do or do not wish to adopt; and
  • To state (a) the adopted reasons by cross-reference or otherwise and (b) any further reasons for their decision.

Timing of Decisions:

The Agency Decision Maker must make the decision within seven working days of receipt of the reports or, as applicable, the recommendation and final set of minutes of the Adoption Panel or Independent Review panel.

Communication of Decisions

The prospective adopters, birth parents and the child should be notified ‘immediately after the Panel meeting’ of the recommendation of the Panel and its reasons and then later notified of the agency decision (and reasons) verbally within 2 working days and in writing within 5 working days. If it is considered inappropriate in a particular case for the child to be informed, the reasons for this should be recorded on the child’s case record.

This will include a notification to a father without Parental Responsibility if his identity and whereabouts are known and the Local Authority considers it appropriate to do so. (Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005, Regulation 19.3).


6. Adoption Panel Minutes

The Panel minutes will always record the information in relation to the following:

  1. The reports received. (The Panel's requirements as to reports are specified in the relevant procedures elsewhere in the Manual; see Placement for Adoption Procedure and Assessment and Approval of Prospective Adopters Procedure);
  2. Who attended and for which part of the discussion;
  3. Medical advice;
  4. Legal advice;
  5. The Panel's discussions (main points) and conclusions;
  6. The Panel's recommendations and reasons, including any reservations expressed by any member;
  7. Any advice given by the Panel.

The Panel minutes will be written in accordance with the format agreed from time to time and kept on every child's or prospective adopter's Adoption Case Record.

The Panel chair is responsible for ensuring the accuracy of the Panel's recommendations, reasons and, following agreement with Panel members, the minutes. The chair must also make sure that a person who is not a member of the panel fulfils the task of writing these documents.

The minutes must accurately reflect the discussion and cover the key issues, rather than be a verbatim record of the meeting. Where Panel members have serious reservations, the Panel chair must ensure these are recorded in the minutes and are attached to the Panel's recommendation. If the Panel cannot reach a consensus on its recommendation after the chair and other members of the Panel have voted, the Panel chair has a second vote, i.e. the casting vote. The Panel's minutes should clearly set out the reasons why the Panel chair had to use the casting vote.

The Panel minutes must be produced promptly and agreed by the Panel members and social workers who have presented the case to Panel before being approved by the Chair and sent to the Agency Decision Maker, together with the reports considered by the Panel when the recommendation was made, so that the Agency Decision Maker can meet the timescales for making the decision as set out in the relevant procedures - usually the timescale is within 7 working days of receipt.

Arrangements should be made by the Agency Adviser to the Panel for the safekeeping of the minutes and the record. Panel minutes, like other parts of adoption case records, are exempt from the subject access provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 (i.e. the person to whom they relate does not have a statutory right of access to the information they contain).


7. Reports to Adoption Panel

Reports to the Adoption Panel in relation to matters upon which the Panel are asked to make recommendations must be prepared by qualified social workers with at least 3 years' post-qualification experience. This must include direct experience of adoption work either in assessing prospective adoptive parents or implementing an adoption plan for a Child Looked After. Where the author of the report does not have the requisite qualifications and experience, he or she must have either a qualification in social work or be a social worker in training, and must be supervised by a qualified social worker with 3 years' relevant experience.

Where the person preparing the report is an independent social worker, they must always be suitably qualified and experienced and be supervised by a member of staff with the suitable qualifications and experience.

The same qualifications and experience are required for social workers undertaking visits of children placed for adoption (see Monitoring and Supervision of Adoptive Placements Procedure) and authors of Court Reports in adoption cases.

End