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.
As part of this function, the Panel makes recommendations as to the following:
- The suitability of prospective adoptive applicants to adopt;
- Whether a child is suitable to be placed for adoption, in some cases;
- Whether a child should be placed for adoption with particular prospective adopters.
The recommendations must be unconditional and cannot be 'in principle'.
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 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.
The adoption agency must decide whether the prospective adopter is suitable to adopt a child within six months of the date on which the agency received their Registration of Interest or within four months of the date on which the agency received prospective adopter's notification that they wished to proceed with Stage 2 of 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 Adoption Panel should record the reasons.
Where cases are referred to the Adoption Panel for a recommendation, the Panel may also advise on the following issues:
- 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;
- 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;
- 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.
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 Placements 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
There is no fixed Panel membership or maximum number of members or maximum tenure of office.
A Central List needs to be maintained containing a list of persons considered to be suitable to be members of an Adoption Panel. This List must be maintained by an appointed senior social worker with at least 5 years' relevant post-qualification experience and relevant management experience. When setting up an Adoption Panel, members will be drawn from this Central List. The same people do not have to be appointed to every Panel meeting.
The Central List should include (in addition to the Independent Chair):
- Adoption social workers with at least 3 years' relevant post qualifying experience in child care social work, including direct experience in adoption work (not necessarily employed by the agency);
- The Medical Adviser(s);
- Other persons whom the agency considers suitable including specialists in education; race and culture; child and adolescent mental health services; and those with personal experience of adoption.
The Chair (Independent Person) must be independent of the adoption agency, and is appointed by the Designated Manager (Adoption Panel Appointments).
The Panel must also have one, and can have two, Vice Chairs (who are not necessarily independent members), who are also appointed by the Designated Manager (Adoption Panel Appointments).
The Agency Decision Maker (Adoption) on adoption matters must not be included on the Central List.
The agency should decide how many people should sit at each Adoption Panel meeting, provided that there is a quorum of 5 or 6 if a joint panel, one of whom must be the Chair or Vice Chair, one of the adoption social worker representatives and at least one independent member.
2.1 Appointments to the Central List
Those on the Central List are appointed by the Designated Manager (Adoption Panel Appointments) and will able to continue their membership as long as they are able to carry out their duties.
All those on the Central List should have undergone a recruitment process that includes interviews, identity checks, verification of qualifications and right to work in the UK, references and Disclosure and Barring Service checks, which are recorded.
New appointees will be asked to give signed agreement to checks being undertaken as above and cannot take up their appointment until the outcome of the checks are known. They are excluded from Panel membership if they have any offences against children or of violence. They are required to notify the Panel Adviser immediately if they receive such a conviction or caution while on the Central List.
They should have the opportunity to observe an Adoption Panel meeting before they sit as a member and to attend an annual joint training day with adoption agency staff; have induction training completed within 10 weeks of inclusion on the list and access to appropriate training and skills development and are kept abreast of changes to legislation, regulation and guidance.
They should also have access to the agency's whistle-blowing policy.
Written information about the expectations arising from their appointment should be given to new appointees to the Central List (in relation to their performance objectives, participation in induction and other training, safeguarding the confidentiality of information provided to the Panel and their general conduct - see Section 2.2, Confidentiality and Section 2.3, General Conduct) and they should be asked to sign a written agreement confirming their acceptance of these before taking up their appointment.
All written and verbal information given to Panel members in the course of their duties is strictly confidential. As indicated above, those included on the Central List are required to sign a written agreement, before their appointment, to confirm that all information they receive will remain confidential.
Panel members are expected to keep all written information in a secure place and return all Panel documents to the agency immediately after each Panel meeting.
Panel members must not copy, in part or in whole, any documents that relate to a case.
If a Panel member has some knowledge of a case, whether in a personal or professional capacity, they should declare an interest and inform the Chair of the Panel at the earliest opportunity, so that an alternative member can be invited if required to ensure that the Panel is quorate (see Section 2.4, Conflicts of Interest).
Failure to comply with the above paragraphs may result in the member's inclusion on the Central List being terminated.
2.3 General Conduct
All those on the Central List should be committed to anti-discriminatory practice and should be prepared to consider each case on its own merits.
Panel members should have read the Panel papers carefully, prior to the Panel meeting, and come prepared to contribute to the Panel discussion.
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.
If there are concerns about the conduct or behaviour of a person on the Central List, this should be conveyed to the Chair who will raise these concerns with the person in private.
If such concerns cannot be resolved informally, the Chair, in consultation with the Panel Adviser, will write to the person concerned setting out the concerns and what action it is proposed to take. See Section 2.6, Termination of Appointment to the Central List for action that may be taken if the concerns continue.
The Chair's performance will be reviewed annually by the Agency Decision Maker, taking into account the views of those who attend Panel meetings, namely, persons on the Central List, social workers and prospective adopters.
2.4 Conflicts of Interest
Panel members should consider any conflicts of interest in relation to Panel agenda items. A potential conflict arises if an interest may be seen to adversely affect a Panel member's capacity to act without prejudice or preference in a matter.
It is anticipated that in many circumstances there may be professional knowledge of a case which should be notified to the Chair but which will not affect a member's capacity to participate in the Panel. In other circumstances there may be a personal interest or connection which would require the Panel member to refrain from participation. It may be less clear in some cases when advice should be sought.
In the case of a potential conflict of interest where advice is required, Panel members should consult the Chair, Panel Adviser or Legal Adviser, giving as much advance notice as possible particularly having regard to the implications for the quorum.
2.5 Resignations from the Central List
All those on the Central List are expected to give a minimum of one month's written notice of their wish to resign, except where personal emergencies e.g. accidents, illness, make this impossible. Resignation letters should be addressed to the Designated Manager (Adoption Panel Appointments), with a copy to the Chair of the Panel.
Initial verbal resignations may be given, but should always be followed by a written resignation. Those on the Central List are asked, as a matter of courtesy, to inform the Chair of the Panel of their intention to resign, before making any public announcement.
Those on the Central List wishing to withdraw a submitted written resignation must do so before the one month notice period expires by writing to the Designated Manager (Adoption Panel Appointments), who reserves the right not to accept a withdrawal of notice and to allow the original letter of resignation to stand.
2.6 Termination of Appointment to the Central List
Where it is considered that someone is unsuitable to be on the Central List, they must be given one month's notice in writing and reasons for the decision to end their appointment.
Where there are concerns about the behaviour of a person on the Central List either inside or outside the meetings, and the difficulties have not been resolved by discussion and correspondence between the Chair, Panel Adviser and the person concerned, the matter will be raised by the Panel Adviser with the Designated Manager (Adoption Panel Appointments), who will decide whether to propose the end of the appointment and if so, will advise the person concerned in writing giving clear reasons for the proposal.
The person concerned will be given the opportunity to make observations on the matter before a final decision is made by the Designated Manager (Adoption Panel Appointments).
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
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, who must be a senior practitioner or manager in the adoption service with at least 5 years' relevant post-qualification and management experience, attends all Panel meetings to advise the Panel but is 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 attends all Panel meetings, but 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 (see Section 2.4, Conflicts of Interest). 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 Approvals 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;
- *The child's ascertainable wishes and feelings regarding the decision (considered in the light of the child's age and understanding);
- The child's particular needs;
- 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;
- The child's age, sex, background and any of the child's characteristics which the court or agency considers relevant;
- Any harm (within the meaning of the Children Act 1989 (c. 41)) which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering;
- 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:
- The likelihood of any such relationship continuing and the value to the child of its doing so;
- 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;
- 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.
6. Adoption Panel Minutes
The Panel minutes will always record the information in relation to the following:
- 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 Approvals of Prospective Adopters Procedure);
- Who attended and for which part of the discussion;
- Medical advice;
- Legal advice;
- The Panel's discussions (main points) and conclusions;
- The Panel's recommendations and reasons, including any reservations expressed by any member;
- 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 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 right of access provisions contained in the UK General Data Protection Regulations (UK GDPR) and the Data Protection Act 2018 (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 Looked After child. 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.