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8.5a Adoption Panel and Agency Decision Maker's Decision

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AMENDMENT

A new hyperlink to CS0272, Papers and Reports Required for ADM Decision was added to this chapter in September 2014.


Contents

  1. Adoption Panel Purpose and Function
  2. Adoption Panel Membership
  3. Agency Advisor to the Panel
  4. Adoption Panel Meetings
  5. Adoption Panel Minutes
  6. Agency Decision Maker (ADM) - Role and Process
  7. Child Permanence Reports and Prospective Adopters’ Reports to Adoption Panel and Agency Decision Maker
  8. Informing the birth parent(s) and child (if appropriate) of Adoption Panel/ADM Decisions

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1. Adoption Panel Purpose and Function

Hertfordshire County Council holds an Adoption Panel on a weekly basis, constituted in line with the adoption agencies regulations and guidance.

The Adoption Panels contribute to the running and quality assurance of the local authority's adoption service and receive annual reports on the service and its performance.

They are multi disciplinary and independent of the adoption agency and have 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. They do not make decisions but make recommendations to the Agency Decision Maker.

Recommendations

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

  1. The suitability of prospective adoptive applicants to adopt;
  2. Whether a relinquished baby or child is suitable to be placed for adoption and there is no application for a Placement  Order;
  3. Whether a child should be placed for adoption with particular prospective adopters.

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

Timescales

Adoption Panels make a recommendation on the suitability of a prospective adopter to adopt within eight months of receipt of the formal application.

Adoption Panels make a recommendation on whether a child, for whom no application for a Placement Order is required, because the parents consent, is suitable to be placed for adoption 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's decision that the child is suitable to be placed for adoption.

Where the timescales are not met, the reason should be recorded.

Advice

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

  • If the panel recommends that the relinquished child should be placed for adoption, the arrangements that the agency proposes in respect of contact;
  • If the panel recommends that the prospective adopter is suitable to adopt a child, the number of children the prospective adopter may be suitable to adopt, their age range, sex, likely needs and background;
  • Where it is recommended that a child should be placed with particular prospective adopters, the proposed contact arrangements, the proposals for adoption support, and whether the agency should restrict the exercise of parental responsibility by the prospective adopter or parent.

Monitoring and Reporting

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

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. 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 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 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, 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 DBS 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 Whistleblowing Procedure.

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.

2.2 Confidentiality

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, (please see The Role of the Legal Adviser Procedure which sets out the role of the Legal Adviser to Adoption Panel) 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 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. 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 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.


6. Agency Decision Maker (ADM) - Role and Process

The Agency Decision Maker considers recommendations from the Adoption Panel in those circumstances outlined in Section 1, Adoption Panel Purpose and Function.

The ADM also makes decisions about whether a child is suitable to be placed for adoption without reference to the Adoption Panel, before the Local Authority can put this to Court as the final Care Plan and issue an application for a Placement Order in relation to a specific child. This occurs on ADM Decision Day. The relevant forms are:

The ADMs

The Head of Child Protection and Statutory Review Process is the ADM to consider whether adoption should be the plan for the named child.

The Head of Children Looked After is the ADM to consider adoption applicant approvals and matches of named children with named prospective adopters.

The Operational Directors are available for this role in the event of the absence of the above.

Booking a slot for ADM Decision Day

All bookings for the ADM Decision Day must be made to the Panel Administrator, (Sue Wotton), as booking for a Panel.

The social worker must send all paper work to the Panel Team (Sue Wotton, Ann Hankin) 10 days in advance of the ADM Decision Day so that it can be collated, quality assured and sent to the ADM and Agency Advisor. It is essential that papers are received 10 days in advance of the agreed ADM decision date and the booking will be cancelled if papers are late.

Paperwork Required by ADM

Processes to Support the ADM

  1. On agreeing an ADM Decision Day the panel administrator will email the legal advisor to confirm that permission to disclose expert and other reports has been agreed by Court;
  2. The Agency Advisor will quality assure the papers being provided for the ADM. The quality of the paperwork must be appropriate to the task. The Agency Advisor will ask the social worker to rectify any issue. The Team Managers' role in terms of quality assurance and time being built in to read and amend CPRs before signing them off will be ever more significant and this may require additional management time;
  3. The Agency Advisor completes written advice to the ADM a week before the ADM Decision Day. If s/he is unable to do this because the paperwork is not rectified as required, a new ADM Decision Day must be booked by the social worker;
  4. Written medical information must be available in advance of the ADM Decision Day. Medical examinations of children must be arranged in a timely manner to enable a written report to be provided by the Medical Advisor prior to the CPR being submitted. Forms M and B must be requested at the earliest opportunity and enclosed in the papers supplied to the Panel Team;
  5. Legal advice will (usually) be available to the ADM, in written form and available one week before the ADM Decision Day.

ADM Decision Day

On Monday afternoons the ADM will make the decision about any plan for adoption that has been presented. This will be a minute of the decision by the panel team, as the ADM has to demonstrate that they have considered the Welfare Checklist in Section 1 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, (see below), and all of the information in the CPR and other reports. The ADM is expected to identify key arguments in the case and set out their reasons for making the decision, in the same way that the Panel does now.

The ADM will sign off the decision at the end of Monday afternoon. Birth parents will be informed verbally within 2 working days and a letter will be sent to the birth parents confirming the decision within 5 working days.

The legal advisor will be available by phone. The medical advisor and the agency advisor will be available to give advice to the ADM if required. The agency advisor will quality assure the papers for the ADM, identify quality issues and provide written advice to the ADM a week before the ADM Decision Day.

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 and Agency Decision Maker);
  • 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.


7. Child Permanence Reports and Prospective Adopters’ Reports to Adoption Panel and Agency Decision Maker

Child Permanence Reports (CPR) and Prospective Adopters Reports (PAR) presented to the Adoption Panel and Agency Decision Maker in relation to matters upon which the Panel and ADM are asked to make recommendations or decisions 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 Supporting Adoptive Placements Procedure) and authors of Court Reports in adoption cases.

The Independent Review Team have an active quality assurance role for Child Permanence Reports (CPRs) and CPRs will play an active part in the CLA Review Process.

See the Quality Assurance for Child Permanence Record (CPR) flowchart.


8. Informing the birth parent(s) and child (if appropriate) of Adoption Panel/ADM Decisions

The Panel's recommendation, or ADM decision, should be conveyed verbally to the child (if appropriate), the birth parents and any significant others by the child's social worker within 24 hours.

The Panel recommendation will be sent to the Agency Decision Maker who will make a decision (which may either agree or disagree with the panel recommendation) within 7 working days of receipt of the final Panel minutes and reports. The parent and the child (if appropriate) will be informed verbally within 48 hours and in writing within 5 days of all ADM decisions.

The Agency Decision-Maker will write to the birth parents within five days. If a child is still in care proceedings then, a letter will advise the birth parents of the ADM's decision subject to the court endorsing the plan. S18 of the ANMS 2011 require that at this point the authority should issue the child with the Child's Guide to Adoption in a form which is appropriate to the age and understanding of the child. Once a Placement Order is issued, the social worker must inform the panel administrator as a further letter will go to the birth parents confirming that the court have endorsed the plan.

N.B. It is vital that the panel administrator is in receipt of accurate up-to-date information regarding birth parent whereabouts, addresses and the method of notifying them or the decisions about their children.

Where the ADM makes a decision upon an Adoption Panel recommendation, the child's social worker will inform the child and the birth parents and any significant others within 28 hours of the decision being made by the agency decision-maker.

End