Adoption Panel and Agency Decision Maker's Decision
This chapter was fully revised in September 2018 and should be re-read in full.
1. Adoption Panel Purpose and Function
Hertfordshire County Council holds an Adoption Panel on a fortnightly 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.
Adoption Panels are multi-disciplinary and independent of the adoption agency. They 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.
As part of this function, the Panel makes recommendations, to the Agency Decision Maker, as to the following:
- The suitability of prospective adoptive applicants to adopt;
- Whether a relinquished baby or child is suitable to be placed for adoption;
- Whether a child should be placed for adoption with approved adopters;
- Annual reviews of adopters awaiting placement;
- De-registration of adopters;
- The suitability of prospective adoptive applicants to provide foster care to those requiring Early Permanence Planning (Foster to Adopt).
The recommendations must be unconditional and cannot be 'in principle'.
Adoption Panels make a recommendation on the suitability of a prospective adopter to adopt within four months of receipt of the formal application.
Birth parents can give advanced consent for their child to be relinquished for adoption after the child is 6 weeks old.
This Section Under Review: Adoption Panels make a recommendation on the proposed placement of a child with approved adopters within four months of the Placement Order and Matching Panel's Agency Decision Maker's decision that the child is suitable to be placed for adoption.The timescales from the Children's Agency Decision Maker's Decision to the date of Matching Panel are recorded in the minutes.
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 adopters, the proposed contact arrangements, the proposals for adoption support, and whether the agency should restrict the exercise of parental responsibility by the adopter;
- If the panel is recommending approval of prospective adopters as dually approved foster carers they can advise upon terms of approval being set. Please refer to Fostering for Adoption for dual approval permanence arrangements.
Monitoring and Reporting
The Adoption Panel can hear cases that have disrupted and where a Disruption Meeting has taken place (see Disruption of Adoptive and Long Term Placements Procedure and Placement Disruption and Disruption Meetings Procedure).
The Adoption Panel should also provide feedback to the adoption agency every three 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 is maintained 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 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);
- A Medical Adviser;
- 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;
- A representative who has experience of Early Permanence Planning (Foster to Adopt).
The Chair must be independent of the adoption agency, and is appointed by the Designated Manager (Head of Service, Adoption and Fostering).
The Panel must also have one, or two, Vice Chairs (who are not necessarily independent members), who are also appointed by the Designated Manager (Head of Service Adoption and Fostering).
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 five, 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 (Head of Service Adoption and Fostering) and will be 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 an application form, 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 is 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.
New appointees should have the opportunity to observe an Adoption Panel before they sit as a member and 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.
All new panel members sign a confidentiality agreement and a contract agreement which remains in force unless terminated by Panel Members or the Hertfordshire County Council. This agreement may be renewed in line with agency regulation (see also Section 2.5, Resignations from the Central List and Section 2.6, Termination of Appointment to the Central List)
All Panel Members are offered training twice per annum.
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 are asked to sign a written agreement confirming 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. Those included on the Central List are required to sign a Confidentiality Statement, 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. All notes for each case must be returned and shredded by Panel Business Support Team.
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, and, if necessary, withdraw from hearing that case. 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
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.
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 and Chair will review the performance of those on the Central List on an annual basis.
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 Adoption Panel 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.
The Panel Delivery Manager, will prepare and circulate a list of Adoption Panel dates.
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.
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 necessarily 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, (please see The Role of the Legal Adviser Procedure which sets out the role of the Legal Adviser to Adoption Panel) Legal Adviser, or Panel Delivery Manager 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 (Head of Service, Fostering and Adoption), 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 (Head of Service, Fostering and Adoption), 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 (Head of Service, Fostering and Adoption), 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 (Head of Service, Fostering and Adoption).
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 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 voting 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.
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 Matching paperwork. 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 or should be deferred.
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, or if the Agency Decision Makers offers additional advice.
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 Procedures) 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.
See also: Adoption Panel Process.
4. Adoption Panel Minutes
The Panel minutes, although not verbatim, 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 Approval 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;
- Confirm that applicants have all information they require;
- Timescales are reported for Matching Panel;
- Recommendations, and those recommendations that are not unanimous.
Social Workers are required to place copies of minutes on the Child/Adopters LCS record.
The Panel Chair is responsible for ensuring the accuracy of the Panel's recommendations, reasons and advice, 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 circulated to the Panel Chair and Panel Adviser promptly, together with the reports considered by the Panel. Minutes are circulated to Panel Members after approval by Panel Chair and Panel Adviser. Any amendments to the minutes will only be considered should there be factual changes required (e.g. grammatical errors) The Agency Decision Maker should meet the timescales for making the decision as set out in the relevant procedures, usually the timescale is within seven working days from the date of Adoption Panel (HCC Timescale).
Where necessary sensitive information is redacted in the minutes where applicants are not included in the discussion.
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).
5. 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 Head of Child Protection and Statutory Review Process is the ADM to consider whether adoption should be the plan for the named child.
See Children's Cases to ADM process.
The Head of Children Looked After is the ADM to consider adoption applicant approvals, approval of foster carers for Early Permanence Placements and matches of named children with named prospective adopters.
See Approvals and Matching ADM Process.
The Operational Directors are available for this role in the event of the absence of the above.
See Booking a slot for ADM Children's Plan for Adoption Process.
Paperwork Required by ADM & Panel
- Panel Papers Required by Adoption Panels/Agency Decision Maker Considering the Adoption of a Child plus the signed copy of the CS0251F8 Social Worker's Declaration for Agency Decision Maker's Decision.
Processes to Support the ADM
- The Agency Advisor will quality assures 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;
- 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;
- 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;
- Legal advice will be provided to the ADM, in written form and available one week before the ADM Decision Day;
- On Decision Day, the ADM has to make a decision separate from panel when considering whether a child should be placed for adoption;
- ADM panel has to make a decision as to whether an applicant is approved as suitable to adopt under Reg 30 of the Adoption Agencies Regulations and whether they should be approved as a foster carer under the Fostering Services Regulations 2011. In addition the ADM panel has to decide upon the suitability of a match, review and de-registration.
ADM Decision Day
Cases are presented to the ADM decision day panel usually held on a Monday. The ADM makes a decision as to whether the proposed care plan for adoption is agreed. The ADM has to demonstrate that they have considered the Welfare Checklist in Section 1 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, (see below), 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. Minutes of the meeting are produced.
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 quality assures 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:
- *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 Management Meetings
Adoption Panel Management Meetings
Panel Management Meetings are held quarterly and are chaired by the Designated Manager (Head of Adoption and Fostering) and attended by:
- Panel Chair(s);
- Vice Chair(s);
- Panel Adviser;
- Managers from the Adoption and Fostering Service;
- Panel Delivery Manager;
- Medical Representatives.
The Panel Adviser prepares a panel report for the meeting, which includes information on panel activity and data, quality monitoring and practice issues.
7. Child's 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 three 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 three years' relevant experience. The social worker's manager must attend if the social worker is not compliant with the Regulations.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 has an active quality assurance role for Child's Permanence Reports (CPRs) and will play an active part in the CLA Review Process.
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 seven working days of the Panel meeting. The parent and the child (if appropriate) will be informed verbally within 48 hours and in writing within five 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 24hours of the decision being made by the agency decision-maker.