Fostering for Adoption

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This chapter was developed/entirely revised in September 2013 and should be read in full. This will be under review for 6 months pending Government update and advice. If in any doubt please contact and adoption service Team Manager for advice.

For additional guidance see "Statutory Guidance on Adoption" July 2013.


This chapter was updated in September 2022.

1. Introduction

The Government has set out a range of measures to reduce delay so that more children for whom adoption is the best option can be placed swiftly with loving and capable adoptive families. The Family Justice Review proposed a six month time limit on care proceedings, except in exceptional cases. The Action Plan for Adoption explains the Government's approach to reducing delay throughout the adoption system.

The Action Plan also made the point that it is the youngest children who are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of delay and disruption. The brain develops most rapidly during the first years of a child's life so children's experiences during that period, and particularly their attachment to their primary carers, shape the way in which the brain develops[1]. Stress associated with disrupted attachments during this period can harm children's physical, cognitive, emotional, and social growth[2] so delay in the adoption system is particularly harmful to infants. It also means that they grow older in care which reduces their chances of successful adoption. A child's age is one of the strongest predictors of whether or not he or she will be adopted and whether the adoption will break down[3].

One of the most striking statistics about the adoption system is that just 60 babies under one year of age were adopted last year. For children, the moment they move in with their adoptive parents is more important than the moment they are formally adopted. But just 470 of over 3000 children adopted last year were under the age of one when they moved in with their adoptive parents. This is all the more significant given that recent DfE analysis has found that 1350 of the children who were adopted in 2010-11 (44%) first became Looked After when they were less than one month old. On average, these children moved in with their adoptive families around 16 months after becoming looked after.

In the Action Plan, the Government sought to promote concurrent planning and 'Fostering for Adoption'. As a result the Children and Families Bill has been drafted and is currently going through Parliament. The Government have also passed the Care Planning, Placement and case Review and Fostering Services (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2013 which came into force on the 1st July 2013.The effect of these Regulations is that it is easier for prospective adopters to be approved as foster carers in appropriate cases. The Regulations and the proposed Bill introduces a  legal duty on local authorities to consider placing a child with carers who are likely to become their permanent carers, where the evidence available to the local authority clearly indicates that it is unlikely that the child will be returning home.

To improve the adoption system Government are implementing wide ranging reforms to: increase the number of prospective adopters; reduce unnecessary delays in the system; improve the quality and timeliness of adoption services; and expand the support available to adopters.

Part 1 of the Children and Families Bill and the Regulations:

  • Encourages local authorities to place children for whom adoption is an option with their potential permanent carers more swiftly, by requiring a local authority looking after a child to consider placing them in a 'Fostering for Adoption' placement if one is available.

[1] Ward, H.; Brown, R. and Westlake, D. (2012) - Safeguarding Babies and Very Young Children from Abuse and Neglect. Jessica Kingsley Publishers
[2] Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2009
[3]Selwyn et al (2006) Ibid

2. Concurrent Planning

Concurrent planning supports early permanence planning in fostering and adoption. It was developed in the US in the 1980s and brought to the UK in 1998. Concurrent planning is decided by the local authority as the child's care plan and agreed by the court. The aim of concurrent planning is to support either the child's return to their birth family or their permanent placement with an adoptive family. These aims are worked on concurrently, instead of sequentially (as is more usual), as the name implies.

It is designed for very vulnerable children aged 0-24 months where there is a high level of probability (greater than 80%) that return to their birth family or extended family will not be possible given the previous history, but a further period of assessment is thought necessary before the courts can come to a final decision.

Concurrent planning works actively to enable the birth family to take up this last chance of demonstrating that they can care for their baby safely. Its aim is to achieve the return of the child, where possible, and to avoid the considerable delays and frequent change of foster placements commonly experienced by these vulnerable, very young children before permanent placement can be made, whether this is the child's return to the birth family or adoption.

Concurrent planning projects recruits foster carers whom the project also approves as adopters. They must be willing to foster a baby in the first instance, and to support the child's return to the birth parent, with the possibility that the fostering arrangement will lead to adoption, depending on the outcome of the court proceedings. Concurrent planning is explicitly designed to facilitate the child's return to the birth parents where possible through the intensive parenting support programme it offers and the consistency of foster care and contact arrangements, which reduce distress and maximise the benefits of contact for the baby and birth parent. It is used only with very young children where the probability of the child's return home is already weighted against the birth family, based on what is known about their history and current circumstances.

Concurrent planning depends on front-line social workers being equipped to identify and refer on cases where concurrent planning may be appropriate. It places significant demands on the social workers and carers involved. They must work intensively with the birth family to give them the best chance of resolving the issues that led to the child coming into care. They must manage regular and appropriate contact between the child and the birth family to minimise disruption if the child does return home. Above all, the carers must be well-trained and be able to cope emotionally and practically with the possibility that they may not go on to adopt the child in their care.

Partly for these reasons, recruiting adopters willing to participate in concurrent planning can prove challenging. Some carers are willing to take on this risk, but generally only in relation to younger children, because they are attracted by the prospect of starting to care for their potential adoptive child while he or she is still a baby, when it will be easiest for them to form a strong bond with the child.

3. Fostering for Adoption

Fostering for Adoption, also referred to as early permanence, aims to improve the welfare and outcomes for highly vulnerable looked after children by reducing delays in initial placement and achieving permanency and in reducing the number of placements children experience. The aim is to maximise the children's chances of better outcomes through creating the conditions for a secure early attachment to a committed carer.

The principle of placing infants as early as possible with carers who are likely to become their adoptive parents is applied by a small number of local authorities, including East Sussex. In East Sussex, children are placed with foster parents, who are also their prospective adopters, before the placement order is granted. This means that when the application for a placement order is granted (which happens in the vast majority of cases), the placement changes from a fostering placement to an adoptive one, but with no disruption for the child. The Government is calling this approach 'Fostering for Adoption'.

Like concurrent planning, it requires carers to be willing to accept the risk that a child will not be placed for adoption with them, either because a suitable carer from the birth family comes forward at a late stage, or because the court does not agree to grant the placement order. However, this risk is smaller than in relation to concurrent planning because the local authority has decided that the child should be placed for adoption.

Fostering for Adoption will place particular importance on the quality of work local authorities do to support and rehabilitate the birth family and to assess relatives and friends of carers before deciding adoption is the best option. Local authorities will need to be able to demonstrate to the courts that placing the child with foster carers who are also likely adopters has not pre-empted their decision as to whether a placement order should be granted. They will also need to provide appropriate support to carers given the specific circumstances for each individual child, and taking account of the legal status of the placement.

Fostering for Adoption can and should be used for significant numbers of children. Like concurrent planning, it has particular potential to improve the success of adoption for the youngest children. The Fostering for Adoption approach would enable children to move in with their likely adoptive parents as soon as the local authority decides adoption is the best plan. The 2013 Regulations support this approach.

4. Fostering for Adoption Process

The Children and Families Bill (Clause 1) works with other existing legislation and can only be read and understood in that context. Essentially, there is a process to be followed when a child is taken into care.

  • First, Section 22 C of the Children Act 1989 requires local authorities to place the child in "the most appropriate placement available."
  • In doing so they are required to act in the child's best interests. Under this section, local authorities must make arrangements for the child to live with his or her parents unless that is not reasonably practicable and consistent with the child's welfare. If that is not possible, they are required to place the child in the most appropriate placement available. Crucially, they must give preference to a placement with a relative, friend or other person connected with the child;
  • But when a kinship placement is not appropriate for a child, and when adoption is seen as the likely and best option, then the new clause requires local authorities to prioritise fostering with future adopters where they are identified.

5. Hertfordshire Process

  • It has been recognised that for a group of children it is in their best interest to place them with prospective adopters (FfA carers) prior to the care and Placement Order being granted. The following principles are expected to be followed before any child is placed under these circumstances. It is essential that the Local authority has fully explored its responsibilities to engage the birth parents and the wider family in identifying solutions and placement options. A Family Group Conference must be held at the earliest opportunity to provide evidence that all options have been explored. The child's needs must be able to be met by the prospective FfA carers and the Care Plan must reflect this.

Identifying children for whom fostering for adoption might apply

  • Where parents have had one or more children previously placed for adoption or other forms of permanent placement and the evidence strongly suggests that their circumstances have not changed and pose the same risks as they did to the previous children. The Local Authority does not have a proactive plan to rehabilitate the child as the circumstances of the parents are such to pose a serious or on going risk;
  • Where this is the first child, the circumstances of the parents and the risks to the child are such that there is no proactive plan to return the child to the birth parents or any other family member;
  • The parents have indicated that they may want their child to be adopted,but have not formally consented (S52(3) Adoption and Children Act 2002).

It is likely that babies are best considered for this type of arrangement, especially relinquished babies and when a sibling is currently placed for adoption with the same prospective adopters;

Placement Planning

A discussion must take place with the Heads of  Service and written approval sought before a FfA plan is put in place;

Within the PLO process a Permanency Planning Meeting should take place(ideally after the FGC has been held) If FfA is the Care Plan the following steps should be followed

Pre Selection meeting held - see Adoption Procedures.

  • The Care Plan must be presented to the Adoption ADM (Agency Decision Maker- decision for the child to be placed for adoption) who must agree the Care Plan's recommendation  that the child should be placed for adoption and that this should be with the named FfA carers, before any placement is made and the FfA carers given temporary approval as foster carers;
  • At this point parents need to be consulted about their views on such a placement and if possible agreement sought. The benefits to the child of such a placement should be pointed out to the parents at this point They must be informed that the Local Authority cannot pre-judge the outcome of proceedings and its for the court authorise adoption;
  • The child's social worker must present the Care Plan and proposal to court which details the contact arrangement which ensures anonymity for the FfA carer. If the court believes that the local authority's plan is an interference in the parent's rights under Article 6 or 8 in relation to the Care and Placement Order application then an alternative placement plan will be necessary;
  • The FfA carers must be assessed and approved as adopters;
  • The FfA carers must be informed of the requirement to have temporary approval as foster carers and the additional responsibilities and role which this entails. See Page 15 of CoramBAAF practice guidance Fostering  for Adoption for additional information. A named worker from the local fostering team should be identified to act as consultant. The following information will be required to secure temporary approval as foster carers:
    • The most recent PAR or updated PAR;
    • Household safe care policy and child specific policy once the child is placed;
    • Form F - Section E Competency Matrix: Cross referenced with the PAR.
      1. Caring for Children;
      2. Providing a safe and caring environment;
      3. Working as part of a team;
      4. Own development.
  • Minutes of the PPM;
  • Copy of the Care Plan;
  • Minutes from the Pre-selection meeting;
  • Proposals for contact with birth family and how this will be managed particularly in relation to maintaining the FfA carers confidentiality.

The supervising  social worker within the adoption team must have a comprehensive support plan agreed with the prospective carers which is initiated once the baby is placed; A placement planning meeting should be held to formalise this. This  should take place prior to the child being placed if possible. FfA carers are entitled to a fostering allowance (not the fostering fee) for the duration of the FfA placement only. The allowance should be claimed by the SSW in the usual way

  • The FfA carers skills in relation to the above tasks must be evidenced and presented to the ADM for Adoption who will make the decision as to temporary approval;
  • The prospective adopters must be approved as foster carers prior to the child being placed. An early decision will be required;
  • The temporary approval of FfA carers remains in place until:
  • Terminated by the local authority;
  • FfA approval as adopters being terminated;
  • Prospective adopters approved as foster parents under the Fostering Services Regulations 2011;
  • If approved adopters give written notice to the local authority that they no longer wish to be temporarily approved as foster carers within 28 days from the date of notice being received by the local authority;
  • The child being placed for adoption with the prospective adopters under the Adoption and Children Act 2002.
N.B. Please note the adoption team do not case manage relinquished children were there are any safeguarding concerns.

Appendix 1: Outlines the Process to follow for Managing Fostering for Adoption Placements

Click here to view Appendix 1: Outlines the Process to follow for Managing Fostering for Adoption Placements.