SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
The term 'relinquished child' is used to describe a child, usually a baby or at pre-birth stage, whose parents are making the choice of adoption for the child.
This chapter deals with the first stages of the adoption process for relinquished children, whilst signposting other key processes that should be progressed and which are expected for any child who is Accommodated or where the plan is for adoption. It also summarises the counselling and support that will be made available to the birth family in these circumstances. Once a decision is made and consent is formally given, although not irreversible, the adoption process is as for any other child.
Therefore, this chapter should be read in conjunction with the Related Chapters.
This chapter was updated in March 2019 to reflect local practice. Section 7.1.3, After the Birth - the Father was updated to inform staff of where to gain access to the "If your child is being adopted" leaflet.This chapter is currently under review.
All local authorities have a statutory duty to respond to a request from a parent or guardian for their child to be placed for adoption, and a separate process to progress this, at least in the initial stages, outside of the Care Proceedings process is established in Part 3 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002.
Working with a request for a child to be relinquished will be challenging for many practitioners on the basis that most children's best interest is served by being with their parent and it will be important to ascertain the reasons why the mother sees the best interest for her child in this way and to offer challenges to this through a counselling process (see Section 3, Counselling).
Throughout this process it will remain important:
- That the child's welfare and best interests remains paramount;
- To ensure there is minimal delay in securing the child's permanent future plan, and therefore,
- Referrals to Cafcass, the Adoption Placements Team and, if required a Placements Application Order, together with completion of all necessary documentation are made in a timely way;
- That effective counselling is offered to the parent(s) with regard to the decision; and,
- Clear consideration is given to the parent(s) competency to make the decision;
- The parent(s) are fully aware of their rights and options throughout the process with regard to the child;
- That the practitioner remains in contact with the parent for as long as possible to 'get to know' the parent(s) so as to be able to provide information for the child later in their life;
- Children's Services should seek to ensure that, following a request for a child to be relinquished, the matter should be transferred to the appropriate team best able to work with the parent/guardian and progress the child's plan as soon as possible. This may mean transferring such matters outside of the mainstream 'Transfer of Cases' policy and procedure.
Referrals will be received via the Hertfordshire Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures Manual, Contacts and Referrals Procedure and should be dealt with promptly. Requests may be self referrals or come from a GP, Midwife, school, other health professional or family member, etc.
As much information as possible should be taken at this initial stage about the parent(s) and their circumstances, but must be balanced with a need for sensitivity and an understanding that key areas will be dealt with through the counselling process that will be required (see Section 3, Counselling).
The practitioner dealing with the request should bring the matter to the Team Manager's attention so that the referral can be dealt with promptly by an appropriately skilled and experienced practitioner (see Relinquished Children Flowchart).
3. Counselling and Assessment
The Parent(s) should be advised that they will be offered counselling support via an Adoption Social Worker and/or via Link counselling services This counselling could be therapeutic or about the process of Adoption, or a combination of both.
Counselling, conducted over several interviews, should be undertaken as promptly as possible following the referral, by an experienced practitioner who has knowledge and skills in adoption, and include a discussion about the issues adoption brings for both the parent/guardian and the child.
A Child and Family Assessment will be completed alongside the mother in line with assessment procedures to ascertain whether there are any safeguarding concerns which would impact on route of support and whether Child Protection and/or Care Proceedings are required. The assessment team will inform the Adoption service of the referral and invite them to attend the initial meeting with the family.
In addition to expectations as set out in the Child and Family Assessment procedures, the assessment will address the following:
- Understand the reason(s) why the parent/guardian is seeking to place the child for adoption;
- Consider the parent/guardian's general situation and circumstances;
- Ascertain the position of the birth father (see Section 4, The Birth Father);
- Ascertain any communication requirements:
- As a result of a physical or learning disability;
- English being a second language.
- Ascertain any issues around literacy skills the mother may have;
- Identify any cultural issues;
- Ascertain whether there are any physical or learning disabilities that are impacting upon the circumstances;
- Recognise any immigration concerns;
- Ensure parents are aware of their legal rights and responsibilities and advise them to seek their own legal advice;
- Identify any other issues that may appear to the practitioner to be relevant.
(See also Section 5, Consent and Competency);
- During the assessment stage, as much information as possible about the parents (including background, extended family, identity and personality) should be obtained from both parents in order to inform the baby's Child Permanency Report (CPR).
If no safeguarding concerns are identified during the assessment period, the referral will henceforth be managed by the Adoption Service. If safeguarding concerns are identified then the relevant CIN/CP procedures should be followed and the child will remain allocated within Family Safeguarding Service, with ongoing consultation provided by the Adoption Service.
3.2 Options and Alternatives to Adoption
Counselling should ensure that the parent/guardian has considered the options such as:
- Staying with the parent/guardian, with close support where possible;
- Where the baby and mother are accommodated with foster carers, training and support to care for the baby and mother to help her overcome her anxiety and develop her parenting skills and confidence so that she is able to care for the child;
- Short-term foster care, with the aim of returning the child with support;
- Long-term placement within the child's wider family (perhaps with a Child Arrangements Order);
- Placement for adoption.
Important note: it is not mandatory, or a requirement, that family relatives are informed of the child's birth or a proposed plan of adoption. In considering this, the Local Authority should discuss with the parent(s)/guardian: the likely views of the extended family (grandparents, siblings etc.) and the consequences of them both subsequently 'knowing' or 'not knowing' of the child's birth and plans for adoption.
3.3 Counselling About Adoption
The parent(s) should be given the opportunity to talk with an adoption social worker if their case is being dealt with by the Family Safeguarding Team.
Counselling the parent(s) should include providing information about adoption and gleaning information that might be relevant for the child:
- The implications of adoption as being life-long for the child and the birth family / parents, (see Section 67 Adoption and Children Act 2002);
- The legal consequences of consenting to a placement for adoption (Section 19); advance consent to a future adoption order (Section 20); the withdrawal of these consents; the legal effect of adoption itself; the option of indicating they do not want to be involved in future proceedings once Sections 19 and 20 have been completed;
- The issue of contact, especially contact after the placement for adoption has been made;
- The need for the Local Authority to provide a 'Later Life Letter' and Life Story Books for the child and to seek to involve the parent(s) in assisting with this (providing information, photos etc);
- An understanding from the parent of any known health issues/family medical history within their family that might be relevant to the child - both physical, mental and emotional;
- Whether the parent(s) want to be involved in a matching process;
- Information about the rights of the child to obtain information about their birth parents once they reach 18 years. and the possible implications of this for them as the parent;
- The role of Cafcass in ensuring consent is provided unconditionally and that they have a full understanding;
- The availability (providing details) of independent counselling, information and support to the parent(s) and their family;
- Provision of written information about the adoption process (see Adoption Process).
4. The Birth Father
The father must be given the opportunity to be involved as long as it does not compromise the safety of the baby or mother.
The baby's father whether he is likely to have obtained Parental Responsibility (PR) or not should be informed of his legal rights and responsibilities and advised to seek his own legal advice regarding the proposed adoption.
The father should be offered the opportunity to talk with an adoption social worker either together with the birth mother or separately or if the father prefers, through Link.
Without Parental Responsibility, the birth father is not entitled to provide consent to a placement for adoption.
If the mother is not married, the practitioner should check the birth certificate of the child to identify whether the birth father has acquired Parental Responsibility as a result of being named on the child's birth certificate.
The practitioner should seek if possible to understand the father's identity from the mother, including:
- His address;
- Any known wishes or feelings;
- If the father is seeking to acquire Parental Responsibility;
- If Parental Responsibility is acquired, his potential rights and any part he may wish to play in the process.
However, the law does not force a mother to divulge the identity of a father who does not have Parental Responsibility and the legislation does not impose a duty to make enquiries of a father without Parental Responsibility, or his family.
4.1 Involving the Birth Father Without Parental Responsibility
There is no duty on a Local Authority as an Adoption Agency to make enquiries of a father without Parental Responsibility, or his family, unless this is in the best interests of the child.
If the identity of the birth father becomes known, the practitioner, with the Team Manager, should decide if it is practicable and consistent with the child's welfare, to provide him with information and counselling and to ascertain whether he wishes to obtain Parental Responsibility and /or Child Arrangements Order.
In making this decision, the practitioner must balance:
- The principle that the welfare of the child is paramount;
- The nature of the child's relationship with the father;
- The nature and extent of the father's relationship with the child's mother and any siblings of the child;
- Whether it would be contrary to Article 8 (Right to family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights to prevent disclosure of the birth of a child to a child's father;
- The mother's wishes for the child;
- The mother's right to confidentiality;
- The avoidance of unnecessary delay.
If deemed suitable, after the birth, a birth father without PR should be interviewed by the social worker with a view to establishing:
- Whether or not he accepts paternity;
- If he accepts paternity, will he be registering his name on the baby's birth certificate, thus acquiring PR;
- If not, does he intend to apply for PR in other ways.
4.2 Birth Fathers Who Acquire Parental Responsibility
Where a birth father acquires Parental Responsibility and the mother has already consented to adoption, and the child has been placed for adoption, (under Section 19, Adoption and Children Act 2002), it is considered that the father has also consented to the placement for adoption. However, the birth father can then withdraw his consent, provided he does so before an application has been made to court for an Adoption Order.
However, where the Local Authority wish to continue with the adoptive placement, a placement order application must be applied for. (Note: where the application is before the court, there is no obligation for the Local Authority to return the child to either parent).
As with the mother and birth father without Parental Responsibility, the father's extended family have the same legal position, i.e. it is at the discretion of the Local Authority as to whether contacting them is appropriate (see Important Note in Section 3, Counselling).
5. Expectant Mothers under the Age of 16
(Responsibility - Mother's Social Worker).
If the expectant mother is under 16, the counselling should usually involve her parents. It is however, the mother's decision to place her child for adoption. The family should all be informed that, if there are child protection issues, the matter may have to be reported to the police.
If the expectant mother is refusing to inform her parents of her pregnancy, advice should be sought from CLU. In certain situations there may be a question as to whether or not the girl meets the Fraser Guidelines.
When dealing with an expectant mother or mother under the age of 16, it must be borne in mind that she may be a 'child in need' under the Children Act and eligible for services under Section 17.
The social worker must also assess whether the expectant mother is in need of protection under Hertfordshire's Safeguarding Children Procedures.
Relevant child protection procedures should be followed regarding any assessed risk to the expectant mother and/ or unborn baby.
6. Consent and Competency
The Local Authority as the Adoption Agency must be sure that the parent or the guardian is competent to give consent.
During the counselling sessions, care should be given to identifying whether the parent(s) are capable of giving consent, especially if there is evidence of: learning disabilities; mental health issues; cultural, ethnic or faith issues; consent being given conditionally, etc.
Where there is concern as to the parent's understanding, an additional and specialist assessment should be sought from another professional - preferably someone who already knows the parent, such as an approved mental health social worker; a disabilities social worker; GP; midwife or health visitor; psychiatrist / psychologist or someone who can offer a faith or cultural perspective.
If the issue of competency is known at the point of referral or at an early stage in the process, then the Local Authority should not ask Cafcass to witness consent, until any such issues are resolved. Where a parent is under 18 years (i.e. considered to be a 'child' themselves within the meaning of the Children Act 1989), they can be considered to give valid consent if assessed as competent by the counselling practitioner.
The High Court in Re S (Child as parent: Adoption: Consent)  EWHC 2729 (Fam) made clear that parental Capacity to consent to a child being accommodated under s.20 Children Act 1989, does not equate to their capacity to consent to an adoption order in respect of the child - the capacity to consent is decision-specific. (That case concerned a 'child parent' (i.e. below 18 years of age) with learning disabilities. The principles, however, will be of relevance in considering parental capacity, irrespective of their age).
The court set out the salient or 'sufficient' information which is required to be understood by a parent regarding extra-familial adoption:
- Your child will have new legal parents, and will no longer be your son or daughter in law;
- Adoption is final, and non-reversible;
- During the process, other people (including social workers from the adoption agency) will be making decisions for the child, including who can see the child, and with whom the child will live;
- You may obtain legal advice if you wish before taking the decision;
- The child will live with a different family forever; you will (probably) not be able to choose the adopters;
- You will have no right to see your child or have contact with your child; it is highly likely that direct contact with your child will cease, and any indirect contact will be limited;
- The child may later trace you, but contact will only be re-established if the child wants this;
- There are generally two stages to adoption; the child being placed with another family for adoption, and being formally adopted;
- For a limited period of time you may change your mind; once placed for adoption, your right to change your mind is limited, and is lost when an adoption order is made.
When determining the competence of a parent in these circumstances, 'all practicable steps' must be taken to help them to make the decision, for example using simple language, visual aids or other means. A parent will be treated as understanding the information relevant to a decision if they are able to understand an explanation of it given to them in a way which is appropriate to their circumstances.
The decision to consent to adoption is significant and life-changing. Before exercising their decision-making, the parent should freely and fully understand the information set out on the consent forms, which should be conveyed and explained to them in an appropriate way; there is no expectation that the parent would be able to understand the precise language of the consent forms.
If there is any doubt about the competence of a parent to give consent to adoption or placement for adoption, the issue should be referred to a court.
Where it is considered that the parent is not capable of giving informed consent but the Local Authority decide to place the child for adoption following their counselling and assessment, an application for a placement order must be made (see Section 22(1) Adoption and Children Act 2002).
(See also Court Reports in Special Guardianship Guidance).
7. Decision of the Local Authority and Procedures
Following the counselling stage and if the parent(s) continue to express their need for the child to be adopted, a decision to proceed to Adoption Panel for the child to be considered for adoption as a relinquished child should be made by the appropriate Children's Social Services Officer. (Note however, that it is the Adoption Panel recommendation and the Adoption Agency Decision Maker that will confirm the plan for the child).
7.1 Procedure Prior to the Birth (or afterwards if necessary)
(Responsibility - Mother's Social Worker).
When adoption becomes a well established possibility, give the parents either Hertfordshire's leaflet 'If Your Child is Being Adopted' or CoramBAAF leaflet 'Information for Birth Parents about Adoption'. This is also a good point at which to complete a Form PH (CoramBAAF) for both parents so that as much medical information as possible can be obtained. This must be retained for further reference in relation to the child's medical. The pack for birth parents should also be given. The child's case file should be set up at this point.
The mother's social worker should liaise with the midwife and agree tasks and roles.
The expectant mother should make her wishes known to her GP and consultant and the expectant mother's social worker should inform the hospital social worker and the senior nursing officer of the maternity ward, of the plan for adoption. They should be asked to contact the mother's social worker when the baby is born.
If the case is being held in the Assessment or Family Safeguarding Teams then immediately the team know of the case they must contact the Adoption Team to ascertain the services that may be available for the expectant mother and father and alert them to the possibility of an adoption placement.
In the event a placement is required arrangements must be made to sign the S20 Children Act 1989 consent to look after the baby. See chapter on Decision to Look After and Initial Care Planning.
As part of the counselling process, it is helpful to advise the mother and father that it is usually desirable for them to see the baby after it is born in order to help them make an informed decision about the baby's future and to help them come to terms with the reality of the situation.
Consideration needs to be given to the type of placement that will meet the baby's needs and as such an Early Permanence should be considered to avoid the baby having to move. However it is very important that carers are prepared for the first six weeks prior to the birth parent signing consent with CAFCASS and the option for the birth parents to change their minds (CoramBAAF). An assessment needs to be made of the likelihood of the parents remaining of the view that the baby should be adopted. If the parents do not appear sure regarding their decision then it will be necessary to make. Contact the Brokerage Team to arrange a short term carer for the baby. Complete Child's Permanence Report as far as possible. Consideration should also be given to an 'Early Permanence Placement'. If this type of arrangement is not suitable then the case records should record the reason.
Discuss with the parent(s) what part they wish to play in selecting adopters. If they wish to be involved, the profiles written by the prospective adopters will be shared with them after the short-listing meeting, and their views presented to the selection meeting, preferably in writing.
Encourage birth parent(s) to prepare letters, photo albums, tapes, videos, etc. for their child's life history. Discuss with them the possibility of meeting the adoptive parents, and ascertain their wishes.
Discuss the options for Post Adoption Contact again, illustrating the life- long implications of adoption. Ascertain their views on contact both before and after the Adoptive Placement. Explain the role of the Adoption Support Team in regard to adoption support services, including post adoption. Complete the Child's Permanence Report Assessment of Birth Relatives Need for Adoption Support Service (CSF4031).
Explain how the Adoption Contact Register operates.
Explain in detail the issues around consent.
In addition the Local Authority need to inform the Cafcass office (closest to the parent(s)/guardian's address). (See Letter 1: Advanced Notification of the child to be relinquished for adoption: Sections 19 and 20 Adoption Children Act 2002).
7.1.1 Child Who is Already Born
After the Birth – The Birth Parents
(Responsibility – Mother's Social Worker)
It is important for all mothers to have a period of time after the birth in which to consider their decision. Therefore the baby will need to be placed with foster carers prior to its placement with adopters.
An assessment and decision should be promptly made as to the point at which the child should be Accommodated, bearing in mind that separation will impact upon the child's developing attachment; this could be 'positively' if the parent(s)/guardian bond is poor, with the consequent impact upon the child's attachment. In many circumstances, the child will be accommodated promptly under Section 20 (1989 Act) because of a parent(s)/guardian's circumstances and wishes (see Decision to Look After and Initial Care Planning Procedure).
The mother and father should be asked to complete Child's Permanence Report (see Agreement to place a child for Adoption) as soon as possible but after they have had time to consider their options. The signature should be witnessed by the Social Worker and the Child's Permanence Report placed on the child's file. It must be explained that this is in no way legally binding and does not mean that they have given formal consent. Explain the procedure for formal consent.
Formal consent needs to be witnessed by a CAFCASS officer. To arrange this contact CAFCASS.
Formal consent cannot be given until the child is six weeks old. Parents can also give consent in advance to the adoption order at this point.
The parent should sign their consent to the placement for adoption - having been provided with all relevant information in respect of adoption, contact and support for them and their family, (see Section 3.3, Counselling About Adoption).
When the matter has been presented to Adoption Panel and agreed by the Agency Decision Maker and Cafcass have completed their role, an adoptive placement should be sought (see Section 10, Adoption Panel).
A referral to the Adoption Team should be made as soon as possible within the 'relinquished process' so that efforts can be made to identify an appropriate placement, including an early Permanence Placement, if appropriate (see Fostering for Adoption Procedure).
7.1.2 After the Birth – the Mother
(Responsibility - Mother's Social Worker).
The social worker should visit as soon as possible after the birth to discuss plans, name for baby, photos of the baby and birth parent. The mother and father, if appropriate, should be offered the opportunity to be involved with the baby's placement.
If the birth father is unknown at this stage, it is important for the social worker to explain to the mother the importance of having information about the birth father for the child's future knowledge and identity.
Hospital staff should be aware that this mother wishes her baby to be adopted and take her wishes into account when discussing the mother's seeing and handling of her baby, her discharge and the involvement of the midwife. The social worker should inform ward staff of specific arrangements for placement.
Give CoramBAAF form Mother and Baby (signed by the mother and obstetric and neo-natal reports) to the nurse manager to be completed before baby's discharge.
Ensure that the mother, and possibly the father, registers the baby's birth and obtains a full birth certificate, together with an NHS medical card, both of which should be handed to the social worker and retained on the baby's file. (The mother/ father may keep the short version of the birth certificate if they wish or they may wish to have their own copy of the full birth certificate).
Arrange for the foster carer to spend some time with the baby and nursing staff in hospital, and then organise the baby's discharge to foster home. Collect any items left by the birth relatives (toy, cot-tag, etc.) to pass on to adopters. Remember to collect completed Mother and Baby Form (M/B) needed for baby's adoption medical and Adoption Panel.
The baby will be accommodated under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989. A Placement Agreement will need to be completed in conjunction with a Fostering Team social worker, Statutory visits and reviews must be carried out in line with the LAC guidelines (Responsibility - Mother's Social Worker and Supervising Social Worker for Foster Carer). Should the parents withdraw consent while the child is accommodated under Section 20, before the child is returned to their parents, a Child and Family Assessment must be completed in accordance with the Placement Endings Procedure, Reunification.
Continue offering counselling to the birth parents and exploring all options for the baby's care, including care by the extended family.
Ensure that the mother is aware of her child's right to access files and records as an adult and the implications of this. Consideration should be given to signing consent to sharing of information from the child's permanence report.
Complete Child's Permanence Report, adding details of the birth such as time of birth, birth weight and any birth complications. Share Child's Permanence Report with the birth parents, asking for their comments and for them to sign it. If they feel unable to sign the Child's Permanence Report, they should be asked to sign a statement to say that they have seen they Child's Permanence Report. The social worker should record their reasons for not signing the Child's Permanence Report to the panel. Ensure that the birth parents have had the leaflet for adoption panel and support them in filling this in if it is appropriate to do so.
Arrange for the medical adviser to complete a full adoption medical examination when the baby is at least six weeks old.
Consider whether it is appropriate to test the baby for HIV and/ or hepatitis in line with CoramBAAF Guidelines: Practice Note 53 and, in consultation with the agency medical adviser.
The medical adviser must be consulted following any medical issues that arise at the baby's medical.
The social worker is to ensure that photos are taken in the early weeks to give the adopters, also that photos of the mother and father obtained for the baby. Photos of the baby for the mother and father should also be obtained.
The foster carer should be encouraged to compile an album for the baby and possible a video to share with potential adopters and birth parents if appropriate.
7.1.3 After the Birth – the Father
(Responsibility - Birth Mother's Social Worker).
If the father of the child has PR he must also give consent to the adoption in his own right.
Where the mother's husband is not the father, the child is nevertheless presumed in law to be a child of the marriage and the husband's agreement is necessary unless the presumption is rebutted i.e. he cannot be the biological father. Further professional and legal advice should be sought in these circumstances.
The putative father must also be interviewed, if at all possible, and offered similar counselling to the mother. He should be given a leaflet called 'If your Child is being adopted' or Hertfordshire leaflet 'Information for Parents of a Child or Children Who are to be Adopted' (this leaflet can be obtained from an Administrator in the Adoption Service). He should also be asked to sign Form CSF3972. 'Agreement to Place a Child for Adoption' if he agrees with the plan for adoption. Information should be obtained about his background, current circumstances and attitude towards the plan for adoption and continuing contact with the child. He should be aware of the adopted adult's right to access records and the possibilities of birth parents and other family members being traced by the child when they are adult. Advance consent to disclosure can be considered at this point.
If he opposes the plan, he should be advised of his rights under the Children Act 1989.
When obtaining information about the birth father from the birth mother she needs to understand the importance to her child for the future of having as much information as possible about both their parents. The mother may still decline to give the social worker the name of the baby's father. In that situation, as much information as possible should be obtained from the mother about the father for the baby's permanence report.
The birth mother needs to know that if she gives the social worker the father's full name, they will have to make every effort to trace him, including possible using a tracing agency. There might be exceptional circumstances where it was not safe to trace the father.
If attempts to contact the birth father fail, or the birth mother declines to give his full name to her social worker, details of the actions taken, including dates, should be recorded and included in the child's permanence report and Schedule 2 report.
7.1.4 Grandparents and Other Relatives
(Responsibility - Birth Mother's Social Worker).
If the mother does not wish other members of her family to know about the pregnancy and her plans for adoption, this needs to be discussed with her bearing in mind the interests of the child. She needs to understand the consequences of this decision in the light of the adopted child's ability to trace birth relatives as an adult. If she remains adamant in her view, even after efforts have been made to help her share the information, then her wishes should be respected. However, this is a complex area with possible implications under article 8 of the Human Rights Legislation and legal advice should be sought. At all times the welfare check list mist be considered when coming to any view.
When grandparents or other relatives are aware of the baby and are expressing an interest in parenting the child contrary to the mother's wishes, the mother needs to be made aware that we have a responsibility under the Children Act to explore this possibility and make a decision in the child's best interests.
The paperwork for the adoption panel for relinquished babies needs to indicate within the permanence form whether there is a particular placement already identified, such as in concurrency/ fast track siblings. It may be in these cases that the birth parents may want to give agreement for placement with identified adopters (CSF3972). The adoption panel will want to consider this at the panel if this is the case. Once the decision maker has made the decision that the child should be placed for adoption, and the parent(s) have been notified, then subject to the agreement being signed and they are continuing to be prepared to give consent to the adoption the child may be placed.
7.2 Accommodation of the Child
Following Accommodation of the child, the practitioner should progress the matter as with any other child who becomes looked after:
- Ensure a case record for the child is opened and the electronic recording system is provided with all relevant information, particularly the child's status, (this to be updated throughout);
- Advise the Independent Reviewing Unit of the child's placement and status and ensure the first review is completed within 20 working days, completing all necessary documentation;
- Complete a Care Plan for the child;
- Commence the child's Permanence Report (for Adoption Panel);
- Progress a referral to the (Adoption Panel) Medical Advisor for a health assessment including CoramBAAF medical assessment forms M and B together with CoramBAAF PH form, (completed by parent(s));
- Ensure a birth certificate is obtained: this can be undertaken by the parent;
- Visit the child's placement in accordance with the regulations and other requirements, (see Statutory Visits to Children Looked After Procedure);
- Continue to keep in contact with the parent(s) and continue with counselling about adoption as wanted/needed by them;
- Arrange and support contact arrangements with the child as required;
- Ensure that the child's Life Story Book is commenced and progressed and that the foster carer is involved in this on as continuous basis;
- At 6 weeks, obtain parent(s) consent to place the child for adoption and advance placement to adopt;
- Discuss with the parent(s) their level of engagement within the process and at what point they may wish to disengage from the adoption process.
In many instances the parent(s) will be completely disengaged at an early stage and there might therefore be an issue of continuing engagement to undertake necessary tasks, e.g. obtaining a birth certificate, completing consent forms, etc.
See ADCS, Good Practice Guidance for Adoption Agencies and Cafcass: Children Relinquished for Adoption - Annex 5: 'Statement That I Do Not Wish to be Notified of the Application for an Adoption Order for my Child - Section 20(4) Adoption and Children Act 2002' Proforma.
7.2.1 Planning Meetings for Adoption
After the above work is completed or nearly complete with the birth parents and other birth relatives, the social worker for the child should arrange a Permanence Planning Meeting. This should occur as quickly as possible before or after birth. A review should be set up at the earliest opportunity after the Permanence Planning Meeting.
From this point in the process, the child's social worker should follow the Procedures for Placing Babies/ Children who are subject to Care proceedings (see Permanence Planning Procedure).
The child's social worker should note that the process will be quicker for relinquished babies. This Child's Permanence Report should be completed by the time of the Permanence Planning Meeting. Following the Permanence Planning Meeting, the child's social worker should start completing the adoption plan and support plans, book the Adoption in the Child's Panel, the Short-listing Meeting, the Selection Meeting and the Matching Panel.
The plan can only proceed to the adoption panel if formal consent has been given and witnessed by a CAFCASS officer.
If formal consent it given then withdrawn, seek advice from CLU. Further information is given in procedures following the withdrawal of consent.
7.2.2 Timescales for Relinquished Children
(Where birth family are clear and firm in their decision for adoption)
Matches to suitable families should be made within a month of the parent(s) giving consent to adoption (not less than 6 weeks, see below). Where the parents prevaricate and indicate they no longer want adoption and where the child cannot be immediately reunified with his or her birth family, the case responsibility should pass to the Family Safeguarding Team.
A relinquished baby may be placed with foster carers also approved as adopters. Such concurrent planning means that the baby has less changes and adopters can bond with the baby at the earliest opportunity.
3 - 4 weeks after the baby's birth the Permanence Planning Meetings (PPM) needs to be convened swiftly, followed quickly by a LAC review to confirm the decision to pursue adoption.
Immediately following the PPM, the case should be booked into the Adoption Panel to consider plan for adoption. The child should be presented to the ADM at the earliest possible opportunity once it is apparent that the plan is adoption.
- Child's Adoption Panel - no more than 12 weeks after the birth, as per National Adoption Standards (A2C) and 8 weeks after the first review, which confirms adoption as the plan;
- Selection Meeting;
- Matching Panel - 4 weeks after Selection Meeting.
Six weeks after the baby's birth:
- The baby needs full adoption medical.
The timescale must not exceed 3 months from Adoption Panel for the Child to Matching Panel as per National Adoption Standards 3C.
7.2.3 Preparing the Child
Work with the child, in an age-appropriate way, should be begin to be undertaken to help prepare them for the planning and changes that will progress them to their permanent placement. The nature and style of this work will vary greatly on the child and their age, understanding and capacity and is likely to be a mixture of play, counselling and 'discussion'. This could include a final 'goodbye' contact with their parent(s)/guardian and family.
7.2.4 Adoption Case Record
Once the Local Authority has made a decision that the plan for the child should be one of adoption, in addition to the Looked After Child record, an Adoption Case Record should be established.
7.3 Pre-Birth Child
Many children who are relinquished will come as a pre-birth request from the mother. Counselling processes / information gathering processes with the mother and, (where appropriate and known), putative father need to be undertaken and progressed.
Additionally, a foster to adopt placement can be sought, (if assessed as appropriate), or initial request for a placement, together with planning a schedule for Adoption Panel.
Note however that formal consent by the mother for an adoption placement and advance consent to adopt cannot be given until the child is 6 weeks old.
7.3.1 Child's Birth and Discharge from the Maternity Unit
At the point of the child's birth, the mother can decide to care for the child or request separation. However, greater involvement at this stage by the mother is likely to make it more difficult to separate.
The practitioner should seek to meet with the mother as soon as reasonably possible, checking with maternity staff that this is appropriate. The focus should be on the mother's welfare; reflecting on the plan for relinquishing the new-born child and exploring how the mother / father (if appropriate) want to deal with this stage of the process. It should also include advice / information, perhaps particularly around separation and naming the child.
This stage of the process is one of particular sensitivity and should be lead by the mother. The parent(s) can provide as much or as little for the child as they feel they want to at this very initial stage and should be encouraged / supported - but not pressured - to have contact with the child. This contact could be at the foster carer's home - given that, unless there are health issues for the child requiring the child to remain in the maternity unit, discharge is likely to be after 24 hours and should be to the identified foster carer.
It should also be considered that this is the point at which the child's Life Story Book starts, and provides an opportunity to collate detail and (with permission) photos for the child's Life Story Book.
At the time of birth, the practitioner should:
- Provide the maternity unit with the foster carer's details and the foster carer's GP details;
- Ensure the CoramBAAF medical Forms M and B for completion by the paediatrician;
- Mother's Consent Form (CoramBAAF PH) consenting to the completion of the above M and B Forms.
Note: these forms should be completed before the child's discharge, so as to avoid unnecessary delay later.
7.3.2 Accommodation of the child
Following discharge from hospital, the practitioner should progress the matter as with any other child who becomes looked after, (see Section 7.2, Accommodation of the child).
Additional counselling for the parent or guardian should be provided where the local authority is seeking to obtain their signed agreement to the placement for adoption of the child aged under 6 weeks. The local authority should make it clear orally and in writing:
- That the parent or guardian retains full Parental Responsibility until:
- They give their consent after the child reaches the age of 6 weeks;
- A Placement Order is made; or
- An Adoption Order is made.
- The parent or guardian may only have contact with the child by agreement with the agency or by order of the court;
- Their rights in the event that the parent or guardian asks for the child to be returned (see Section 9, Parent(s) Withdraw Their Consent or Change Their Plan for the Child);
- That after the child is 6 weeks old, the local authority will seek to arrange for them to give their formal consent to the child being placed for adoption.
Subject to the agreement being signed, the local authority may now place the child. It should seek to maintain contact for the child with the parents and ascertain when the child reaches the age of 6 weeks, whether they are prepared to consent to:
- A placement of the child for adoption under Section 19 (2002 Act) with a prospective adopter identified in the Consent, or with any prospective adopter who may be chosen by the local authority; or
- A placement of the child for an adoption can proceed. If they are not, and they request that the child be returned to them, the local authority must comply with that request unless there are grounds for seeking a Placement Order, or instituting other proceedings.
7.3.3 Adoption Case Record
8. Procedure with Regards to Consent in Relinquished Babies
If the baby is placed with prospective adopters the birth parents with parental responsibility should be asked to sign CSF3972 Agreement to place a Child for Adoption Where the Child is less than 6 weeks old.
Firstly, CAFCASS sends an early warning letter.
Any consent given by the birth parents if the child is under 6 weeks is ineffective.
Birth parents should be informed in writing of all actions of the adoption agency.
- The agreement to place a child can be signed by the birth parents using form CSF3972 under 6 weeks;
- The agreement form must be placed on the child's record;
- It is important when asking the birth parents to sign the agreement to place that they are counselled regarding their rights;
- The signing of the consent to placement must be witnessed by a CAFCASS officer;
- The relevant CAFCASS office is that which is nearest to the birth parents address.
Dispensing with consent (section 52 Adoption and Children Act 2002
This can only occur if either of the two conditions below apply:
- Child's parent of or guardian cannot be found or is incapable of giving consent;
- The welfare of the child requires consent to be dispensed with.
Secondly, the following information must be sent to the CAFCASS with the request:
- A certified copy of the child's birth certificate;
- Name and address of the child's parent(s);
- A chronology of the actions and decisions taken by the agency;
- Confirmation that the agency has counselled the birth parents with regard to section 19 and 20 of the Adoption and Children Act and a copy of the information given to the birth parents;
- Any additional information that the guardian might wish to know;
The CAFCASS officer will then witness the consent and send a letter to the adoption team to confirm the outcome.
The application to the court for an adoption order must be accompanied by the original consent, signed and witnessed.
The signed consent form should be kept on file together with any notice under Section 20 that the birth parents do not want to be informed of further proceedings.
Once agreement to consent has been received and the child has been to the adoption panel, the child may not be placed until the formal consent is obtained.
It is possible to select and match before formal consent has been received but no placement could occur without formal witnessed consent. Social workers will need to judge whether there are any concerns that the placement will not go ahead before going this far down.
Additionally CSF3964 Section 20 Children Act 1989 Placing a Child for Adoption.
Should be signed by prospective adopters to ensure that they are aware that the placement is dependent upon the birth parents continuing to give their agreement to the plan for adoption.
9. Parent(s) Withdraw Their Consent or Change Their Plan for the Child
9.1 Change of Plan
Where the child is Accommodated under Section 20 (Children Act 1989) and is less than 6 weeks old and the parent changes their mind, a request for the child to be returned to the parent's care must be responded to.
Nevertheless, an evaluation of the circumstances should be undertaken and include any factors that may require a formal child protection risk assessment (see Criteria and Threshold Guidance - Meeting the Needs of Children and Families).
Following such an assessment, and if the Local Authority identify the child's welfare and best interests would not be met by a return to the parent / guardian's care, the Local Authority may apply for: an Emergency Protection Order or Care Order; a Placement Order or Adoption Order.
If the child has been Accommodated for more than 20 days then the decision should be undertaken by the Nominated Officer (Relevant Head of Service) to cease Section 20. If Accommodation is less than 20 days, then the decision can be undertaken by the Team Manager in conjunction with the IRO, as per the Ceasing Section 20 Checklist.
See the Ceasing to Look After a Child Procedure for detailed information regarding ceasing CLA and planning.
In all circumstances, any child returning home should be made on the basis that they are safeguarded and their welfare and best interests will be promoted. This should take into account the support that can be provided by Children's Services and its partner agencies.
Note: Where the parent / guardian withdraws their consent to adoption it should not be assumed that the threshold criteria under section 31(2) will be satisfied and each case needs to be considered on its own facts (see Re A O (care proceedings) 2016 EWFC 36).
9.2 Withdrawal of Consent
The parent(s) can withdraw their consent to the child's placement for adoption at any stage prior to the prospective adopters issuing an adoption application in relation to the child, either by using the 'Withdrawal of Consent Sections 19 and 20 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002' form or by written notice given to the Adoption Agency.
On receiving the Notice of Withdrawal, the Local Authority (as the agency) will lose the authority to place and there should be an immediate review of the child's plan for adoption. Following legal advice, the Local Authority may decide to apply for a Placement Order.
Where the child is not yet placed with adoptive applicants - and the parent or guardian informs the Local Authority that they wish the child to be returned to their care, the child should be returned to the parent(s) / guardian within 7 days, unless the Local Authority has either made an application for a Placement Order or a decision is made to apply for a Placement Order.
Where the child is placed for adoption - and the parent or guardian requests the return of the child, the Agency Decision Maker must immediately review the decision to place the child for adoption (please also see Placement Endings Procedure).
If a parent is seeking the return of the child, the prospective adopter and the adoption agency will need to return the child within 14 days, beginning with the day on which the notice was given, unless the Authority has either made an application for a placement or a decision is made to apply for a Placement Order. As soon as the child is returned to the Local Authority / Adoption Agency, the child must return to the parent / guardian.
Where a child has been placed by a voluntary adoption agency that agency will not be able to apply for a placement order, and any steps will need to be taken by the local authority, if it agrees that the child is at risk of harm if returned to the parent.
10. Adoption Panel
Once consent has been signed the practitioner should proceed to the Adoption Panel (see Adoption Panel Procedure) after completing the child's Permanency Report and providing the range of required documents, notably the child Permanency Report.
11. CAFCASS - Including Relevant Forms
Once the Adoption Panel and Agency Decision Maker have confirmed the plan for the child to be adoption, notification must be urgently sent to Cafcass.
Note that it is usual practice for the Local Authority to refer to Cafcass after the Panel and Agency decision to place for adoption. However, the law allows a parent to give consent for adoption ahead of these processes - although the child must be 6 weeks of age. (This might be the case if a parent is anxious to give consent at the point of the child being 6 weeks of age, or the Local Authority are satisfied that every effort has been made with respect to the counselling of the parent who wishes to give consent, and to delay for an Adoption Panel meeting might then lead to difficulties and, as a result, undue delay for the child's plan).
The principal role of Cafcass is to ensure that consent to place for adoption (Section 19) and advance consent for an Adoption Order (Section 20) has been made unconditionally and with a full understanding of all that this means in terms of those sections, of adoption and all its implications.
In doing so, it is helpful for the Schedule 2 (Adoption Agency Regulations) report to be sent with the formal request to Cafcass.
It is not however, the role of Cafcass to challenge birth parents about their decision to relinquish the child, (as long as they are competent) or the Local Authority / Adoption Agency 's decisions in respect of birth fathers without Parental Responsibility, involvement of extended family etc.
11.1 Notification to Cafcass
The following needs to be sent to Cafcass:
11.2 Consent Forms to be completed and signed by the parent(s)/guardian:
The following consent forms need to be completed by the parent(s) following the counselling and witnessed by a Cafcass Officer:
A102: Consent form to the placement of adoption with identified prospective carers and, if the placement breaks down, with any prospective adopters chosen by the Adoption Agency - under Section 19 (Adoption and Children 2002 Act)
11.3 Cafcass Outcome/Response
- Consent to place for adoption (Section 19): consent has been unconditionally and properly given with full knowledge and comprehension of adoption and the process;
- Consent to place for adoption (Section 19) and Advance consent to the making of an adoption order (Section 20): consent has been unconditionally and properly given to both placement and Adoption Order with full knowledge and comprehension of adoption and the process.
The Local Authority should receive the following letter from the Cafcass Officer: Relinquished child: Countersigning Consent Forms (Letter 3).
- Where advance consent to the making of an Adoption Order (Section 20) this letter is amended to reflect this);
- Where the parent(s) / guardian has identified and given notice that they do not wish to be notified when an application for an Adoption Order is made, Section 20(4) Adoption and Children Act) the letter should also acknowledge this and attach a 'Statement' to this effect.