The Role of the Legal Adviser
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter was developed/entirely revised in September 2012 and should be read in full
Note this chapter is to be updated in line with Statutory Guidance issued June 2012 at Department for Education websiteAfter September 1st 2012 Adoption Panels will no longer be considering as to whether a child should be placed for adoption, if the matter is in care proceedings. This will be a decision of the Agency Decision Maker. See Section 6, Agency Decision Maker (ADM) - Role and Process of Adoption Panel and Agency Decision Maker's Decision Procedure.
The law relating the child care and adoption is complicated. Ready access to specialist legal advice is essential for Adoption Agencies and Social Services Departments.
The Child Care Litigation Unit has solicitors and barristers who specialise in child care and adoption work. In particular, there is a solicitor who specifically deals with adoption work. In a case where general advice on adoption is required, the adoption lawyer can be contacted on Comnet 25598. In any case where another solicitor is involved because there are court proceedings ongoing, they should be contacted. In an emergency, any of the lawyers can be contacted through the Legal Help Desk on Comnet 25517.
The Adoption Agencies Regulations require the Adoption Panel to obtain legal advice on each case together with advice on an application for an Adoption Order. In Hertfordshire the adoption lawyer is available to give advice to Panel, and the process enables written legal advice to be available to the Agency Decision Maker regarding the decision for a final care plan for adoption and an application for a Placement Order.
To enable this advice to be effective the adoption lawyer needs to have information relating to the case. To achieve this, the following process is followed.
On a monthly basis, the adoption lawyer will ascertain from the Panel Administration which cases are booked for Panel or ADM Decision Day, in the coming 6 weeks. She will then pass to the relevant case solicitor a questionnaire, completed with the child/ren's name and DOB and the date the Child's Permanence Report is to be returned by. This should mean that there is always a minimum of 2 weeks for the solicitor to complete the Child's Permanence Report.
The questionnaire will remain in the possession of the adoption lawyer who will use the information to advise Panel, or the ADM, of the legal aspects of the case. The questionnaire will not be passed to the social worker to be included in the papers to Panel as this is not necessary and the hand written nature of the report makes it an unsuitable document for wider distribution.
The adoption lawyer will keep a file of the completed questionnaire, in alphabetical order of the child's surname. When a case is returning to Panel for a second time, usually for a match, the adoption lawyer will attach the old questionnaire to the new one, requesting up to date information so that the solicitor has a record of previous advice given.
The questionnaire will be kept for 6 months following a match.
To ensure that a questionnaire is prepared in time for a case coming to Panel, it would assist if social workers could contact the relevant solicitor and warn them that a case is being heard by Panel or ADM, on a particular date.