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.
AMENDMENTSection 3, Consent and Competency was updated in January 2019 to include additional information on parental capacity to consent, in line with High Court case-law.
1. Contacts / Referrals
Contacts / Referrals will typically be regarding an unborn child or a very young baby and are likely to be via a health professional or by self-referral to the Multi-Agency Screening Team (MAST). Contacts / Referrals must contain the relevant details regarding the birth parents and the child - including the reasons why adoption is being considered.
The Deputy Team Manager/Practice Manager will process the contact/referral to the Children's Assessment Team (CAT) for a Single Assessment and also contact One Adoption West Yorkshire (OAWY) agency / the Adoption Team Manager for Calderdale children to request allocation to an Adoption social worker to undertake a joint initial visit as part of the assessment and offer counselling to the birth parent. A joint visit will be undertaken and will be entered on the child's electronic file system within 10 working days of receipt of the referral. In all cases, including where the parent does not wish to relinquish their child, the CAT social worker will complete the Single Assessment.
If the case is open to a locality team in respect of other siblings, then the above processes will follow and a contact/referral will be created for the unborn child following which the Locality social worker and the Adoption social worker will undertake a joint visit as part of the Single Assessment.
Working with a request for a child to be relinquished is often challenging for practitioners on the basis that children's best interests are usually served by being with their parent; 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 2, Counselling).
The initial counselling interview will be undertaken jointly by the allocated social worker and adoption social worker, and will normally be with the birth parent(s) and, if very young, their parent(s). The focus of this interview will be a general discussion of adoption and its legal and emotional implications and a discussion of available alternatives. It should be emphasised that discussion about adoption is not a commitment to proceed.
The allocated social worker and adoption social worker will need to get to know the parent/s properly so that they can be fully involved in the plan for the child. Any questions asked by the parents need to be answered honestly with plenty of reassurance, that they have, or will have full Parental Responsibility for the child and that the child cannot be placed for adoption without their consentThe parent(s) must be given the adoption memorandum (Information for Birth Parents about Adoption) which is included in the Birth Parent's Information Pack. Their acknowledgement, when given should be placed on the adoption case file.
It is usual to include the father of the child in the counselling process. The birth mother should be encouraged to provide the father's name. His consent to adoption will be required if he has parental responsibility. When determining whether to contact a father without Parental Responsibility when the mother does not wish to disclose his identity, the following criteria must be considered:
- The nature of the child's relationship with the father;
- The nature and extent of the father's relationship with the mother and any siblings;
- Whether failure to disclose to the father would constitute a contravention of Article 8 of the Convention (concerning respect for private and family life);
- The child will require background information, including health information regarding their father.
Reasons for not involving the father must be discussed with the Children's Assessment Team (CAT) Manager, the Adoption Team Manager and legal services, and any decision must be recorded on the child's electronic case file. Where the father's identity cannot be established or the case is complex, legal advice must be sought as soon as possible to ensure that there is no unnecessary delay for the child.Further interviews will be essential to continue the counselling process and to begin the process of collecting information for the Child's Permanence Report. The counselling should lead to a decision being made by the parent(s). Counselling should continue and issues to be explored would include:
- Contact (e.g. while the child is Accommodated pending adoption and post adoption);
- Separation and loss;
- Emphasise legal process and finality of adoption;
- Family medical information;
- Comprehensive background history for the child;
- Alternatives to adoption e.g. extended family members, short term foster care with the aim of returning the child with support or staying with the parent from birth;
- Avenues of support for the parent(s);
- Meeting the adoptive parent(s) / contact post adoption;
- Choice of family;
- Inform of child's rights - access to information provision (useful to record reaction on file). Adoption Contact Register and Calderdale Adoption Contact Register.
Every effort must be made to elicit comprehensive family health background information – using CoramBAAF medical forms. Information from both parents needs to be obtained.
If the plan remains adoption (50% of mothers do change their minds during counselling or in the week after the baby's birth) explain to the parents that the child is likely to remain in placement with the temporary foster carers for at least 6 weeks in order that counselling can continue and the child's medical can be arranged.
The emphasis upon urgent planning is strong: In some cases it may be feasible with enough preparation for the adoption panel to be ready to consider the case within a day or so of the birth and the agency decision maker to make the decision the same day. Upon the child's birth, additional counselling must be offered to ensure adoption remains the plan; and if so, whether the child should be placed with particular adopters.
3. Consent and Competency
The local authority 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 Placement Order Applications and in Adoption/Special Guardianship Guidance, Placement Order Application)
4. Arrangement for Placement
See also: Gateway Panel Procedure.
Once it has been clearly established and dependant on timescales that this is a relinquished baby for adoption then an application to attend Gateway Panel should be made by the allocated social worker for approval to proceed with a foster placement/placement with extended family members.Following approval at Gateway Panel, the allocated social worker will make a referral to fostering duty desk for a fostering placement. Once a foster carer is identified, the birth parents should be offered the opportunity to meet the foster carer/s if appropriate.
The mother needs to give consent for the child to be accommodated by signing the placement agreement and the medical consent form. The treatment delegation form gives consent for all necessary medical treatment for the child whilst accommodated. These should be signed by the team manager and distributed to all concerned.
Also see: Adoption Panel Procedure (One Adoption).
The social worker should also arrange a-birth planning meeting with the hospital See Pre-Birth Assessments Procedure, Birth Planning Meeting for further information.
5. Following Baby's Birth
Following the birth of the baby the mother can decide whether to care for the baby or request segregation from the baby whilst in hospital. It is usual for the mother to opt for the latter arrangement. The social worker should see the mother separately and privately as soon as possible after birth.
The parent/s should be encouraged to see the baby but must not be forced to (arrangements can be made for the parent/s to see the baby at a suitable and appropriate place). The parent/s do not need to provide anything for the baby but can and may wish to do so. On discharge the mother will leave the baby in the hospital.
The social worker must arrange for the baby to be discharged to foster parents, and if appropriate an Early Permanence Placement (EPP) usually within 24 hours of birth. It is useful for the prospective foster carer/s to visits the baby in hospital prior to discharge but this must be done in consultation with the birth parent/s and the hospital.
It is also desirable for the foster/EPP carer(s) to be present with the child's social worker to discharge the baby from hospital. On discharge the hospital ward should be given details of the foster/EPP carers' name address and contact number and the foster carers' GP. A letter for the community midwife and GP will be given to the foster/EPP carers when baby is discharged.
Prior to or on discharge CoramBAAF medical forms M and B should be presented to the ward for completion by the paediatrician or senior nurse responsible for the child and the mother. These should be presented with the consent form signed by the birth parent. Often mother and baby are placed on different wards and so different medical professionals may need to complete the forms. It is important that these forms are completed before discharge as the medical notes are not readily available at a later date.
6. Following Discharge from Hospital
The social worker will complete a notice of movement form when the baby is accommodated to trigger foster carer payments and also inform the independent reviewing officer manager of the baby's accommodation and request the allocation of an Independent Reviewing Officer to undertake the 20 working days review. The social worker needs to request that the appropriate statutory notifications of placement be sent out by admin as soon as the child becomes accommodated. The social worker must complete statutory visits throughout the whole period that the child is looked after with the first visit being within 1 week of the placement starting. See Social Worker Visits to Children Looked After Procedure.
6.1 Subsequent Interviews
Counselling undertaken by Adoption social worker (OAWY) with the parent/s should continue following the birth of the baby. They will need to be kept informed of the baby's progress and well being and can be provided with photographs if they wish.
The parent/s should be asked to provide photos, a letter explaining the reasons for the adoption and family history details for the child. The adoption social worker and the child's social worker must discuss the plan for the baby's long term care as the parent/s wishes are important and should be considered where possible. For example, religious and cultural considerations and any geographical difficulties with regard to the extended family and prospective adopters.
The parent(s) should be advised of the need to register the child's birth as soon as possible - this is a legal requirement. The long birth certificate is required for adoption purposes and should be given to the social worker. Children's Social Care is able to pay for this. Parents are likely to want their own copy and they should be advised to request two certificates at the time of registration. Additional certificates can be purchased from the Registry office up until the time of the Adoption Order.
All counselling work must be fully recorded on the electronic file system. Correspondence from the birth parents must be kept on the paper file*. Section 19 & Section 20 consent forms can be shown and discussed during the counselling process, so that the parent/s are aware exactly what they will be required to sign to give consent to adoption.
A case discussion should be presented to Gateway Panel in a timely way by the child's social worker. Once a decision for adoption has been made by the birth parent/s, and shortly after the baby is born an adoption panel date should be booked to have 'Should be Placed for Adoption' decision. Information required for the child permanence report should be collected. It is advisable to gain as much information as soon as you can whilst the birth parent is continuing to engage. The report should be discussed with the birth parent/s and their wishes clearly recorded. The report content must be read and signed by the team manager.
All case recording will be entered onto the electronic case file. As the information is highly sensitive, the social worker must contact the systems administration team to request that the record is 'shielded' once the permanence plan for Adoption has been agreed.
At the social workers request, an adoption case file will be set up by administration. This file will contain all relevant documents, the adoption case file will use the pre-existing electronic file reference number.
Prior to the case being presented to the Agency Decision maker to consider SHOBPA, the case must be presented to the Gateway Panel in order to consider the application for SHOBPA to be considered by the Agency Decision Maker.
6.2 Health Assessment of the Child
A pre-adoption health assessment of the child should be arranged at 6 weeks by sending the following to adoption administration; these forms will be found in the baby file:
- Completed request for medical assessment form;
- CoramBAAF medical forms M and B;
- CoramBAAF PH forms completed by the birth parents regarding their own medical history.
7. Advance Notification
- As soon as counselling has been offered to the birth parents and they indicate;
- That they intend to consent to the child being placed for adoption, advance notification of this should be sent to the Children and Family Court Advisory; and
- Support Service (CAFCASS) using the standard letter 1.
8. Placement Planning
Birth parent/s should be involved in discussions around suitable adoptive families. They should have the opportunity to share views on what they would like in a family and if appropriate be shown profiles of possible families.
Following recommendation at adoption panel and confirmation from the agency decision maker that the child should be placed for adoption, the birth parent/s should be advised that if they still wish plans for adoption to be made, a CAFCASS officer will contact them. Refer to Schedule 2 Information and Documents. Standard letter 2 should be sent to CAFCASS with:
- A certified copy of the child's birth certificate;
- All parts of completed CPR any other information the agency considers the CAFCASS officer should know.
The CAFCASS officer will need to make arrangements to interview the birth parent(s) to be satisfied that the consequences of giving consent are fully understood and that they are willing to do so unconditionally. The CAFCASS officer will then need to witness the formal signing by the parent(s). If a family for the child has been identified the birth parent(s) can give written Section 19 consent for the child to be placed with this specific family when they meet with the CAFCASS officer.
The original signed Section 19 and 20 consent forms should be returned to the agency, along with written notification from the CAFCASS officer (who should keep a copy of this) that consent has been given. It is important that the agency safeguards the original consent form as this will be required by court with the adoption application.
The agency should also keep a copy of the signed consent form on the child's case record and any notice given to the agency that the parent/s does not wish to be informed of any application for an Adoption Order and any notice of withdrawal of this request.
9. Direct Placement with Adoptive Parents
If the birth parent wishes a baby, aged less than 6 weeks, to be placed directly with adoptive parents, written agreement to the placement must be obtained on the agreement to place directly for adoption form.The agency should provide additional counselling for the parent/s and make it clear both orally and in writing that the parent/s retains full parental responsibility until they give their written consent under Section 19 and or 20 of the Act.
10. Withdrawal of Consent
The child's parent or guardian is able to withdraw their consent to the child's placement for adoption at any time up to the point where the prospective adopters apply for an Adoption Order, by writing to the agency.
On receiving the notice of withdrawal of consent the authority is required to immediately review its decision to place the child for adoption. The authority may decide to apply for a Placement Order, having taken legal advice to ensure that the conditions for this are satisfied. This would prevent the child's removal until such time as the court has decided whether to make the Placement Order.
Where consent to placement has been given and withdrawn but the child is not yet placed for adoption, then the child must be returned to the parents within 7 days unless the authority decides to apply for a Placement Order.
Where the child is placed for adoption by consent under Section 19 of the Act and that consent is withdrawn, the child must be returned to the agency by the prospective adopters within 14 days, and the agency must return the child to the parents, unless the authority decides to apply for a Placement Order.
It is an offence for anyone other than the agency (in Sections 33 and 34 cases, only a local authority) to remove a child where the child:
- Is placed for adoption with the parents' consent under Section 19 of the Act;
- Is placed for adoption and either the child is less than 6 weeks of age or the agency has at no time been authorised to place the child for adoption;
- Is not yet placed for adoption and is being accommodated by the local authority and the authority has applied for a placement order and the application has not yet been disposed of;
- Is not yet placed but the agency is authorised under Section 19 of the Act or would be if consent to placement had not been withdrawn;
- It is the responsibility of the child's worker and the prospective adopter's adoption officer to ensure that the prospective adopters are fully aware of the implications should consent be withdrawn. This must be explained before the child is placed.
11. Arrangements for Placement with Adoptive Parents
Where a 'Should be placed for adoption' (SHoBPA) decision has been made which is not an Early Permanence Placement the agency should begin family finding immediately with a view to achieving a placement for adoption very soon after birth.
For relinquished babies, the SHOBPA decision needs to be considered by adoption panel and the panel needs written advice before they can make the recommendation to the local authority's Agency Decision Maker ADM.
It is good practice for 19 and/or Section 20 to have been signed and witnessed by CAFCASS before the social worker discusses the baby with prospective adopters. Adoption panels are only able to recommend a match once the birth parents have given their formal written consent to adoption with a CAFCASS officer, however the plan for the child and the match can be heard at the same panel.
Once a match has been agreed by the agency decision maker, a placement planning meeting will be held and the relevant statutory notifications must be processed by the adoption administrator.
The prospective adopters can apply to court for the making of an adoption order 10 weeks after placement, or in the case of EPP, once the match is ratified and the child has been in placement for no less than 10 weeks and the child care review has recommended this.
The adoption order hearing will be in two parts, so that the birth parent/s do not attend with the adopters. The social worker will accompany the adopter/s and the baby to court for the adoption celebration hearing, which is usually held within the next 2 weeks. The court will officially notify the birth parents of the outcome and the social worker will also confirm the outcome in writing to the birth parent/s.
The adoption service does not normally continue to see the birth parents following the adoption hearing but can offer further advice and support if required or preferably refer them to PAC-UK (formerly After Adoption Yorkshire).
Ongoing supervision of the baby's placement will end after the adoption hearing, however, the social worker should contact the adoptive parent/s after 3 and 6 months to ensure that the placement is going well and continue to offer support and assistance if required.
The congratulations letter and evaluation questionnaire should be sent out to the adopter/s after the adoption hearing.