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6.2.3 Adoption Panel

AMENDMENT

This chapter was extensively updated in February 2016 providing information on Adoption Scorecard Timescales and should be re-read in full.


Contents

  1. Adoption Panel Purpose and Function
  2. Adoption Panel Membership
  3. Agency Advisor to the Panel
  4. Adoption Panel Meetings
  5. Adoption Panel Minutes
  6. Agency Decision Maker
  7. Reports to Adoption Panel
  8. Panel Members Files
  9. Considering All Three Recommendations at the Same Panel Meeting

    Appendix 1: Protocol and Agreement - Chair of Panel

    Appendix 2: Protocol and Agreement - Medical Adviser to Adoption Panel

    Appendix 3: Protocol and Agreement - Panel Adviser to Adoption Panel/Agency Decision Maker

    Appendix 4: Protocol and Agreement - Education Adviser to Adoption Panel

    Appendix 5: Protocol and Agreement - Central List Members

    Appendix 6: Central List Adoption Panel Member's Review


1. Adoption Panel Purpose and Function

The Adoption Panel contributes to the running and quality assurance of the local authority's Adoption Service and receives annual reports on the service and its performance.

In doing so it has an overriding responsibility to promote good practice, consistency of approach and fairness in all aspects of the Adoption Service, in accordance with its procedures and values.

Recommendations

As part of this function, the Panel makes recommendations as to the following:

  1. The suitability of prospective adoptive applicants to adopt;
  2. Whether a child should be placed for adoption, in cases where a child is being placed with the consent of birth parents and there is no application for a placement order;
  3. Whether a child should be placed for adoption with a specific prospective adopter.

The recommendations must be unconditional and cannot be 'in principle'.

Timescales

The Adoption Agency must ensure that stage one of the assessment process is completed within two months of the prospective adopters registration of interest being accepted and must decide whether the prospective adopter is suitable to adopt a child within four months of the date on which the agency received the prospective adopter’s notification that they wished to proceed with stage two of the assessment process. The whole process from the applicant adopters registration of interest to agency decision on their suitability should be completed within six months. As part of the quality assurance role of the panel it will check and monitor the adherence to this timeframe and question any delays in either stage one or stage two of the process appropriately.

Adoption Panels make a recommendation on whether a child should be placed for adoption (where the parents consent and there will be no Placement Order application) within two months of the Looked After Review where adoption was identified as the child's identified Permanence Plan.

The Adoption Agency will ensure that children brought to panel for a consideration of a match with specific adopters meet the NMS/Adoption Scorecard timescales:

A1- Entry into Care to placement – 487 days (2015/2016).

A2 - Date of PO to Date of agency decision – 121 days (2015/2016)Where the timescales are not met, the Adoption Panel should record the reasons.

Advice

Where cases are referred to the Adoption Panel for a recommendation, the Panel t may also advise on the following issues:

  1. Where it is recommended that a child should be placed for adoption (where the parents have given consent and there is no application for a Placement Order), what the contact arrangements for the child should be;
  2. Where it is recommended that a child is being matched with particular prospective adopters, the proposed adoption support, future contact arrangements and whether/how the exercise of Parental Responsibility by birth parents and/or prospective adopters should be restricted;
  3. Where the Local Authority are considering a Special Guardianship Order to achieve permanence for a child the panel will consider the Special Guardianship report, special guardianship support plan and any other reports deemed necessary by the panel adviser or requested by panel members to enable panel to advise on the appropriateness of a special Guardianship order for the child/ren;
  4. Where applicants are recommended as suitable to be approved,  what age, gender and number of children would they be best placed to consider.

Note that in cases which are referred directly to the Agency Decision Maker for a decision, he/she is expressly prohibited from referring a case to the Adoption Panel for advice.

Monitoring and Scrutiny

The Adoption Panel monitors the progress and timescales for children for whom adoption is the plan, and stage one and stage two timescales for suitability to adopt applications presented. The panel also receives Disruption Reports in relation to any breakdowns in adoptive placements (see Disruption of Adoptive Placement Procedure).

The agency adviser will present  the six monthly reports to panel which includes data and narrative in the following areas:

In Relation to Children

  • Adoption Orders made;
  • Review of Family Finding - 6 monthly;
  • SHOBPA recommendations made;
  • Number of children presented for Special Guardianship consideration;
  • Children placed with prospective adopters;
  • Children – change of Care Plan;
  • Disruptions.

In Relation to Approved Adopters

  • Applicants approved;
  • Timescales for approval of adopters;
  • Review of adopters -12 monthly;
  • Applicants removed from list of approved adopters;
  • Children placed with approved adopters;
  • Adoption Orders Made;
  • Disruptions.

Adoption Panels via the chairs report provide a quality assurance feedback to the agency every six months on the quality of reports being presented to the panel. This includes whether the requirements of the Restrictions on the Preparation of Adoption Reports Regulations 2005 have been met, and whether there is a thorough, rigorous, consistent and fair approach in the assessment of whether a child should be placed for adoption, the suitability of prospective adopters and the proposed placement (Standard 17.2).

The panel minutes will reflect the panels discussion with individual social workers regarding compliance with the Restrictions on the Preparation of Adoption Reports Regulations 2005.

Panel members also discuss and complete quality assurance forms in relation to all reports presented to the Adoption Panel. Quality Assurance forms are sent to presenting social workers and their manager. In cases where Panel members have raised specific concerns about the quality of a report the Panel Adviser will further discuss Panel’s feedback with the Social Worker and their manager.


2. Adoption Panel Membership

There is no fixed Panel membership or maximum number of members or maximum tenure of office.

A Central List needs to be maintained containing a list of persons considered to be suitable to be members of an Adoption Panel. This list must be maintained by an appointed senior social worker with at least five years’ relevant post-qualification experience and relevant management experience. When setting up an Adoption Panel, members will be drawn from this Central List. The same people do not have to be appointed to every Panel meeting.

The Central List should include (in addition to the Independent Chair):

  • Adoption social workers with at least 3 years' relevant post qualifying experience in child care social work, including direct experience in adoption work (not necessarily employed by the agency);
  • The Medical Adviser/s;
  • Other persons whom the agency considers suitable including specialists in education; race and culture; child and adolescent mental health services; and those with personal experience of adoption.

The Chair (Independent Person) must be independent of the Adoption Agency, and is appointed by the Agency Decision Maker.

The Panel must also have one, and can have two, Vice Chairs (who are not necessarily independent members), who are also appointed by the  Agency Adviser to panel in consultation with the Panel Chair and Head of Service – Placement Services.

An independent member must not be or have been within the last year an employee of Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, or related to an employee or been within the last year a member of the authority.

If the independent member is an adoptive parent, it must be at least twelve months since the Adoption Order was granted in respect of their child.

The Agency Decision Maker on adoption matters must not be included on the Central List, see Section 6, Agency Decision Maker.

The agency should decide how many people should sit at each Adoption Panel meeting, provided that there is a quorum of 5 or 6 if a joint panel, including the Chair or Vice Chair and one of the social worker representatives. If the Chair is not available and the Vice Chair chairs the panel then at least one independent member should also be present alongside the social worker and two other members to ensure a quorum of 5.

2.1 Appointments to the Central List

Those on the Central List are appointed by the Adoption Panel chair and the Agency Adviser to panel and will be able to continue their membership as long as they are able to carry out their duties.

All those on the Central List should have undergone a recruitment process that includes interviews, identity checks, verification of qualifications and right to work in the UK, references and DBS checks, which are recorded. New appointees will be interviewed by the panel chair and Agency Adviser prior to being invited to observe a panel and join the Central list.

New appointees will be asked to give signed agreement to checks being undertaken as above and cannot take up their appointment until the outcome of the checks are known. They are excluded from Panel membership if they have any offences against children or of violence. They are required to notify the Panel Adviser immediately if they receive such a conviction or caution while on the Central List.

They should have the opportunity to observe an Adoption Panel meeting before they sit as a member and to attend an annual joint training day with Adoption Agency staff; have induction training completed within 10 weeks of inclusion on the list and access to appropriate training and skills development and are kept abreast of changes to legislation, regulation and guidance.

They should also have access to the agency's whistle-blowing policy.

Written information about the expectations arising from their appointment should be given to new appointees to the Central List (in relation to their performance objectives, participation in induction and other training, safeguarding the confidentiality of information provided to the Panel and their general conduct - see Section 2.2, Confidentiality and Section 2.3, General Conduct) and they should be asked to sign a written agreement confirming their acceptance of these before taking up their appointment.

The Agency Adviser in consultation with the Panel chair will draw members for each panel from the Central List and will ensure that all members on the central list have the opportunity to sit on a minimum of three panels during the year.

2.2 Confidentiality

All written and verbal information given to Panel members in the course of their duties is strictly confidential. As indicated above, those included on the Central List are required to sign a written agreement, before their appointment, to confirm that all information they receive will remain confidential.

Panel members are expected to keep all written information in a secure place and return all Panel documents to the agency immediately after each Panel meeting. For those panel members who have been provided with a tablet and receive their paperwork electronically that passwords are kept safe and any paperwork saved on the desktop is immediately deleted after each panel meeting.

Panel members must not copy, in part or in whole, any documents that relate to a case.

If a Panel member has some knowledge of a case, whether in a personal or professional capacity, they should declare an interest and inform the Chair of the Panel at the earliest opportunity, so that an alternative member can be invited if required to ensure that the Panel is quorate (see Section 2.4, Conflicts of Interest).

Failure to comply with the above paragraphs may result in the member's inclusion on the Central List being terminated.

2.3 General Conduct

All those on the Central List should be committed to anti-discriminatory practice and should be prepared to consider each case on its own merits.

Panel members should have read the Panel papers carefully, prior to the Panel meeting, and come prepared to contribute to the Panel discussion.

The Panel Adviser, in consultation with the Chair, will review the performance of those on the Central List on a regular basis.

The Panel Adviser, in consultation with the Chair, will review their performance on a more formal basis at least annually.

If there are concerns about the conduct or behaviour of a person on the Central List, this should be conveyed to the Chair or Panel Adviser who will raise these concerns with the person in private.

If such concerns cannot be resolved informally, the Chair, in consultation with the Panel Adviser, will write to the person concerned setting out the concerns and what action it is proposed to take. See Section 2.7, Termination of Appointment to the Central List for action that may be taken if the concerns continue.

The Chair's performance will be reviewed annually by the Agency Decision Maker, taking into account the views of those who attend Panel meetings, namely, persons on the Central List, social workers and prospective adopters.

2.4 Conflicts of Interest

Panel members should consider any conflicts of interest in relation to Panel agenda items. A potential conflict arises if an interest may be seen to adversely affect a Panel member's capacity to act without prejudice or preference in a matter.

It is anticipated that in many circumstances there may be professional knowledge of a case which should be notified to the Chair but which will not affect a member's capacity to participate in the Panel. In other circumstances there may be a personal interest or connection which would require the Panel member to refrain from participation. It may be less clear in some cases when advice should be sought.

In the case of a potential conflict of interest where advice is required, Panel members should consult the Chair, Panel Adviser or Legal Adviser, giving as much advance notice as possible particularly having regard to the implications for the quorum.

2.5 Review of Panel Members

Each Panel member will be subject to an annual review of their performance on the Panel. This will be undertaken by the Agency Adviser and the Panel Chair. Prior to the review meeting the Panel member will be asked to complete a self evaluation form and the content of discussion at the review will be recorded, signed by all parties and a copy sent to the Panel member and kept on the Panel members file.

The Chair's performance will be reviewed by the Agency Decision Maker, who may need to attend some Panel meetings as an observer in order to do so.

2.6 Resignations from the Central List

All those on the Central List are expected to give a minimum of one month's written notice of their wish to resign, except where personal emergencies e.g. accidents, illness, make this impossible. Resignation letters should be addressed to the Agency Adviser to Panel, with a copy to the Chair of the Panel.

Initial verbal resignations may be given, but should always be followed by a written resignation. Those on the Central List are asked, as a matter of courtesy, to inform the Chair of the Panel of their intention to resign, before making any public announcement.

Those on the Central List wishing to withdraw a submitted written resignation must do so before the one month notice period expires by writing to the Agency Adviser to Panel who reserves the right not to accept a withdrawal of notice and to allow the original letter of resignation to stand.

2.7 Termination of Appointment to the Central List

Where it is considered that someone is unsuitable to be on the Central List, they must be given one month's notice in writing and reasons for the decision to end their appointment.

Where there are concerns about the behaviour of a person on the Central List either inside or outside the meetings, and the difficulties have not been resolved by discussion and correspondence between the Chair, Panel Adviser and the person concerned, the matter will be raised by the Panel Adviser with the Head of Service (Placements), who will decide whether to propose the end of the appointment and if so, will advise the person concerned in writing giving clear reasons for the proposal.

The person concerned will be given the opportunity to make observations on the matter before a final decision is made by the Head of Service.


3. Agency Adviser to the Panel

An Agency Adviser to the Adoption Panel must be appointed - this can be the same person as the Panel Adviser. This should be someone with experience as an Adoption Team Leader or someone who has more senior management experience and who has experience of adoption.

The role of the Agency Adviser includes assisting with the appointment (including re-appointment), termination and review of appointment of members of the Central List; responsibility for the induction and training of members of the Central List; responsibility for liaison between the agency and the Adoption Panel, monitoring the performance of members of the Central List and the administration of the Adoption Panel; and giving such advice to the Adoption Panel as the panel may request in relation to any case or generally. The Agency Adviser may on request provide advice to the Agency Decision Maker when the decision-maker is considering a particular case.

The Agency Adviser is not a panel member and cannot take part in the decision-making process. They should be able to contribute to panel meetings by raising issues and providing advice, for example about the agency's procedures and practices.

The Agency Adviser should maintain an overview of the quality of the agency's reports, to both the Panel and to the Agency Decision Maker, and liaise with team managers to quality assure the Child's Permanence Report, the Prospective Adopter's Report and the Adoption Placement Report. Where there are concerns about a report, the Agency Adviser and the Panel chair should consider whether it is adequate for submission to the Panel. It will be for the Agency Adviser alone to decide whether the report is adequate for submission to the Agency Decision Maker.

The Agency Adviser should also update the Panel on the general progress of cases it has considered. This is particularly important where the Panel's recommendation or advice was not accepted.


4. Adoption Panel Meetings

The Adoption Panel should meet at least one day every month. The Panel Adviser will ask the Panel Administrator to arrange additional special meetings at short notice as necessary, with the Chair's authority, where for example there is a need to consider an urgent placement and/or the Court timetable requires it.

The Panel Administrator will prepare and circulate an annual list of Adoption Panel dates and deadlines in advance of the designated start of the Panel's year. The panel year runs from January to December.

The Panel Adviser, who must be a senior practitioner or manager in the Adoption Service with at least 5 years' relevant post-qualification and management experience, attends all Panel meetings to advise the Panel but is not a member of the Panel. Their role is to ensure all the necessary reports are available for the Panel, to advise the Panel on social work and procedural matters and to report to social workers and their managers on issues arising from Panel meetings.

The Panel Adviser's role is also to assist with appointments to the Central List, to arrange induction and other training for those on the Central List, monitor and review their performance and monitor and review the administration of the Panel.

The Panel Administrator, in consultation with the Panel Adviser, will prepare the agenda for each meeting and draw members from the Central List. The agenda and Panel papers for each meeting will be sent to Panel members and Agency Decision Maker at least five working days before the meeting.

The Panel's legal adviser does not attend any meetings but is available to provide legal advice on any matter raised by the Agency Adviser to Panel, Panel Chair or Panel Members. Panel Legal Adviser would be asked to attend panel for specific cases should this be required to enable Panel Members to reach a recommendation.

The agenda will include at the beginning an opportunity for any Panel member to declare an interest in any item on the agenda (see Section 2.4, Conflicts of Interest). If an interest is declared, the Chair must then decide whether the Panel member should withdraw during consideration of the item.

In the event of a disagreement between Panel members, the Chair will consider whether further information is required or whether the Panel should go ahead and make a recommendation on the basis of the majority view. In this event, any dissenting view should be fully recorded in the minutes.

Social workers presenting reports to the Panel must send their report and any supporting documentation required (as specified in the relevant procedures elsewhere in the Manual; see Placement for Adoption Procedure and Recruitment, Assessment and Approval of Prospective Adopters Procedure) to the Panel Administrator at least 10 working days before the date of the Panel meeting.

At the end of each Panel meeting, the Panel Administrator will collect all members' papers. Panel members unable to attend a meeting will be asked to return his or her papers to the Panel administrator.


5. Adoption Panel Minutes

The Panel minutes will always record the information in relation to the following:

  1. The reports received. (The Panel's requirements as to reports are specified in the relevant procedures elsewhere in the Manual; see Placement for Adoption Procedure and Recruitment, Assessment and Approval of Prospective Adopters Procedure);
  2. Who attended and for which part of the discussion;
  3. Medical advice;
  4. Legal advice;
  5. The Panel's discussions (main points) and conclusions;
  6. The Panel's recommendations and reasons, including any reservations expressed by any member;
  7. Any advice given by the Panel;
  8. Timescales;
  9. Qualifications;
  10. Quality assurance.

The Panel minutes will be written in accordance with the format agreed from time to time and kept on every child's or prospective adopter's Adoption Case Record.

The Panel Chair is responsible for ensuring the accuracy of the Panel’s recommendations, reasons and, following agreement with Panel members, the minutes. The Chair must also make sure that a person who is not a member of the Panel fulfils the task of writing these documents.

The minutes must accurately reflect the discussion and cover the key issues, rather than be a verbatim record of the meeting. Where Panel members have serious reservations, the Panel Chair must ensure these are recorded in the minutes and are attached to the Panel’s recommendation. If the Panel cannot reach a consensus on its recommendation after the Chair and other members of the Panel have voted, the Panel Chair has a second vote, i.e. the casting vote. The Panel’s minutes should clearly set out the reasons why the Panel Chair had to use the casting vote.

The Panel minutes will be produced and shared with Panel members and Agency Adviser to Panel within three working days of Panel, at the end of the fourth working day the final minutes will be sent to the Panel Chair to be agreed and then sent to the agency’s decision-maker to allow the decision to be made within seven working days of receipt of the Panel’s recommendation and final set of Panel minutes.

Arrangements should be made by the Agency Adviser to the Panel for the safekeeping of the minutes and the record. Panel minutes, like other parts of Adoption Case Records, are exempt from the subject access provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 (i.e. the person to whom they relate does not have a statutory right of access to the information they contain – see Access to Birth Records and Adoption Case Records Procedure.


6. Agency Decision Maker

The Agency Decision Maker considers recommendations from the Adoption Panel and, in those circumstances outlined in Section 1, Adoption Panel Purpose and Function, also makes decisions about whether a child is suitable to be placed for adoption without reference to the Adoption Panel. The following principles apply to all such decisions.

In reaching his/her decision, the Agency Decision Maker must consider:

  • The welfare checklist in Section 1 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002*;
  • All the information surrounding the case including the reports submitted to the Adoption Panel (where applicable), and that the authors of the reports are appropriately qualified to prepare them (see Section 7, Reports to Adoption Panel);
  • The stability and permanence of the relationship of any couple under consideration;
  • The recommendation and reasons of the Adoption Panel and any Independent Review Panel under the Independent Review Mechanism; and
  • The final minutes of the Adoption Panel including any minutes from adjourned Panel meetings and the Independent Review Panel;
    1. *The child's ascertainable wishes and feelings regarding the decision (considered in the light of the child's age and understanding);
    2. The child's particular needs;
    3. The likely effect on the child (throughout his life) of having ceased to be a member of the original family and become an adopted person;
    4. The child's age, sex, background and any of the child's characteristics which the court or agency considers relevant;
    5. Any harm (within the meaning of the Children Act 1989 (c. 41)) which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering;
    6. The relationship which the child has with relatives, and with any other person in relation to whom the court or agency considers the relationship to be relevant, including:
      1. The likelihood of any such relationship continuing and the value to the child of its doing so;
      2. The ability and willingness of any of the child's relatives, or of any such person, to provide the child with a secure environment in which the child can develop, and otherwise to meet the child's needs;
      3. The wishes and feelings of any of the child's relatives, or of any such person, regarding the child.

It is good practice for the Agency Decision Maker:

  • To list the material taken into account in reaching the decision;
  • To identify key arguments;
  • To state whether they agree with the process and approach of the relevant Panel(s) and are satisfied as to its fairness and that the Panel(s) has/have properly addressed the arguments;
  • To consider whether any additional information now available to them that was not before the Panel has an impact on its reasons or recommendation;
  • To identify the reasons given for the relevant recommendation that they do or do not wish to adopt; and
  • To state (a) the adopted reasons by cross-reference or otherwise and (b) any further reasons for their decision.


7. Reports to Adoption Panel

Reports to the Adoption Panel in relation to matters upon which the Panel are asked to make recommendations must be prepared by qualified social workers with at least 3 years' post-qualification experience. This must include direct experience of adoption work either in assessing prospective adoptive parents or implementing an Adoption Plan for a Looked After Child. Where the author of the report does not have the requisite qualifications and experience, he or she must have either a qualification in social work or be a social worker in training, and must be supervised by a qualified social worker with 3 years' relevant experience.

Where the person preparing the report is an independent social worker, they must always be suitably qualified and experienced and be supervised by a member of staff with the suitable qualifications and experience.

The same qualifications and experience are required for social workers undertaking visits of children placed for adoption (see Monitoring and Supervision of Adoptive Placements Procedure) and authors of Court Reports in adoption cases.


8. Panel Members Files

A Panel members file will include the following:

  • The signed protocol and agreement;
  • The evidence of the DBS check;
  • Personal references;
  • Copies/evidence of any related qualifications relevant to the Panel role;
  • A CV/career history;
  • The dates of Panels attended;
  • Any training undertaken;
  • Copies of the annual performance review;
  • Any complaints.

A new Central List Panel member will have the opportunity of observing a Panel meeting, prior to taking up their position and will be invited to the next available training workshop for new Panel members. Their induction training should be completed within 10 weeks of inclusion on the list, and they should have access to appropriate training and skills development and should be kept abreast of changes to legislation, regulation and guidance.


9. Considering All Three Recommendations at the Same Panel Meeting

Once a case has been referred to the Adoption Panel, the panel is required to consider it and make a recommendation as to whether the placement proposed by the agency should be made. The Adoption Panel cannot recommend a particular placement unless decisions have already been made that the child should be placed for adoption and that the prospective adopter is suitable to adopt. In appropriate cases, however, to avoid unnecessary delay, the recommendation as to placement can be made at the same panel meeting at which a recommendation has been made in respect of the child and/or the prospective adopter, although each recommendation must be considered separately. In other words, a recommendation as to the approval of the prospective adopter must be for approval of them as suitable to adopt any child; only then can the panel go on to consider whether to recommend that they be approved for the particular child. This will be appropriate in a case where a baby/child is being relinquished for adoption, and the agency may wish to identify a family with whom the baby/child can be placed quickly from among prospective adopters already approved. In this case the recommendation that the child should be placed for adoption can be made at the same time as the recommendation that they should be placed with a particular prospective adopter. Similarly, where a child is living with foster carers who wish to adopt them, it may be appropriate for the recommendation as to their suitability to be made at the same panel as the recommendation about the placement of the child with them, or even, occasionally, for all three recommendations to be made at the same meeting.  (Consideration of all three recommendations would only be applicable where the child is relinquished – see also paragraphs 2.12 - 2.14 of the Placement for Adoption Procedure in relation to the giving of consent by the parents.)

As well as making a recommendation on the placement, the panel must consider, and may give advice on, the proposed contact arrangements, the proposals for adoption support, and whether the agency should restrict the exercise of Parental Responsibility by the prospective adopter or parent.


Appendix 1: Protocol and Agreement - Chair of Panel

Click here to view Protocol and Agreement - Chair of Panel


Appendix 2: Protocol and Agreement - Medical Adviser to Adoption Panel

Click here to view Protocol and Agreement - Medical Adviser to Adoption Panel


Appendix 3: Protocol and Agreement - Panel Adviser to Adoption Panel /Agency Decision Maker

Click here to view Protocol and Agreement - Panel Adviser to Adoption Panel/Agency Decision Maker


Appendix 4: Protocol and Agreement - Education Adviser to Adoption Panel

Click here to view Protocol and Agreement - Education Adviser to Adoption Panel


Appendix 5: Protocol and Agreement - Central List Members

Click here to view Protocol and Agreement - Central List Members


Appendix 6: Central List Adoption Panel Member's Review

Click here to view Central List Adoption Panel Member's Review

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