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6.2.2 Recruitment, Assessment and Approval of Prospective Adopters

RELEVANT GUIDANCE

Adoption Statutory Guidance (revised 1 July 2013)

NOTE

There is a shortened process for prospective adopters who have already been approved as foster carers/adopters – see Section 8, Fast-track Procedure for Approved Foster Carers and Previous Adopters who wish to Adopt.

RELEVANT CHAPTERS

Adoption Recruitment Strategy 2016/17

Smoking Policy for the Adoption and Fostering Services

AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated in February 2016 in particular Section 1, Recruitment and Responding to Initial Enquiries was updated to include information should also be given about the policy on fees and an estimation of the costs the prospective adopter will have to pay to the agency and the Department for Education.


Contents

  1. Recruitment and Responding to Initial Enquiries
  2. Information Sharing
  3. Initial Visit
  4. Registration of Interest in Adoption
  5. Stage 1: Pre-assessment process
  6. Sharing Information for the Purposes of Prospective Adopter Assessments
  7. Stage 2: Assessment process
  8. Fast-track Procedure for Approved Foster Carers and Previous Adopters who wish to Adopt
  9. Prospective Adopter's Report
  10. Panel Recommendation
  11. After the Panel Recommendation
  12. Representations/Independent Review Procedure
  13. Timescales
  14. Prospective Adopter’s Case Record
  15. Prospective Adopter Matching Plan
  16. Review of Prospective Adopter's Approval
  17. Criteria for Prospective Adopters
  18. Foster Carer’s Request for Adoption
  19. Procedure for Second Time or Subsequent Adopter

    Appendix A: Standard Decision Letter – Not Suitable to Adopt

    Appendix B: Process Flowchart


1. Recruitment and Responding to Initial Enquiries

With effect from 1st July 2013, once the information preliminaries have been completed satisfactorily, there is a two-stage approval process for prospective adopters. This process has to be completed within strict time limits: Stage 1 (Initial Preparation/Training) lasts two months, and Stage 2 (Intensive Training/Preparation & Assessment) four months. There is also a ‘fast-track’ route for some previous adopters and approved foster carers.

The approval process is supported by the National Gateway for Adoption (First4Adoption). This organisation has been created to provide clear, independent information to everyone interested in adoption. Potential adopters may access its website and/or contact it if they wish to be better informed before making enquiries of adoption agencies. The Gateway has information about local adoption agencies, which might help potential adopters to decide on which agency to approach. This general information includes, for example, the legal implications of adoption, eligibility criteria, (see Section 17, Criteria for Prospective Adopters) the characteristics of children awaiting adoption and the approval process.

As an adoption agency, Blackburn with Darwen aims to recruit and assess prospective adopters who can meet most of the needs of children for whom adoption is the plan.

It is not part of the recruitment strategy of this adoption agency to turn away enquirers on the basis that their ethnicity and culture are not shared with those children waiting to be placed with adoptive parents.

Enquirers will not be turned away because of their age (minimum 21 years), as there is no upper age restriction on applying to be adoptive parents. Any practice that classifies couples or single people in a way that effectively rules out adoption because of their status or age or because they and the child do not share the same racial or cultural background is not child-centred and is not acceptable.

All members of the public who make an initial enquiry by phone, in person or via the council's website will have the opportunity to discuss their interest in adoption with an adoption social worker, who will complete an initial enquiry form. Enquirers will be asked about any particular communication or access needs.

Where the initial phone call results in a decision not to send out an application pack, the enquirer may speak to the adoption team manager or deputy team manager and request a written decision.

The recruitment officer will check the ICS database and add the names and addresses of all enquirers to it. If there are records held by the agency concerning the applicant or a member or a former member of the potential adopter's household or former household, the adoption team manager should review these records. Where these are paper records, the adoption team manager must make arrangements to review these in person. In light of the information accessed, the adoption team manager – in consultation with the Head of Placement Services, where appropriate – will make a decision on whether to progress the enquiry and send an information pack. If the decision is not to do so, then the adoption team manager will inform the enquirer accordingly, with an explanation.

Where an enquiry is about inter-country adoption, it should be established whether the potential adopter has considered adopting a Looked After Child. Information should also be given about the policy on fees and an estimation of the costs the prospective adopter will have to pay to the agency and the Department for Education. Many people believe that they would not be able to adopt a child in this country but would be able to adopt a child from abroad. Where potential applicants are likely to be considered unsuitable to adopt a Looked After child in England, they should not be advised to apply to adopt a child from overseas.

There is a shortened process for prospective adopters who have already been approved as foster carers/adopters – see Section 8, Fast-track Procedure for Approved Foster Carers and Previous Adopters who wish to Adopt.

In the event of an enquiry from someone employed by this local authority’s services for children, they should be advised that it is unlikely that their application would be pursued and they should be signposted to other agencies or to the National Gateway. This is because of possible conflicts of interest for themselves and any children placed with them.

The local authority has a duty to provide information on adoption support services to anyone contacting the authority to request information about adopting a child. See Adoption Support.

Basic information about Fostering For Adoption should be available in the general information made available to prospective adopters and then in more detail if they engage more fully in the preparation and assessment process. This information should outline:

  • What the objectives of Fostering For Adoption are;
  • In what circumstances it might apply;
  • What the process is for becoming a dually approved carer;
  • What the benefits and risks might be.


2. Information Sharing

If, in response to an initial enquiry, it is decided to send out an information pack, then the recruitment officer, having logged the enquiry on the ICS system, will send out the ‘Thinking about adoption?’ booklet within five working days. 

The ‘Thinking about adoption?’ booklet includes the following:

  • About our adoption service;
  • What our adopters say about us;
  • An introduction;
  • Some basic requirements of all adopters;
  • Children who need families;
  • Frequently asked questions;
  • Step-by-step guide to the approval process (including checks, references, preparation and assessment);
  • Fast-track approval;
  • Fostering for adoption;
  • Adoption panel;
  • Matching;
  • Placement;
  • Post-adoption support;
  • Adoption order;
  • Flow chart of the adoption process;
  • Useful contacts;
  • National Gateway for Adoption;
  • A form to be completed and returned if enquirers wish to take their interest further.

If initially or subsequently it emerges that potential adopters appear suitable but could not match our current requirements and priorities, we will refer them to the National Gateway for Adoption (First4Adoption) or another adoption agency.

Foster carers who wish to adopt a child they are currently looking after should be visited by the child's social worker and an adoption social worker and be asked to put their request in writing. The request should specifically outline how they would meet the child's long-term needs. See Section 17, Criteria for Prospective Adopters.

The procedure for any enquirer requesting a second placement will be the as set out in Section 8. Fast-track procedure for approved foster carers and previous adopters who wish to adopt (see also Section 18, Foster Carer’s Request for Adoption). The approach to assessment will be determined by individual circumstances.

Those who confirm they wish to proceed by returning the form in the ‘Thinking about adoption?’ booklet will be considered by the adoption team manager and, depending on whether they appear to meet the criteria (see Section 17, Criteria for Prospective Adopters), a decision will be made on whether to pursue their interest. This decision will be communicated to those concerned and recorded.


3. Initial Visit

If an enquiry is to progress to the next stage, the adoption team manager will allocate an initial visit to a member of the adoption team. This visit will take place within ten working days of receiving the completed form from the ‘Thinking about adoption?’ booklet. This will be noted on the ICS system.

On an initial visit, as well as checking the identity of potential adopters, the adoption social worker will check that the accommodation is acceptable and discuss with them why they wish to adopt and the type of child they would wish to consider. All areas listed on the initial visit checklist must be discussed during the visit. The adoption social worker will also verify documents for the purposes of Disclosure and Barring Service DBS checks.

If any factors emerge which may have an adverse effect on an application, checks relating to these should be initiated promptly following receipt of a registration of interest in adoption. Potential adopters should be specifically asked to identify anything they know that might preclude them from adopting, including any matters relating to health, DBS clearance and any previous involvement with social care agencies locally or nationally. The adoption social worker will prepare a written report of the visit, including their conclusions and recommendations, within ten working days of the visit. The date and record of the visit will be inputted onto the ICS database by the adoption social worker or administrator.

The adoption social worker will discuss the details of the initial visit with the adoption team manager or deputy team manager, highlighting any positives and potential vulnerabilities of the enquiry. Following this discussion, the adoption team manager or deputy team manager will decide whether to invite enquirers to register their interest. This decision will be based on the information obtained so far in relation to the enquirers and the needs of the children waiting for a family.

Outcomes of an initial visit:

  1. A decision to proceed to the next stage and an invitation to the potential adopters to register their interest. The adoption social worker who undertook the initial visit will inform enquirers verbally. The recruitment officer will send out the registration of interest form to the adopters with a covering letter confirming the invitation to register their interest and proceed to Stage 1 of the approval process; and update information on the ICS system;
  2. Issues of concern have arisen, which may need following up. The adoption social worker who conducted the home visit will consult with an adoption team manager and further information may be needed. Following up may involve further contact/discussion and/or seeking more information. Any additional information gained will be discussed with the adoption team manager, who will make a decision on whether to proceed to the next stage;
  3. Potential adopters are unsuitable, e.g. they evidently do not meet clearly measurable eligibility criteria. The adoption team manager will write to the potential adopters, setting out the decision not to proceed and the reasons for this. Advice should be given about any steps they may take in order to meet the criteria or on how they might pursue their interest elsewhere, if appropriate. If they disagree with the decision, they will have 28 days from the date of the letter to request a review by the Head of Placement Services.


4. Registration of Interest in Adoption

Once potential adopters have returned their registration of interest form – and as long as the information they give confirms their suitability to progress – they can begin Stage 1 of the approval process. From this point they are referred to as ‘prospective adopters’. The registration of interest form will include as a minimum:

  • Name and address of the potential adopters;
  • Authority to commence Stage 1 checks;
  • Confirmation that the potential adopters have not registered their interest with another agency;
  • A reminder that the potential adopters should be contactable in the week following their registration of interest; and a request for times for contact during that period;
  • Questions to ensure the potential adopters meet the eligibility criteria see Section 17, Criteria for Prospective Adopters.

Within five working days from receipt of their registration of interest, a decision should be reached by the adoption team manager or deputy team manager on whether to accept this, unless there are exceptional circumstances which mean that longer is needed. There may be circumstances where it would not be appropriate for the agency to accept a registration of interest, such as where there is lack of capacity to take on more potential adopters. In cases like this, the agency should redirect the potential adopter to the National Gateway for Adoption or another agency which is currently recruiting.

We do not refuse to accept registrations of interest on the grounds of, for example, a potential adopter’s ethnicity, age, health, sexual orientation and religious beliefs or because they do not share the same ethnicity, culture or religious beliefs with the children waiting for an adoptive family. Potential adopters may be excluded only if they do not meet the eligibility criteria.

Where we decline a registration of interest we will provide potential adopters with a clear written explanation of the reasons why and, if appropriate, offer them the choice of going directly to another agency or to the National Gateway for Adoption for signposting to another agency.

Where we accept a registration of interest we set up a prospective adopter’s case record in respect of the prospective adopter. This also applies to second time or subsequent applications, or foster carer applications, in which case copies of relevant information from other files will be placed on the new adoption case record – see Section 14, Prospective Adopter’s Case Record. The dates of inviting potential adopters to register their interest and of the form’s receipt will be logged on to the ICS system by the recruitment officer.

The local authority has a duty to provide information on adoption support services to anyone informing the authority that (s)he wishes to adopt a child. See Adoption Support.


5. Stage 1: Pre-assessment process

5.1 Purpose and process
5.2 Pre-assessment information
5.3 Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks
5.4 Health checks
5.5 References
5.6 Counselling, information and preparation for adoption
5.7 Pre-assessment decision

5.1 Purpose and process

Stage 1 begins when the agency accepts the registration of interest in adoption and should normally take no more than two months to complete.

The essential elements of Stage 1 are:

  • Time limit:
    • Two months.
  • Allocation of an adoption social worker to support prospective adopters through Stage 1:
    • Minimum of two visits to the adopters.
  • Stage 1 agreement:
    • A plan setting out the respective responsibilities of the prospective adopters and us;
    • Adoption social worker to visit at the beginning of Stage 1 to agree and complete the agreement.
  • Statutory and reference checks initiated by us:
    • Checks are undertaken concurrently in order to avoid delay.
  • Medical checks:
    • Prospective adopters have a medical carried out by their own GP.
  • Participation in adopter preparation group:
    • Prospective adopters to complete related tasks and exercises.
  • Provision of background information requested by us:
    • Prospective adopters to complete chronology, ecomap, e-learning exercises, evidence portfolio, workbook.
  • End of Stage 1 Review:
    • Both the agency and the adopters consider their position based on the information gathered and learning achieved during Stage 1.  A meeting is held between us and the adopters where this is needed.

It is during this stage that prospective adopters will explore the extent of their interest in and capacity for adoption, prior to a firmer decision on whether to proceed to Stage 2 – see Section 7, Stage 2: Assessment process. Stage 1  focusses on initial training and preparation; and on ascertaining, through prescribed checks and references, whether there is any absolute reason why prospective adopters should not proceed further. The expectation is that prospective adopters will be closely involved in the Stage 1 process and agencies are expected to take into account fully how prospective adopters wish to work through Stage 1. All prescribed checks and references must be carried out during Stage 1 in parallel with initial training and preparation.

We will explain in detail the Stage 1 process and what will be required of prospective adopters. We will draw up the Prospective Adopter Stage 1 Plan which will set out our respective responsibilities and expectations during Stage 1.

This plan will include:

  • Information about the counselling, information and preparation for adoption to be provided;
  • The procedure for carrying out DBS checks;
  • Details of any training that the prospective adopter has agreed to undertake;
  • Information about the role of the prospective adopter in the Stage 1 process;
  • Any applicable timescales;
  • Information about the process for making representations (including a complaint);
  • Any other information that the agency considers relevant.

Whilst the importance of openness must be stressed to prospective adopters, it should not be assumed that a failure to disclose information automatically implies that a prospective adopter is unsuitable. It will be necessary to discuss the matter and the reasons for non-disclosure.

Prospective adopters should be encouraged to use any other materials that offer them the opportunity to explore and reach an informed view about aspects of parenting and their parenting capacity and help them to identify their own training needs. Visits, meetings or pre-planned telephone calls with the prospective adopter (whatever works best for them and best meets their preferences) should be undertaken to ensure that they have the opportunity to ask for more information or training based on their particular needs.

Stage 1 ends with the pre-assessment decision.

5.2 Pre-assessment information

The following information must be gathered during Stage 1.

Information about the prospective adopter

  • Name, sex, date and place of birth and address including the local authority area;
  • If the prospective adopter is married or has formed a civil partnership and is applying alone for an assessment of suitability to adopt: the reasons for this;
  • Details of any previous family court proceedings in which the prospective adopter has been involved;
  • Names and addresses of three referees who will give personal references on the prospective adopter, not more than one of whom may be a relative;
  • Name and address of the prospective adopter’s registered medical practitioner;
  • If the prospective adopter;
    • Is married: the date and place of the marriage;
    • Has formed a civil partnership: the date and place of registration of that partnership;
    • Has a partner: details of that relationship.
  • Details of any previous marriage, civil partnership or relationship;
  • Whether the prospective adopter is domiciled or habitually resident in a part of the British isles and, if habitually resident, for how long they have been habitually resident;
  • Where the prospective adopter lives in another local authority area, it should be ascertained whether that local authority has any information about the prospective adopter which may be relevant to the assessment of their suitability to adopt and, if so, a written report should be obtained from that authority setting out that information;
  • We may ask the prospective adopter to provide any further information we may reasonably require.

Information about the home etc of the prospective adopter

  • Details of other members of the prospective adopter’s household (including any children of the prospective adopter, whether or not resident in the household).

5.3 Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks

Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks must be carried out on prospective adopters and any adult members of their household.

Prior to Stage One, prospective adopters will be given an explanation of our  statutory duty to conduct checks into their background and  that of  any other adult members of their household. It will be made clear that prospective adopters will be unable to proceed to Stage 2 where DBS checks identify them or an adult member of their household as having been convicted of a ‘specified offence’ committed at 18 or over or having received a police caution in respect of a specified offence admitted at the time the caution was given.

A ‘specified offence’ means:

  • An offence against a child and any offence involving bodily injury to a child, other than an offence of common assault or battery;
  • An offence relating to indecent images of children under the age of 16;
  • Sexual offences of rape; assault by penetration; causing a person to engage in sexual activity without consent; sexual activity/causing or inciting sexual activity/inducement, threat or deception to procure sexual activity with a person with a mental disorder impeding choice.

Where the prospective adopter’s full history cannot be ascertained by conducting a DBS check and other background checks, a decision should be taken as to whether to carry out any other checks or take up additional references. Agencies should ensure that they have sufficient information to justify continuing with Stage 1 but not delay the approval process. If we decide not to proceed, we will provide the prospective adopter with a clear written explanation of the reasons why.

Where the application reveals that either applicant has lived overseas for any period as an adult  an overseas criminal records check will be initiated at Stage One. As these checks can often take some time to be returned applicants may proceed into Stage Two of the process whilst they are awaited on the understanding that concerns raised by these checks may terminate the assessment. In some circumstances where it is impossible to obtain criminal records information from overseas, additional references from overseas employers, friends and family will be required to corroborate evidence.  If the overseas check is not returned then a case decision form must be forwarded to the service leader for consent to proceed without it.

Information obtained from the DBS should be retained on the prospective adopter’s case record for a limited time only. This information should be destroyed when it is decided that the prospective adopter is suitable to adopt a child unless it is required for an adoption with a foreign element. It should be noted on the prospective adopter’s case record that the DBS information has been destroyed, and that this information had led us to form a particular view, without citing the information itself.

Where the DBS checks disclose previous convictions or cautions for non-specified offences, we may consider that the prospective adopter is not suitable to adopt. In such circumstances, we will exercise our discretion and decide whether to continue with Stage 1. If we decide not to proceed, we will notify the prospective adopter in writing, with reasons, without delay.

In circumstances where the application is a joint application, the agency may inform only the prospective adopter who is the convicted or cautioned individual of the specific reason for terminating Stage 1. The social worker should explain to that person that the agency will not inform the other person of the specific conviction or caution but will inform them that because of information obtained from the checks the joint application cannot proceed.

Likewise, where the checks reveal information about an adult member of the household that indicates that the agency must terminate Stage 1, agencies are restricted from disclosing information about that conviction or caution which prevents the application from proceeding. It may inform that individual and suggest that they inform the prospective adopter but it may not do so itself. In such a case, agencies should counsel the prospective adopter that its checks indicate the need to halt Stage 1, as the agency is unable to proceed with the application.

5.4 Health checks

Prospective adopters are asked to arrange an adoption medical examination and report from their G.P. unless the medical adviser does not consider such a medical examination is necessary, e.g. where the prospective adopter is a foster carer and a recent enough – within six months of the proposed panel date – health report is already available.

The adoption social worker will provide prospective adopters with the relevant BAAF medical forms for completion by the GP.

The completed medical form is then sent to the medical adviser, together with a covering letter providing a pen picture of the family, their lifestyle and the sort of child they are considering.

The GP's report should have been written within the six months prior to the adoption panel meeting which considers the application and cover the matters specified in Part 2 of Schedule 4 AAR 2005.

The agency’s medical adviser will need to provide a summary of the prospective adopter’s state of health as part of the prospective adopter’s report. The adviser will need to form a view as to the adequacy of the medical reports received and to advise whether additional specialist opinion should be obtained. The prospective adopter’s current GP may not have a full health history of the prospective adopter, particularly if they have received private medical care outside the NHS. Prospective adopters should be helped to understand the importance of making their full health history available to the agency’s medical adviser.

Agencies have a duty to satisfy themselves that prospective adopters have a reasonable expectation of continuing to enjoy good health. The medical adviser should explain and interpret health information from the prospective adopter, their GP and consultants to facilitate adoption panel discussion. The opinion of the agency’s medical adviser needs to be given sufficient weight by adoption panels and the agency decision-maker.

Mild chronic conditions are unlikely to preclude people from adopting provided that the condition does not place the child at risk through an inability of the individual to protect the child from commonplace hazards or limit them in providing children with a range of beneficial experiences and opportunities. The possibility of providing support in appropriate cases to assist in overcoming any possible negative consequences arising from disability or restricted mobility should be borne in mind. More severe health conditions may raise a question about the suitability of the prospective adopter, but each case will have to be considered on its own facts and with appropriate advice.

5.5 References

Prospective adopters will be asked to provide the names of three personal referees, who are adults (not more than one of whom should be related to them), have known them for at least five years who will give personal references on the prospective adopter.

Referees should be people who know the applicants well personally and it is desirable that referees have direct experience of caring for children, either in a personal or professional capacity.

Where there is a joint application, referees should know both applicants, or additional referees will be required.

All referees will be asked to complete a short form during Stage 1 and then participate in an interview during stage 2.

Prospective adopters will be reminded that in line with regulations and good practice, present employers will be contacted to verify their employment status, as will be any previous employer where they worked with children. They will be able to indicate if they would prefer their present employer to be contacted at a later stage of the assessment process because of any possible impact on their employment.

Information from former partners may be gained where prospective adopters have been married previously and are divorced or separated or have had a significant relationship. A standard letter will be sent to former partners inviting then to give their views on the ability of the prospective adopter to provide a safe home for an adopted child; and giving them an opportunity to raise concerns they may have. Information from former partners should be weighed carefully and checked against other sources, e.g. referees. Where former partners share concerns that raise questions about suitability, these should be explored further. Where a prospective adopter is unwilling for a former partner to be contacted because of fear that this will provoke a hostile response, the adoption service will consider any supporting evidence of domestic violence or similar issues before deciding whether to proceed with making contact. The adoption service does have some discretion in this area, but it is limited discretion which should be exercised in exceptional circumstances only.

Information from adult children living in the household or away from the family home may be sought in terms of safe caring and the parenting they received.

Where prospective adopters have made a previous application to foster or adopt, the relevant agency must be asked to confirm in writing the outcome of the application and provide a written reference.

Where applicable, agencies must ascertain whether the local authority in whose area prospective adopters have their home has any information about them that may be relevant to the assessment. If so, agencies must obtain from that authority a written report setting out the information. Local authorities asked for this information should comply promptly with these requests and provide it within 15 working days wherever possible. In requesting information from a local authority, agencies should seek to ascertain whether records held by social services and education departments hold relevant information about prospective adopters.

There is no reason in principle why information held by one part of the local authority should not be shared with another. Protocols operated by children’s services may, however, restrict access to cases where there is concern for the safety of a child. This means that an adoption check may not automatically involve a check to see whether a child of the family has been the subject of a child protection plan unless such a check is specifically requested. Prospective adopters may have lived for only a short period in the area of their local authority. In such cases, agencies should obtain information from the prospective adopters’ former local authorities.

5.6 Counselling, information and preparation for adoption

The adoption teams of Blackburn with Darwen, Bolton and Blackpool provide joint training for prospective adopters. Initial training is usually offered on three days over two weeks. This gives prospective adopters more information about adoption and the opportunity to meet people who have already adopted.

All prospective adopters will be required to complete a course of preparation groups. These groups are an integral part of the application process. To complete Stage 1, all applicants are expected to attend and participate in all sessions and to undertake all related tasks and exercises. Anyone unable to attend a session must complete all or the required part of the session in another way. If this is not possible then it is unlikely their application can be pursued. 

The objectives of the groups are:

  • To raise awareness and understanding of the key issues which need to be addressed by all prospective adopters, including information to enable them to understand the purpose and importance to children of maintaining some form of contact with their birth family;
  • To assist prospective adopters to consider more thoroughly the implications of adoption and to decide whether or not adoption is right for them;
  • To assist prospective adopters to determine the type of resource they can offer to children needing adoptive placements.

In addition to the group training, applicants are required to complete a workbook including some online modules to further develop their thinking and provide initial information upon which their assessment can be based.

Additional training and learning may be provided or facilitated in light of individuals’ needs and experience. Prospective adopters are encouraged to explore ways of assessing their parenting capacity and of identifying their own training needs.

5.7 Pre-assessment decision

Adoption agencies must gather Stage 1 information and make a pre-assessment decision as to whether prospective adopters may or may not be suitable to adopt a child. This decision must be made within eight weeks of the date on which the prospective adopters registered their interest in adopting a child (unless there are good reasons to extend that time period). If the time period is extended, the reasons must be recorded on the prospective adopter’s case record, along with supporting evidence.

Where the pre-assessment decision is that prospective adopters are not suitable to adopt a child, they must be provided with a clear written explanation of the reasons why they will be unable to proceed to Stage 2. The pre-assessment decision may be made notwithstanding that not all of the required pre-assessment information has been gathered. Prospective adopters who wish to complain about this decision may make a complaint using Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council’s complaints procedure. They will also be able to raise general concerns about the process with the National Gateway for Adoption. The Independent Review Mechanism IRM is not available for decisions made during Stage 1.

Where the pre-assessment decision is that prospective adopters might be suitable to adopt a child, they are advised of this decision and informed that they have six months in which to notify us if they wish to proceed to Stage 2, the assessment stage.

If prospective adopters confirm their wish to proceed outside this six-month time limit, they will need to restart Stage 1. In that case, they will be contacted within five working days of notifying us and offered a re-entry interview. The Stage 1 plan should take into account activities undertaken previously.


6. Sharing Information for the Purposes of Prospective Adopter Assessments

6.1 Information-Sharing

Sharing information about a person that is held in their existing foster carer or adopter records is permitted for the purposes of informing a new assessment of a person’s suitability to foster or adopt. For instance, if previous partners have been interviewed in the past to verify facts, and the current assessing social worker is satisfied with the records in respect of these interviews, it should not be necessary to repeat the interviews if no further information is required. The assessing social worker should, however, satisfy themselves as to the quality and continuing relevance of the information before using it to inform the current assessment.

Information that should be shared, upon request, in order to inform a new assessment of a person’s suitability to foster or adopt includes:

  • The report of the original assessment of the person’s suitability to foster or adopt (if it is considered by the body requesting the information to be recent enough to be relevant);
  • A copy of the report of the last review of the individual’s continuing suitability to foster or adopt and any other review report considered useful to understanding the person’s current suitability to foster or adopt;
  • Details of any concerns about standards of practice and what if anything is being done/has been done to address them;
  • Details of allegations made against the foster carer/adopter or their household members; and
  • Any other information considered to be relevant to the assessment of the person’s suitability to foster/adopt.

6.2 Consent

Information should only be shared with the informed, explicit consent of all parties referred to in the information, including young people where they have sufficient understanding to consent to the sharing of their information (if they do not have sufficient understanding, the consent of a person with Parental Responsibility would need to be obtained). This means that the person giving consent needs to understand why their information is to be shared, what will be shared, who will see their information, the purpose to which it will be put and the implications of sharing that information.

If consent is refused, the current fostering service or adoption agency should consider whether there is any information in the records that is a cause for concern. Any information about an applicant’s conduct or suitability to foster/adopt that has caused concern should be shared even if the individual has refused consent. If there are no such concerns, and the individual has refused consent, information should not be shared. This may require documents to be redacted to remove information relating to individuals who have refused consent.

Requests for access to information should be accompanied by the written consent of the applicant to the sharing of their information.

6.3 Timescales

The receiving service should acknowledged the request within two working days, seek consent from all others referred to in the information within five working days and the information, redacted where necessary, should be provided within 15 working days.


7. Stage 2: Assessment process

7.1 Purpose and process
7.2 Prospective adopter assessment agreement
7.3 References
7.4 Assessment
7.5 Fostering for Adoption

7.1 Purpose and process

Where the pre-assessment decision is that prospective adopters might be suitable to adopt a child, and they have notified us that they wish to proceed, the application then proceeds to Stage 2: Assessment process.

Stage 2 is about intensive training and assessment. Intensive training should be provided as necessary. Concurrently, an assessment is carried out of the prospective adopters’ suitability to adopt and a report produced of that assessment.

The essential elements of Stage 2 are:

  • Time limit:
    • 4 months.
  • Assessment agreement:
    • A plan detailing the assessment process, including dates for meetings/visits, agreed training and any further information required.
  • Referees to be interviewed and the interviews to be written up.
  • Assessment sessions and further training:
    • To be completed and written up within two months.
  • All papers prepared for the adoption panel:
    • Assessment report, checks and references.
  • Adoption panel recommendation and agency decision.

This stage should begin with a meeting between the prospective adopter and the allocated adoption social worker, who will explain how Stage 2 will operate. As with Stage 1, at the outset of Stage 2 an agreement will be signed to clarify what our respective expectations and responsibilities are during this stage of the approval process. The adoption social worker will also explain the decision-making process and the roles of the adoption panel and the Independent Review Mechanism IRM.

A decision must be reached as to whether prospective adopters are suitable to adopt a child within four months of the date on which we received their notification that they wished to proceed with the assessment process (six months if there are exceptional circumstances). Reasons for any extensions should be recorded on the prospective adopter’s case file.

Stage 2 will end with the agency decision-maker’s decision about the suitability of prospective adopters to adopt.

7.2 Prospective adopter assessment agreement

The written agreement we enter into with prospective adopters – the ‘prospective adopter assessment agreement’ – must include the following:

  • The procedure for assessing the prospective adopter’s suitability to adopt a child;
  • Agreement on mutually convenient dates and times for assessment visits;
  • Any applicable timescales;
  • The arrangements for the prospective adopter to receive any additional counselling or preparation for adoption;
  • Details of any training that the prospective adopter has agreed to undertake;
  • Any other matters which the agency and /or the prospective adopter considers relevant.

7.3 References

During Stage 2 referees should be interviewed.  Wherever possible this should be completed face to face.  Referees should be asked to comment on the following:

  1. The length of time the referee has known the prospective adopters, in what circumstances, how they met and how regularly they are in contact;
  2. Where there is a joint application, the couple's relationship, including its stability and quality, the couple's strengths and ways of coping with stress and how mutually supportive they are;
  3. The prospective adopters’ general physical and emotional wellbeing;
  4. How the prospective adopters relate to children, with examples, and what experience they have of caring for children;
  5. How the prospective adopters have adjusted to childlessness (if this is the case), how they have prepared to become adoptive parents, how much they have shared with the referee and how open they are in talking about the issues surrounding adoption;
  6. If the prospective adopters  have children of their own, how the referee thinks a child from a different ethnic background might impact on the other children in the family;
  7. Any reservations the referee has and whether the referee wholeheartedly supports the application.

At the start of the interview, the referee should be informed that the written report of the interview will not be shared with the prospective adopters  but that any issues arising during the interview may be discussed with them.

In addition, as part of the assessment, where the prospective adopter has school age children, the relevant school(s) may  be contacted. With permission, the adoption social worker will visit the school(s) for information regarding the prospective adopters’ ability to promote a child's education.

7.4 Assessment

The assessment must be carried out by a qualified social worker with suitable experience (see Adoption Panel Procedure, Reports to Adoption Panel).

In conducting the assessment, the adoption social worker should analyse and consider the information ascertained from and about the prospective adopter, including any issues identified during the adoption preparation and in the course of collating checks, references and information acquired during Stage 1. The approach should be objective and inquiring, with information evaluated and its accuracy and consistency checked.

The assessment will comprise a series of interviews, which will take place in the home of prospective adopters. In the case of a couple, they will be interviewed together and at least once individually. All other members of the household will also be interviewed, including any children.

The areas covered in interviews will be as follows:

  • Individual profiles of all members of the household, including a photograph and physical description, cultural and linguistic background, personality and interests, relationship (if any) to the child, racial origin and religious persuasion;
  • Information about the home, the local community and the neighbourhood;
  • Details of education and employment – past and present;
  • Income and expenditure;
  • Details of past and present relationships;
  • Motivation to adopt and childlessness (if applicable);
  • Parenting capacity, experience of being parented and experience with children;
  • Support network, including wider family network;
  • Expectations of the placement, including their understanding of issues from the preparation course;
  • Views and feelings about adoption and its significance, attitudes to birth families and approach to openness in adoption and contact;
  • Views about parental responsibility and what it means;
  • Views about a suitable home environment for the child;
  • Views about the importance and value of education;
  • Views and feelings about the importance of a child’s religious and cultural upbringing;
  • Any other information which indicates how the prospective adopter and anybody else living in the household is likely to relate to a child placed for adoption;
  • Any other relevant information which might assist the adoption panel or the adoption agency.

As part of the assessment:

  • A family tree and chronology of key events in the applicant's life from birth must be compiled, showing his or her educational, employment, marital and/or relationship history and addresses for the previous 10 years – any gaps and/or unusual patterns should be explored.  This forms part of the Stage 1 workbook;
  • All information provided by the prospective adopters must be independently verified where possible, by checking it against other sources, such as referees;
  • Where an applicant has been divorced or separated, factors contributing to the breakdown of the relationship must be verified – this applies equally to significant relationships between couples who are not married;
  • The adequacy and safety of the prospective adoptive home and transport will be assessed.

The assessment will consider the likely need for adoption support services of the prospective adopters and any member of their family – see Adoption Support Procedure. As part of this, the family's finances and the criteria for financial support should also be discussed.

Where the prospective adopters live in another local authority area, the adoption social worker should ascertain in that area the extent of any support services that have been identified as necessary.

The assessment will also cover the prospective adopters’ willingness to notify the adoption agency if the adopted child dies during childhood or soon afterwards; their views on post-placement and post-adoption contact; and their willingness to pass on information to birth parents about the progress of the adopted child. These issues should be specifically reported on to the adoption panel. If, during the course of the assessment, any issues emerge which cast doubt upon the likelihood of prospective adopters’ being approved, such issues should be discussed openly with them at the time.

Disagreement

If, during Stage 2, concerns cause the adoption manager to decide not to continue with the assessment and prospective adopters disagree and/or are unwilling to withdraw: a brief prospective adopter’s report on the application should be presented to the adoption panel and the procedure to be followed should be the same as if the report was a full report on the prospective adopters (see Section 9, Panel Recommendation to Section 11, Representations/Independent Review Procedure and Brief Report (below)).

Brief Report

Regulation 25.7 of The Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005 allows for a 'brief prospective adopter’s report' to be prepared in some circumstances. This would happen when information that has come to light during Stage 2 leads the adoption social worker/agency to conclude that prospective adopters may not be suitable to adopt. This could be, for example, as a result of medical advice or information received from a referee.

If this is the case, the decision not to continue with the full assessment will be made jointly by the assessing adoption social worker and the adoption team manager. However prospective adopters respond, a brief report will be presented to the adoption panel. 

Prospective adopters need to be informed of such decisions and attempts made to counsel them on the reasons for these. As a result, prospective adopters may decide to withdraw their application. Although there is no requirement for this to be formally presented to panel, in line with good practice an update will be provided by the assessing adoption social worker to panel members to inform them of the prospective adopters’ withdrawal.

If an application is not withdrawn, a ‘brief report' will need to be completed to present to the adoption panel. This would include the information gathered on the prospective adopters so far, including the reasons for deciding to halt the assessment. However, if the concerning information has been raised by a referee, this will not be contained within the main body of the report, as this must be kept confidential and not disclosed to the prospective adopters.

The 'brief report' must be shared with prospective adopters and they will be allowed 10 working days to submit their views on this. They will be allowed to attend the adoption panel meeting and the procedure is identical to that outlined below in Section 8, Prospective Adopter's Report, including the opportunity to refer the case to the Independent Review Mechanism IRM.

With regard to the 'brief report', the adoption panel may request that a full prospective adopter’s report be completed so that panel has all the information on the prospective adopters, so this would defer making a recommendation to a later date with the benefit of the full report.

7.5 Fostering for Adoption

Discussion should take place with the prospective adopter about whether they may be interested in fostering a child for whom adoption is thought to be a likely outcome. This can be where, although the child’s plan is likely to become adoption, other options have not yet been ruled out for that child. There is no need for agencies to assess and approve a prospective adopter as a temporary foster carer at the same time as they are carrying out the adopter approval process, though they can do so if they and the prospective adopter wish. The child’s local authority can arrange for the foster care assessment and approval of an approved adopter.

Agencies should indicate on the prospective adopter’s report if the prospective adopter is interested in Fostering for Adoption. This will allow prospective adopters to be matched with a child requiring a Fostering for Adoption placement.

Fostering for Adoption carers should have access to appropriate supplementary/ specific preparation sessions as well as the usual preparation and training package available to all adopters. Meeting other adopters who have experience of these types of placements is an important part of this preparation. There should be appropriate exploration of the capacity of the foster carers/prospective adopters to manage the emotional and practical tasks of being foster carers until and if placement for adoption is agreed by the court. It is important to ensure that carers are fully informed about the nature of the placement, their role in that placement as foster carers and their understanding of the possibility of the court deciding to pursue an alternative plan to adoption.


8. Fast-track Procedure for Approved Foster Carers and Previous Adopters who wish to Adopt

The approval requirements are modified for applicants who are approved foster carers or previous adopters. N.B. This does not apply to connected persons or to prospective adopters given temporary approval as foster carers (under the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010 (as amended)).

There is no requirement to carry out police checks or to gather the specified information in relation to the prospective adopter and their household, unless it is considered to be necessary. The need for such checks and references should be assessed in each individual case. This may depend on the time since approval and, in the case of foster carers, the time since a child was placed with them.

There is no requirement to provide counselling, information and preparation for adoption.

The preliminary pre-assessment decision stage is not necessary and the assessment process progresses straight to preparation of the prospective adopter’s report.

Any necessary additional training should be provided, such as where the prospective adopters are seeking to adopt a child with needs which are very different to those of the child they have fostered/adopted.

The decision as to whether prospective adopters are suitable to adopt a child must be made within four months of the date on which they registered their interest in adopting. This includes the time taken to access information from adoption agencies and fostering services, which have 15 working days to provide such information.


9. Prospective Adopter's Report

The information gathered during Stage 1(pre-assessment process) and Stage 2 (assessment process), including the checks and personal references, will form the basis of the prospective adopter's report, together with any other relevant information.

The adoption social worker who assesses the prospective adopter should draft the prospective adopter’s report, highlighting any issues of concern, and submit it to the adoption team manager. Where there are any issues of significant concern or where clarification is needed, the manager may arrange for a second person to visit the prospective adopter to discuss these but must remain mindful of the timeframe for Stage 2. The second person could be a team manager or another adoption social worker. A visit by another person provides a second opinion where necessary before the report to the panel is finalised in cases where clarification is needed but such a visit should not be routinely carried out. The author of the report and the countersigning officer should both sign and date the report, state their qualifications and experience, and confirm that they are suitably qualified to prepare the report.

The report will also include a summary by the medical adviser of the health report obtained on the prospective adopter.

The report will include the agency’s assessment of the prospective adopter’s suitability to adopt.

Reports should address anti-discriminatory practice issues. They should contain a summary of the assessed strengths and weaknesses of prospective adopters, together with an opinion on the type of placement likely to be provided successfully. Potential risk factors should be highlighted.

When the prospective adopter's report is finalised, a copy should be sent to the prospective adopters and they must be notified that the application is to be referred to the adoption panel. They should be invited to submit any observations in writing within five working days, beginning with the date on which the notification was sent. (This timescale may be extended in exceptional circumstances.)

At the end of the five working days (or, where that timescale is extended, as soon as possible after the prospective adopters’ observations have been received), the following must be sent to the adoption panel:

  • The prospective adopter’s report and the prospective adopter’s observations thereon;
  • Where the agency medical adviser so advises, the medical report on the prospective adopter;
  • References;
  • Where applicable, relevant information received from the prospective adopter’s home local authority;
  • Any other relevant information obtained by the agency.

The date of the adoption panel meeting will be communicated to the prospective adopters as soon as possible, together with an invitation to attend the panel during consideration of the report.

Prospective adopters will be advised of their right to attend the meeting of the adoption panel which considers their application. They should be provided with written information about the panel process, its membership, who will attend and their respective roles. If the prospective adopters know a particular panel member, they may request that the panel member stand down. Panel members are in any case expected to declare an interest in these circumstances – see Adoption Panel Procedure.

The adoption panel would like the opportunity to meet prospective adopters as part of its commitment to fulfilling its role. Prospective adopters are encouraged from the outset to regard attending panel as a positive experience. However, they are free to choose whether or not to attend and will not be judged adversely if they do not.

The opportunity for panel members and prospective adopters to meet each other will not form part of the assessment process. It will provide an opportunity for feedback from panel members on strengths and to clarify minor issues. It will also provide an opportunity for prospective adopters to be heard if they wish to make a statement to panel. They will have the opportunity to attend panel on each occasion that their approval is being considered, including appeals.

No prospective adopters attending panel will be disadvantaged because of any disability, language or communication difficulty. Arrangements will be made to provide an accessible venue and appropriate support.

Prospective adopters should not be shown any comments made by referees or any other third party information.


10. Panel Recommendation

The assessing adoption social worker (and his or her manager where appropriate), will attend the panel meeting together with the prospective adopters if they so wish. Those who decide to attend should be fully prepared as to the procedure prior to their attendance (see Section 8, Prospective Adopter's Report).

The panel will consider the prospective adopter's report together with all the supporting documentation (as per Section 8, Prospective Adopter's Report) and any additional information presented verbally, and make a recommendation to the agency decision-maker regarding the suitability of the prospective adopters to adopt. The panel may ask the adoption social worker to obtain any other relevant information which it considers necessary and may seek legal advice if required in relation to the case.

The recommendation will be recorded in writing and, where approval is recommended, the record will include any advice given about the number of children the prospective adopter may be suitable to adopt, their age range, sex, likely needs and background.

Reasons for recommendations and any advice as set out above will also be recorded in the panel minutes.

Prospective adopters attending the panel meeting will be informed of the panel recommendations following the discussion of their item. For those not attending, the assessing adoption social worker will advise them of the panel recommendation within 24 hours of the panel meeting. This will be verbally, by telephone or, where appropriate, on a home visit.


11. After the Panel Recommendation

The decision as to whether the prospective adopter is suitable to adopt a child must be made within four months of the date on which we received confirmation that they wished to proceed with the assessment process. This decision may be delayed:

  • Where there are exceptional circumstances which mean that the decision cannot be made within that time;
  • Upon the request of the prospective adopter.

If the decision is delayed, the reasons must be recorded on the prospective adopter’s case record, along with supporting evidence.

The agency decision-maker will make a decision as to the suitability of the potential adopters, and express a view on any panel advice given, based on the reports presented to the adoption panel and the minutes detailing the panel's discussion, recommendation and advice.

Agency decision-maker

In Hofstetter v Barnet and IRM (2009) EWCA 328(ADMIN) the court set out guidance for the way in which the decision- maker should approach a case, whether it is a decision based on the agency panel's recommendation or involves an independent review panel's recommendation. The court said it would be good discipline and appropriate for agency decision-makers to:

  • List the material taken into account in reaching the decision;
  • Identify key arguments;
  • Ask 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) had properly addressed the arguments;
  • Consider whether any additional information now available to them that was not before the panel has an impact on its reasons or recommendations;
  • Identify the reasons for the relevant recommendation that they do or do not wish to adopt;
  • State (a) the adopted reasons by cross reference or otherwise and (b) any further reasons for their decision.

Where not minded to accept the recommendation of the adoption panel or independent review panel, the agency decision-maker should discuss the case with another senior person in the agency who is not a member of the adoption panel or independent review panel. The outcome of that discussion, as well as the decision itself and its reasons, must be recorded on the prospective adopter's case record and, in respect of a placement case, the child's case record too.

The agency decision-maker will make a decision as to the suitability of prospective adopters, and express a view on any panel advice given, based on the details of the panel's recommendation. The adoption panel adviser will liaise with the agency decision-maker: no panel member may take part in any discussions with the agency decision-maker.

The panel minutes will be approved by the presenting social workers (their item only), panel members and by the chair within seven working days of the panel date. The finalised set of panel minutes will be sent to the agency decision-maker to be read alongside the reports considered by the panel when the recommendation was made, so that the agency decision-maker can meet the timescales for making the decision, as set out in the relevant guidance. The agency decision must be made within seven days of receipt of the final panel minutes.

Notification of decision

The panel administrator will arrange for prospective adopters to be given oral notification of the decision within two working days and written notice of the decision, signed by the adoption team manager, within five working days of the decision. The panel administrator will send with the written notification a copy of the post- approval handbook.

Where the decision differs from the recommendation of the adoption panel, a copy of the panel recommendation will be sent to prospective adopters with the written notification of the decision.

Where the decision is to approve the prospective adopter, they should be provided with information which explains the role of the Adoption Register and include the Register’s website address http://www.adoptionregister.org.uk.

See Appendix A: Standard Decision Letter – Not Suitable to Adopt

All successful applicants will be allocated an adoption link worker whose task is to support the adopters through the period of waiting for a placement, identify any further training needs, arrange updated medical examinations as requested by the Medical Adviser, consider any potential matches and discuss any such matches with the approved adopters before a match is presented to the Adoption Panel. The adoption link worker will visit at least once every 6 months. Wherever possible the adoption link worker will be the same social worker who assessed them.

Approved adopters will be asked to be available for children from the local authority area in need of an adoptive placement, after which they will be informed of and referred to the National Adoption Register and/or to the Regional Consortium/other adoption agencies with children waiting for placements, with their consent.

Prospective adopters' details must be passed to the Adoption Register immediately after their approval, and in any event no later than three months, (if they consent) where a child has not been identified for placement with them. Prospective adopters may choose to refer themselves to the Register, three months after approval, using the Adopter Self-Referral form, available from the Register’s website.

They will also be informed of local support groups and be advised of their responsibility to maintain links with the adoption link worker and keep him or her informed of any significant changes in their situation.

Approved prospective adopters should be encouraged to identify children they might be suitable to adopt. This can be through attending Adoption Activity and Exchange Days, by registering and using Adoption Link, and viewing publications such as Children Who Wait and Be My Parent.


12. Representations/Independent Review Procedure

If the decision is not to approve prospective adopters, an adoption team manager will prepare a letter giving the decision, the reasons and the options available to them, (see Appendix A: Standard Decision Letter – Not Suitable to Adopt). This letter is sent by the administration officer (adoption) to the agency decision-maker, who will send it to the prospective adopters and return a signed copy for the prospective adopter’s case record. This letter explains the three options available to them and includes the BAAF leaflet explaining the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM).

The three options available to prospective adopters who have received a qualifying determination (i.e. a decision not to approve) are:

  • Option 1: Acceptance of the qualifying determination;
  • Option 2: Representation to the agency;
  • Option 3: Application to an independent review panel, i.e. via the IRM.

The prospective adopter will also be able to raise general concerns about the process with the National Gateway for Adoption.

Any one of these options has to be exercised within 40 working days from the date of the letter. If there is no written notification that representations have been made within this period – or if acceptance is signified – the Agency Decision Maker must proceed to make a decision on the suitability of the prospective adopter to adopt.

Where the agency receives representations from the prospective adopter within 40 working days, the Agency Decision Maker may consider the representations and may invite the prospective adopter to meet to discuss their case. The Agency Decision Maker may, instead, refer the case to the adoption panel for further consideration. Where the case is referred to the panel, the panel must consider the case again and make a fresh recommendation as to the suitability of the prospective adopter to adopt a child. The prospective adopter must be invited to attend the panel meeting to answer any questions the adoption panel may have.

Written notice of the final decision, together with reasons, must be sent to the applicant as soon as possible after the decision and, in any event, within 7 working days of the Panel meeting. A copy of the Adoption Panel’s further recommendation must also be sent, if different from the decision.

If the prospective adopter decides to refer the matter to an independent review, the relevant panel reports, any new information obtained since the panel meeting, a record of the decision made and reasons, will be sent to the IRM within 10 working days of their written request.

The procedure for the independent review is carried out by BAAF. Prospective adopters and a representative of the adoption agency are invited to attend the review meeting.

After considering the representations, the independent review may make a recommendation, which the agency decision-maker will consider before a final decision is made.

Written notice of the final decision, together with reasons, must be sent to prospective adopters as soon as possible after the decision and, in any event, within seven working days of receipt of the independent review recommendation.

A copy of the final decision will also be sent to the independent review panel administrator.

Where the outcome is a decision is to approve prospective adopters, the panel administrator will enter the approval details on the local adoption register and on the ICS system.

A copy of the report to the IRM panel’s recommendation and a decision to refuse an application must be retained on the potential adopters’ case record.

In respect of a case referred to the independent review panel, the Secretary of State must also be given written notification of the decision.


13. Timescales

  • Where a potential applicant makes an initial enquiry, an information pack providing more detailed information about adoption will be sent out within five working days;
  • Where a potential adopter requests more detailed information about adoption – by returning the further information form attached to the information pack – an initial visit by an adoption social worker to the adopter’s home will be undertaken within 10 working days;
  • Where a potential adopter formally registers an interest in adopting a child, a decision should be reached within five working days from receipt of the registration of interest on whether to accept this, unless there are exceptional circumstances which mean that longer is needed;
  • The adoption agency must gather Stage 1 information and make a pre-assessment decision as to whether the prospective adopter may be, or is not, suitable to adopt a child, within eight weeks from the date on which they registered their interest in adopting a child (unless there are good reasons to extend that time period). If the time period is extended, the reasons must be recorded on the prospective adopter’s case record, along with supporting evidence;
  • Where the pre-assessment decision (Stage 1) is that the prospective adopter might be suitable to adopt a child, the prospective adopter has six months in which to notify the agency if they wish to proceed to Stage 2 (Assessment process);
  • The decision as to whether the prospective adopter is suitable to adopt a child must be made within four months of the date on which the agency received the prospective adopter’s notification that they wished to proceed with the assessment process (six months if there are exceptional circumstances);
  • Under the fast-track procedure for approved foster carers and previous adopters who wish to adopt, the decision as to whether the prospective adopter is suitable to adopt a child must be made within four months of the date on which they registered their interest in adopting a child.


14. Prospective Adopter’s Case Record

Prospective Adopter’s Case Record

A prospective adopter’s case record must be set up as soon as the registration of interest is accepted. It must contain:

  • A photograph of the prospective adopter(s);
  • The prospective adopter Stage 1 plan;
  • The information and reports obtained by the agency;
  • The prospective adopter Stage 2 assessment plan;
  • The prospective adopter’s report and the prospective adopter’s observations on that report;
  • The written record of the proceedings of the adoption panel, its recommendation, the reasons for the recommendation and any advice given by the panel to the agency;
  • The record of the agency’s decision;
  • The recommendation of any independent review panel;
  • Where applicable, the prospective adopter’s review report and the prospective adopter’s observations on that report;
  • The prospective adopter matching plan;
  • Any other documents or information obtained by the agency which it considers should be included in the case record.

Information which has been obtained from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) should be retained on the prospective adopter’s case record for a limited time only. This information should be destroyed when the decision has been made as to whether the prospective adopter is suitable to adopt a child. It should be noted on the prospective adopter’s case record that the DBS information has been destroyed and that this information had led the agency to form a particular view, without citing the information itself.


15. Prospective Adopter Matching Plan

Where prospective adopters have been approved as suitable to adopt a child, a prospective adopter matching plan must be prepared, in consultation with them. This plan includes:

  • Information about the duties of the adoption agency in respect of placements and reviews;
  • Information about the role of the prospective adopter in identifying a child for whom they would be an appropriate adopter;
  • Information about the process for making a representation (including a complaint);
  • Any other matters that the agency consider relevant.


16. Review of Prospective Adopter’s Approval

The adoption team manager will review the approval of adopters at least annually by means of a prospective adopter’s review report from the adoption link worker, together with any comments on the report from the prospective adopters. Prospective adopters should be given a copy and given 10 working days to comment before arrangements are made for the report to be presented to the panel.

The procedure set out in Section 9, Panel Recommendation and Section 10, After the Panel Recommendation should then be followed.

If the approval is still considered suitable, prospective adopters should be notified in writing and a copy of the reports, minutes, decision and notification placed on their adoption case record.

If prospective adopters are considered no longer suitable, the same procedure should be followed as set out in Section 11, Representations/Independent Review Procedure.


17. Criteria for Prospective Adopters

An individual or couple cannot apply for an assessment of their suitability to adopt unless they meet, or would meet, the eligibility criteria to apply for an adoption order. The basic criteria are that:

  • Prospective adopters are at least 21 years old;
  • At least one of the couple or the single prospective adopter is domiciled in a part of the British Isles; or both of the couple or the single prospective adopter have been habitually resident in a part of the British Isles for a period of not less than one year ending with the date of the application for an adoption order;
  • Neither prospective adopter(s) nor an adult member of their household has been convicted or cautioned in respect of a specified offence.

More detailed information is as follows.

Requirement to pursue application with one agency only

By law, a registration of interest will not be considered from people who have already registered their interest with another agency.

Individual and joint applications

By law, applications will be considered from people of either sex and any sexual orientation, whether they be:

  • Single people;
  • Married couples;
  • Unmarried couples;
  • In a civil partnership.

In the case of married/civil partners and unmarried couples, there is no legal minimum requirement on the length of the marriage/relationship. In order to assess the permanence and stability of the relationship it is unlikely Blackburn with Darwen will consider an application from couples who have been together for less than two years. In assessing the quality and stability of a relationship, the views of two personal referees who have known the prospective adopters as a couple will be taken into account.

If a person is making a single application but is married or in a civil partnership, the court must be satisfied that:

  • The person’s spouse or civil partner cannot be found; or
  • The spouse/civil partner has separated, is living apart and the separation is likely to be permanent; or
  • The person’s spouse or civil partner is incapable of making an application for an adoption order by reason of physical or mental ill health.

Religion

Applications will be considered from people of any or no religious persuasion.

Ethnicity

Applications will be considered from people of any race or culture.

The ability of a potential adopter to meet the needs of a child related to their religion, language and other characteristics associated with their and the potential adopter’s ‘ethnicity’ can be a relevant consideration in determining the appropriate match for a child. In some rare cases, it may be an important consideration. Prospective adopters should be considered able to parent a child with whom they do not share the same ethnicity, provided they can meet the child’s most important identified needs throughout childhood. The agency must provide them with flexible and creative support. This applies equally whether a child is placed with a black or minority ethnic family, a white family, or a family which includes members of different ethnic origins. Only in very exceptional circumstances should matching a child with prospective adopters be delayed solely on the grounds that the available prospective adopters cannot meet all the child’s needs arising from their racial or cultural background. A prospective adopter can be matched with a child with whom they do not share the same ethnicity, if they can respect, reflect or actively develop a child’s racial identity from the point they are matched and as they develop throughout their childhood. The prospective adopter needs to demonstrate that they fully understand that having a child from a different ethnic group will present a number of challenges, not least that there may be visible differences that can affect a child’s self-esteem and increase their possible feelings of difference. For example, the child may have to deal with questions from their peers about why they are ‘different’ to their family.

Age

The minimum age for adopters is 21 years. There is no specific upper age limit. Flexibility will be applied in relation to prospective adopters considering adopting children who may be difficult to place.

Older and more experienced people could take on the care of older children, provided they will have the health and vigour to meet the child’s varied demands in their growing years and to be there for them into adulthood. Age is also not necessarily linked to general health, fitness and emotional wellbeing. The agency’s medical adviser should investigate and obtain relevant information about prospective adopters’ health in order to be satisfied that they are able to take on the task of adopting a child and have the expectation of caring for the child through childhood and into adulthood.

Gender

Applications will be considered from people of either sex.

Sexual orientation

Applications will be considered from people of any sexual orientation.

Income

Potential adopters may be in work or not. All potential adopters will need to consider the financial implications of increasing their family and the agency will require them to agree to a financial assessment of their circumstances. They will be required to provide information about any county court judgements or voluntary bankruptcy agreements.

Health

Potential adopters will be required to have a full medical and undergo any further tests/checks that may be required by the adoption panel's medical adviser. The medical adviser will report on the applicants' ability, from a health point of view, to meet the needs of a child throughout his or her childhood.

A very young child under the age of five years or a child vulnerable to chest complaints would not be placed in a household where one or both parents are smokers. Potential adopters who smoke will need to evidence a commitment to giving up smoking and will need to have stopped for six months at the point of being approved.

(See Smoking Policy for the Adoption and Fostering Services)

Criminal convictions

There is a statutory prohibition to adoption if the potential adopters or any member of their household, aged 18 or over, have been convicted of a ‘specified offence’, committed at the age of 18 or over, or cautioned by a constable in respect of any such offence which, at the time the caution was given, the person in question admitted – see Regulation 23, Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005.

‘Specified offence’ means:

  • An offence against a child as set out in section 26 (1) of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2003, except that this does not include an offence under section 9 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (sexual activity with a child) where an offender was under 20 and the child aged 13 or over at the time the offence was committed;
  • The offences specified in Part 1 of Schedule 3 of the Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005 (various sexual offences, including rape against an adult);
  • An offence relating to indecent photographs of children under the age of 16;
  • Any other offence involving bodily injury to a child other than the offence of common assault or battery.

Under Regulation 23, there is a statutory prohibition to adoption if the prospective adopters or any member of their household, aged 18 or over, have been convicted or cautioned for an offence specified in paragraph 1 of part 2 of Schedule 3 of the Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005 or falling within paragraph 2 or 3 of Schedule 3.

Other convictions will not necessarily preclude an application, but this will depend on the seriousness of the offence and how long ago it was committed. All DBS checks with concerns will be forwarded by the DBS administrator to the Head of Placement Services for authorisation to proceed with the application.

Accommodation

Potential adopters may own their own home or live in rented accommodation. They will have to demonstrate that they have a secure home environment in which to bring up a child.

They will need accommodation appropriate to the number and ages of the children they are seeking to adopt.

Fertility tests/treatment

For those who have fertility difficulties, all fertility investigations must have been completed before any application to adopt is received and at least six months should have elapsed since the last treatment. If it becomes known that fertility treatment has continued, any application will cease immediately and the potential/prospective adopters will become ineligible.

Potential adopters must have come to terms with their infertility sufficiently to be at a stage when they would be able to focus fully on the needs of an adoptive child and regard this as a positive option.

Potential adopters who have a child or children

We will accept applications from people who already have a child or children, in which case any children should usually be older than the child the potential adopter is seeking to adopt. The number of children placed will not normally outnumber the children already in the family unless there is a significant age gap between the child or children in the family and the children to be placed.

If potential adopters have previously adopted, there should be an interval of at least 12 months from the making of the adoption order before an application is made to adopt another child and accepted, Exceptions will be considered where it is in the best interest of both children for them to be placed together, e.g. in the case of a subsequent sibling being born.

Domicile/habitual residence in the British Isles

Potential adopters do not have to have British Citizenship but should have their domicile or habitual residence in the British Isles. Where there is a joint application, only one of the potential adopters needs to be domiciled in the British Isles or both should be habitually resident here. In all these cases it is essential to see all relevant documents in order to fully establish nationality and immigration status.

Where there is doubt, potential adopters should be asked to seek independent advice.

Location

We welcome applications from those who reside within the borough of Blackburn with Darwen or within reasonable traveling distance. An application may be considered from anyone who lives at a greater distance if a much needed resource is being offered.

We will not accept applications from the owners of dangerous pets or dogs listed as dangerous under legislation.

Support network

Potential adopters will need to demonstrate that they have accessible and established support networks of family and friends who will be in a position to provide both emotional and practical support with parenting.

Post-placement/post-adoption contact

Prospective adopters will be expected to comply with arrangements for post-placement/post-adoption contact with the child's birth family, where the agency considers it is in the child's best interests for such contact to take place.


18. Foster Carer’s Request for Adoption

See also Fostering for Adoption and Concurrent Planning Placements Procedure.

For the assessment process, see Section 7, Fast-track Procedure for Approved Foster Carers and Previous Adopters who wish to Adopt.

Local authority foster carers who wish to adopt the child they have fostered for at least one year must notify the local authority of their intention to apply to adopt that child (Sections 42 and 44, Adoption and Children Act 2002).

The following guidance and procedures apply to foster carers wishing to adopt.

Skilled foster carers cannot be assumed to be appropriate adoptive parents. Some different competences are required, such as:

  • Acceptance that they are providing a permanent home for the child no matter what behaviour the child may present;
  • Acknowledgement that support will be offered but in a different way from the support available to foster carers;
  • Ability and willingness to take on Parental Responsibility for the child and the financial and emotional commitment for life.

When adoption becomes the plan for a child, foster carers who have formed a close attachment to the fostered child may ask to be considered as adoptive parents. This should always be considered carefully. Research indicates that such placements for permanence can promote the security of a child and encourage development of a healthy attachment to the foster family.

The child’s social worker from the safeguarding team, the family finding social worker from the adoption team and the supervising social worker from the fostering team will need, together, to consider the following:

  • The assessment of the child’s needs and the foster carer’s ability to meet those needs via adoption;
  • The availability of other adopters for the child, particularly for young children under three without complex needs;
  • The length of placement, quality of the attachment and possible risks to the child’s emotional wellbeing in disrupting this attachment;
  • The contact plans for the child;
  • Any risk to the child from the birth parents’ having current placements knowledge of the foster carer;
  • The foster carer’s intentions re continuing as a short-term carer for other placements and the likely impact of this on the child needing permanence.

The child’s social worker has a role in ensuring that the placement will meet the long-term needs of the child. The foster carer’s supervising social worker has a role in ensuring that foster carers have considered the impact on themselves and their family of a decision to commit long-term to a particular child. The adoption social worker has a role in providing information about progress in family finding and the availability of other prospective adopters.

Often the elements that would normally be considered to make a good match may only be partly present, e.g. the carers may be older than ideal. However, the positive advantages of maintaining an existing relationship of quality, the perceived durability of this relationship and the benefits of maintaining existing networks of support are all factors that need to be considered and a balance of risks and rewards needs to be considered against the uncertainty of seeking to find an elusive ‘other’ placement that may never materialise.

Any assessment of foster carers and completion of a prospective adopter’s report (which will assess the ability of foster carers to care for a specific child) will:

  • Clarify how the foster carers will meet the needs of the child for permanence;
  • Identify any adoption support needs, including financial and contact arrangements;
  • Ensure all relevant information on the child – permanence report, child’s profile, adoption placement plan, adoption support plan, relevant reports, proposal for the delegation of PR, child’s medical – is shared;
  • Include the carers’ completion of their section of the adoption placement report for the matching panel where one or more specific children are being considered.

Local authority foster carers cannot apply to adopt a child who has been placed with them for under one year, unless placement is authorised (i.e. the local authority supports the adoption or the foster carers obtain leave of the court).

Fosters carers applying to adopt in a non-agency adoption (where no SBPFA (‘should be placed for adoption’) or matching process) should give the local authority three months’ notice of their intention to apply for an adoption order.

Foster carers would need to be approved adopters to be able to adopt a child and, on application to the courts for an adoption order, the relevant local authority would need to assess them as adopters.

An application for an adoption order having been made, the local authority is prevented from removing children except with leave of the court or with an Emergency Protection Order (because of child protection concerns).

Where the match does not appear to be in the child’s best interests, foster carers will be advised that any application will have to be pursued through private law but that the agency will not support or underwrite this. In such cases, thought must be given as to whether the current placement remains the appropriate one for the child. If foster carers adopt a child under these circumstances, they will be made aware that they will not be eligible for the same post- adoption support and assessments as agency adopters.

If foster carers do adopt, whatever the circumstances, this will not necessarily preclude them from continuing to foster either now or in the future. This matter should be determined through reference to the service manager for guidance and then an early review.

In all cases where foster carers are considering a long-term commitment to a child, the potential for achieving this through the making of a Special Guardianship Order or Child and Family Arrangements Order, as well as an Adoption Order, must be thoroughly explored. Where a foster carer secures either order, financial support may be paid – see Application for Special Guardianship Orders Procedure.


19. Procedure for Second Time or Subsequent Adopter

For the assessment process, see Section 7, Fast-track Procedure for Approved Foster Carers and Previous Adopters who wish to Adopt.

Timescales

An application to adopt again would not usually be accepted within 12 months of the making of an adoption order for another child.

There should be a minimum age gap of 24 months between the youngest child in the family and the child being placed.

An exception to the above timescales may be where the placement of a sibling of a child already adopted is being considered. In such a situation, the older child may have been adopted less than 12 months previously, or there may be an age gap between the two children of less than 24 months. Such circumstances need to be considered as part of a wider discussion about the benefits and advantages of enabling siblings to be brought up together, and a decision reached about what is in the best interests of the children.


Appendix A: Standard Decision Letter – Not Suitable to Adopt

I am writing to tell you that having considered your application to become an adoptive parent and the recommendation of the adoption panel, this agency does not propose to approve you as suitable to be an adoptive parent. This is because [insert full and detailed reasons so that the prospective adopter understands fully why they are considered unsuitable to adopt a child. Include a copy of the adoption panel’s recommendation if different - See chapter 1] (this is referred to in this letter as “the determination”).

I know this will be disappointing news for you but before this determination is implemented, you may:

  1. Accept the determination; or
  2. Make written representations to this agency; or
  3. Apply for the determination to be reviewed by an independent review panel.

Option a – Accept the determination

It would be helpful if you could advise me, within 40 working days from the date of this letter, if this is your preferred option. The determination will be confirmed and a formal decision will be sent to you.

Option b - Representations to the agency

If you choose to make representations to this agency, these must be in writing and be received at this office within 40 working days from the date of this letter. On receipt, I may consider your case again or refer it and your written representations to the adoption panel to consider and to make a fresh recommendation to me. If I do refer your case to the adoption panel you will be invited to attend the panel meeting to answer any questions the adoption panel may have. If I reconsider your case I may invite you to meet me to discuss your case. If I do refer your case to the adoption panel, I will take its recommendation into account when I make the final decision on your suitability to adopt.

Option c – Application to an independent review panel for a review

If you wish to apply to the independent review panel to review the determination, your written application and your reasons for the application must be received by the administrator to the independent review panel within 40 working days from the date of this letter. You will be invited to attend the review panel’s meeting. The function of the review panel is to consider your case anew and to make a fresh recommendation to the agency which will be taken into account alongside the original adoption panel’s recommendation when I make the final decision on your suitability to adopt. For information on the independent review mechanism (IRM) please see http://www.independentreviewmechanism.org.uk.

If I have not heard from either you or the independent review panel’s administrator after the period of 40 working days has expired I will write to you confirming my decision on your suitability to adopt a child.


Appendix B: Process Flowchart

Click here to view Appendix B: Process Flowchart.

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