3.9.1 Assessment and Approval of Agency Adopters

RELATED CHAPTER

Policy on Smoking for Foster Carers, Adopters, Children and Young People in Care Procedure.

RELEVANT GUIDANCE

DfE: Adoption Statutory Guidance (revised 1 July 2013)

Assessment and Approval of Foster Carers: Amendments to the Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations

Fostering Regulations 25 A care planning & placement review 2010

NOTE

There is a shortened process for prospective adopters who have already been approved as foster carers/adopters – see Section 5, Fast-Track Procedure for Approved Foster Carers and Previous Adopters Who Wish to Adopt.

AMENDMENT

In September.2017, Section 4.3, Assessment was updated to include where the applicants have pets, a risk assessment should be conducted and any associated risks should be taken into account with regard to the pet itself and where the pet is kept. Where necessary, an independent assessment should be undertaken by a vet to establish whether the dog falls within the scope of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.


Contents

  1. Recruitment and Responding to Initial Enquiries
  2. Registration of Interest in Adoption
  3. Stage 1 – The Pre-Assessment Process
  4. Stage 2 – The Assessment Process
  5. Fast-Track Procedure for Approved Foster Carers and Previous Adopters Who Wish to Adopt
  6. The Panel Recommendation
  7. After the Panel Recommendation
  8. Representations / Review Procedure
  9. Timescales
  10. Prospective Adopter's Case Record
  11. Prospective Adopter Matching Plan
  12. Criteria for Prospective Adopters

    Appendix A: Standard Decision Letter – Not Suitable to Adopt


1. Recruitment and Responding to Initial Enquiries

The adoption agency 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 the adoption agency to turn away couples or single people because of their status, age or because they and the child do not share the same racial or cultural background as the children requiring adoptive placements.

Potential applicants may approach First4Adoption for general information. This can include, for example, information on the legal implications of adoption, eligibility criteria (see Section 12, Criteria for Prospective Adopters), the characteristics of children awaiting adoption and the approval process.

Walsall’s recruitment activity is undertaken by Adoption in the Black Country (ABC) and Adoption Focus. This collaboration between Dudley, Wolverhampton, Sandwell, Walsall and Adoption Focus enables the four authorities and one voluntary adoption agency to share all marketing, recruitment and training activity. All those enquiring about adoption will have either been directed to ABC and Adoption Focus through First4Adoption or through their own enquiries with one of the Black Country Local Authorities.

Adoptive parents are recruited to provide permanent families for children with a wide range of needs, taking account of their gender, ethnicity, language, religion, background experiences and disability. Enquiries are welcomed from all sections of the community who may be able to meet the needs of Looked After children. Children needing adoptive families come from a wide variety of backgrounds and an infinite variety of needs. The agency therefore embraces the diversity of applicants who have differing life experiences and a range of skills. Whilst recruitment activity can sometimes change, essentially we need families for single children of all ages including babies. We especially need families for single boys aged 2 and over, sibling groups so that brothers and sisters can remain together, black, asian and mixed heritage children and children with special needs. If, from our initial contact, it seems unlikely we could use a family as a potential resource; enquirers will be told this and referred to First4Adoption, who will try and put them in contact with an adoption agency that can help them.

A person or couple cannot apply to adopt unless they meet the eligibility criteria to apply for an adoption order. This eligibility criteria is that applicants have to be over 21 years of age, they have to be domiciled in the British Islands and have been habitually resident in the British Islands for at least a year before they can apply for an adoption order. Finally, no applicant or adult member of their household should have been convicted or cautioned in respect of a specified offence.

Prior to commencement of Stage One, prospective adopters should be given an explanation of the statutory duty on the agency to conduct checks into their background and into the background of any other adult members of their household. It should be made clear that the prospective adopters will not be able to proceed to Stage Two where criminal record checks identify them or an adult member of their household as having been convicted of a specified offence or police caution in respect of a specified offence.

A ‘specified offence’ means:

  • An offence against a child / 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.

Whilst these are the legal requirements, there are a number of good practice considerations that Local Authorities will address. These are not applicable in all cases and every enquirer is considered on a case by case basis. However, some of these are as follows:

  • There should be a bedroom available for an adopted child or children, unless adopting a same sex sibling pair in which case they can share;
  • Ideally prospective adopters should have lived in the same area for at least a year so that local support networks have been developed or begun to be developed;
  • There should be no on-going major house renovations taking place or due to take place within the initial stages of the placement, this is because adopting a child can be a hugely challenging task especially in the early stages of placement and therefore all other areas of potential stress such as house renovations should be avoided;
  • The same principle applies to significant debt issues due to the associated stress in dealing with debt. The key is often about attitude to management of money. However, the onus is on the enquirer and later prospective adopter to evidence how they will incorporate the financial needs of an adopted child;
  • If an enquirer has a child under the age of two years in their care we may ask them to consider waiting a little longer before we accept a Registration of Interest. This is because we want to ensure placement opportunities are maximised for all adopters. Having a child under the age of two years may limit the number of children adopters can consider as we try if possible to maintain a 2 year age gap between an existing child and an adopted child joining the family;
  • The issue of smoking and general life style factors is also important. Walsall follow Coram BAAF guidance which is that if enquirers are looking to adopt a child under the age of 5 years they must have ceased smoking for at least a 6 month period. This is because of the associated health risks of passive smoking for children. Those wishing to adopt children over the age of 5 will be considered. However, because of the associated health risks for all children as a result of passive smoking we would urge all those wishing to adopt to seriously consider cessation programmes as this will significantly increase the chances of placement of a child;
  • Most local Authorities will expect that enquirers will not have had a child removed from their care because of child abuse allegations. This is because the vast majority of Looked After Children have already been removed from difficult and abusive situations and it would therefore not be appropriate to place any child within a similar setting again where the likelihood of significant harm being caused again is high;
  • Enquirers who are still having investigations or treatment in the hope of achieving a pregnancy will need to be informed that we would not consider proceeding with any application until treatment has ended. It is essential that enquirers recognise and come to terms with their infertility before moving on to start the adoption process. The length of time needed between finishing treatment before moving onto adoption will be made on a case by case basis;
  • All children will have experienced loss; to help them recover they will need resilient and patient adopters. If an enquirer has experienced a recent loss or bereavement, they may be advised to wait a little longer until such time that they can fully support a child to come to terms with their loss and separation from birth family and significant others such as foster carers.

Pre Stage One Process

Once Adoption in the Black Country (ABC) and Adoption Focus has received an adoption enquiry either through the telephone, internet, First4Adoption or a local Authority, they will make contact with the enquirer within 5 working days. ABC will send an adoption information pack and invite enquirers to attend the next available ABC information event; these are held at least monthly. Those enquiring about adoption can also view significant amounts of information through First4Adoption website; ABC website and Adoption UK website.

During attendance at an ABC and Adoption Focus information event, enquirers will be shown a promotional DVD and will receive verbal information about adoption through a short presentation. They will be offered the opportunity to have a more detailed discussion with a social worker. If following this, the enquirer feels adoption is right for them; they need to complete the ABC ‘Taking the next step’ Form which will be followed up by the administrators from ABC and Adoption Focus who will write to the enquirer within 5 working days to inform them which of the local authority /Adoption Agency within the consortium they have been referred to.

Following receipt of the referral the respective local authority will contact the enquirer to arrange a visit to undertake a single assessment. If the Single Assessment is positive the enquirers will be asked to sign the ‘Registration of Interest’ form along with the Stage 1 agreement form. The respective Local Authority will then progress the application through the Stage 1 and if applicable the Stage 2 adoption process.

Following receipt of the referral the respective local authority / Adoption Agency must set up a prospective adopter’s case record in respect of the prospective adopter – see Section 10, Prospective Adopter’s Case Record.

They will then contact the enquirer to arrange a visit to undertake an Initial assessment. If the Initial Assessment is positive a recommendation will be made by the adoption manager to proceed to ‘Registration of Interest’ form along with the Stage 1 agreement form within 5 working days. The respective Local Authority will then progress the application through the Stage 1 and if applicable the Stage 2 adoption process.

There may be circumstances where it would not be appropriate for the agency to proceed from the initial assessment to the registration of interest form, such as where there is clear evidence that the applicants do not meet the criteria to become prospective adopters.

The agency must not refuse to proceed on the grounds of, for example, a prospective adopter’s ethnicity, age, health, sexual orientation, religious beliefs or because they do not share the same ethnicity, culture or religious beliefs with the children waiting for an adoptive family. Prospective adopters may only be excluded if they do not meet the eligibility criteria or if the agency decides they will be unable to use the family as a potential resource.

Where the agency declines it should provide the applicants a clear written explanation of the reasons why, and offer them the choice of going directly to another agency or First4Adoption for signposting to another agency.

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 Procedure.

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;
  • The support which will be offered to applicants who are dual approved.


2. Registration of Interest in Adoption

From the point of a Registration of Interest being received, applicants 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 One checks;
  • Confirmation that the potential adopters have not registered their approval 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 12, Criteria for Prospective Adopters).

Once the decision to accept a Registration of Interest has been made the assessing ABC Local Authority and Adoption Focus will progress the Stage 1 process. To help the agency make this decision it will be necessary to arrange a home visit or to have a further pre-planned telephone call (whichever is considered most appropriate in each individual case) with the prospective adopter.

Where the agency accepts a registration of interest it must set up a prospective adopter’s case record in respect of the prospective adopter – see Section 10, Prospective Adopter’s Case Record.

Where a prospective adopter lives, works and has their connections will often determine the decision as to which local Authority an enquirer is referred to. To protect the confidentiality and safety of children and their adopters, those prospective adopters living in Walsall will not usually be assessed by Walsall as Walsall in unlikely to be able to place Walsall children within the Walsall area. This is the same for the other Black Country Authorities. It is therefore highly likely if a prospective adopter lives in Walsall, their enquiry will be sent to Dudley, Sandwell Wolverhampton or Adoption Focus.

Where there is an expression of interest in a particular child/children and the family are not approved adopters and live a considerable distance away, issues need to be considered with regard to the assessment, support and attendance of training. In such cases an initial visit to ascertain details and to check out the practicalities may be necessary to determine whether the enquiry can be accepted.

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 prospective 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. Applicants can be signposted to the Intercountry Adoption Centre.

There is a shortened process for prospective adopters who have already been approved as foster carers / adopters – see Section 5, Fast-Track Procedure For Approved Foster Carers And Previous Adopters Who Wish To Adopt.

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 Procedure.


3. Stage 1 – The Assessment Process

3.1 Purpose and Process

Stage One begins once the Registration of Interest has been accepted. This stage is intended to take no more than two months to complete. This stage is referred to as ‘Adopter Led’, which essentially means prospective adopters will be exploring the extent of their interest and capacity for adoption, prior to making a firm decision as to whether to proceed.

Stage one will begin with a visit from a social worker from the Adoption Service. The visit will cover the following:

The completion of the Stage One Plan following a full discussion of the requirements. The Stage One plan will include as a minimum:

  • Information about the counselling, information and preparation for adoption to be provided. All prospective adopters will need some form of adoption preparation. The agency will need to decide its form and substance, arranging preparation that takes into account the prospective adopter’s circumstances. Preparation should be designed to help prospective adopters make an informed decision about pursuing adoption based on an understanding of the qualities they have to offer a child. The agency should build on these strengths when working with the prospective adopter. Adoption preparation may be provided by the agency itself or with another agency or adoption support agency;
  • The procedure for carrying out police checks; Criminal record checks with the Disclosure and Barring Service must be carried out on the prospective adopter and any members of their household aged 18 years and over. Where the prospective adopter’s full history cannot be ascertained by conducting a criminal record check and other background checks (for example, where they have lived abroad for an extended period Certificate of Good Conduct should be sought), a decision should be taken as to whether to carry out any other checks or take up additional references. The agency should ensure it has sufficient information to justify continuing with Stage One but not delay the approval process. If it decides not to proceed, it should provide the prospective adopter with a clear written explanation of the reasons why. The agency may not consider a prospective adopter suitable to adopt a child if they or any adult member of their household has been convicted of a specified offence committed at 18 or over, or has received a police caution in respect of a specified offence which they admitted at the time the caution was given. In such circumstances the agency must notify the prospective adopter in writing, with reasons, without delay. Information 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 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 the agency to form a particular view, without citing the information itself. Where the criminal record checks disclose previous convictions or cautions for non-specified offences, the agency may consider that the prospective adopter is not suitable to adopt. In such circumstances, the agency must exercise its discretion and decide whether to continue with Stage One. If it decides not to proceed, it must notify the prospective adopter in writing, with reasons, without delay. In circumstances where the application is a joint application, the agency may only inform the prospective adopter who is the convicted or cautioned individual of the specific reason for terminating Stage One. 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 One, the agency is 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, the agency should counsel the prospective adopter that its checks indicate that the agency must not continue with Stage One and that its checks indicate that the agency should not proceed with the application;
  • Information about the role of the prospective adopter in the stage one process;
  • Any applicable timescales;
  • Information about the process for making representations (including a complaint); and
  • Any other information that the agency considers relevant.

The visit will also discuss the following;

  • The additional required statutory checks including the need to obtain personal references. Prospective Adopters will be asked to provide the names of four personal referees, who are adults (not more than one of whom should be related to them), who have known them for at least five years who will give personal references on the prospective adopter. Referees should be people who know the prospective adopters well in a personal capacity. It is desirable that the referees have direct experience of caring for children, either in a personal or professional capacity. The assessing social worker will choose two of these referees to interview. A written report must be prepared of the interviews held with each of the referees and when completed they must be signed and dated by both the assessing social worker and the referees.

Where prospective adopters are married in a civil partnership or in an enduring relationship, referees should know both of them well, or additional referees will be required.

The prospective adopters will also be asked to provide the names of two members of their wider family; the assessing social worker will choose one of these to interview.

All referees will be asked to comment on the following:

  1. The length of time the referee has known the applicant, in what circumstances, how they met and how regularly they are in contact;
  2. The relationship including its stability and quality, the couple's strengths and ways of coping with stress and how mutually supportive the couple is;
  3. The applicants' general physical and emotional well being and their personality;
  4. How the applicants relate to children, with examples, and what experience the applicants have of caring for children;
  5. How the applicants have adjusted to childlessness if this is the case, how they have prepared to become adoptive parents, how much they have shared with the referees and how open they are in talking about the issues surrounding adoption;
  6. If the applicants have children of their own, how the referee thinks a child from a different ethnic background will impact on the other children in the family;
  7. Any reservations the referee has and whether the referee wholeheartedly supports the application;
  8. What support the referee is able to offer the prospective adopters;
  9. Whether the referee has any reason to believe the applicant would harm the children in their care.

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

  • A written reference may also be obtained from each applicant's last / current employer where they work with children or Adults at Risk;
  • Where the prospective applicant has 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;
  • The assessing social worker may also contact the previous partners of the applicants, and seek references from them where it is considered necessary. Where there were any children of the relationship or where children were cared for jointly, the social worker will arrange to interview them face-to-face wherever practicable. Where former partners have not jointly parented or cared for a child with the prospective adopter, they should generally not be approached unless there is a specific reason for doing so. Children of the applicant(s) living away from home may also be contacted, and references sought from them where considered appropriate;
  • In addition, as part of the assessment, where the applicant has children attending any type of educational or day care setting, the relevant provider may be contacted, with the permission of the applicant, for information regarding the applicant's ability to promote the child's education;
  • The prospective adopters will also be requested to obtain a medical report from their GP on Form AH. A standard letter and fee form will be given to the prospective adopters to give to their GP. However, the Medical Adviser may consider that such an examination / report is not necessary, for example where the applicant is a foster carer and a health report is already available. It should be explained that the Medical Adviser has strong reservations about young children being cared for by smokers. Coram BAAF also advises that children under 5 should not be placed with carers who smoke because of the potential risk to health. Walsall, as an Adoption Agency has implemented this guidance. However, we want to work alongside adopters in openly discussing the potential risks of smoking to adults and children and as such we can and will encourage prospective adopters to undertake cessation programmes. Once completed Form AH should be sent to the Medical Adviser, this AH incorporates a pen picture of the family and their life-style. The GP's report should have been written within the 6 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;
  • The assessment process including details as required in the prospective adopters report;
  • The on-line training requirements as part of Stage One and later Stage Two training requirements;
  • The needs of children waiting for adoption;
  • The completion of the ‘Tell Us About You’ booklet, which will give the assessing social worker valuable information about the history, experiences and values of those seeking to adopt. It will also provide some insight into the day to day life of the prospective adopter and their motivation for choosing adoption.

Whilst the importance of openness must be stressed to the prospective adopter, it should not be assumed that a failure to disclose information automatically implies that the 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.

3.2 Assessment Information

The following information must have been gathered during Stage One:

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 their 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; or
    • 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 Islands 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 the prospective adopter’s suitability to adopt and, if so, a written report should be obtained from that authority setting out that information;
  • The adoption agency may ask the prospective adopter to provide any further information the agency 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).

All of the above information is contained in our Adoption in the Black Country “Tell us About You” booklet. We expect all prospective adopters to complete this booklet prior to moving onto Stage Two.

3.3 Pre-Assessment Decision

The adoption agency must gather Stage One information and make a Pre-Assessment Decision as to whether the prospective adopter may be or is not suitable to adopt a child, within a period of eight weeks from the date on which the prospective adopter 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 the prospective adopter is not suitable to adopt a child, the prospective adopter must be provided with a clear written explanation of the reasons why they will not be able to proceed to Stage Two. 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 the agency’s local complaints procedure. They will also be able to raise general concerns about the process with First4Adoption. The Independent Review Mechanism is not available for decisions made during Stage One.

Where the Pre-Assessment Decision is that the prospective adopter might be suitable to adopt a child, the prospective adopter must be advised of the decision and that they have six months in which to notify the agency if they wish to proceed to Stage Two – The Assessment Stage.

If the prospective adopters provide notification of their wish to proceed outside this six months time limit, they will need to restart Stage One. They should be contacted within five working days of their notification and offered a re-entry interview. The Stage One Plan should take into account activities undertaken previously.


4. Stage 2 – The Assessment Process

4.1 Purpose and Process

Where the Pre-Assessment Decision is that the prospective adopter might be suitable to adopt a child, and they have notified the agency that they wish to precede, the application then proceeds to Stage Two of the process - the assessment process.

Stage Two is about intensive training and assessment. Intensive training should be provided as necessary and, in parallel, an assessment carried out of the prospective adopter’s suitability to adopt and a report produced of that assessment.

This stage should begin with a meeting or pre - planned phone call between the prospective adopter and the allocated social worker. The social worker should explain how Stage Two will operate and what will be required of the prospective adopter. The social worker should explain the decision-making process and the role of the Adoption Panel and the Independent Review Mechanism.

A decision must be reached as to whether the prospective adopter is suitable to adopt a child within four months of the date on which the agency received the prospective adopter’s notification that they wish 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 Two will end with the Agency Decision Maker’s decision about the suitability of the prospective adopter to adopt a child.

4.2 Prospective Adopter Assessment Agreement

A written agreement must be entered into with the prospective adopter (‘the prospective adopter assessment agreement’) which must include the following:

  • The procedure for assessing the prospective adopter’s suitability to adopt a child;
  • 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; and
  • Any other matters which the agency considers relevant.

4.3 Assessment

In conducting the assessment, the social worker should analyse and consider the information they ascertain from and about the prospective adopter, including any issues identified during the adoption preparation. The approach should be objective and inquiring, with information evaluated and its accuracy and consistency checked.

The assessment will comprise a series of interviews, the majority of which will take place in the applicants' home. Social workers carrying out such assessment will meet the requirements as to qualifications and experience of authors of Prospective Adopter's Reports, i.e. they will be qualified social workers with 3 years experience of child care social work, including direct experience of adoption or if not sufficiently experienced will be qualified social workers or student social workers supervised by a person with the requisite qualifications and experience. If the author of the report is not an employee, he / she must meet the qualifications / experience criteria as must his/her supervisor.

Applicants should be interviewed at least once both individually and with their partner, and all other members of the household will also be interviewed, including the children.

The areas covered in interviews will follow the subject areas outlined in the Prospective Adopter's Report and be consistent with the requirements of regulation 25 (2) and (3):

  • Individual profiles of all members of the household, including a photograph and physical description, racial origin, cultural and linguistic background, religious persuasion, personality and interests, relationship (if any) to the child;
  • Past and present relationships;
  • Motivation to adopt / childlessness;
  • Parenting capacity and experience with children;
  • Support network;
  • 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 chronology of key events in the applicant's life from birth must be compiled, showing his or her educational, employment, marital and relationship history and addresses for the previous 10 years; any gaps and/or unusual patterns should be explored;
  • All information provided by the applicant must be independently verified where possible;
  • Where an applicant has been divorced or separated, factors contributing to the breakdown of the relationship should be verified. (This applies equally to significant relationships between couples who are not married);
  • Where the applicants have pets, a risk assessment should be conducted and any associated risks should be taken into account with regard to the pet itself and where the pet is kept. Where necessary, an independent assessment should be undertaken by a vet to establish whether the dog falls within the scope of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.

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

Where the prospective adopters live outside the authority, the social worker should ascertain the extent of any support services identified as necessary in their local area.

  • The assessment will also cover the applicants' views on post-placement and post-order adoption contact, their willingness to pass on information to birth parents about the progress of the adopted child and their willingness to notify the adoption agency if the child dies during childhood or soon afterwards. The assessment should explore the prospective adopters' views on sharing parental responsibilities prior to an adoption order being made, and highlight potential area of conflict, e.g. views on immunisations and corporal punishment. The adequacy and safety of the prospective adoptive home and transport will be assessed.

These issues should be specifically reported on to the Adoption Panel.

4.4 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 the agency to assess and approve the prospective adopter as a temporary foster carer at the same time as they are carrying out the adopter approval process although they can do so if they and the prospective adopter wish to do so. The child’s local authority can arrange for the foster care assessment and approval of an approved adopter.

The agency 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.


5. Fast-Track Procedure for Approved Foster Carers and Previous Adopters Who Wish to Adopt

The requirements are modified for applicants who are approved foster carers or previous adopters. (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 the prospective adopter is suitable to adopt a child must be made within four months of the date on which the prospective adopter registered their interest in adopting a child. This includes the time taken to access information from adoption agencies and fostering services which have 15 working days to provide such information.

The information gathered during Stage One (the pre-assessment stage) and Stage Two (the assessment stage), including the checks and personal references, will form the basis of the Assessment Report, together with any other relevant information. This Report will be completed using the ‘Prospective Adopters Report’ format.

The social worker who assesses the prospective adopter should draft the Assessment Report highlighting any issues of concern and submit it to their 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 Two. 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 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.

Where information received during the assessment leads the agency to consider that the prospective adopter is unlikely to be considered suitable to adopt a child, a ‘brief Assessment Report’ may be prepared regardless of whether or not all the required assessment information has been obtained. A decision not to complete the full assessment is a serious step to take and advice should first be sought from the social work team leader or line manager. Depending on the nature of the information, advice may also need to be sought from the agency’s medical adviser or legal adviser, or both. The concerns should be explained to the prospective adopter and they should be offered counselling, involving other professionals as appropriate. As a result of the counselling and advice, the prospective adopter may decide to withdraw their application. If they decide not to withdraw their application, the brief assessment report should be prepared.

The report will also include a summary by the Medical Adviser of the health report obtained on the applicant/s.

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

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

When the Assessment Report is finalised, a copy should be sent to the applicants, and they must be notified that the application is to be referred to the Adoption Panel. The applicants should be invited to send any observations in writing within 5 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 5 working days (or, where that timescale is extended by the adoption agency, as soon as possible after the prospective adopter’s observations are received) the following must be sent to the Adoption Panel:

  • The Assessment 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; and
  • Any other relevant information obtained by the agency.

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

The applicants should also 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 applicants know a particular Panel member, the applicants may request that the Panel member stand down. (Panel members are in any event expected to declare an interest in these circumstances - see Adoption Panel Procedure.)

In preparation for the Adoption Panel, the social worker should take account of the following guidance - outlining the reports / papers that are required: Adoption Panel Paperwork Guidance.


6. The Panel Recommendation

In preparation for the Adoption Panel, the social worker should take account of the following guidance - outlining the reports / papers that are required: Adoption Panel Paperwork Guidance.

The assessing social worker will attend the Panel meeting together with the prospective adopters if they so wish. The decision to attend rests with the applicants and a wish not to attend will not prejudice consideration of their application.

Prospective adopters who decide they wish to attend should be fully prepared as to the procedure prior to their attendance.

Prospective adopters should be informed of the membership of the Panel. If the prospective adopters know a particular Panel member, the applicant may request that the Panel member stand down. (Panel members are in any event expected to declare an interest in these circumstances.)

Where the prospective adopters do not attend, the assessing social worker will take a photograph of the applicants to the Panel meeting.

The Panel will consider the written reports together with all the supporting documentation and any additional information presented verbally, and make a recommendation to the Agency Decision Maker (Adoption) regarding the outcome of the assessment. The Panel may request the agency to obtain any other relevant information which it considers necessary, and may obtain legal advice as it considers necessary in relation to the case.

Where, during the Stage Two Assessment stage, the agency was of the opinion that the prospective adopter is unlikely to be suitable to adopt, and prepared a brief Assessment Report without having obtained all the assessment information, then the Adoption Panel must either request the preparation of a full Assessment Report having obtained all the assessment information, or recommend that the prospective adopter is not suitable to adopt.

The recommendation will be recorded in writing and, where approval is recommended, will give advice on the number, age range, sex, likely needs and background of any children to be placed. This will be taken into account when a match is presented.

Reasons for the recommendations and any advice will also be recorded in the Panel's minutes.

The adoption worker undertaking the assessment will advise the prospective adopters of the Panel recommendation within 24 hours of the Panel meeting. This will be verbally, by telephone or, where appropriate, a home visit.


7. 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 the agency received the prospective adopter’s notification that they wished to proceed with the assessment process.

The decision may be delayed:

  • Where there are exceptional circumstances which mean that the decision cannot be made within that time; or
  • 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 (Adoption) will make a decision as to the approval of the applicant based on the Panel's recommendation. The decision maker may also express a view on the panel advice, which will be taken into account at the matching stage. The decision must be made within 7 working days of the Adoption Panel meeting and must be recorded, together with reasons.

The agency decision maker must consult with a senior colleague (not a Panel member) if minded to disagree with Panel. Any such discussion should be recorded on the Adopter's Adoption Case Record.

The decision must be communicated verbally within 2 working days to the applicants.

The Panel Administrator will send the applicants written notice of the decision, signed by the Agency Decision Maker, within 5 working days of the decision. Where the decision differs from the recommendation of the Adoption Panel, the reasons for the Panel recommendation will also be given. See Appendix A: Standard Decision Letter – Not Suitable to Adopt.

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.adoptionmatch.org.uk).

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.

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 Adoption Match 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 Adoption Match website.

They will also be informed of local support groups and training opportunities 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 and viewing publications such as Children Who Wait.

The adoption worker will review the adopters' approval at least annually and will report back to the Adoption Panel indicating any changes in circumstances and recommending any changes in approval. The review must be carried out by a social worker or manager not involved in the original assessment, and must consider the family circumstances, health, economic circumstances, work commitments, and the need to renew the Disclosure and Barring Service and health checks.

If the review considers the prospective adopters still suitable, they should be notified and a copy of the notification placed on the Adoption Case Record.

If the review considers the prospective adopters no longer suitable, a Prospective Adopter's Review Report must be presented to Panel. The prospective adopters will have the same rights to ask for an independent review or make representations as if the initial application had been refused.


8. Representations / Review Procedure

If a decision is made not to approve an application for approval, the applicant will be advised that if he or she wishes to challenge the decision, representations should be submitted within 28 days either directly to the agency or they may request a referral to the Independent Review Mechanism(run by Coram BAAF). N.B. Applicants can decide which representation procedure to choose - they cannot chose both. The prospective adopter will also be able to raise general concerns about the process with First4Adoption.

If no written notification or representations are received within this period, the decision to refuse the application can be confirmed.

The Panel Coordinator must receive notification of the wish to attend or make written representations to the Adoption Panel within 28 days of the date of the written notice of the decision.

If written representations or a request to attend the Adoption Panel are made within the period, the matter must be referred to the Adoption Panel for further consideration.

The Panel Coordinator will advise the applicant within 7 days of the date of the Panel meeting when they can attend or their written representations will be considered.

In these circumstances, applicants who wish to attend the meeting of the Adoption Panel can arrange for a friend or supporter to accompany them.

After considering the representations, the Panel will make further recommendations either confirming or amending their previous views, which the Agency Decision Maker (Adoption) will consider before a final decision is made.

Written notice of the final decision, together with reasons, must be sent to the applicant within 7 working days of the Panel meeting. A copy of the report to the Panel, the Panel's recommendation and the decision to refuse an application must be retained on the applicant's Adoption Case Record.

If the applicant decides to refer the matter to an Independent Review, the relevant Panel reports, Panel minutes and a record of the decision made and reasons will be sent to the Independent Review upon request.

The procedure for the Independent Review Mechanisim is carried out by Coram Children's Legal Centre on behalf of the Department for Education see IRM England and the applicant will be invited to attend the Independent Review.

After considering the representations, the Independent Review may make a recommendation, which the Agency Decision Maker (Adoption) will consider before a final decision is made.

Written notice of the final decision, together with reasons, must be sent to the applicant within 7 working days of the receipt of the Independent Review recommendation.

A copy of the report to the Panel, the Panel's recommendation and the decision to refuse an application must be retained on the applicant's Adoption Case Record.


9. Timescales

  • Where a potential applicant requests more detailed information about adoption, this information should be provided within ten 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 whether or not to accept this, unless there are exceptional circumstances which mean that longer is needed;
  • The adoption agency must gather Stage One information and make a pre-assessment decision as to whether the prospective adopter may be, or is not, suitable to adopt a child, within a period of eight weeks from the date on which the prospective adopter 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 One) 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 Two – the Assessment Stage;
  • 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 wish 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 the prospective adopter registered their interest in adopting a child.


10. 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:

  • The Prospective Adopter Stage One Plan;
  • The information and reports obtained by the agency;
  • The prospective adopter 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; and
  • 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.


11. Prospective Adopter Matching Plan

Where a prospective adopter has been approved as suitable to adopt a child, a Prospective Adopter Matching Plan, must be prepared, in consultation with the prospective adopter, which 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); and
  • Any other matters that the agency consider relevant.

12. Criteria for Prospective Adopters

12.1 Marital Status

Applications will be considered from married couples, co-habiting couples, those in civil partnerships or single people. In the case of couples, there is no minimum requirement on the length of the partnership, but the Panel will need to be satisfied about the stability of the relationship.

12.2 Religion

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

12.3 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. A prospective adopter 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 the child’s 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.

12.4 Age

The minimum age for adopters is 21 years.

There is no specific upper age limit and some damaged children may benefit from more mature and experienced adopters. However, adopters are needed who will be able to meet all the needs of the child, throughout his or her childhood.

12.5 Gender

Applications will be considered from people of either sex.

12.6 Sexual Orientation

Applications will be considered from people of any sexual orientation.

12.7 Income

Size of income, whether high or low, is less important than attitude to it and ability to live within it.

12.8 Health

Applicants will be required to have a full medical and undergo any further tests/checks that may be required by the Panel's Medical Adviser.

In relation to smoking, see Walsall's Policy on Smoking for Foster Carers, Adopters, Children and Young People in Care

12.9 Criminal Convictions

Anyone who has been cautioned or convicted of a Schedule One Offence will not be considered. Some 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 disclosures will be referred to the ‘Safer Recruitment Panel’ who will make a recommendation regarding suitability to continue with an assessment.

12.10 Accommodation

This must offer a safe environment and must provide space so that children do not have to share a bedroom with an adult nor boys share with girls beyond the age of 2. Applicants living in accommodation with one bedroom will not be offered a placement until they have more space.

12.11 Fertility Tests / Treatment

Childless couples wishing to adopt will be required to have completed fertility tests and treatment, before a Registration of Interest can be accepted. It is essential for couples to come to terms with their infertility before moving on to start the adoption process. The final decision remains with the agency. The decision as to how long people should wait between completing fertility treatment and commencing the adoption process will be made on a case by case basis.

12.12 Applicants who have a Child

Applications will be accepted from people who already have a child, in which case the needs of the child already in the family will be given due consideration.

12.13 Residence in the United Kingdom

Applicants do not have to have British Citizenship, but should normally be resident in the United Kingdom. Where applicants are only temporary residents in the United Kingdom care needs to be taken to establish how long they expect to remain in the country and whether a Court can be assured that a full adoption order can be obtained on return to the country of domicile.

12.14 Location

Applications are particularly welcome from those who reside within the area of the West Midlands Regional Consortium but outside of Walsall. Specific placements may be considered out of the region.

12.15 Employees

Applications to adopt will not be accepted from employees of Walsall Children's Services Department who have a role involving contact with children or access to confidential information. The adoption service will, however, offer advice and/or counselling to such employees.

12.16 Lifestyle

Children needing adoptive families come from a wide variety of backgrounds and have an infinite variety of needs. It follows therefore that adopters with an equally wide range of life experiences and skills will provide the best range of resources to meet children's needs.

12.17 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 Department considers it is in the child's best interests for such contact to take place.


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.

End