Relinquished Babies Guidance
The term "relinquished baby" is used to describe a child whose parent(s) ask the local authority to place their child for adoption. This can happen at any age. Occasionally, a parent will approach the local authority before the birth of their child, and this time should be used to explore options of support for the mother and child. However, a parent cannot legally give informed Consent to relinquish a child under the age of 6 weeks for adoption even if the child is Accommodated under Section 20 1989 Children Act.
This guidance deals with the first stage of the adoption process for relinquished babies (i.e. identifying that a child should be placed for adoption). It also summarises the counselling and support that will be made available to the birth family in these circumstances, and the appropriate referral to CAFCASS.
It should be read in the overall context of Walsall Children's Social Care Permanence Strategy (see Permanence Overarching Strategy).
Statutory adoption guidance sets out a process to be followed in the case of relinquished children under the age of six weeks (details of legislation at www.legislation.gov.uk) (see also Adoption National Minimum Standards). This is based on the supposition that Children's Social Care is approached in the early stages of the expectant mother's pregnancy and that her intention to relinquish does not waver. Experience has shown, however, that this does not always match the reality, which includes concealed pregnancies and/or late decisions to relinquish a child for adoption. It should also be acknowledged that many birth mothers may change their mind about adoption once the child has been born.
It should be remembered that work with relinquishing birth mothers is based on the principle that adoption is a service for children and not a service for adults. Whilst the circumstances of mothers who have expressed a wish for their baby to be adopted must be carefully and sensitively considered, every effort should be made to explore the possibility of the mother or father caring for the child, or of the child being cared for within the extended birth family.
2. Responding to an Enquiry
A request to relinquish a baby for adoption will normally be made via the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) and will be allocated for further assessment to a social worker in the Initial Response Service (IRS). As appropriate knowledge of adoption will be necessary to counsel birth parents on the implications of adoption for the child, themselves and their wider family, the IRS worker will need to liaise with the Adoption Team to identify a colleague with experience of adoption, and arrange a joint visit to the expectant mother.
The workers will establish the circumstances of the case and help the expectant mother to consider the possible options for the child's future care, as follows:
- Staying with the parent or parents with close support where possible;
- Short term foster care, with the aim of returning the child with support;
- A permanent placement within the child's wider family;
- Placement for adoption.
When discussing the meaning of adoption it is important to make sure that each of the consenting parents has been made aware of:
- The lifelong implications;
- The legal consequences of consenting to placement for adoption s19 and the advanced consent to the making of an adoption order s20 of Adoption and Children Act 2002 and the legal effects of adoption (see full legislation at www.legislation.gov.uk);
- Contact issues, for example: including the parents/guardians wishes about possible future involvement in the child's life;
- The need for information for the later life for the child and for inclusion in the child's permanence report to include the provision of photographs and family history;
- Whether the relinquishing parent wishes to be involved in selecting the new parents for the child and/or give their consent to placement with particular adopters;
- The availability of adoption support services and intermediary services for help in searching for the child when they become 18 years of age;
- Support available to the birth parents and family beyond the child's adoption;
- The rights of the child to obtain information about his or her birth parent(s) once they reach the age of 18;
- The role of CAFCASS in ensuring that consent is given unconditionally and with full understanding i.e. without any conditions attached, including contact.
The workers should also explain Walsall Children's Social Care's obligations under the Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005 to counsel and seek the views of a father with Parental Responsibility. In cases where the father does not have Parental Responsibility, he is not required or entitled to consent to placement for adoption or advanced consent to adoption.
A birth mother may prefer not to disclose the father's identity. If a mother refuses to disclose the father's identity, legal advice should be sought without delay. However, the birth mother should be advised of the importance of providing as full information as possible as this will help the child in later life.
The social worker should assess as far as possible the likelihood of a birth mother changing her mind about adoption. If the circumstances and expressed wishes of the birth mother indicate that this is unlikely, the social worker should liaise with the Adoption Team to establish whether a placement with prospective adopters might be possible.
The social worker should explain to the birth mother that it is sometimes possible to place a baby direct with prospective adopters if the birth mother gives written agreement, and that she would be given the opportunity to meet with any prospective adopters identified. It should be made clear that this agreement is not the same as giving consent to the child being adopted which can only be given once the child is six weeks old, and must be witnessed by a CAFCASS officer (see Consent to Adoption below).
The birth mother should also be informed, however, that where it is not possible to place directly with prospective adopters, the child will be placed with foster carers until suitable prospective adopters can be identified.
On receiving a request from parent(s) and/or guardians that their child be placed for adoption, the social worker must immediately send an Advanced Notice letter to the CAFCASS office that is nearest to the home of the relinquishing parent(s). The advanced notification should give an expected date of the Adoption panel and a date when the Schedule 2 information for CAFCASS will be completed. The social worker should also inform CAFCASS of any special circumstances relating to contacting the relinquishing parent (Annexe 2, letter 1, CAFCASS Protocol for Children Relinquished for Adoption).
3. Once the Child is Born
When the child is born, the birth mother should be encouraged to spend some time with the baby and to have photographs taken for the purposes of life story work. They should also be advised to name the child and to subsequently register the birth within the required timescales.
The baby will be placed with either the prospective adopters identified, with the signed agreement of the birth mother, or with foster carers.
The social worker should counsel the mother to confirm whether she still wishes to place the child for adoption. The mother should be given an explanation of all procedures relevant to adoption, and the legal implications of adoption. The social worker must ensure that her wishes and feelings are ascertained 3.4 The social worker should arrange for photographs to be taken of the child and, if they agree, the parents and other significant people and places, for inclusion in the child's Life Story Book.
A father with Parental Responsibility has equal rights to the mother and, so far as is reasonably practicable, the obligations to counsel and inform apply to him as they do to the mother. Like the mother, his wishes and feelings regarding the child, the child's placement for adoption, including his wishes and feelings about the child's religious and cultural upbringing, and issues of contact, must be ascertained and taken into account.
Children's Social Care is not bound to inform and consult a father without Parental Responsibility in all circumstances. It may sometimes be inappropriate to do so. Legal advice should always be sought before a decision is made about informing and consulting a father without Parental Responsibility.
Where the identity of a father without Parental Responsibility is known to Children's Social Care, and the agency is satisfied it is appropriate to do so, Children's Social Care must carry out the same requirements that would apply if he were a father with Parental Responsibility. The social worker must also ascertain if possible whether he wishes to acquire Parental Responsibility for the child or intends applying for a Child Arrangements Order or Contact Order.
If a father's identity cannot be established, Children's Social Care should seek legal advice.
At the time a child is relinquished for adoption there are no court proceedings. The Family Procedure Rules 2010 provides 'Where no proceedings have started an adoption agency or local authority may ask the High Court for directions on the need to give a father without parental responsibility notice of the intention to place a child for adoption'. However, applications to the High Court could add very considerable delay to the child's placement. Such applications should not be routine, given the entitlement of Children's Social care, as the adoption agency, to make this judgement.
The social worker must maintain close contact with the birth mother throughout this time. Every encouragement should be given to her to visit her child in the foster home and to attend reviews. Such arrangements should be as flexible as possible so that no barriers are put in the way of the birth mother developing a relationship with and sense of responsibility for her child
4. Preparing to Bring the Case to the Adoption Panel
Once the initial LAC Review has agreed the plan for adoption, the social worker must urgently arrange for the Initial Health Assessment form to be completed by the Medical Adviser. This can only be done once the social worker has taken the following actions:
- Send Form M (obstetric history of mother) and Form B neonatal health of child) to the hospital where the baby was born;
- Form PH must be given to/completed with each birth parent wherever possible;
- Consent form must be signed by birth parent with Parental Responsibility. This gives consent to obtaining and sharing information;
- Give the Annex to Form C (for children aged 0 - 5yrs) to the child's carer. Even though the child will only have been with the carer for a matter of weeks, this form may provide additional information about the child's early development which can be incorporated into the medical report. The carer should be asked to complete this without delay and return it to the worker.
All the above must be copied and sent to the Medical Adviser as a matter of urgency so that the Initial Health Assessment can be completed as quickly and fully as possible. Forms should be sent to the Medical Advisor's secretary at Blakenhall Village Centre, Thames Road, Blakenhall, Walsall WS3 1LZ.
The social worker must obtain a Panel date and immediately notify the Medical Adviser with the request that a medical report should be prepared. This will inevitably mean that the baby will need to be medically examined as no previous health assessment will exist.
The social worker prepares the Child's Permanence Report for the Adoption Panel using the CoramBAAF template which must be used to ensure compliance with the requirements of the Adoption Agency Regulations with regard to the restriction of the preparation of adoption reports.
In addition to providing the evidence to the Adoption Panel that the child should be placed for adoption, the Child's Permanence Report:
- Provides the basic tool for matching the child with prospective adoptive parents;
- Supplies the information to prospective adopters on which they will base their decision about the viability of a match;
- Will be available to the adopted adult seeking information from the adoption agency about their life history and heritage.
It is therefore vital that the report is completed as fully as possible.
The Adoption Panel may defer making a recommendation if it feels that there is insufficient information in the report, or a lack of evidence to enable it to recommend that the child should be placed for adoption.
Arrangements should be made to share information from the Child's Permanence Report with the birth parent/s. Although a copy of the full report may be provided, it may be considered more appropriate to provide only those parts of the report that relate to the birth parent/s. The report, or relevant parts of it, should be provided before the Adoption panel meets so that the birth parent/s can comment on it and have their feedback recorded. Where this has not happened, the reasons should be recorded. (CoramBAAF Form CPR includes specific sections for the views and comments of birth parents to be recorded).
Birth parent(s) should be informed orally of the agency's decision within two working days (by the social worker) and written confirmation will be sent to them within five working days (by the Panel Co-ordinator).
Birth fathers who do not have Parental Responsibility should also be notified if their identity and whereabouts are known, if Children's Social Care considers this appropriate.
5. Consent to Adoption
In the circumstances where the child is being relinquished for adoption, it is assumed that the birth mother will wish to consent to the placement of the child for adoption, and to the making of an Adoption Order. Having sent the Advanced Notice letter to the CAFCASS office that is nearest to the home of the relinquishing parent(s), the social worker should confirm that this is the case, and explain that a referral will be made to CAFCASS for an officer to visit and witness her consent once the Adoption Panel has recommended adoption and the agency has confirmed this.
- As soon as the agency decision is made, the social worker must: provide a copy of the CAFCASS information leaflet to birth parents with parental responsibility;
- Make a request for a CAFCASS officer to witness consent using the CAFCASS Notification Letter (Annexe 2, letter 2, CAFCASS Protocol for Children Relinquished for Adoption).
Section 19 consent to placement for adoption
Consent under section 19 is given in writing on the prescribed form and must be formally witnessed by a CAFCASS practitioner, appointed at the request of Children's Social Care, who must ensure consent is given with full understanding and unconditionally. One of the following forms must be used:
- A100 - Consent to placement for adoption with any prospective adopters chosen by the Adoption Agency;
- A 101 - Consent to the placement for adoption with identified prospective adopters;
- A 102 - Consent to the placement for adoption with identified prospective adopter(s) and, if the placement breaks down, with any prospective adopter(s) chosen by the adoption agency.
Section 20 advance consent to the making of an adoption order
The birth parent may also give advance consent under section 20 to the making of an adoption order. This consent must also be formally witnessed by a CAFCASS practitioner appointed at the request of Children's Social Care. The form which must be used for this is:
- A103 - Advance Consent to Adoption.
Statement with section 20 consent
At any time after giving consent under section 20 (including when interviewed by the CAFCASS practitioner), the parent can make a statement that they do not wish to be notified of the application for an adoption order under section 20 (4)
If this statement is made to the CAFCASS practitioner it will be recorded in writing and forwarded to Children's Social Care on the appropriate proforma.
The social worker must send the following information to CAFCASS using the template available -Schedule 2 - Information for CAFCASS (i.e. Schedule 2 of Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005) (see Annexe 3 - CAFCASS Protocol for Children Relinquished for Adoption for proforma):
- A certified copy of the child's birth certificate;
- Name and address or contact address of the parents/guardians whose consent is to be witnessed (Note: if parent is outside the UK, CAFCASS is not required to witness consent);
- A chronology of actions and decisions by Children's Social Care;
- If the child is Accommodated and in foster care;
- If the child has been placed for adoption under six weeks of age after parental agreement;
- The date on which Children's Social Care decided that the child should be placed for adoption, or the projected date for the Adoption panel meeting and agency decision;
- Confirmation by Children's Social Care that it has counselled and explained the legal implications of both consent to placement under s19 of the Act and s20 and provided the parent/guardian with written information about this together with a copy of the written information provided to him/ her/ them;
- Such other information about the parent/guardian or other information as Children's Social Care considers the CAFCASS practitioner may need to know. For example, whether another professional's views were sought about competency, and confirmation that they considered the parent/guardian to be competent;
- Information about the lack of awareness of relatives about the child's birth or adoption plans, for example, if the birth of the child or the plan for adoption is not known to the birth father or relatives - what steps should be taken by the CAFCASS practitioner in arranging to meet the consenting parent / guardian to preserve their confidentiality.
Once the Advanced Notice letter to the CAFCASS office that is nearest to the home of the relinquishing parent(s) has been sent usually CAFCASS will not be contacted until Children's Social Care has decided, after Adoption panel recommendation and agency decision, that the child should be placed for adoption as any other plan does not require section 19 or section 20 consent.
However, the law permits consent to be given before the Adoption panel has met and the adoption agency decision has been made. This would be in circumstances for example where a parent is anxious to sign section 19 consent as soon as her child reaches 6 weeks of age, and/or there is a risk she will no longer be available to sign thereafter. If Children's Social Care is satisfied that as much effort as possible has been made to counsel and advise the parent, in these circumstances an urgent request for a CAFCASS practitioner to witness consent should be made and acted upon by CAFCASS before the panel meeting and agency decision.
This urgency is necessary because Children's Social Care must apply for a Placement Order if the mother does not sign to consent and a very considerable delay to the child's placement for adoption may ensue.