Children Relinquished for Adoption
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter set out the actions to be taken both prior to and after the birth of the child.
The Adoption and Children Act 2002 sets out specific requirements that the local authority must adhere to in relation to a child relinquished for adoption by a birth parent.
In the majority of cases, the child's birth mother will have decided prior to the child's birth that she wishes to relinquish the baby for adoption. There are, however, some instances in which this decision is made shortly after the birth of the child.
See also: One Adoption West Yorkshire Procedures.
AMENDMENTSection 3, Consent was updated to include additional information on parental capacity to consent, in line with High Court case-law.
1. Procedure Regardless of the Timing of the Notification to Relinquish a Child for Adoption
The Social Worker (Duty and Advice service) will be allocated the case and at which point a Single Assessment should be commenced. This should be carried out alongside a social worker from the Adoption Team in order for information regarding adoption to be share. The purpose the Single Assessment is as follows:
- To ascertain as much information regarding the parent and child's circumstances as possible;
- To ascertain the wishes and feelings of the birth mother and of any other person the local authority considers relevant;
- To determine whether or not it would be appropriate to return the child to the care of their birth parent should they wish to continue/resume care of the child at any point in the process.
2. Relinquishment for Adoption of a Child Aged Less Than 6 Weeks
2.1 Pre-Birth Assessment/Actions Required
When a pregnant woman approaches the local authority and indicates her intention to relinquish the baby for adoption, the following action must be taken.
The woman should be offered pre-birth counselling, which should include an explanation of the options for the child's future care:
- Staying with the parent or parents with close support where possible;
- Short term foster care, with the aim of returning the child with support;
- Long term placement within the child's extended family;
- Placement for adoption;
- The possibility of birth father or his extended family wanting to care for the child.
The Adoption Agency Regulations 2005 require the local authority to provide an independent counselling service for the parent of the child. In all cases, following the initial work undertaken by the social worker, Kirklees refers the birth parent(s) to the Independent Counselling Service provided for Kirklees by Northorpe Hall.
The Social Worker must, so far as is reasonably practicable, explain and provide the parent(s) with written information about:
- The procedure for placement for adoption;
- The legal implications; of
- Giving consent to placement for adoption under section 19 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 including the referral to CAFCASS for the taking of parental consent.
The Social Worker must establish the wishes and feelings of the birth mother and the local authority should, as reasonably practicable, ascertain the mother's views about:
- The child;
- The placement of the child for adoption, including any wishes and feelings about religious or cultural upbringing;
- Contact with the child if the local authority is authorised to place the child for adoption or the child is adopted.
If the mother refuses the offer of counselling this must be clearly recorded on the child's case file. The Social Worker should also write to the parent(s) confirming this position and if appropriate, their legal representative, to ensure that they are fully aware the situation.
The local authority should also provide pre-birth counselling and ascertain the wishes and feelings of the expected child's father.
The local authority should consider the options for the child and where it considers that adoption is the preferred option, the Social Worker should complete the following:
- Commence the Child's Permanence Report and the Health Report;
- Arrange for the Medical Advisor and the Adoption Panel to consider the case as soon as possible after the child is born.
2.2 Post-Birth Assessment/Actions Required
When the child is born the mother and where appropriate, the child's father should be offered and if requested receive further counselling to ascertain whether they still wish to relinquish the child for adoption.
If they do, the Social Worker should make arrangements for the child to be placed with approved foster carers and the foster carer should be provided with the relevant Children in Care documentation.
The Social Worker should complete the Child's Permanence Report and arrange for the Medical Advisor to complete the Health Report and any other reports as required.
These reports should be submitted to the Adoption Panel for it to consider whether the child should be placed for adoption.
When the local authority's Agency Decision Maker decides that the child should be placed for adoption the parent(s) should be notified of its decision.
The Social Worker will then ascertain whether the parent(s) are prepared to agree to the child being placed for adoption with prospective adopters identified in any agreement or with any prospective adopters who may have been chosen by the agency.
Subject to the agreement being signed and witnessed by a CAFCASS officer, the local authority may now consider the match of the child at panel and subsequently place the child with prospective adopters.
The Social Worker should maintain contact with the child's birth parent(s) and ascertain when the child reaches 6 weeks of age, whether they are prepared to consent to the placement of the child for adoption and to the child's adoption.
Under section 19 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 each parent may consent to the child being placed for adoption.
Consent may be either to placement with specified prospective adopters or to placement with prospective adopters chosen by the local authority. The Adoption Agency must be sure that the parent or the guardian is competent to give consent.
During the counselling sessions, care should be given to identifying whether the parent(s) are capable of giving consent, especially if there is evidence of: learning disabilities; mental health issues; cultural, ethnic or faith issues; consent being given conditionally, etc.
Where there is concern as to the parent's understanding, an additional and specialist assessment should be sought from another professional - preferably someone who already knows the parent, such as an approved mental health social worker; a disabilities social worker; GP; midwife or health visitor; psychiatrist / psychologist or someone who can offer a faith or cultural perspective.
If the issue of competency is known at the point of referral or at an early stage in the process, then the local authority should not ask Cafcass to witness consent, until any such issues are resolved. Where a parent is under 18 years (i.e. considered to be a 'child' themselves within the meaning of the Children Act 1989), they can be considered to give valid consent if assessed as competent by the counselling practitioner.
The High Court in Re S (Child as parent: Adoption: Consent)  EWHC 2729 (Fam) made clear that parental Capacity to consent to a child being accommodated under s.20 Children Act 1989, does not equate to their capacity to consent to an adoption order in respect of the child - the capacity to consent is decision-specific. (That case concerned a 'child parent' (i.e. below 18 years of age) with learning disabilities. The principles, however, will be of relevance in considering parental capacity, irrespective of their age).
The court set out the salient or 'sufficient' information which is required to be understood by a parent regarding extra-familial adoption:
- Your child will have new legal parents, and will no longer be your son or daughter in law;
- Adoption is final, and non-reversible;
- During the process, other people (including social workers from the adoption agency) will be making decisions for the child, including who can see the child, and with whom the child will live;
- You may obtain legal advice if you wish before taking the decision;
- The child will live with a different family forever; you will (probably) not be able to choose the adopters;
- You will have no right to see your child or have contact with your child; it is highly likely that direct contact with your child will cease, and any indirect contact will be limited;
- The child may later trace you, but contact will only be re-established if the child wants this;
- There are generally two stages to adoption; the child being placed with another family for adoption, and being formally adopted;
- For a limited period of time you may change your mind; once placed for adoption, your right to change your mind is limited, and is lost when an adoption order is made.
When determining the competence of a parent in these circumstances, 'all practicable steps' must be taken to help them to make the decision, for example using simple language, visual aids or other means. A parent will be treated as understanding the information relevant to a decision if they are able to understand an explanation of it given to them in a way which is appropriate to their circumstances.
The decision to consent to adoption is significant and life-changing. Before exercising their decision-making, the parent should freely and fully understand the information set out on the consent forms, which should be conveyed and explained to them in an appropriate way; there is no expectation that the parent would be able to understand the precise language of the consent forms.
If there is any doubt about the competence of a parent to give consent to adoption or placement for adoption, the issue should be referred to a court.
Consent to placement must be given by signing a prescribed form, witnessed by a CAFCASS officer (who must be satisfied that consent is given unconditionally and with a full understanding of the consequences).
Under section 20 of the Act a parent may also at the same time or later give 'advance consent' to the making of an Adoption Order in the future if no specific arrangements are being proposed at the time. A parent may decide at this point or later that they do not wish to be notified of the final adoption hearing.
The parent(s) can withdraw their consent at any time up to the point the prospective adopter(s) apply to the court to make an Adoption Order. Where consent is withdrawn, the local authority is required to immediately review its decision to place the child for adoption.
Should the local authority determine that the child should not return to the care of either parent the consideration should be given to an application for a Placement Order. This prevents the child's removal from the care of the local authority/placement until a court determines the appropriate course of action.