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2.2 Assessment and Approval of Prospective Adopters

RELEVANT GUIDANCE

Adoption Statutory Guidance (revised 1 July 2013)

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

AMENDMENT

In June2017, Section 6, Intensive Preparation / 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. Pre-Application Stage (Recruitment of Potential Adopters)
  2. Stage One Pre-Assessment Process
  3. Intensive Preparation Group
  4. Checks and References
  5. Sharing Information for the Purposes of Prospective Adopter Assessments
  6. Intensive Preparation / Assessment
  7. Prospective Adopter's Report
  8. The Panel Recommendation
  9. After the Panel Recommendation
  10. Representations / Independent Review Procedure
  11. Review of Prospective Adopter's Approval
  12. Criteria for Prospective Adopters


1. Pre-Application Stage (Recruitment of Potential Adopters)

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, meeting local, regional and national need.

Our recruitment strategy positively encourages diverse potential adopters, welcoming applications from single people as well as couples regardless of age, sexuality and racial cultural background. Potential adopters will not be turned away on the basis that their ethnicity and culture is not shared with those Northumberland children waiting to be placed with adoptive parents or because of their age - there is no upper age restriction on applying to be adoptive parents.

We will provide a service to potential adopters that is consistent with the Customer Care Standards.

All potential adopters making an initial enquiry through our website, email or telephone will be responded to on the same or following working day by the Recruitment Officer, the Enquiries Assistant or another member of the team in their absence. Email and web enquiries will be monitored each day. Potential adopters will be provided with information about the process, Northumberland Adoption Agency and offered the opportunity to find out more through attending information events, monthly drop-ins or offered the opportunity to meet a member of the service on a face to face basis at the office.

Potential applicants may approach First4Adoption or the adoption agency for general information about adoption. 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.

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.

Where a potential adopter is enquiring about inter-country adoption they will be provided information about the domestic adoption process and looked after children in Northumberland and within the UK and encouraged to consider what they might be able to offer these children. 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.

Following the telephone discussion, where the potential adopter wishes to consider proceeding further, they will be sent an Information Pack which will include their Registration of Interest Form (ROI Form) and information in relation to the adoption process, sources of further information including First4Adoption adoption gateway, information about children requiring adoptive placements (including their age ranges, background and characteristics), the Habitual Residence and Domicile requirements for adoptive parents to be sent out if necessary, the assessment process and timescales (including the checks, references and stages), matching, the adoption support passport, the Independent Review Mechanism (see Section 10, Representations / Independent Review Procedure) and the Complaints procedure and Statement of Purpose. The information pack must be sent within 5 working days of the initial enquiry. The Recruitment Officer and Enquiries Assistant will be responsible for ensuring the pack is sent out and will request that it is sent out within the required time scales by the Administration Support Team. The enquiry date, the initial telephone call date and the date the pack was sent out will be recorded by the Recruitment Officer and Enquiries Assistant to monitor performance.

The Information Pack, will also contain a letter ROI (initial) asking the potential adopter to complete their ROI and asking them to complete and return to the Family Placement Service if they wish to progress to Stage One of the Adoption Process. The letter will indicate the timescale in which they could become approved adopters ready for a match if they return the ROI promptly. (this will be 7 months unless eligible for a fast track assessment). The Recruitment Officer or Enquiries Assistant will make a follow up telephone call to all those sent an Information Pack within 5 working days. They will provide further information to any questions and encourage return of the ROI.

Eligibility for Fast Track Assessments

Foster carers who are requesting to adopt a child they are currently looking after should be asked to put their request in writing. The request should specifically outline how they would meet the child's long-term needs. The Agency will convene a foster carer proposal meeting and inform the foster carer whether they will support the application verbally and follow up in writing. If the Agency support the request the foster carer will be informed verbally and in writing and given an Information Pack and Registration of Interest Form to complete and return.

If the child in question has been in placement for more than 12 months then the Agency must undertake a full assessment.

Approved foster carers who wish to be assessed as adopters but not for a specific child in their care should make an initial enquiry with the agency and if they were assessed under Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011 they are eligible for a fast track assessment. In such circumstances, the assessment should be completed by the assessing Family Placement social worker and the draft Prospective Adopter's Report submitted to the manager within three months of the ROI prior to being submitted to Panel.

Second time adopters (post 2005) will have their assessment completed within 4 months.

The procedure for any enquirer requesting a second placement will be the same as for new applicants however there is the additional expectation that 15 months normally needs to have elapsed after placement of children who should be settled and adoption orders should have been granted and the assessment will be completed within the shorter timescale of 4 months if the enquirer adopted post 2005. The enquirer must meet the current recruitment criteria.

Adopters who wish to be assessed for the siblings (full or half) of the child/ren they have already adopted are also eligible for a fast track assessment.


2. Stage One Pre-Assessment Process

The Pre-assessment process will take no more than 2 months (unless there are exceptional circumstances) and will commence from receipt of the ROI.

The Pre-assessment process will in parallel:

  • Provide preparation information and initial training. This guided process will be flexible and take account of the wishes and requirements of the prospective Adopter as agreed in a Prospective Adopter Stage One Plan;
  • Ascertain the suitability of the prospective adopter to progress to stage two including the completion of checks and references.

Upon receipt of the ROI the Family Placement Assistant Manager (Assessment) or other manager in their absence will decide, within 3 working days, based on the information provided in the ROI Form, the Adopter Criteria and upon the capacity of the service if they intend to accept the ROI.

Where the manager is uncertain if the potential adopter meets the criteria they will arrange for the duty Family Placement Worker to contact them and either gain more information through a planned telephone call or home visit.

Where the ROI has been submitted incomplete, it will be returned and the potential adopter asked to complete and return.

Where the manager decides that the potential adopter does not meet the criteria or the service does not have the capacity to accept the ROI, they will write to them giving reasons and signposting them to other adoption agencies and the First4Adoption Gateway and provide details of Northumberland Complaints Service. (ROI non acceptance letter).

Where the manager decides to accept the ROI they will:

  • Arrange for the prospective adopter to be informed within 5 working days of receipt of ROI;
  • Write to the prospective adopter to inform them. (ROI acceptance letter);
  • Allocate a Family Placement Social Worker to undertake an Initial Visit and to verify identity and provide DBS form for completion and return;
  • Notify the Recruitment Officer of the decision;
  • Notify the Administrative Support Team to open a case file record of the prospective adopter, commence three personal reference requests and health, ICS / Swift and OLA checks. A DBS check will be submitted upon completion and return

Initial Visit

The Adoption Service Manager will arrange for duty to set up an initial visit. The visit must be undertaken and a report completed within 10 working days of the Managers decision to accept the ROI. If the potential adopter is not available this must be clearly recorded.

Prior to making the initial visit, a standard letter ROI (visit) will be sent outlining the areas to be covered, including original papers to be available to prove identity.

The purpose of the initial visit is to:

  • Confirm the identity of the prospective applicants;
  • To provide further information about the adoption process;
  • Complete the Prospective Adopter Stage One Plan in partnership with the prospective adopter;
  • Provide DBS form for completion;
  • Undertake an initial assessment of the prospective adopters and their homes suitability and complete an Assessment Report (See Initial Assessment Report Guidelines);
  • Initial exploration with prospective adopters around the characteristics of child / children they wish to adopt.

If any factors emerge which may have an adverse effect on an application, appropriate advice will be given. Prospective applicants should be specifically asked to identify anything that they know may preclude them from adopting.

The Recruitment Officer or Enquiry Assistant will:

  • Monitor return of signed stage one agreement;
  • Contact the prospective adopter to arrange for them to attend initial training and provide other additional information and learning resources;
  • Maintain regular contact, as agreed in the Prospective Adopter Stage One Plan, to address any issues or questions as they arise;
  • Monitor progress and report on this to the manager.

Initial Preparation Training and Information

The initial preparation process is designed to support prospective adopters to make informed choices and decisions. Preparation resources should be informed by the prospective adopters, their particular circumstances and needs. It might include a range and combination of resources and opportunities as agreed in the Prospective Adopter Stage One Plan.

Prospective adopters will be invited to undertake initial preparation training during the pre-assessment stage. This will be an opportunity for them to learn more about adoption. It will not be a requirement that they undertake this training before progressing to the assessment stage, but they will be expected to complete it at some stage as a part of the assessment process. They will also have been expected to undertake some form of preparation learning.

The providers of training and learning will be expected to raise any issues that arise might inform the decision about progression to the Assessment Stage can be identified.

Potential adopters at the pre-assessment stage may be invited to also attend the intensive Preparation Course if they wish and this is considered appropriate by the Assistant Manager (Assessment).

Decision to Progress to Assessment Stage Two

The Recruitment Officer or Enquires Assistant will in advance of the 2 month time scale provide the Prospective Adopter case file to the Family Placement Assistant Manager (Assessment) for a decision on progression to the assessment stage. This record will include:

  • The Prospective Adopter Stage One Plan;
  • Assessment Report;
  • ROI;
  • Health and other checks;
  • DBS status;
  • Written personal references;
  • Information on training and preparation undertaken.

Once the manager is satisfied they are in receipt of the information they need to make a decision they will within 5 working days write to the prospective adopter with their decision.

If the manager decides that a prospective adopter should not progress to stage two at that time they will write giving their reasons, providing information on how they can access the Client Relations should they wish to make a complaint and where appropriate providing guidance on any changing circumstances which would enable them to progress at some future date. They will also be provided information about First4Adoption. (End of stage one rejection letter).

Where a decision is made to proceed the manager will:

  • Send a letter (end of stage one, offer of Stage two) informing them of the decision within 5 working days and, when they have replied via email, invite them to attend the next intensive Preparation Group;
  • Allocate a suitably qualified and experienced Family Placement Social Worker to arrange to make a telephone call and where appropriate to visit to undertake Stage two Prospective Adopter Plan for a prospective adopter assessment. (see Adoption Panel Procedure, Reports to Adoption Panel);
  • Set a target Panel date and associated assessment submission dates;
  • Ensure the Administrative Support Team is notified of the decision and allocation date, so that the time scales can be monitored. Also to request that remaining references are sought.

The prospective adopters can choose to postpone progression from Stage One to Stage Two for up to 6 months. The prospective adopter will be asked to confirm their intention in writing and a record kept on their file. The assessment can progress up to this 6 month period, but after that the ROI will be terminated and the prospective Adopter will be required to submit a new ROI.

The Part Two Assessment Stage must be completed in 4 months, from the date of completion of part One to the Agency Decision Maker making a decision on approval.

The Prospective Adopter Part Two Plan will include agreed planned dates, the process for assessment and further preparation including training. The Plan will set out the expectations of the prospective adopter as well as the agency. The plan will set a planned date for Panel and approval. Given that any delay in assessment impacts on the permanence options for children, the assessment will generally be no more than 4 months from the decision to proceed to stage two.

In some cases the prospective adopter may choose a longer time scale. In these circumstances they will be asked to put in writing their proposed time scale and reasons and confirm that the decision made was their own. The revised timescales should be incorporated into the Prospective Adopter Part Two Plan.

Though the assessment stage should be completed within the 4 month time scale, ensuring a quality assessment of suitability must take priority to promote the welfare of children. Where information requires more in depth assessment or where the prospective adopter has not made themselves available as agreed in the Plan, then the reasons for any delay must be recorded. Any planned delay must be agreed in advance by the Assistant Manager (Assessment).


3. Intensive Preparation Group

All prospective adopters will be required to complete an intensive Preparation Group in stage 2 unless they are approved foster carers or second time adopters. Approved foster carers will be strongly encouraged to attend the intensive preparation group.

The Group is an integral part of the application process, and all applicants are expected to attend all sessions.

The objectives of the Groups are:

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

Where issues emerge during any element of the assessment process including Preparation Groups as a result of which the Family Placement Assistant Manager decides that it is not appropriate to support approval as an adopter, a meeting should be arranged with the prospective adopter to give reasons. Advice should be given of any steps they may take in order to meet the criteria or of how they might pursue their interest elsewhere, if appropriate.

Where they disagree with the decision and/do not wish to withdraw, a brief Prospective Adopter's Report on the application should be presented to the Adoption Panel and the procedure to be followed should be the same as if the report was a full report on the Prospective Adopters (see Section 8, The Panel Recommendation to Section 10, Representations / Independent Review Procedure).


4. Checks and References

4.1 Checks

Before progressing to Stage 1, potential adopters will be asked to give consent for checks as a part of the ROI and provide the factual information to support the process for making checks the necessary checks to be undertaken for all members of the household aged 18 and over.

On receipt of the completed forms, the following checks will be taken up on all adult members of the household aged 18 and over: Disclosure and Barring Service (enhanced criminal record certificates will be sought and checking of Barred Lists), Health Trust, Education Service and Children's Social Care Services.

Where the prospective adopters live in another local authority area, the checks must be made with the local authority and health trust where the applicants live.

Where applicants have recently moved to the UK (within the last 10 years) or have worked/resided/had a holiday home abroad, checks will also be made via the relevant Consulate on all members of the household aged 18 and over.

Where there are concerns about an applicant's circumstances as a result of the information obtained from the above checks, for example as a result of a conviction which means the applicant or a member of the household is a Disqualified Person (Adopter) (see also Section 12.9, Criminal Convictions), the applicant will be advised not to proceed with the application.

A further visit may be arranged to the applicants to explain the decision not to proceed. The applicants must always be notified in writing of the decision, with reasons.

Prospective adopters should declare any convictions and offences. Other than for certain proscribed offences having criminal convictions will not necessarily prevent a prospective adopter adopting. The prospective adopter will be required to give the assessing social worker sight of their DBS certificate and they will record certain details including issue dates and any undisclosed offences. Where there are cautions and offences the assessing worker will undertake a risk assessment process in relation to any offences and cautions. The DBS Risk Assessment Policy should be followed to support the risk policy before proceeding to Panel.

If a previous conviction of a member of the applicant's household comes to light, the details of the offence can only be disclosed to the applicant with the consent of the relevant person; without such consent, the applicant can only be informed that the reason relates to information obtained from the checks but no details can be given.

4.2 References

Stage One

Prospective adopters as a part of their ROI will be asked to provide the names of three personal referees, who are adults, have known the applicant for at least two years and are not related to the applicant. Referees should be people who know the applicants well in a personal capacity, and it is desirable that the referees have direct experience of caring for children, either in a personal or professional capacity.

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

A third reference from a member of the prospective applicant's wider family should also be taken up.

Stage Two

A written reference must be obtained from each applicant's last/current employer where they work or have worked with children or vulnerable adults going back 5 years.

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 referees should be asked to comment on the following:

  1. In what capacity they know the prospective adopters;
  2. How long they have personally known them and how often do they see them;
  3. If they have children please comment on how the prospective adopters relate to and interact with them;
  4. The prospective adopters’ child care experience, if any, and any related strengths and weaknesses;
  5. How the prospective adopters might cope with caring for and parenting a child;
  6. Any concerns they may have about the physical, emotional and sexual wellbeing of a child placed in the prospective adopters home;
  7. If the prospective adopters are a couple, the stability and permanence of their relationship;
  8. Any other information that may be helpful and relevant to the prospective adopters assessment;
  9. Any reservations that they may have concerning this application.

As well as providing a written reference, referees will also be interviewed. This will normally take place during stage 2 but in exceptional circumstances take place during Stage One.

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.

Issues for discussion include the following:

  • The applicant as a personality;
  • The stability of the couple's relationship (if a joint application);
  • The referee's impression of the applicant's general physical and emotional well-being;
  • The referee's opinion on the applicant's ability to relate to children, and the basis of the opinion;
  • The referee's opinion on whether adoption is appropriate for the applicant;
  • Any reservations the referee may have to express about any aspect of the application;
  • Whether the referee wholeheartedly supports the application;
  • What support the referee is able to offer the prospective adopters;
  • Whether the referee has any reason to believe the applicant would harm the children in their care.

The interviewing social worker will provide a written record of the interview to the referee and ask them to confirm that it is an accurate record and make any requested amendments.

The assessing social worker will also contact the previous partners of the applicants; 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. All children of the applicant(s) living away from home will also be contacted. 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.

In addition, as part of the assessment, where the applicant has school age children, the relevant school(s) will be contacted, with the permission of the applicant, for information regarding the applicant's ability to promote the child's education.

4.3 Health

Prospective adopters will not have their ROI refused for apparent medical reasons at Stage 1, though the Adoption Panel Medical Adviser may advise this at a later stage.

The prospective adopters will also be asked to arrange for an adoption medical examination and report from their G.P., unless the Medical Adviser does not consider such a medical examination is necessary, for example where the applicant is a foster carer and a health report is already available.

The assessing Family Placement Worker will provide the applicants with the relevant BAAF medical forms for completion by the GP.

The completed Medical Form should then be sent to the Medical Adviser, together with a covering letter providing a pen picture of the family, their life-style and the sort of child they are considering.

The GP's report must 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 Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005.

Where the applicant's GP has expressed concerns or where clarification of the implications of any health issues is required, detailed advice must be sought from the Medical Adviser and the implications fully discussed with the applicant. It may be necessary for reports from other health professionals also to be obtained and presented to the Medical Adviser and the Adoption Panel.

Where there are concerns about an applicant's circumstances, for example where there are concerns about their health or about the information obtained from referees, the applicant may be advised not to proceed with the application. Any such advice must be confirmed to them in writing and the reasons explained.

Where the applicant disagrees with the decision and/or is not willing to withdraw, a brief Prospective Adopter's Report on the application should be presented to the Adoption Panel and the procedure to be followed should be the same as if the report was a full report on the Prospective Adopter (see Section 8, The Panel Recommendation, to Section 10, Representations / Independent Review Procedure).


5. Sharing Information for the Purposes of Prospective Adopter Assessments

5.1 Information-sharing

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

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

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

5.2 Consent

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

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

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

5.3 Timescales

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


6. Intensive Preparation / Assessment

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

The assessment will comprise a series of interviews, the majority of which will take place in the applicants' home. 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:

  • Individual profiles of all members of the household, including racial origin and religious persuasion;
  • Information about the home, the local community and the neighbourhood;
  • Details of education and employment - past and present;
  • Income and expenditure;
  • Details of past and present relationships;
  • Motivation to adopt/childlessness;
  • Parenting capacity, experience of being parented and experience with children;
  • Support network, including wider family network;
  • Expectations of the placement, including understanding of issues from the preparation course;
  • Attitudes to birth families and approach to openness in adoption.

As part of the assessment:

  • A family tree and Chronology of key events in the applicant's life must be compiled, showing his or her educational, employment, marital and/or relationship history and addresses for the previous 10 years; any gaps and/or unusual patterns should be explored;
  • All information provided by the applicant must be independently verified where possible, by checking it against other sources such as referees. See "Preparing and Assessing Prospective Adopters", Practice Guidance (Chapter 2);
  • Where an applicant has been divorced or separated, factors contributing to the breakdown of the relationship must be verified. This applies equally to significant relationships between couples who are not married;
  • The adequacy and safety of the prospective adoptive home and transport will be assessed;
  • 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.

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.

The time taken to complete the assessment and present the report to the Adoption Panel after a formal application has been received will generally be no more than eight months from the receipt of the application unless the need for additional work with the prospective adopters is identified or recommended by the Adoption Panel. Where the timescale is not met, the Adoption Panel should record the reason.

If the assessment is of foster carers wishing to adopt a child in their care, the assessment should be completed by the social worker and the draft Prospective Adopter's Report submitted to the manager within four months of the application prior to being submitted to Panel.

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. As part of this, the family's finances and the criteria for financial support should also be discussed.

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

The assessment will also cover the applicants' willingness to notify the adoption agency if the adopted child dies during childhood or soon afterwards, their views on post-placement and post-adoption contact and their willingness to pass on information to birth parents about the progress of the adopted child.

If, during the course of the assessment, any issues emerge which cast doubt upon the likelihood of the applicants being approved, such issues should be discussed openly with the applicant at the time. If it is not possible to resolve the issues and the applicants do not agree with the agency’s advice to withdraw a Brief Prospective Adopters Report should be presented to Panel and the procedure to be followed should be as if the report were a full report on the Prospective Adopter and the advice of the Adoption Panel may be sought at any stage.

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.


7. Prospective Adopter's Report

The information gathered during the assessment, the Preparation Groups and the checks and personal references, will form the basis of the Prospective Adopter's Report. The report will also include a summary by the Medical Adviser of the health report obtained on the applicant/s.

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.

Once the assessing social worker has completed the report, it should be submitted to the manager for approval. The manager will check that the report is accurate, up to date and contains evidence-based information before it is presented to the Adoption Panel. If there are any issues of concern raised in the assessment or there are issues which require clarification, the manager should obtain a second opinion on those issues from another experienced practitioner, before approving the report.

When the Prospective Adopter's Report is finalised, a copy should be sent to the applicants. The applicants should be asked to sign and return the report, if agreed, and/or send their comments in writing to the assessing social worker. It should be explained to them that they have 10 working days to do this, (or they can be asked to sign a disclaimer stating they do not wish to take 10 days to comment) and that any written comments they make will be circulated to Adoption Panel members, with the report. A copy of any disclaimer will be kept on the applicant's Adoption Case Record.

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).

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

The date of the Adoption Panel meeting will be communicated to the applicants as soon as possible, together with an invitation to attend the Panel during consideration of the report.


8. The Panel Recommendation

The Prospective Adopter's Report should be presented to the Adoption Panel within 6 weeks of its completion.

The assessing social worker will attend the Panel meeting (and his or her manager where appropriate), together with the applicants 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.

Applicants who decide they wish to attend should be fully prepared as to the procedure prior to their attendance (see Section 7, Prospective Adopter's Report).

The Panel will consider the Prospective Adopter's Report together with all the supporting documentation (see Section 7, Prospective Adopter's Report) and any additional information presented verbally, and make a recommendation to the Agency Decision Maker (Adoption)regarding the suitability of the applicant to adopt a child.

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

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

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


9. After the Panel Recommendation

The Agency Decision Maker (Adoption) will make a decision as to the suitability of the applicant, and express a view on any Panel advice given, based on the reports presented to the Adoption Panel and the minutes detailing the Panel's recommendation and advice.

Where the Agency Decision Maker (Adoption) is minded to disagree with the Panel recommendation, he/she must first discuss the case with another senior officer with relevant experience, who must not be a Panel member, before arriving at a final decision. This discussion must be recorded and placed on the child's and the prospective adopter's Adoption Case Record.

The decision must be made within 7 working days of the Adoption Panel meeting and must be recorded, together with reasons.

The Assessing Social Worker will arrange for the applicants to be informed verbally of the decision within 2 working days and written notice of the decision, signed by the Agency Decision Maker (Adoption), will be sent within 5 working days of the decision.

Where the decision differs from the recommendation of the Adoption Panel, a copy of the Panel recommendation will be sent to the applicant/s with the written notification of the decision.

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 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.


10. Representations / Independent Review Procedure

If a decision is made not to approve an application, the applicant will be advised that if he or she wishes to challenge the decision, representations should be submitted within 40 working days either directly to the agency or they may request a referral to the Independent Review Mechanism. N.B. Applicants can decide which representation procedure to choose - they cannot choose both.

The Adoption Services Manager must receive notification of the wish to attend or make written representations to the Adoption Panel within 40 working days of the date of the written notice of the decision.

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

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

Where the decision is still to refuse the application, a copy of the report to the Panel, the Panel's recommendation and the decision, with reasons, 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, any new information obtained since the Panel meeting, a record of the decision made and reasons, a copy of the written notification of the decision and a copy of the Panel minute, if different, will be sent to the Independent Review within 10 working days of their written request.

The procedure for the Independent Review Mechanism is carried out by Coram Children's Legal Centre on behalf of the Department for Education, see IRM England; the applicant and a representative of the adoption agency 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.


11. Review of Prospective Adopters' Approval

The Adoption Services Manager will review the adopters' approval at least annually by means of a report from the Permanence Social Worker, together with any comments on the report from the prospective adopters. Where the review identifies the need for a change of approval, the Permanence Social Worker must prepare a Prospective Adopter's Review Report for this purpose. The prospective adopter should be given a copy and given 10 working days to comment before arrangements are made for the report to be presented to the Panel.

The procedure set out in Section 8, The Panel Recommendation and Section 9, After the Panel Recommendation above should then be followed.

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

If the prospective adopters are considered no longer suitable, the same procedure should be followed as set out in Section 10, Representations / Independent Review Procedure.


12. Criteria for Prospective Adopters

12.1 Individual and Joint

Applications will be considered from married couples, civil partners, unmarried couples or single people. In the case of joint applications, there is no minimum requirement on the length of the marriage/civil partnership/relationship, 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. 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 however the applicant must have a reasonable expectation on being able to parent the child through to adulthood and beyond.

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

Applicants may be in work or not. Whatever the applicants' income, they will need to consider the financial implications of increasing their family. Evidence to demonstrate the stability of applicants general financial situation will be required.

12.8 Health

Applicants will be required to have a full medical and undergo any further tests/checks that may be required by the Adoption Panel's Medical Adviser. The Medical Adviser will advise on the applicants' ability, from a health point of view, to meet the needs of a child throughout his or her childhood.

It is highly unlikely that children aged 5 and under or a child vulnerable to chest complaints would be placed in a household where one or both parents are smokers as Northumberland and many other local Authorities adhere to guidance from BAAF.

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.

12.9 Criminal Convictions

A person who is seeking approval as an adoptive parent will not be considered if s/he or any adult member of the household has been cautioned for or convicted of an offence against a child which involves violence or bodily injury (other than common assault or battery), cruelty (to a child under 16), indecency, abduction, the supply of Class A drugs or the importation/possession of indecent photographs of a child under 16 or a sexual offence against a child unless the offence was contrary to Sections 6,12 or 13 of the Sexual offences Act 1956 and the person concerned was under 20 when the offence was committed.

Other convictions will not necessarily preclude an application, but this will depend on the seriousness of the offence and how long ago it was committed. In cases of doubt or dispute, the matter will be referred to the Adoption Service Manager who may also consult the Panel Adviser and/or the Agency Decision Maker (Adoption).

12.10 Accommodation

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

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

12.11 Fertility Tests/Treatment

Childless couples wishing to adopt will usually be required to have completed any fertility tests and treatment, and to have had a period of time, usually about 6 months, since completing the tests before an application can be accepted. This is because it is important for couples to have accepted their infertility and grieved before moving on to start the adoption process.

12.12 Applicants who have a Child or Children

Applications will be accepted from people who already have a birth child, in which case any children should usually be at least three years older or younger than the age of the child an applicant is seeking to adopt. The age gap for adopted children can be more flexible.

12.13 Domicile/Habitual Residence in the British Isles

Applicants do not have to have British Citizenship, but should have their Domicile or Habitual Residence in the British Isles. Where there is a joint application, only one of the applicants need to be domiciled in the British Isles or both should be habitually resident here. In all these cases it is essential to see all relevant documents in order to fully establish nationality and immigration status.

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

12.14 Location

Applications are welcome from those who reside within 65 miles of the Adoption Service Office.

Applicants must be prepared to travel for group meetings, introductions etc and be available for assessment and home visits.

Enquirers should expect to continue to live within the north east during the adoption process

12.15 Support Network

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

12.16 Post Placement/Post Adoption Contact

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

End