SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter describes the requirements in relation to the contents of the Adoption Case Records for children and prospective adopters.It also sets out how Adoption Case Records should be stored and retained and the process for professional or other agencies having access to the records.
RELEVANT LEGISLATION AND GUIDANCE
Oxfordshire is the host agency for Adopt Thames Valley, which is a regional Adoption Agency for Bracknell, Oxfordshire, Reading, Swindon, Windsor and Maidenhead, West Berkshire and Wokingham.
Section 3, Security, Retention and Sharing of Records was updated in January 2019 in line with Adoption and Care Planning (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2018, which provides that an adoption agency may disclose an adoption case record to another adoption agency for purposes related to either agency's functions as an adoption agency. Further information was added in relation to adoption records where an Adoption Order is not made.
- Opening an Adoption Case Record
- Security, Retention and Sharing of Records
- Access to Records for Professionals and Others
1. Opening an Adoption Case Record
An Adoption Case Record for a child should be opened by the Authorised Adoption Agency (AAA – child's placing agency) as soon as there is an adoption plan for the child i.e. once adoption has been identified as the permanence plan for the child at their Looked After Review or, where a child has been relinquished for adoption, as soon as the parent's request for adoption has been made.
In Oxfordshire this (adoption) file is created by viewing restrictions being imposed on the child's electronic record once adoption has been identified as the permanence plan for the child.
The child's existing electronic social care case record becomes part of the Adoption Case Record. All information in relation to the new identity or address of the child or any information whereby the child's pre and post-adoption identity could be linked by any worker other than Adoption Service workers will be part of the restricted record and will not be open to general view, This principle applies to information kept in whatever form - electronic, hard copy or microfilm
Where the plan relates to a group of siblings, there must be a separate Adoption Case Record for each child.
For Bracknell, Reading, Swindon, Windsor and Maidenhead, West Berkshire and Wokingham, the Child's Adoption Case Record will be held by the placing agency according to their own procedures, and Adopt Thames Valley will open a Family Finding Case Record for those children.
1.2 Applicants to Adopt
An Adoption Case Record should also be opened for every prospective adopter within Adopt Thames Valley as soon as a formal application has been received. In the case of a couple, a case record will be set up for each individual but case recording can be held on one record – known as the main record.
This also applies to foster carers wishing to be considered as adopters. All electronic information relating to foster carers' applications to adopt is restricted and is therefore only accessible to adoption workers, and staff in the fostering service on an "as needed" basis.
The regulations set out what information agencies are required to keep about a person's adoption – this is termed 'Section 56 information.' Section 56 information can be either identifying (i.e. protected information) or non-identifying. Protected information may only be shared in certain circumstances.
The child's Adoption Case Record should contain the following information and documents:
- The child's original birth certificate and birth details (time, weight, type of delivery etc.);
- Description and details (including family tree/genogram) of the birth family and household set out in an Assessment or other relevant document;
- Photographs, certificates, other significant personal mementos and Life Story Book, where possible. Where original rather than digital copies are available these should be kept to pass on to the prospective adopter for the child in the future. In exceptional circumstances where these cannot be passed to the prospective adopter, these should be kept in a ring binder or some other kind of file which should be clearly labelled and sent to the secondary store archive. These should be kept on a paper file and a note made on the electronic file of the location these items;
- Completed Neo-natal and obstetric reports;
- CoramBAAF Form A (completed by birth parents);
- The Child's Permanence Report, including the child's wishes and feelings;
- The Adoption Placement Report;
- The Adoption Support Plan;
- The child's profile, matching criteria and any other documents related to the matching decision;
- Record of social work with child about adoption, including recording of direct work. This should include the date of every contact, whether the child was seen, issues discussed, child's views, analysis and evaluation of the content of the report. This will provide a record to inform current actions and a record for the young person in later years. Original documents created by the child should be kept where possible;
- Details of siblings, together with any assessments and decisions to place brothers and sisters separately, including minutes of relevant meetings;
- All relevant minutes and the Agency Decision Maker's decisions in relation to the child's adoption plan and placement, including records of discussions held by the Agency Decision Maker. Copies of all notifications of agency decisions will be sent to birth parents and adopters;
- Looked After Review minutes and the child's Care Plan from the point when adoption was identified as the plan for permanence;
- Assessments, correspondence and signed agreements (where made) relating to post-adoption contact;
- Any other key correspondence to and from members of the child's birth family. Where this is significant, these should be original paper documents and stored on a paper file;
- Minutes from Placement Planning Meetings;
- Later Life letter/information from the birth parents to the child where available;
- The Adoption Placement Plan and any amendments;
- Reports of visits to the child post-placement and records of any Adoption Review meetings. As previously stated, this should provide sufficient detail to inform current actions but also enable the young person in future years to make sense of their history;
- Court reports and other documents prepared for Placement Order applications (if applicable) and the adoption application;
- Copies of Care Orders (including Interim Care Orders);
- Copy of any Parental Consent to Adoptive Placement and Parental Consent to the adoption and/or a copy of the Placement Order. This original paper document should be stored on a paper file with the Adoption Records Co-ordinator;
- Minutes of any Disruption Meetings;
- Copy of Adoption Order;
- Any pertinent information given to the agency post-order;
- Any recording relating to requests for access to birth records by the adopted person or access to the Adoption Case Record by any person (see Access to Records / Subject Access Requests Procedure);
2.2 Applicants to Adopt
- The prospective adopter's Adoption Case Record should contain all the information obtained about them in relation to their application for approval, including the Prospective Adopter's Report, photographs etc.
- All relevant checks and their outcomes, including for all adults aged over 18 in the household;
- Health and Safety checklist;
- All relevant Panel minutes and the Agency Decision-Maker's decisions in relation to the suitability of the adopters and the placement of the child with them;
- Assessments, correspondence and signed agreements (where completed) relating to post-adoption contact;
- The Adoption Placement Plan;
- Any other key correspondence;
- Reports of visits to the adopters.
Note: Where the Adoption Service places a child with an adopter or adopters approved by another adoption agency, an Adoption Case Record for the prospective adopters must still be set up and maintained in the Adoption Service.
3. Security, Retention and Sharing of Records
Adoption Case Records must be stored in secure conditions. Paper records should be kept in locked cabinets or rooms accessible only to authorised personnel.
In Oxfordshire all closed adoption records (paper) are stored in secure County Council Archives.
Electronic records should be secured and access restricted to roles and specific individuals.
In cases where an Adoption Order is made, children's Adoption Case Records will be retained for a minimum of 100 years after the Adoption Order is made. Agencies may retain records for longer than 100 years if they so choose. The relevant Local Authority Children's Team Manager will first ensure that the Adoption Case Record is complete, and especially contains the 'Later in Life' letters, details of Post-Adoption Contact Agreements and Adoption Support Plans. Where adoption records are to be destroyed these must be shredded and treated as confidential waste.
Where an Adoption Order is not made, an adoption agency must keep the child's case record and the prospective adopter's case record for such period as it considers appropriate. In the case of electronic records the viewing restriction will be removed.
Where an Adoption Order is not made and the agency decides to close the child's adoption case record, it should transfer the information from this record to the looked after case record, in which case, see Looked After Children. If the child has never been looked after, the agency should destroy the records when no further action is necessary. An example of when this may be appropriate is if the possibility of adoption of a baby was discussed before the child's birth, but the baby remained with the birth parents.
Where an Adoption Order is not made prospective adopters can be asked if they want their case records retained – in case they may wish to reapply to the agency or another adoption agency to adopt again - and to give their consent to the storage of the case record for whatever period is agreed, after which the record will be securely destroyed.
Whenever it is necessary to send any part of an Adoption Case Record by post, either within or outside Adopt Thames Valley or the relevant Local Authority l, the information should be placed in a sealed plain envelope and marked 'PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL'. This mail should then be double-enveloped. When the external post is necessary, then arrangements should be made for copies of relevant documents to be sent by recorded or special delivery.
Any adoption records being sent electronically should be password protected or encrypted.
An adoption agency may disclose an adoption case record to another adoption agency as it thinks fit for purposes related to its functions or the receiving agency's functions as an adoption agency (s.2 The Adoption and Care Planning (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2018, amending 8(2) of the Disclosure of Adoption Information (Post-Commencement Adoptions) Regulations 2005).
4. Access to Records for Professionals and Others
This section deals with requests made by professionals or other agencies for access to Adoption Case Records.
For access to records by adopted persons or their birth families or adoptive families, please see:
Any such request for access to Adoption Case Records must be referred to the Adoption and Permanence Support Team Manager. In some circumstances, the manager may decide to seek the authority of his or her line manager before giving consent, for example a request from a researcher authorised by the Secretary of State.
In the case of members of staff within Children's Services who are involved in counselling adopted adults or birth relatives, they will be asked on appointment to their post to sign an agreement to maintain the confidentiality of all adoption information.
In all other cases, the person making the request will be asked to sign a form of declaration relating to confidentiality before access can be agreed.
A report of all access requested and whether granted must be detailed on the file. A record of all requests should be kept centrally.
Access to information contained in Adoption Case Records is normally limited to:
- Social workers and other professional/administrative staff directly concerned with the case who establish a genuine 'need to know' (discretionary);
- Legal and Medical Advisers (discretionary);
- Other adoption agencies or specialists taking part in the adoption (discretionary);
- Adoption agencies or Local Authorities undertaking birth records counselling (discretionary);
- The Secretary of State or persons authorised on his/her behalf (usually mandatory unless for research purposes);
- The Regulatory Authority (mandatory);
- The Ombudsman (mandatory);
- Any person undertaking a Statutory Inquiry under section 81 of the Children Act 1989- (mandatory);
- CAFCASS Officers (mandatory);
- The Court and officers of the Court (mandatory);
- Any person appointed to deal with a complaint or representation in respect of which access to the Adoption Case Record is required in order to carry out the responsibilities of his or her appointment (mandatory);
- An Independent Review Panel convened to consider a Qualifying Determination of an adoption agency, e.g. where an adoptive applicant has exercised his or her right to challenge a decision of the adoption agency as to their suitability to adopt or where a decision has been made in relation to the disclosure of protected information (mandatory);
- Any person undertaking a Serious Case Review in relation to a child (discretionary).
Disclosure of information is also mandatory where a child is to be or has been placed for adoption when the placing authority must notify the child, parents, prospective adopters and their GP, the Local Authority, health trust and education authority for the area where the prospective adopters live.