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OxfordshireChildren's Services Procedures Manual

Adoption Panel

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter explains the membership, purpose, functions and arrangements for meetings of the Adoption Panel managed by Adopt Thames Valley (ATV).

RELATED GUIDANCE

Permanency Planning: Top tips for a smooth decision making process!

AMENDMENT

This procedure was updated in January 2019 and now includes information regarding Adopt Thames Valley (ATV).

Contents

  1. Purpose and Function
  2. Membership
  3. Agency Advisor to the Panel
  4. Meetings
  5. Agency Decision Maker
  6. Adoption Panel Minutes
  7. Reports on Adoption Matters

1. Purpose and Function

1.1 Adoption Function

From December 1st 2017, Adopt Thames Valley (ATV) will be responsible for managing the Adoption Panel for Bracknell Forest, Oxfordshire, Reading, Swindon, West Berkshire, Wokingham and Windsor and Maidenhead. The Panel has a role in scrutinising the practice of local authority in relation to adoption; receives annual reports on performance and has a responsibility to promote good practice, consistency of approach and fairness in all aspects of the adoption service provided across the region.

Recommendations

The Adoption Panel makes recommendations as to the following:

  1. The suitability of applicants as prospective adoptive parents (this includes the withdrawal of approval following a review where appropriate);
  2. Whether a child should be placed for adoption, in cases – such as relinquished babies – when the matter is not before the courts;
  3. Whether a child should be linked for adoption with particular prospective adopters;

The recommendations must be unconditional and cannot be 'in principle'.

As from 1 September 2012, cases where the criteria apply for the local authority to apply for a Placement Order, (i.e. the child is the subject of a Care Order or the Threshold Criteria for a Care Order are satisfied or where there is no parent or guardian) will not be referred to the Adoption and Permanence Panel for a recommendation, but will be referred directly to the Agency Decision Maker for a decision (see Section 5, Agency Decision Maker).

All other plans for adoption (i.e. relinquished babies where the parents have given consent and there is no application for a Placement Order) will continue to be referred to the Adoption Panel for a recommendation which the Agency Decision Maker will take into account when making a decision.

Timescales

The Adoption Panel will monitor timeliness and will highlight cases where a recommendation on the suitability of a prospective adopter to adopt is not achieved within six months of receipt of the formal registration of interest (ROI).

The Adoption Panel will monitor timeliness and will highlight cases where a recommendation on whether a child should be placed for adoption (where the parents give consent and there will be no Placement Order application) is not achieved within two months of the Looked After Review where adoption was identified as the child's Permanence Plan.

The Adoption Panel will monitor cases where a recommendation on the proposed placement of a child with particular prospective adopters is not achieved within six months of the Agency Decision Maker's decision that the child should be placed for adoption and within the Adoption Leadership Board (ALB) threshold for average number of days between authority to place (date of Placement Order) and Agency Decision Maker's agreement to the proposed placement.

Where the timescales are not met, the reason will be recorded in the Panel Minutes.

Advice

Where cases are referred to the Adoption Panel for a recommendation, the Panel may also advise on the following issues:

  1. Where applicants are recommended for approval as adoptive parents, the number of children they may be suitable to adopt, as well as the age range, sex, likely needs and background;
  2. Where it is recommended that a child should be placed for adoption, what the contact arrangements for the child should be, the separation of siblings and whether a Placement Order should be applied for;
  3. Where it is recommended that a child should be placed with particular prospective adopters, the provision of adoption support, the arrangements for contact and the exercise of Parental Responsibility and how this should be restricted;
  4. Where applicants are recommended for approval as adoptive parents, their suitability as foster carers to enable them to provide Fostering for Adoption placements.

Note: that in cases which are referred directly to the Agency Decision Maker for a decision, he/she is expressly prohibited from referring the case to the Adoption Panel for advice but can take advice from the legal, medical and agency advisors.

Monitoring

The ATV Adoption Panel monitors the progress of individual children for whom adoption is the plan up to the making of an Adoption Order, through progress reports as required under the Placement for Adoption Procedure and the Adoption Reviews Procedure, and receives Disruption Reports in relation to any breakdowns in adoptive placements (see Disruption of Adoptive Placements Procedure) that occur before the making of an Adoption Order.

Where a child has been placed for adoption but not adopted within 12 months, the child's social worker must present a further report to the Adoption Panel identifying the length of the delay, the reasons and the steps being taken to address any difficulties, including consideration of a review of the adoption plan and/or a possible change to long-term fostering/separation of siblings.

The ATV Adoption Panel will also provide feedback to the local authority every six months on the quality of reports and whether there is a fair and consistent approach across the service.

In addition to the above, the Panel will also receive reports where allegations are made against prospective adopters and will receive information on the outcome of any investigation (see Complaints, Allegations or Serious Concerns about Standards of Care in Relation to Foster Carers or Members of their Household Procedure).

2. Membership

There is no fixed Panel membership or maximum number of members or maximum length of tenure of office.

A Central List is maintained containing names of persons considered to be suitable to be members of an Adoption Panel. This list maintained by an appointed senior social worker with at least 5 years' relevant post-qualification experience and relevant management experience.

When setting up each Adoption Panel, members will be drawn from this Central List. The same people will not be appointed to every Panel meeting.

The Central List should include (in addition to the Independent Chair):
  • Social workers with at least 3 years' relevant post qualifying experience in child care social work, including direct experience in adoption work (not necessarily employed by the agency);
  • A Medical Advisor;
  • Other persons whom the agency considers suitable including specialists in education; race and culture; child and adolescent mental health services; elected members and those with personal experience of adoption.

The Chair must be independent of the adoption agency, and will be appointed by the ATV Service Lead.

The Panel must also have Vice Chairs, who are not necessarily independent of the adoption agency and who are also appointed by the ATV Service Lead.

The Agency Decision Maker on adoption matters must not be included on the Central List, see Section 5, Agency Decision Maker.

The agency will decide how many people should sit at each Adoption Panel meeting, provided that there is a quorum of five which must include the Chair or Vice Chair, one of the social worker representatives and at least one independent member (who may be the Chair).

The Panel Advisor, with the help of the Panel Administrator, will select from those members of the Central List who are available on the Panel date taking into account Panel members who may already know the case from a previous Panel meeting as well as any specific requirements in terms of expertise for the cases on the agenda.

2.1 Appointments to the Central List

Those on the Central List are appointed by ATV and will be able to continue their membership as long as they are able to carry out their duties.

All those on the Central List will have undergone a recruitment process that includes interviews, identity checks, verification of qualifications and right to work in the UK, and taking up references and DBS checks which are recorded. New appointees will be asked to give signed agreement to checks being undertaken as above and cannot take up their appointment until the outcome of the checks are known. Individuals are excluded from Panel membership if they have been convicted of any offences against children or any violent offences. Panel members are required to notify the ATV Service Lead immediately if they receive such a conviction or caution while on the Central List.

Personal and work references will also be obtained in writing and must be satisfactory.

Recruits to the Central List should have the opportunity to observe at least one Adoption Panel meeting before they sit as a voting member. They will be required to attend at least one day's training per year; and complete induction training as required. They can expect to have access to appropriate training and skills development and be kept abreast of changes to relevant legislation, regulation and guidance.

They will also have access to the agency's Whistleblowing, Equality, Health and Safety and Complaints Policies.

Written information about the expectations arising from their appointment will be given to new members of the Central List (in relation to their performance objectives, participation in induction and other training, attendance at meetings, safeguarding the confidentiality of information provided to the Panel and their general conduct - see Sections 2.2 - 2.4 inclusive) and they should be asked to sign a written agreement confirming their acceptance of these conditions before taking up their appointment to the Central List.

2.2 Confidentiality

All written and verbal information given to Panel members in the course of their duties is strictly confidential. As indicated above, those on the Central List are required to sign a written agreement, before taking up their appointment, to confirm that all information they receive will remain confidential.

Panel members are expected to keep all written and electronic information provided to them in a secure place and return all Panel documents to the agency immediately after each Panel meeting.

Panel members must not copy, in part or in whole, any documents that relate to a case, and must not download or allow any unauthorised person access to confidential electronic records.

If a Panel member has some knowledge of a case, whether in a personal or professional capacity, they should declare an interest and inform the Panel Advisor as soon as they become aware but always prior to the Panel meeting. This should be done at the earliest opportunity, so that an alternative member of the Central List can be invited to attend to ensure that the Panel is quorate.

Failure to comply with the above may result in the member's appointment to the Central List being terminated.

2.3 General Conduct

All those on the Central List should be committed to anti-discriminatory practice and must be prepared to consider each case on its own merits.

Panel members for each meeting should have read the Panel papers carefully, prior to the Panel meeting, and come prepared to contribute constructively to the Panel discussion.

The Panel Advisor will review the performance of those on the Central List on a regular basis, with a formal appraisal being carried out by the Panel Advisor, in consultation with the Chair, at least annually.

If there are concerns about the conduct or behaviour of a person on the Central List, this should be conveyed to the Chair who will raise these concerns initially with the person in private.

If such concerns cannot be resolved informally, the Chair and Panel Advisor, in consultation with the ATV Service Lead will write to the person concerned setting out the concerns and what action it is proposed to take.

The Chair's performance will be reviewed annually by the Agency Decision-Maker, taking into account the views of those on the Central List and others who attend Panel meetings, for example social workers and prospective adopters.

2.4 Conflicts of Interest

At each meeting, Panel members should consider and raise any conflicts of interest in relation to Panel agenda items. A potential conflict arises if an interest may be seen to adversely affect a Panel member's capacity to act without prejudice or preference in a matter.

It is anticipated that in many circumstances there may be professional knowledge of a case which should be notified to the Chair but which will not affect a member's capacity to participate in the Panel. In other circumstances there may be a personal interest or connection that would require the Panel member to refrain from participation. It may be less clear in some cases when advice should be sought and Panel members should raise any such issues at the very earliest opportunity.

2.5 Resignations from the Central List

All those on the Central List are expected to give a minimum of one month's written notice of their wish to resign, except where personal emergencies e.g. accidents, illness etc. make this impossible. Resignation letters should be addressed to the ATV Service Lead with a copy to the Panel Advisor who will notify the Chair.

Initial verbal resignations may be given, but should always be followed by a written resignation. Those on the Central List are asked, as a matter of courtesy, to inform the Chair of the Panel of their intention to resign, before making any public announcement.

Those on the Central List are expected not to temporarily withdraw their services, because of disputes/disagreements over Panel practice or policy. Any person on the Central List taking such action will be deemed to have formally resigned with immediate effect, even if no written resignation has been received.

Those on the Central List wishing to withdraw a submitted written resignation must do so before the one month notice period expires by writing to the ATV Service Lead who reserves the right not to accept a withdrawal of notice and to allow the original letter of resignation to stand.

2.6 Termination of Appointment to the Central List

Where it is considered that someone is unsuitable to remain on the Central List, they must be given one month's notice in writing and reasons for the decision to end their appointment.

Where there are concerns about the behaviour of a person on the Central List either inside or outside the meetings, and the difficulties have not been resolved by discussion between the Chair, Panel Advisor and the person concerned, the matter will raised by the Chair with the ATV Service Lead.

The ATV Service Lead will decide whether to propose the end of the appointment and if so, will advise the person concerned in writing giving clear reasons for the proposal.

The person concerned will be given the opportunity to make observations on the matter before a final decision is made by the ATV Service Lead.

3. Agency Advisor to the Panel

An Agency Advisor to the Adoption Panel must be appointed - this can be the same person as the Panel Advisor. This should be someone with experience as an adoption team leader or someone who has more senior management experience and who has experience of adoption.

The role of the Agency Advisor includes assisting with the appointment (including re-appointment), termination and review of appointment of members of the Central List; responsibility for the induction and training of members of the Central List; responsibility for liaison between the agency and the Adoption Panel, monitoring the performance of members of the Central List and the administration of the Adoption Panel; and giving such advice to the Adoption Panel as the Panel may request in relation to any case or generally. The Agency Advisor may on request provide advice to the Agency Decision Maker when the considering a particular case.

The Panel Advisor is not a Panel member and cannot take part in the decision-making process. They should be able to contribute to Panel meetings by raising issues and providing advice, for example about the agency's procedures and practices. His or her role at the meeting is to ensure all the necessary reports are available for the Panel, to advise Panel on social work and procedural matters and to report to social workers and their managers on issues arising from Panel meetings.

The Agency Advisor should maintain an overview of the quality of the agency's reports for both the Panel and to the Agency Decision Maker, and liaise with team managers to quality assure the Child's Permanence Report, the Prospective Adopter's Report and the Adoption Placement Report. Where there are concerns about a report, the Agency Advisor and the Panel Chair should consider whether it is adequate for submission to the Panel. It will be for the Agency Advisor alone to decide whether the report is adequate for submission to the Agency Decision Maker.

The Agency Advisor should also update the Panel on the general progress of cases it has considered. This is particularly important where the Panel's recommendation or advice was not accepted.

4. Meetings

ATV Adoption Panel meets in Oxford three times a month on Thursdays and in Woodley twice a month on Thursdays. Additional Panel meetings may be arranged where required.

The Panel Administrator will prepare and circulate a list of Panel dates in advance. The Panel Administrator, with the Chair and Panel Advisor's authority, will arrange additional Panels or other meetings as necessary.

The Panel Administrator will arrange for a Medical Advisor to provide advice to all Panels and to attend wherever possible; the Legal Advisor will be requested to attend where Panel is considering a plan for adoption, and in any other cases, where the Panel Advisor and/or Chair considers it necessary.

The Panel Administrator may also arrange for observers to attend meetings, in consultation with the Panel Advisor, but no more than one observer should attend at any one time. Observers who are not Oxfordshire County Council staff must sign a confidentiality agreement prior to Panel.

For each meeting, the Panel Administrator, in consultation with the Panel Advisor, will prepare the agenda, confirm the attendance list of Panel members and send out the agenda and papers to the identified Panel members at least five working days before the meeting.

Social workers presenting reports to the Panel must send one copy of each report to the Panel Administrator 10 working days before the date of the Panel meeting. (The Panel's requirements as to reports are specified in the relevant procedures elsewhere in the Manual). The Panel Administrator will arrange for the documentation to be distributed to Panel members and the relevant Agency Decision Maker at least five working days prior to the Panel meeting.

The Chair's role is to ensure that all members participate fully in the meetings (unless an interest has been declared); that sensitive regard is paid to applicants attending the Panel while keeping the child's welfare paramount; that consensus is achieved wherever possible and that the Panel has clear reasons for its recommendations.

In the event of a disagreement between Panel members, the Chair will consider whether further information is required or whether the Panel should go ahead and make a recommendation on the basis of the majority view. In this event, any dissenting view should be clearly recorded in the minutes. If the Panel cannot reach a consensus on its recommendation after the Chair and other members of the Panel have voted, the Panel Chair has a second vote, i.e. the casting vote.

At the end of meetings, the Panel Administrator will collect all paper reports, notes and agendas from Panel members. A Panel member unable to attend a meeting will be asked to return any papers to the Panel administrator.

The Panel Administrator will prepare the minutes in which reasons for recommendations and any disagreements or dissent will be fully recorded - see Section 6, Adoption Panel Minutes.

S/he will send the draft minutes to the Chair and Panel members for approval of their accuracy, and then submit them to the Agency Decision Maker for a decision within the timescales as set out in the relevant procedures. This will normally be within 7 working days of receipt of the final Panel minutes but could be shorter should the timetable require it. The Panel Administrator will also ensure that applicants and social workers are notified in writing of Panel decisions within five working days of the ADM decision and will upload the signed minutes to the child's/adopter's record.

5. Agency Decision Maker

The Agency Decision Maker considers recommendations from the Adoption Panel and, in those circumstances outlined in Section 1, Purpose and Function, also makes decisions about whether a child is suitable to be placed for adoption without reference to the Adoption Panel.

ADM (plan for adoption) process

  • Only considers cases of children in care proceedings where the plan is adoption and application for a Placement Order;
  • A senior officer is appointed as ADM to undertake this work - they may not delegate their authority to another person (and only specific designated officers can provide cover arrangements);
  • Paperwork for ADM meetings should be sent two weeks in advance to the Adoption Panel Administrator;
  • The ADM decision can often be communicated to the child's social worker/local authority solicitor on the same day; the full decision record may follow a few days later and should be read carefully;
  • If the plan for adoption is not agreed by the ADM, the responsible team will need to convene an urgent review to consider alternative plans;
  • It may be appropriate to put further information before the ADM for a revised/updated decision - such requests should be made through the Agency Advisor;
  • Following a plan for adoption decision, the plan should not be changed without referring back to the ADM - in these circumstances, the Agency Advisor should be informed and will liaise as necessary with the relevant ADM.
The following principles apply to all ADM decisions.

In reaching his/her decision, the Agency Decision Maker must consider:

  • The welfare checklist in Section 1 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002* see below;
  • All the information surrounding the case including the reports submitted to the Adoption and Permanence Panel (where applicable), and that the authors of the reports are appropriately qualified to prepare them (see Section 7, Reports on Adoption Matters);
  • The stability and permanence of the relationship of any couple under consideration;
  • The recommendation and reasons of the Adoption Panel and any Independent Review Panel under the Independent Review Mechanism; and
  • The final minutes of the Adoption and Permanence Panel including any minutes from adjourned Panel meetings and the Independent Review Panel:
    • Welfare Checklist:
      1. *The child's ascertainable wishes and feelings regarding the decision (considered in the light of the child's age and understanding);
      2. The child's particular needs;
      3. The likely effect on the child (throughout his life) of having ceased to be a member of the original family and become an adopted person;
      4. The child's age, sex, background and any of the child's characteristics which the court or agency considers relevant;
      5. Any harm (within the meaning of the Children Act 1989 (c. 41)) which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering;
      6. The relationship which the child has with relatives, and with any other person in relation to whom the court or agency considers the relationship to be relevant, including:
        1. The likelihood of any such relationship continuing and the value to the child of its doing so;
        2. The ability and willingness of any of the child's relatives, or of any such person, to provide the child with a secure environment in which the child can develop, and otherwise to meet the child's needs;
        3. The wishes and feelings of any of the child's relatives, or of any such person, regarding the child.

It is good practice for the Agency Decision Maker:

  • To list the material taken into account in reaching the decision;
  • To identify key arguments;
  • To state whether they agree with the process and approach of the relevant Panel(s) and are satisfied as to its fairness and that the Panel(s) has/have properly addressed the arguments;
  • To consider whether any additional information now available to them that was not before the Panel has an impact on their reasons or recommendation;
  • To identify the reasons given for the relevant recommendation that they do or do not wish to agree to; and
  • To state (a) the agreed reasons by cross-reference or otherwise and (b) any further reasons for their decision.

Monitoring:

  • Where a child has been approved for adoption but not placed within 9 months, the child's social worker must present a further report to the Agency Decision Maker identifying the length of the delay, the reasons and the steps being taken to address any difficulties, including consideration of a review of the adoption plan and/or a possible change to long-term fostering/separation of siblings.

6. Adoption Panel Minutes

The Panel minutes will always record the information in relation to the following:

(The Panel's requirements as to reports are specified in the relevant procedures elsewhere in the Manual):

  1. Who attended and for which part of the discussion;
  2. Updating information from social workers;
  3. Medical advice;
  4. Legal advice;
  5. The Panel's discussions (main points), including questions asked and answers given, and conclusions;
  6. The Panel's recommendations and reasons, including any reservations expressed by any member.

The Panel minutes will be kept on the child's and/or prospective adopter's Adoption Case Record.

The Panel Chair is responsible for ensuring the Panel's recommendations and reasons are accurately recorded. The Chair must also make sure that a person who is not a member of the Panel fulfils the task of writing these documents.

The minutes must accurately reflect the discussion and cover the key issues, rather than be a verbatim record of the meeting. Where Panel members have serious reservations, the Panel Chair must ensure these are recorded in the minutes and are attached to the Panel's recommendation. The Panel's minutes should clearly set out the reasons why if the Panel Chair had to use the casting vote.

Arrangements should be made by the Panel Advisor for the safekeeping of the minutes and the record. Panel minutes, like other parts of Adoption Case Records, are exempt from the subject access provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 (i.e. the person to whom they relate does not have a statutory right of access to the information they contain, see Access to Birth Records and Adoption Case Records Procedure).

7. Reports on Adoption Matters

Reports to the Adoption Panel in relation to adoption matters upon which the Panel are asked to make recommendations must be prepared by qualified social workers with at least 3 years post-qualification experience. This must include direct experience of adoption work either in assessing a prospective adopter or as the social worker to a child with an adoption plan from the planning stage to the placement, monitoring and review stages. Where the author of the report does not have the requisite qualifications and experience, he or she must have either a qualification in social work or be a social worker in training and be supervised by a qualified social worker with the relevant experience.

Where the person preparing the report is an independent social worker, they must always be suitably qualified and experienced and supervised by a member of staff with the suitable qualifications and experience.

The same qualifications and experience are required for social workers undertaking visits to children placed for adoption - see Monitoring and Supervision of Adoptive Placements Procedure.