Assessment and Approval of Prospective Adopters

RELEVANT GUIDANCE

Adoption Statutory Guidance

Adoption Minimum Standards 2014

Adoption Regulations 2005

LOCAL INFORMATION

Assessment and Approval of adopters (other than step-parent or inter-country adoption) is now undertaken by the regional adoption agency, for more information see: Adoption East Midlands.

See Nottinghamshire Children's Social Care Service Procedures Manual for relevant procedures.

AMENDMENT

In December 2019, this guidance was substantially revised to reflect that the assessment and approval of prospective adopters is carried out by the Regional Adoption Agency, Adoption East Midlands. Derbyshire Children's Services remain responsible for the assessment of inter country and step parent adoptions.

1. Responding to Initial Enquiries

The Adoption East Midlands adoption agency aims to recruit and assess prospective adopters who can meet most of the needs of children for whom adoption is the plan.

For more information see: Adoption East Midlands.

Derbyshire County Council retains responsibility for step-parent and inter-country adoption.

Where an enquiry is about inter-country adoption, it should be established whether the potential adopter has considered adopting a Child in Care. 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. Many people believe that they would not be able to adopt a child in this country but would be able to adopt a child from abroad. Where prospective applicants are likely to be considered unsuitable to adopt a Child in Care in England, they should not be advised to apply to adopt a child from overseas. Applicants can be signposted to the Intercountry Adoption Centre.

2. The Assessment

2.1 Police Checks

Criminal record checks with the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) must be carried out on the prospective adopter and any adult members of their household aged 16 years and over.

The prospective adopter/s should be given an explanation of the statutory duty on the agency to conduct checks into their background and into the background of any other adult members of their household. It should be made clear that the prospective adopters will not be able to proceed where criminal record checks identify them or an adult member of their household as having been convicted of a specified offence or police caution in respect of a specified offence.

A 'specified offence' means:

  • An offence against a child/ any offence involving bodily injury to a child, other than an offence of common assault or battery;
  • An offence relating to indecent images of children under the age of 16;
  • Sexual offences of rape; assault by penetration; causing a person to engage in sexual activity without consent; sexual activity/causing or inciting sexual activity/inducement, threat or deception to procure sexual activity with a person with a mental disorder impeding choice.

Where the prospective adopter's full history cannot be ascertained by conducting a criminal record check and other background checks (for example, where they have lived abroad for an extended period a Certificate of Good Conduct should be sought), a decision should be taken as to whether to carry out any other checks or take up additional references. The agency should ensure it has sufficient information to justify continuing. If it decides not to proceed, it should provide the prospective adopter with a clear written explanation of the reasons why.

The agency may not consider a prospective adopter suitable to adopt a child if they or any adult member of their household has been convicted of a specified offence committed at 18 or over, or has received a police caution in respect of a specified offence which they admitted at the time the caution was given. In such circumstances the agency must notify the prospective adopter in writing, with reasons, without delay.

Information obtained from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) should be retained on the prospective adopter's case record for a limited time only. This information should be destroyed when it is decided that the prospective adopter is suitable to adopt a child unless it is required for an adoption with a foreign element. It should be noted on the prospective adopter's case record that the DBS information has been destroyed, and that this information had led the agency to form a particular view, without citing the information itself.

Where the criminal record checks disclose previous convictions or cautions for non-specified offences, the agency may consider that the prospective adopter is not suitable to adopt. In such circumstances, the agency must exercise its discretion and decide whether to continue with Stage One. If it decides not to proceed, it must notify the prospective adopter in writing, with reasons, without delay.

In circumstances where the application is a joint application, the agency may only inform the prospective adopter who is the convicted or cautioned individual of the specific reason for terminating the assessment. The social worker should explain to that person that the agency will not inform the other person of the specific conviction or caution but will inform them that because of information obtained from the checks the joint application cannot proceed.

Likewise, where the checks reveal information about an adult member of the household that indicates that the agency must terminate the assessment, the agency is restricted from disclosing information about that conviction or caution which prevents the application from proceeding. It may inform that individual and suggest that they inform the prospective adopter but it may not do so itself. In such a case, the agency should counsel the prospective adopter that its checks indicate that the agency must not continue with the assessment and that its checks indicate that the agency should not proceed with the application.

2.2 Health Checks

Please note we are awaiting clarification from legal re medical information in non-agency and step parent adoptions.

The applicants will also be asked to arrange for an adoption medical examination and report from their G.P. (if this has not been done at an earlier stage), 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 social worker will provide the applicants with the relevant Coram 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 should 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 AAR 2005.

The agency's medical adviser will need to provide a summary of the prospective adopter's state of health as part of the prospective adopter's report. The adviser will need to form a view as to the adequacy of the medical reports received and to advise whether additional specialist opinion should be obtained. The prospective adopter's current GP may not have a full health history of the prospective adopter, particularly if they have received private medical care outside the NHS. Prospective adopters should be helped to understand the importance of making their full health history available to the agency's medical adviser.

Agencies have a duty to satisfy themselves that prospective adopters have a reasonable expectation of continuing to enjoy good health. The medical adviser should explain and interpret health information from the prospective adopter, their GP, and consultants to facilitate adoption panel discussion. The opinion of the agency's medical adviser needs to be given sufficient weight by adoption panels and the Agency Decision Maker.

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.

2.3 References

Applicants may be asked to provide the names of personal referees, who are adults and, have known the applicant for at least 5 years and are happy to provide a personal reference on the prospective adopter. A written report must be prepared of the interviews held with all of the referees.

Referees should be people who know the applicants well in a personal capacity, and it is desirable that the referees have involvement with the family, either in a personal or professional capacity.

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

The allocated adoption social worker will arrange for requests for written references to be sent.

The referees should be asked to comment on the following:

  1. The length of time the referee has known the applicant, in what circumstances, how they met and how regularly they are in contact;
  2. The couple's relationship including its stability and quality, the couple's strengths and ways of coping with stress and how mutually supportive the couple is;
  3. The applicants' general physical and emotional well being;
  4. How the applicants relate to children, with examples, and what experience the applicants have of caring for children;
  5. How the child has integrated into the new family make up and how the applicant/s have adjusted to parenting the child together;
  6. If the applicants have children of their own, how the referee thinks an adoption order will impact on the other children in the family;
  7. Any reservations the referee has and whether the referee wholeheartedly supports the application.

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 assessing social worker may also contact the previous partners of the applicants, and seek references from them where it is considered necessary. 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. Children of the applicant(s) living away from home may also be contacted, and references sought from them where considered appropriate.

In addition, as part of the assessment, where the child is of pre-school age or where the applicant has pre-school age children, the relevant health visitor(s) will be contacted, with the permission of the applicant, for information regarding the applicant's ability to promote the child's wellbeing and development.

In addition, as part of the assessment, where the child is of school age or 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.

Where applicable, the agency must ascertain whether the local authority in whose area the prospective adopter has had their home has any information about them that may be relevant to the assessment. If so, the agency must obtain from that authority a written report setting out the information. Local authorities asked for this information should comply promptly with these requests and provide this information within 15 working days wherever possible. In requesting information from a local authority, the agency should seek to ascertain whether records held by social services and education departments hold relevant information about the prospective adopter.

There is no reason in principle why information held by one part of the local authority should not be shared with another. Protocols operated by children's services may, however, restrict access to cases where there is concern for the safety of a child. This means that an adoption check may not automatically involve a check to see whether a child of the family has been the subject of a Child Protection Plan unless such a check is specifically requested. The prospective adopter may have lived for only a short period in the area of their local authority. In such cases, the agency should obtain information from the prospective adopter's former local authorities.

2.4 Counselling, Information and Preparation for Adoption

All prospective adopters will need some form of adoption preparation. The agency will need to decide its form and substance, that takes into account the prospective adopter's circumstances. Preparation should be designed to help prospective adopters make an informed decision about pursuing adoption based on an understanding of the needs of the child.

3. Sharing Information for the Purposes of Adoption Assessments

3.1 Information Sharing

Sharing information about a person that is held in their existing adopter records is permitted for the purposes of informing a new assessment of a person's suitability to 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 adopt includes:

  • The report of the original assessment of the person's suitability to 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 adopt and any other review report considered useful to understanding the person's current suitability to 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 adopter or their household members; and
  • Any other information considered to be relevant to the assessment of the person's suitability to adopt.

3.2 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 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 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.

4. The Assessment Process

4.1 Prospective Adopter Assessment Agreement

A written agreement must be entered into with the prospective adopter ('the prospective adopter assessment agreement') which must include the following:

  • The procedure for assessing the prospective adopter's suitability to adopt the child;
  • Any applicable timescales;
  • Any other matters which the agency considers relevant.

4.2 Assessment

In conducting the assessment, the social worker should analyse and consider the information they ascertain from and about the prospective adopter, including any issues identified during the adoption preparation. The approach should be objective and inquiring, with information evaluated and its accuracy and consistency checked. The assessment must be carried out by a qualified social worker with suitable experience.

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 a photograph and physical description, racial origin, cultural and linguistic background, religious persuasion, personality and interests, relationship (if any) to the child;
  • Individual profiles of the birth parents, including a photograph and physical description, racial origin, cultural and linguistic background, religious persuasion, personality and interests, relationship (if any) to the child;
  • 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;
  • Parenting capacity, experience of being parented and experience with children;
  • Support network, including wider family network;
  • Views and feelings about adoption and its significance, attitudes to birth families and approach to openness in adoption and contact;
  • Views about parental responsibility and what it means;
  • Views about a suitable home environment for the child;
  • Views about the importance and value of education;
  • Views and feelings about the importance of a child's religious and cultural upbringing;
  • Any other information which indicates how the prospective adopter and anybody else living in the household relates to a child placed for adoption;
  • Any other relevant information which might assist the court.

As part of the assessment:

  • Where an applicant has been divorced or separated, factors contributing to the breakdown of the relationship should be verified. This applies equally to significant relationships between couples who are not married;
  • The family's finances and the criteria for financial support should also be discussed.

5. Prospective Adopter's Annex A Report

The information gathered by the allocated social worker including the checks and personal The information gathered by the allocated social worker including the checks and personal references, will form the basis of the adoption assessment which will be presented in a report to the court known as an Annex A, together with any other relevant information.

The assessment will include the child's absent birth parent/s, information should be gathered about them and their views sought.

The social worker who assesses the prospective adopter should highlight any issues of concern and submit it to their team manager. Where there are any issues of significant concern or where clarification is needed, the manager may arrange for a second person to visit the prospective adopter to discuss these. The second person could be a team manager or another adoption social worker. A visit by another person provides a second opinion where necessary before the report to the court is finalised in cases where clarification is needed. The author of the report and the countersigning officer should both sign and date the report, state their qualifications and experience, and confirm that they are suitably qualified to prepare the report. 

Where information received during the assessment leads the Local Authority to consider that the prospective adopter is unlikely to be considered suitable to adopt the child, a brief report may be prepared regardless of whether or not all the required assessment information has been obtained. A decision not to complete the full assessment is a serious step to take and advice should first be sought from the social work team leader or line manager. Depending on the nature of the information, advice may also need to be sought from the agency's medical adviser or legal adviser, or both. The concerns should be explained to the prospective adopter who may decide to withdraw their application. If they decide not to withdraw their application, the brief Annex A report should be prepared and submitted to the court.

  • When the Prospective Adopter's Annex A report is finalised, it should be submitted to the court and the applicant should be notified of this. As applicants should have an understanding of the contents and recommendations held in the report but as the Annex A is a court document it should not be shared with the applicants unless leave has been granted by the court;
  • The court upon receiving the Annex A will make directions at it sees fit and will appoint a Cafcass officer.

6. Timescales

  • Where a potential applicant makes an enquiry to the Local Authority about adoption, this information should be provided within 10 working days;
  • The Local Authority will inform a potential applicant of whether they may support an application for adoption once it feels it has received enough information to do so;
  • The Local Authority will write to the potential applicant about its decision and the timescales for an assessment to commence;
  • The applicant should give the Local Authority 3 months' notice of intention to make an application for an adoption order before an assessment can commence;
  • If the Local Authority has no capacity to commence an assessment after an enquiry, it shall place the applicant's names on a waiting list and keep the applicants informed of the timescales for when an assessment may commence;
  • The Local Authority shall inform a potential applicant of their right to make an application to the court for an assessment for adoption (after 3 notice has been given);
  • If the Local Authority is directed by the court to complete an assessment in a timescale which it feels it is unable to reasonably meet it may write to the court to request an extension of the timescales.

7. Prospective Adopter's Case Record

A prospective adopter's case record must be set up as soon as the enquiry has been received by the Local Authority.

It must contain:

  • The information and reports obtained by the agency;
  • The prospective adopter assessment information;
  • The court report (Annex A) and any other court orders;
  • Any other documents or information obtained by the agency which it considers should be included in the case record.

Information which has been obtained from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) should be retained on the Prospective Adopter's Case Record for a limited time only. This information should be destroyed when the decision has been made as to whether the prospective adopter is suitable to adopt a child. It should be noted on the Prospective Adopter's Case Record that the DBS information has been destroyed and that this information had led the agency to form a particular view, without citing the information itself.

8. Criteria for Prospective Adopters

An individual or couple cannot apply for an assessment of their suitability to adopt unless they meet, or would meet, the eligibility criteria to apply for an Adoption Order. The criteria are that:

  • The prospective adopter(s) is at least 21 years old;
  • At least one of the couple or the single prospective adopter is domiciled in a part of the British Islands or both of the couple or the single prospective adopter have been habitually resident in a part of the British Islands for a period of not less than 1 year ending with the date of the application for an adoption order; and
  • Neither prospective adopter(s) nor an adult member of their household has been convicted or cautioned in respect of a specified offence.

8.1 Individual and Joint

Applications will be considered from married couples, civil partners, unmarried couples or single people. The requirement of the length of the marriage/civil partnership/relationship is at least 6 months, but the assessing social worker will need to be satisfied about the stability of the relationship.

8.2 Residency Rules

The child – length of placement with applicant's residency rules.

Partner adoption/step parent adoption application 6 months child/applicant.

Relative adoption application applicant child 3 years.

8.3 Religion

Applications will be considered from people of any or no religious persuasion.

8.4 Ethnicity

Applications will be considered from people of any race or culture.

The ability of a potential adopter to meet the needs of a child related to their religion, language and other characteristics associated with their and the potential adopter's "ethnicity" can be a relevant consideration in determining the appropriate match for a child. In some rare cases, it may be an important consideration. A prospective adopter should be considered able to parent a child with whom they do not share the same ethnicity, provided they can meet the child's most important identified needs throughout the child's childhood. The agency must provide them with flexible and creative support. This applies equally whether a child is placed with a black or minority ethnic family, a white family, or a family which includes members of different ethnic origins. Only in very exceptional circumstances should matching a child with prospective adopters be delayed solely on the grounds that the available prospective adopters cannot meet all the child's needs arising from their racial or cultural background. 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.

8.5 Age

The minimum age for adopters is 21 years. There is no specific upper age limit. Older and more experienced people could take on the care of older children, provided they will have the health and vigour to meet the child's varied demands in their growing years and to be there for them into adulthood. Age is also not necessarily linked to general health, fitness and emotional well-being. The agency's medical adviser may be asked to investigate and obtain relevant information about a prospective adopter's health in order to be satisfied that they are able to take on the task of adopting a child and have the expectation of caring for the child through childhood and into adulthood.

8.6 Gender

Applications are welcome from all people regardless of gender / gender identity.

8.7 Sexual Orientation

Applications will be considered from people of any sexual orientation.

8.8 Income

Applicants may be in work or not. Whatever the applicants' income, they will need to consider the financial implications of parenting children throughout their lives and will be able to meet the cost of an application for an adoption order to the court. In the event of an application being contested by an absent birth parent the applicant will need to demonstrate they can meet the cost of a contested court hearing which could amount to a considerable amount of money.

8.9 Health

Applicants will be required to provide medical information and be mindful that further tests/checks that may be required by the Local Authority'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 their childhood.

8.10 Criminal Convictions

A person who is seeking approval as an adoptive parent will not be considered if they 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 will consult the DCC Legal Department.

8.10 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 which is appropriate in size to the number and ages of the children within the household.

8.11 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. 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.

8.12 Location

Any applications can only be made by those who reside within the boundaries of Derbyshire County Council.

Applicants must be prepared and be available for assessment visits which will take place at the applicant's home.

Trix procedures

Only valid for 48hrs