See also: OAWY Panel Guidance for Social Workers.
In December 2019, minor revisions were made to confirm that DBS checks will not be required for panel members, and to clarify that where legal advice is required, it will be sought prior to the panel meeting.
1. Adoption Panel Purpose and Function
The Adoption Panel has an overriding responsibility to promote good practice, consistency of approach and fairness in all aspects of the adoption agency, in accordance with its procedures and values.
As part of this function, the Panel makes recommendations as to the following:
- The suitability of prospective adoptive applicants to adopt;
- Whether a child is suitable to be placed for adoption (in some cases - see below*);
- Whether a child should be placed for adoption with particular prospective adopters.
The recommendations of the Panel must be unconditional and cannot be 'in principle'.
*Since September 2012, most cases are not referred to the Adoption Panel; 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 Panel for a recommendation, but will be referred directly to the Agency Decision Maker for a decision. All other cases (i.e. where the parents have given consent to adoption of their child i.e. freely relinquished baby) 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.
The adoption agency must decide whether the prospective adopter is suitable to adopt a child within 4 months of the date on which the agency received the prospective adopter's notification that they wished to proceed with the assessment process.
Adoption Panels make a recommendation on whether a child is suitable to be placed for adoption (where the parents consent and there will be no Placement Order application) within 2 months of the Looked After Review where adoption was identified as the child's plan for permanence.
Adoption Panels make a recommendation on the proposed placement of a child with particular prospective adopters within 6 months of the Agency Decision Maker decision that the child is suitable to be placed for adoption.
Where the timescales are not met, the Adoption Panel should record the reasons.
Where cases are referred to the Adoption Panel for a recommendation, the Panel may also advise on the following issues:
- Where prospective adoptive parents are recommended as suitable to adopt, the number of children the adoptive parents may be suitable to adopt, as well as their age range, gender, likely needs and background, and, in the case of inter country adopters, the country from which they are suitable to adopt;
- Where it is recommended that a child is suitable to be placed for adoption, what the contact / family time arrangements for the child should be;
- Where it is recommended that a child should be placed with particular prospective adopters, the proposed adoption support, future contact / family time arrangements and whether or how the exercise of Parental Responsibility by birth parents and/or prospective adopters should be restricted.
Note that in cases which are referred directly to the Agency Decision Maker for a decision, they are expressly prohibited from referring a case to the Adoption Panel for advice.
The 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 The Child's Journey - Placement for Adoption Procedure, and receives Disruption Reports in relation to any breakdowns in adoptive placements (see Disruption of Adoptive Placement Procedure).
The Adoption Panel should also provide feedback to the adoption agency every 6 months on the quality of reports and whether there is a fair and consistent approach across the service.
2. Adoption Panel Membership
Members are appointed to a specific Panel to provide consistency, but their names are included in the Central List and on occasions may be required to sit on an alternative Panel (for example to assist with quoracy or court timetables, to prevent delay for children or to provide particular expertise). Each Panel aims to have a maximum of 10 members; they are appointed by the agency and to a Central List from which each Adoption Panel draws their membership. This List must be maintained by an appointed senior social worker with at least 5 years' relevant post-qualification experience and relevant management experience.
The membership will include an independent chair and one vice chair, two social workers with at least 3 years' relevant post-qualification experience in child care social work, including direct experience of adoption, the Panel's Medical Adviser, an education representative and at least 3independent members, 2 of whom should have personal experience of adoption, for example as an adoptive parent, an adopted person or a birth parent.
The Panel Membership should be gender balanced and reflect the composition of the community served by the agency.
The Chair must be an independent member, and is appointed by the Agency Decision Maker (adoption).
The Agency Decision Maker on adoption matters must not be a member of the Panel.The quorum is 5 or 6 if a joint Panel, one of whom must be the Chair or Vice Chair, one of the social worker representatives and at least one independent member. This may be the Chair, but where the Vice Chair has to chair the meeting and is not an independent member, an additional independent member will be required.
2.1 Appointments to the Panel
Panel Members are appointed by the Agency and there is no fixed period of office. However Panel Members, including the chair will be encouraged to offer a commitment for at least 3 years although there is the ability to give 3 months notice either way.
Panel Members will be expected to attend induction training and thereafter at least 1 Panel training day per year. They will also be offered other relevant training as appropriate.
Written information about the expectations arising from their appointment should be given to new members (in relation to performance objectives, including attendance at meetings, confidentiality and their general conduct - see Section 2.2 to 2.4 below). New members should be asked to sign a written agreement confirming their acceptance of these before taking up their appointment.
2.2 Attendance at Panel
Appointed Panel Members are expected to make every effort to attend Panel meetings and this agency's expectation is that Panel Members attend 75% of the Panels in anyone year.
If Panel Members are unable to attend, they should inform the Panel Administrator as soon as possible, to ensure the Panel is quorate.
All written and verbal information given to Panel Members in the course of their duties is strictly confidential. Panel Members 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 information 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. Any Panel papers, which are e-mailed externally, must be password protected.
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 Chair of the Panel. This should be done at the earliest opportunity, to ensure the Panel is quorate (see Section 2.5, Conflicts of Interest below).
Failure to comply with the above may result in the member's appointment being withdrawn.
2.4 General Conduct
Panel Members should be committed to anti-discriminatory practice and should be prepared to consider each case on its own merits.
Panel Members should have read the Panel papers carefully, prior to the Panel meeting, and come prepared to contribute to the Panel discussion.
The Panel Chair, in consultation with the Panel Advisor, will review each member's performance on a formal basis at least annually against agreed performance objectives.
If there are concerns about the conduct or behaviour of a Panel Member, this should be conveyed to the Chair who will raise these concerns with the member in private.
If concerns about a Panel Member's conduct or behaviour cannot be resolved informally, the Chair, in consultation with the Panel Adviser, will write to the member concerned setting out the concerns and what action it is proposed to take. See Section 2.7, Termination of Appointment of Panel Members below for action that may be taken if the concerns continue. This may result in termination of their membership to the Panel.
The Chair's performance will be reviewed annually by the Agency Decision Maker, taking into account the views of Panel Members and those who attend Panel meetings, for example social workers and prospective adopters.
2.5 Conflicts of Interest
Panel Members should consider 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 which would require the Panel Member to refrain from participation. It may be less clear in some cases when advice should be sought.
In the case of a potential conflict of interest where advice is required, Panel Members should consult the Chair, Panel Adviser or Legal Adviser, giving as much advance notice as possible particularly having regard to the implications for the quorum.
2.6 Resignations from the Central List
Panel Members are expected to give a minimum of 1 month's written notice, except where personal emergencies e.g. accidents, illness, make this impossible. Resignation letters should be addressed to the Agency with a copy to the Chair of the Panel.
The Panel Chair will be expected to give 3 months written notice and the agency will give the same length of notice if it wishes to terminate the appointment.
Initial verbal resignations may be given, but only at the close of Panel business and should always be followed by a written resignation. Panel Members are asked, as a matter of courtesy, to inform the Chair of the Panel of their intention to resign, before making any public announcement.
Panel Members wishing to withdraw a submitted written resignation must do so before the 1 month notice period expires by writing to the Agency Decision Maker who reserves the right not to accept a withdrawal of notice and to allow the original letter of resignation to stand.
2.7 Termination of Appointment to the Central List
Where there are concerns about a Panel Member's behaviour either inside or outside the meetings, and the difficulties have not been resolved by discussion and correspondence between the Chair, Panel Adviser and the member concerned, the matter will be raised by the Panel Adviser with the Agency Decision Maker, who will decide whether to propose the end of the appointment and if so, will advise the Panel Member in writing giving clear reasons for the proposal.
The Panel Member will be given the opportunity to make observations on the matter before a final decision is made by the Agency Decision Maker.
3. Agency Adviser to the Panel
An Agency Adviser to the Adoption Panel must be appointed.
The role of the Agency Adviser includes arranging 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 Adviser may on request provide advice to the Agency Decision Maker when they are considering a particular case.
The Agency Adviser is not a Panel Member. They contribute to Panel meetings by raising issues and providing advice, for example about the agency's procedures and practices.
The Agency Adviser should maintain an overview of the quality of the agency's reports, to 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 Adviser and the Panel chair should consider whether it is adequate for submission to the Panel. It will be for the Agency Adviser alone to decide whether the report is adequate for submission to the Agency Decision Maker (Adoption).The Agency Adviser 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. Adoption Panel Meetings
Additional Panels or meetings can be arranged at short notice where there is an urgent need to prevent delay to a child's plan.
In instances where legal advice is required it is to be obtained prior to panel.
The agenda will include at the beginning an opportunity for any Panel Member to declare an interest in any item on the agenda (see Section 2.5, Conflicts of Interest). If an interest is declared, the Chair must then decide whether the Panel Member should withdraw during consideration of the item.
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. The chair has the casting vote. In this event, any dissenting view should be fully recorded in the minutes.
Social workers presenting reports to the Panel must send their report and any supporting documentation required (as specified in the relevant procedures elsewhere in the Manual; see The Child's Journey - Placement for Adoption Procedure and Assessment and Approval of Adoptive Parents) to the Panel Administrator at least 14 working days before the date of the Panel meeting.
5. Agency Decision Maker
The Agency Decision Maker considers recommendations from the Adoption Panel and, in those circumstances outlined in Section 1, Adoption Panel Purpose and Function, also makes decisions about whether a child is suitable to be placed for adoption without reference to the Adoption Panel. The following principles apply to all such decisions.
In reaching their decision, the Agency Decision Maker must consider:
- The welfare checklist in Section 1 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002*:
- *The child's ascertainable wishes and feelings regarding the decision (considered in the light of the child's age and understanding);
- The child's particular needs;
- 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;
- The child's age, sex, background and any of the child's characteristics which the court or agency considers relevant;
- Any harm (within the meaning of the Children Act 1989 (c. 41)) which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering;
- 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:
- The likelihood of any such relationship continuing and the value to the child of its doing so;
- 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;
- The wishes and feelings of any of the child's relatives, or of any such person, regarding the child.
- All the information surrounding the case including the reports submitted to the Adoption Panel (where applicable), and that the authors of the reports are appropriately qualified to prepare them (see Section 9, Reports to Adoption Panel);
- 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 Panel including any minutes from adjourned Panel meetings and the Independent Review Panel.
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 its reasons or recommendation;
- To identify the reasons given for the relevant recommendation that they do or do not wish to adopt; and
- To state (a) the adopted reasons by cross-reference or otherwise and (b) any further reasons for their decision.
6. Adoption Panel Minutes
The Panel minutes will always record the information in relation to the following:
- The reports received. (The Panel's requirements as to reports are specified in the relevant procedures elsewhere in the Manual; see The Child's Journey - Placement for Adoption Procedure and Assessment and Approval of Adoptive Parents Procedure);
- Who attended and for which part of the discussion;
- Medical advice;
- Legal advice;
- The Panel's discussions (main points) and conclusions;
- The Panel's recommendations and reasons, including any reservations expressed by any member;
- Any advice given by the Panel.
The Panel minutes will be written in accordance with the format agreed and kept on every child's or prospective adopter's Adoption Case Record.
The Panel Chair is responsible for ensuring the accuracy of the Panel's recommendations, reasons and, following agreement with Panel Members, the minutes.
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. 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. The Panel's minutes should clearly set out the reasons why the Panel Chair had to use the casting vote.
Arrangements should be made by the Agency Adviser to the Panel for the safekeeping of the minutes and the record. Panel minutes, like other parts of Adoption Case Records, are exempt from the right of access provisions contained in the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and Data Protection Act 2018 (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.
Draft Panel minutes must be produced promptly and sent for checking to the Panel Chair, all Panel Members, the Panel Advisor and professionals presenting cases to the Panel, including adoption officers from outside agencies.
The Panel minutes will be approved by the Chair and sent to the Agency Decision Maker, together with the reports considered by the Adoption Panel when the recommendation was made, or the Independent Review Panel, so that the Agency Decision Maker can make a decision within 7 working days of receipt of the final minutes.
The child's parents or guardian and prospective adopter should be informed orally of the agency's decision within 2 working days and written confirmation should be sent to them within 5 working days. Where the case had been reviewed by the Independent Review Panel, a copy of the decision must be sent to the contract manager of the Independent Review Mechanism.
Where the decision maker is minded not to accept the recommendation of the Adoption Panel or Independent Review Panel, the decision maker should discuss the case with another senior person in the agency who is not a member of the Adoption Panel or Independent Review Panel. The outcome of that discussion, as well as the decision itself and its reasons must be recorded on the prospective adopter's case record and, in respect of a placement case, the child's case record too.
7. Independent Review Mechanism
Prospective adopters can use the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM) where a Qualifying Determination has been made by the adoption agency which carried out their assessment that they are not suitable.
For more information on the Independent Review Mechanism, please see Assessment and Approval of Prospective Adopters Procedure, Representations / Independent Review Procedure.
8. Liaison Officer
The Service Delivery Manager will act as the liaison officer and main contact between the agency and the IRM. The liaison officer will ensure that the IRM administrator receives all the appropriate documentation and the case is referred to the agency's decision maker after the IRM has made its recommendation. The liaison officer must ensure swift action is taken on requests made by the Review Panel, for example a request for a specialist medical report and give the IRM notification of the agency's decision. The liaison officer may delegate certain tasks to the Panel Manager.
9. Reports to Adoption Panel
Reports to the Adoption Panel in relation to 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 prospective adoptive parents or implementing an adoption plan for a Child Looked After. Where the author of the report does not have the requisite qualifications and experience, they must have either a qualification in social work or be a social worker in training, and must be supervised by a qualified social worker with 3 years' relevant experience.
Where the person preparing the report is an independent social worker, they must always be suitably qualified and experienced and be 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 and authors of Court Reports in Adoption cases.