Assessment and Approvals of Prospective Adopters

1. Recruitment and Responding to Initial Enquiries

Initial enquiries received via the Duty and Advice Team: 0113 3783535 - will be responded to by Adoption Advisors who will offer advice and respond to any queries the enquirer may have. Enquirers should also be advised to access the One Adoption and First4Adoption websites. Enquirers will be advised of the need to attend an adoption information session in order to move forward in the adoption process; be given an overview of the content covered during the Information Sessions and advised of the details of upcoming events.

Initial enquiries received via the One Adoption website will be responded to by the Adoption Advisor on duty. If a telephone number is provided, the enquiry will be responded to as described above. Where only an email address is provided the Adoption Advisor will respond providing the dates of upcoming information sessions and encourage enquirers to contact the Duty and Advice Team for further discussion should they have any queries.

Details of all enquiries, either by telephone or email will be entered into the electronic duty record.

2. Information Sessions

Some prospective adopters will attend information sessions direct having accessed dates themselves via the website.

Information sessions take place twice per month across West Yorkshire, with additional weekend dates also being offered.

Although adopters can make contact with as many agencies as they like, they can only make a single formal application to adopt.

A register and record of those attending information sessions will be kept as far as possible, however some enquirers may decide not to leave details.

Adoption agencies all have their own immediate needs and priorities, and being turned away by one agency does not necessarily mean they are unsuitable to be an adopter. It is therefore important that First4Adoption information is given to follow up.

Detailed information should enable potential adopters to consider better whether they want to proceed with the approval process and to reflect on the parenting needs of the children awaiting adoption. Detailed information should also enable them to consider their expectations of adoption, and the consequences for them and their family of caring for an adopted child who may have a range of complex needs.

Where an enquiry is about inter-country adoption, it should be established whether the potential adopter has considered adopting a Child Looked After. 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 Looked After in England, they should not be advised to apply to adopt a child from overseas. Applicants can be signposted to the Intercountry Adoption Centre.

There is a shortened process for prospective adopters who have already been approved as foster carers/adopters - see Section 16, Fast Track Procedure for Foster Carer Adopters and Experienced Adopter Assessments.

3. Initial Home Visits

Following attendance at the information session and at the request of the enquirer/s, an initial home visit (IHV) will be undertaken. A positive recommendation to proceed made by the Adoption Advisor/adoption social worker (ADA/ASW) and endorsed by the Adoption Team Manager (ATM) will result in a Registration of Interest (ROI) form being sent for completion.

The initial enquiry home visit request can be submitted at any point during the 12 month period following the information session being attended, and a standard letter will be sent acknowledging receipt.

If enquirers wish to be considered for adoption and want to proceed to Stage One they should return the ROI form. Documents confirming proof of identity should be viewed to by workers at the IHV. For further information please see Adoption Initial Visits Guidance.

4. Registration of Interest in Adoption

Once a potential adopter has received information about adoption they will either decide that adoption is not right for them at that point in time or will wish to move to the next stage of the process. Should they wish to move to the next stage, they will need to formally register their interest to enter Stage One of the approval process - the Pre-Assessment Stage (see Section 5, Stage One - The Pre-Assessment Process). From this point they are referred to as 'prospective adopters'.

Prospective adopters will register their interest via a form which will include as a minimum:

  • Name and address of the potential adopters;
  • Authority to commence Stage One checks;
  • A reminder that the potential adopters should be contactable in the week following their registration of interest, and a request for times for contact during that period;
  • Questions to ensure the potential adopters meet the eligibility criteria (see Section 25, Criteria for Prospective Adopters).

A decision should be reached within 5 working days from receipt of a registration of interest whether or not to accept this, unless there are exceptional circumstances which mean that longer is needed. To help the agency make this decision, it may be necessary to arrange a visit, have a meeting or a pre-planned telephone call (whichever is considered most appropriate in each individual case) with the prospective adopter. There may be circumstances where it would not be appropriate for the agency to accept a registration of interest, such as where there is lack of capacity to take on more prospective adopters. In cases like this, the agency should redirect the prospective adopter to First4Adoption or another agency which is currently recruiting.

The agency must not refuse to accept registrations of interest on the grounds of, for example, a prospective adopter's ethnicity, age, health, sexual orientation, religious beliefs or because they do not share the same ethnicity, culture or religious beliefs with the children waiting for an adoptive family. Prospective adopters may only be excluded if they do not meet the eligibility criteria.

Where the agency declines a registration of interest it should provide the prospective adopter with a clear written explanation of the reasons why, and offer them the choice of going directly to another agency or to First4Adoption for signposting to another agency.

Where the agency accepts a registration of interest it must set up a prospective adopter's case record in respect of the prospective adopter - see Section 22, Prospective Adopter's Case Record.

5. Stage One - The Pre-Assessment Process

Stage One begins when the agency accepts the registration of interest in adoption and should normally take no more than 2 months to complete. The ROI form includes permission to take up required references and checks. It is during this pre-assessment stage that the prospective adopter will be exploring the extent of their interest in and capacity for adoption, prior to a firmer decision on whether to proceed to Stage Two - The Assessment Process (see Section 14, Stage Two - The Assessment Process).

Stage One will focus on initial training and preparation, and on ascertaining, through prescribed checks and references, whether there is any absolute reason why the prospective adopter should not proceed further. The expectation is that the prospective adopter will be closely involved in the Stage One process and agencies are expected to take into account fully the prospective adopter's wishes on how they wish to work through Stage One.

The agency will explain in detail the Stage One process and what will be required of the prospective adopter, and will draw up the Stage One Agreement which will set out the responsibilities and expectations of both the prospective adopter and the agency during Stage One.

The Agreement must include:

  • Information about the counselling, information and preparation for adoption to be provided;
  • The procedure for carrying out Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks;
  • Details of any training that the prospective adopter has agreed to undertake;
  • Information about the role of the prospective adopter in the Stage One process;
  • Any applicable timescales;
  • Information about the process for making representations (including a complaint); and
  • Any other information that the agency considers relevant.

Whilst the importance of openness must be stressed to the prospective adopter, it should not be assumed that a failure to disclose information automatically implies that the prospective adopter is unsuitable. It will be necessary to discuss the matter and the reasons for non-disclosure.

Prospective adopters should be encouraged to use any other materials that offer them the opportunity to explore and reach an informed view about aspects of parenting and their parenting capacity and help them to identify their own training needs, including First4Adoption e-learning components. A visit, meeting or pre-planned telephone call with the prospective adopter (whichever best meets their preferences) should be undertaken to ensure that they have the opportunity to ask for more information or training based on their particular needs.

Where it is clear that Stage One will take longer than 2 months, an agency may delay making their pre-assessment decision. In this case agencies will be required to detail the reasons for the extended timescale on the prospective adopter's case record, along with supporting evidence. This information is important given that performance on the timeliness of the approval process will be measured.

Where an agency decides that a prospective adopter is not suitable to adopt during or at the end of Stage One, it must inform the prospective adopter of the decision and provide them with a clear written explanation of the reasons why they will not be able to proceed to Stage Two. Prospective adopters who wish to complain about this decision may make a complaint using the agency's local complaints procedure. They will also be able to raise general concerns about the process with First4Adoption. The Independent Review Mechanism is not available for decisions made during Stage One.

If a prospective adopter wishes to take a break between Stage One and Stage Two, or an agency recommends such a break, this will be subject to a maximum time limit of 6 months. Where this break is longer than 6 months the prospective adopters will need to restart Stage One. The Stage One Plan should take into account activities undertaken previously.

Where an agency considers that a prospective adopter might be suitable to adopt a child, the agency must notify them of its decision and explain that they must notify the agency if they wish to proceed to Stage Two within 6 months of the date of the agency's notification. Stage One ends with the agency's pre-assessment decision about whether the prospective adopter might be suitable to adopt.

The following information about the prospective adopter/s must also be gathered during Stage One:

  • Name, sex, date and place of birth and address including the local authority area;
  • If the prospective adopter is married or has formed a civil partnership but are applying alone for an assessment of their suitability to adopt, the reasons for this;
  • Details of any previous family court proceedings in which the prospective adopter has been involved;
  • Names and addresses of 3 referees who will give personal references on the prospective adopter, not more than one of whom may be a relative;
  • Name and address of the prospective adopter's registered medical practitioner;
  • If the prospective adopter:
    • Is married, the date and place of the marriage;
    • Has formed a civil partnership, the date and place of registration of that partnership; or
    • Has a partner, details of that relationship.
  • Details of any previous marriage, civil partnership or relationship;
  • Whether the prospective adopter is domiciled or habitually resident in a part of the British Islands and if habitually resident for how long they have been habitually resident;
  • Where the prospective adopter lives in another local authority area, it should be ascertained whether that local authority has any information about the prospective adopter which may be relevant to the assessment of the prospective adopter's suitability to adopt and, if so, a written report should be obtained from that authority setting out that information;
  • The adoption agency may ask the prospective adopter to provide any further information the agency may reasonably require;
  • Details of other members of the prospective adopter's household (including any children of the prospective adopter whether or not resident in the household).

6. Disclosure and Barring Service Checks

Criminal record checks with the Disclosure and Barring Service must be carried out on the prospective adopter and any members of their household aged 18 years and over.

Prior to Stage One, prospective adopters 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 to Stage Two 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.

The DBS online application will be processed once the registration of interest (ROI) has been accepted. Applicants will be asked to record their application details onto the on line DBS system. The ADA will then verify the evidence on the on line DBS system. Once verified, the ADA should advise the Adoption Administration Officer (AAO) / Business Support Manager (BSM) by e-mail. The AAO / BSM will then complete Section Y of the online application and submit to the DBS Team for countersigning and onward transmission to DBS for processing. The AAO / BSM will then advise the ADA when the electronic DBS disclosure is received.

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 with Stage One but not delay the approval process. 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 Stage One. 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 Stage One, 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 Stage One and that its checks indicate that the agency should not proceed with the application.

7. Health Checks

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 applicants will be provided with the relevant CoramBAAF medical forms for completion by the GP.

The completed Medical Form should then be sent to the Medical Adviser.

The GP's report should have been written within the 6 months prior to the Adoption Panel meeting and Agency Decision 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 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.

In line with CoramBAAF guidelines a child under 5 years or a child vulnerable to chest complaints will not be placed in a household where one or both parents are smokers (inclusive of e-cigarettes and vaping). Current agency medical advice is that applicants can be considered non smokers when they have not smoked for 6 months.

8. References

See also: Guidance on References in Adoption.

Applicants will be asked to provide the names of 3 personal referees, who are adults (not more than one of whom should be related to them), have known the applicant for at least 2 years, but preferably significantly longer who will give personal references on the prospective adopter. A written report must be prepared of the interviews held with each of the referees.

Referees should be people who know the applicants well in a personal capacity, and it is desirable that the referees have direct experience of caring for children, either in a personal or professional capacity as well as an understanding of the issues in relation to being an adoptive parent.

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

A written reference will also be obtained from each applicant's last/current employer. Further references from previous employers may need to be considered where an applicant has worked with children or vulnerable adults.

Where the applicant has made a previous application to foster or adopt, the relevant agency must be asked to confirm in writing the outcome of the application and provide a written reference.

Where the applicant is an experienced adopter, references will be requested from all relevant adoption services.

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. Where there is a joint application, 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 are;
  3. The applicants' general physical and emotional well being and whether adoption is appropriate for them;
  4. How the applicants relate to children, with examples, and what experience the applicants have of caring for children;
  5. How the applicants have adjusted to childlessness if this is the case, how they have prepared to become adoptive parents, how much they have shared with the referees and how open they are in talking about the issues surrounding adoption;
  6. If the applicants have children of their own, how the referee thinks a child from a different ethnic background will impact on the other children in the family;
  7. Where the applicant(s) have pets, how they are managed and if they present any risk to children;
  8. Any reservations the referee has about the safety and welfare of any prospective adoptive children and whether the referee wholeheartedly supports the application;
  9. What support the referee is able to offer the prospective adopters.

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.

The assessing social worker may also contact the previous partners of the applicants in certain circumstances and seek references for them where 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. If they were married, or in a relationship for more than 5 years and lived together within the last 10 years, they should also be contacted whether they had children or not. If there is no address for contact this should be recorded on file and relevant information included in the assessment report. The prospective adopter should contact the ex-partner to let them know about potential contact from the department.

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 applicant has school age children, the relevant school(s) may 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 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 Social Care 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.

These are minimum requests and assessing workers may make any other enquiries they feel appropriate and where this is agreed with their team manager and/or the applicants.

9. Preparation for Adoption

Preparation is designed to help prospective adopters make an informed decision about pursuing adoption based on an understanding of the qualities they have to offer a child. The agency should build on these strengths when working with the prospective adopter. Adoption preparation may be provided by the agency itself or with another agency or adoption support agency.

Prospective applicants will be invited to attend preparation groups as soon as possible and dates should be provided at the initial visit and confirmed in the Stage One Agreement. It should be explained that the process will be delayed if applicants are unable to attend initial preparation, and a clear indication of availability should be requested. In addition they should also be encouraged to access the e-learning components on the First4Adoption website.

Where for operational reasons we are unable to offer, or prospective adopters are unavailable to attend preparation groups within Stage One, they may only exceptionally attend in Stage Two.

The Adoption Advisor will remain the link person with the prospective adopters throughout the Stage One process and should provide contact details at the IHV for this purpose. At the end of Stage One the responsible worker will gather and review the information and make a clear recommendation to the team manager about how to proceed. The responsible worker will need to monitor the tight Stage One, 2 month time framework, and alert managers as soon as possible to actual and potential delays which should be clearly documented.

10. Pre-Assessment (Stage One) Decision

The adoption agency must gather Stage One information and make a Pre-Assessment Decision as to whether the prospective adopter may be or is not is not suitable to adopt a child, within a period of 8weeks from the date on which the prospective adopter registered their interest in adopting a child (unless there are good reasons to extend that time period). If the time period is extended, the reasons must be recorded on the prospective adopter's case record, along with supporting evidence.

Where the Pre-Assessment Decision is that the prospective adopter is not suitable to adopt a child, the prospective adopter must be provided with a clear written explanation of the reasons why they will not be able to proceed to Stage Two.

Where the Pre-Assessment Decision is that the prospective adopter might be suitable to adopt a child, the prospective adopter must be advised of the decision and that they have 6 months in which to notify the agency if they wish to proceed to Stage Two - the Assessment Stage.

If the prospective adopters provide notification of their wish to proceed outside this 6 months time limit, they will need to restart Stage One. They should be contacted within 5 working days of their notification and offered a re-entry interview. The Stage One Plan should take into account activities undertaken previously.

Based on the information gathered during this period and the recommendation of the ADA, the agency will make a decision on whether to proceed to the assessment (Stage Two) stage and invite an application. This decision will be made by the ATM and confirmed in writing. If proceeding, the letter will confirm that additional checks including school, nursery, ex partner, employers and adult children may be undertaken, and formal referees will also be visited.

Stage One ends with the Pre-Assessment Decision.

11. Complaints

If the agency decides that prospective adopters are unsuitable, then they must provide a clear explanation in writing, of the reasons why they are not proceeding, and provide details of the national advice line. A complaint using the local complaints procedure can be submitted if enquirers are dissatisfied and the complaints leaflet should be enclosed with the letter. They will also be able to raise general concerns about the process with First4Adoption. The Independent Review Mechanism is not available for decisions made during Stage One.

12. Experienced / Sibling Adopters

The agency would generally recommend an age gap of 2 years between an existing child within the family and a child being placed for adoption and that 12 months have passed since the first adoption order was granted unless the child is a sibling of an existing adopted child.

Information from any previous assessment may inform the current application. However, any application from experienced adopters should be considered a new application and checks, medicals, references and the assessment should reflect this. A new PAR should be completed which details the changes in the family and household since the previous adoption.

The type of adoption preparation can be flexible, depending on the needs of the adopters. A one day experienced adopters course is available through the One Adoption Hub.

13. Sharing Information for the Purposes of Prospective Adopter Assessments

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

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

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

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

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

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

The receiving service should acknowledged the request within 2 working days, seek consent from all others referred to in the information within 5 working days and the information, redacted where necessary, should be provided within 15 working days.

14. Stage Two - The Assessment Process

Prospective adopters are not able to commence Stage Two of the process until they have successfully completed Stage One.

Stage Two should generally be completed by the same agency as Stage One.

Stage Two starts when the agency receives notification from the prospective adopters that they wish to proceed with the assessment process (within 6 months of the agency decision). Stage Two should take 4 months unless there are exceptional circumstances which mean the agency cannot make the decision within that time.

Agencies must prepare with the prospective adopter a Stage Two Prospective Adopter Agreement detailing the assessment process, dates for meetings/visits, agreed training and any further information that may be required and agreeing a Panel date. Agencies should provide any necessary intensive training and in parallel, carry out an assessment of the prospective adopter's suitability to adopt and produce a report of that assessment (Prospective Adopter's Report).

This stage should begin with a meeting between the prospective adopter and the allocated social worker. The social worker should explain how Stage Two will operate and what will be required of the prospective adopter. The social worker should explain the decision-making process and the role of the Adoption Panel and the Independent Review Mechanism.

A decision must be reached as to 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 wish to proceed with the assessment process (6 months if there are exceptional circumstances). Reasons for any extensions should be recorded on the prospective adopter's case file.

Stage Two will end with the Agency Decision Maker's decision about the suitability of the prospective adopter to adopt a child.

Applicants continue to have up to 5 working days to comment on their assessment report before it goes to panel if they wish.

The completed process should usually takes 6 months in total and Stage Two should be 4months from date of application to date of agency decision.

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 (see Adoption Panel Procedure).

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;
  • Information about the home, the local community and the neighbourhood;
  • Details of education and employment - past and present;
  • Income and expenditure;
  • Details of past and present relationships;
  • Motivation to adopt/childlessness;
  • Parenting capacity, experience of being parented and experience with children;
  • Support network, including wider family network;
  • 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 is likely to relate to a child placed for adoption;
  • Any other relevant information which might assist the adoption panel or the adoption agency.

As part of the assessment:

  • A family tree and Chronology of key events in the applicant's life from birth must be compiled, showing his or her educational, employment, marital and/or relationship history and addresses for the previous 10 years; any gaps and/or unusual patterns should be explored;
  • An Adult Attachment Style Interview will be carried out with first time prospective adopters;
  • All information provided by the applicant must be independently verified where possible, by checking it against other sources such as referees;
  • 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 adequacy and safety of the prospective adoptive home and transport will be assessed;
  • Where the applicants have pets, a risk assessment should be conducted and any associated risks should be taken into account both in relation to the pet itself and where the pet is kept. Where applicants have dogs, or any other pet where it is felt necessary, a risk assessment will be carried out during Stage One of the assessment process.

The assessment will consider the likely need for adoption support services of the prospective adopters and any member of their family - see Adoption Support Services. As part of this, the family's finances and the criteria for financial support should also be discussed.

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

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

15. Fostering for Adoption / Early Permanence Placements

Discussion should take place with the prospective adopter about whether they may be interested in fostering a child for whom adoption is thought to be a likely outcome. This can be where, although the child's plan is likely to become adoption, other options have not yet been ruled out for that child. There is no need for the agency to assess and approve the prospective adopter as a temporary foster carer at the same time as they are carrying out the adopter approval process although they can do so if they and the prospective adopter wish to do so. The child's local authority can arrange for the foster care assessment and approval of an approved adopter.

The agency should indicate on the Prospective Adopter's Report if the prospective adopter is interested in Fostering for Adoption. This will allow prospective adopters to be matched with a child requiring an early permanence placement.

16. Fast Track Procedure for Foster Carer Adopters and Experienced Adopter Assessments

It is expected that foster carer adoption and experienced adoption assessments will be completed in 4 months total where possible. Previous adopters and approved foster carers may be able to proceed straight to Stage Two and receive a tailored assessment to take account of such factors as their previous experience of adopting or fostering and the needs of the child they have previously adopted/fostered.

There is no requirement to provide counselling, information and preparation for adoption.

The preliminary Pre-Assessment Decision stage is not necessary, and the assessment process progresses straight to preparation of the Prospective Adopter's Report.

Any necessary additional training should be provided.

The decision as to whether the prospective adopter is suitable to adopt a child must be made within 4 months of the date on which the prospective adopter registered their interest in adopting a child.

17. The Prospective Adopter's Report

The information gathered during Stage One (the pre-assessment stage), the Stage Two (the assessment stage), including the checks and personal references, will form the basis of the Prospective Adopter's Report, together with any other relevant information. The report will also include a summary by the Medical Adviser of the health report(s) obtained on the applicant/s.

The social worker who assesses the prospective adopter should draft the Prospective Adopter's Report highlighting 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 but must remain mindful of the timeframe for Stage Two. 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 panel is finalised in cases where clarification is needed but should not be routinely carried out. 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 agency to consider that the prospective adopter is unlikely to be considered suitable to adopt a child, a 'brief Prospective Adopter's 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 adoption Team Manager and where appropriate Service Delivery 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 and they should be offered counselling, involving other professionals as appropriate. As a result of the counselling and advice, the prospective adopter may decide to withdraw their application. If they decide not to withdraw their application, the brief Prospective Adopter's Report should be prepared.

The Report will include the agency's assessment of the prospective adopter's suitability to adopt.

Reports should address anti-discriminatory and valuing diversity issues. It should contain a summary of the assessed strengths and vulnerabilities of the applicants, together with an opinion of the type of placement likely to be provided successfully. Potential risk factors should be highlighted.

Once the assessing adoption officer has completed the report, it should be submitted to the Team Manager for agreement and signing. If there are any issues of concern raised in the assessment or there are issues which require clarification, the manager should obtain a second opinion on those issues from another experienced practitioner, before agreeing and approving the report content.

When the Prospective Adopter's Report is finalised, a copy should be sent to the applicants, and they must be notified that the application is to be referred to the Adoption Panel. The applicants should be invited to send any observations in writing within 5 working days, beginning with the date on which the notification was sent (this timescale may be extended in exceptional circumstances). At the end of the 5 working days (or where that timescale is extended by the adoption agency, as soon as possible after the prospective adopter's observations are received) the following must be sent to the Adoption Panel:

  • The prospective adopter's report and the prospective adopter's observations thereon;
  • Where the Agency Medical Advisor so advises, the medical report on the prospective adopter;
  • References;
  • Where applicable, relevant information from the prospective adopter's home local authority; and
  • Any other relevant information obtained by the agency.

The applicants should also be invited to attend the meeting of the Adoption Panel, which considers their application. They should be provided with written information about the Panel process, its membership, who will attend and their respective roles. If the applicants know a particular Panel member, the applicants may request that the Panel member stand down. (Panel members are in any event expected to declare an interest in these circumstances - see Adoption Panel Procedure).

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

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

The social worker will then forward the Prospective Adopter's Report, the applicants' written comments (if any), a full health report, the report on the interviews with the referees, the report from the local authority for the area where the applicant lives (if they live in a different local authority area) and any other relevant documents, to the Panel Administrator at least 14 working days before the relevant Adoption Panel meeting.

18. The Panel Recommendation

The assessing social worker will attend the Panel meeting (with their manager where appropriate), together with the applicants if they so wish. The decision to attend rests with the applicants and a wish not to attend will not prejudice consideration of their application.

Applicants who decide they wish to attend should be fully prepared as to the procedure prior to their attendance.

The Panel will consider the Prospective Adopter's Report together with all the supporting documentation, and make a recommendation to the Agency Decision Maker (Adoption) regarding the suitability of the applicant to adopt a child. The panel may request the agency to obtain any other relevant information which it considers necessary, and may obtain legal advice as it considers necessary in relation to the case.

Where, during the Stage Two Assessment stage, the agency was of the opinion that the prospective adopter is unlikely to be suitable to adopt, and prepared a brief Prospective Adopter's Report without having obtained all the assessment information, then the Adoption Panel must either request the preparation of a full Prospective Adopter's Report having obtained all the assessment information, or recommend that the prospective adopter is not suitable to adopt.

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

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

The adoption worker undertaking the assessment will advise the applicant of the Panel recommendation within 2 days of the Panel Meeting. This will be verbally, by telephone or, where appropriate, a home visit. If applicants attend, they will be advised by the Panel Chair at Panel.

19. After the Panel Recommendation

The decision as to whether the prospective adopter is suitable to adopt a child must be made 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.

The decision may be delayed:

  • Where there are exceptional circumstances which mean that the decision cannot be made within that time; or
  • Upon the request of the prospective adopter.

If the decision is delayed, the reasons must be recorded on the prospective adopter's case record, along with supporting evidence.

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

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

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

The panel administrator will inform the adoption officer of the decision, so that it can be given to the applicants orally within 2 working days and written notice of the decision, signed by the agency decision maker, within 5 working days of the decision.

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

If a prospective adopter is considered unsuitable to adopt during Stage Two, the prospective adopter will be able to make representations to the agency or request a review by the Independent Review Mechanism. The prospective adopter will also be able to raise general concerns about the process nationally with First4Adoption.

Where the agency considers that more time is needed or a prospective adopter wants more than 4 months to complete Stage Two, the agency may delay making their decision on the suitability of the prospective adopter. If the decision is delayed the agency must detail the reasons for the extended timescale on the prospective adopter's case record, along with supporting evidence. Again, this information is important given that performance on the timeliness of the approval process will be measured.

Where a decision to delay or defer is made, this must be clearly recorded on the appropriate decision record form.

Approved adopters should be informed about the role of the regional One Adoption Hub.

20. Representations / Independent Review Procedure

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

After the 40 working day period has expired, the Agency Decision Maker must proceed to make a decision on the suitability of the prospective adopter to adopt.

Where the agency receives representations from the prospective adopter within 40 working days, the Agency Decision Maker may consider the representations and may invite the prospective adopter to meet to discuss their case. The Agency Decision Maker may, instead, refer the case to the Adoption Panel for further consideration. Where the case is referred to the Panel, the Panel must consider the case again and make a fresh recommendation as to the suitability of the prospective adopter to adopt a child. The prospective adopter must be invited to attend the Panel meeting to answer any questions the Adoption Panel may have.

The Agency Decision Maker may consider the representations and may invite the prospective adopters to meet to discuss their case. The decision maker may, instead refer the case to the Adoption Panel for further consideration. Where the case is referred to the Panel, the Panel must consider the case again and make a fresh recommendation. The prospective adopters must be invited to attend the Panel meeting.

The Panel Administrator will advise the applicant within 7 days of the date of the Panel Meeting when they can attend or their written representations will be considered.

In these circumstances, applicants who wish to attend the meeting of the Adoption Panel can arrange for a friend or supporter to accompany them.

After considering the representations, the Panel will make further recommendations either confirming or amending their previous views, which the Agency Decision Maker will consider before a final decision is made.

Written notice of the final decision, together with reasons, must be sent to the applicant as soon as possible after the decision, and, in any event, within 7 working days of the Panel meeting. A copy of the Adoption Panel's further recommendation must also be sent, if different from the decision.

If the applicant decides to refer the matter to Independent Review, the relevant Panel reports, any new information obtained since the Panel meeting, a record of the decision made and reasons, a copy of the written notification of the decision and a copy of the Panel minutes, if different, will be sent to the Independent Review within 10 working days of their written request.

The procedure for the Independent Review Mechanism is carried out by Coram Children's Legal Centre on behalf of the Department for Education; the applicant and a representative of the adoption agency will be invited to attend the Independent Review. After considering the representations, the Independent Review may make a recommendation, which the Agency Decision Maker (Adoption) will consider before a final decision is made.

Written notice of the final decision, together with reasons, must be sent to the applicant as soon as possible after the decision, and in any event, within 7 working days of the receipt of the Independent Review recommendation.

A copy of the report to the Panel, the Panel's recommendation and the decision, with reasons, must be retained on the applicant's Adoption Case Record.

In respect of a case referred to the independent review panel, the Secretary of State must also be given written notification of the decision.

21. Prospective Adopter's Case Record

A prospective adopter's case record must be set up as soon as the registration of interest is accepted. It must contain:

  • The Registration of Interest;
  • The information and reports obtained by the agency;
  • The prospective adopter assessment plan;
  • The prospective adopter's report and the prospective adopter's observations on that report;
  • The written record of the proceedings of the adoption panel, its recommendation, the reasons for the recommendation and any advice given by the panel to the agency;
  • The record of the agency's decision;
  • The recommendation of any independent review panel;
  • Where applicable, the prospective adopter's review report and the prospective adopter's observations on that report;
  • The prospective adopter matching plan when completed; and
  • 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.

22. Prospective Adopter Matching Plan

This is prepared by an adoption agency, in consultation with a prospective adopter, where that prospective adopter has been approved by the agency as suitable to adopt a child.

It includes:

  • Information about the duties of the adoption agency in respect of placements and reviews;
  • Information about the role of the prospective adopter in identifying a child for whom they would be an appropriate adopter;
  • Information about the process for making a representation (including a complaint); and
  • Any other matters that the agency consider relevant.

23. Review of Prospective Adopters' Approval

The adoption social worker will support the adopters through the period of waiting for a placement, identify any further training needs, arrange updated medical examinations as requested by the Medical Adviser, consider any potential matches and discuss any such matches with the approved adopters before a match is presented to the Adoption Panel. The adoption social worker will visit as required.

Approved adopters will be asked to be available for children from One Adoption in need of an adoption, after which they will be informed of and referred to the Regional Hub with their consent.

They will also be informed of local support groups and training opportunities and be advised of their responsibility to maintain links with the adoption social worker and keep them informed of any significant changes in their situation.

All approved adopters will be subject to Disclosure and Barring Service checks every 3 years.

The Adoption Team Manager will review the adopters' approval at least annually by means of a report from an adoption social worker, together with any comments on the report from the prospective adopters. The report should be completed by an adoption social worker who did not assess the adopter so as to maintain a degree of independence in the review process.

The review should consider the prospective adopter's family circumstances: health, economic circumstances, work commitments, and whether Police and medical checks are still up to date. Where the Police checks are more than 3 years old, these should be renewed. The prospective adopter's medical should be updated every 2 years and/or a conversation should be had with the medical adviser if there are thought to be changes in the adopter's medical status and wellbeing to decide if a medical should be updated before the 2 years is reached.

Where the agency completes its review and considers that the prospective adopter remains suitable to adopt, it need only inform the prospective adopter and record its view on the prospective adopter's case record.

Where the information gathered in the review suggest to the agency that the prospective adopter may no longer be suitable to adopt, AAR 29.4 sets out the steps that the agency must take. As with the original approval process, the report that the agency presents to Panel in these circumstances must be shared with the prospective adopter so that they may make comments. The rest of the process, including the rights of the prospective adopter in the event of an unfavourable outcome, is the same as for the original approval process.

In some cases the prospective adopter may accept, with the help of counselling, that as their circumstances have changed significantly they are no longer suitable to adopt, or that they no longer wish to go ahead. The agency should note this on the prospective adopter's case record and ensure that the panel is informed that the prospective adopter no longer wishes to adopt. If this occurs prior to the prospective adopter's review report being prepared or submitted to Panel, there is no need for the agency to carry out the subsequent actions set out in ARR 29.

24. 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 one 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.

Applications will be considered from married couples, civil partners, unmarried couples or single people. In the case of joint applications, there is no minimum requirement on the length of the marriage/civil partnership/relationship, but the assessing social worker and Panel will need to be satisfied about the stability of the relationship. 

Religion

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

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.

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 wellbeing. The agency's medical adviser should 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.

Gender

Applications will be considered from people of any gender.

Sexual Orientation

Applications will be considered from people of any sexual orientation.

Income

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

Health

Applicants will be required to have a full medical and undergo any further tests/checks that may be required by the Adoption Panel's Medical Adviser. The Medical Adviser will advise on the applicants' ability, from a health point of view, to meet the needs of a child throughout his or her childhood. CoramBAAF guidelines on BMI will be followed: therefore applicants over 40 BMI will not be considered.

In line with CoramBAAF guidelines a child under 5 years or a child vulnerable to chest complaints will not be placed in a household where one or both parents are smokers (including vaping and e-cigarettes).

Current agency medical advice is that applicants can be considered non smokers when they have not smoked for 6 months.

Applicants misusing substances and/or using illegal drugs will be considered unsuitable to adopt.

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 where a criminal conviction exists, the matter will be referred to the Adoption Service Manager who may also consult the Head of Service before a decision is made to proceed.

Accommodation

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

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

Fertility Tests/Treatment

Childless couples wishing to adopt will usually be required to have completed any fertility tests and treatment, and to have had a period of time since completing the tests before an application can be accepted. This is because it is important for couples to have had sufficient time to accept their infertility and grieve this loss before starting the adoption process.

Applicants who have a Child or Children

Any child placed for adoption should be at least 2 years younger than children in the family. We would be very reluctant to accept an application to adopt an older child where there is a younger child in the family. For Experienced Adopters, the agency would generally recommend an age gap of 2 years between an existing child within the family and a child being placed for adoption and that 12 months have passed since the first adoption order was granted.

Domicile/Habitual Residence in the British Isles

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

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

Location

Applications are welcome from those who live within travelling distance of any of the One Adoption Offices.

Child Care Experience

It is beneficial for adopters to have some knowledge and experience of caring for children. However, we also offer training and support for adopters to help build a trusting relationship with a child and meet their needs throughout life.

Support Network

Applicants will need to demonstrate that they have accessible and established support networks of family and friends who will be in a position to provide support with parenting As well as emotional and practical support post adoption.

Post Placement/Post Adoption Contact

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

tri.x procedures