Working with Birth Parent Relinquished Babies
AMENDMENTIn February 2019, a new Section 3, Consent and Competency was added to reflect recent High Court rulings.
1. Initial Contacts / Requests for Service
Initial contacts and requests for service will typically be received regarding an unborn child or a very young baby and are likely to come via a health professional or following a self-referral to the local authority children's social care 'front door' or initial contact centre who will then pass the details to the relevant area field work team. The initial contact centre will obtain relevant details regarding the birth parents and the child or unborn baby - including the reasons why adoption is being considered.
The allocating team manager will appoint a social worker and also contact the adoption Family Finding Team Manager that covers their local authority to request the appointment of an adoption social worker to co-work and offer counselling to the birth parent. A Single Assessment will be undertaken and will be entered on the local authority's Children's Information System within 7working days of receipt of the referral. In relinquished baby adoption the area team social worker will complete the Single Assessment and send it to Legal Gateway Panel (Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees), Decision and Review Panel (DARP, Leeds) or Gateway to Care Panel (Wakefield).
All case recording will be entered onto the local authority's Children's Information System. As the information is highly sensitive, the social worker must contact the Children's Information Team to request that the record is 'shielded'. All case recording will be entered onto the Children's Information System and this will become the child's adoption file. The Family Finding Worker and their manager will ensure the child is entered into the Regional Adoption Agency's list of children referred for adoption, with a note that they are a relinquished baby.
The initial counselling interview will be undertaken jointly by the child's social worker and adoption social worker, and will normally be with the birth parent(s) and, if very young, their parent(s). The focus of this interview will be a general discussion about adoption and its legal and emotional implications and a discussion of available alternatives. It should be emphasised that discussion about adoption is not a commitment to proceed.
The social worker and adoption social worker will need to get to know the parent/s properly so that they can plan for the child. Any questions asked by the parents need to be answered honestly with plenty of reassurance, particularly if there are other children in the family, that they will not be 'taken' too.
The parent(s) must be given the adoption memorandum (Information for Birth Parents about Adoption). Their acknowledgement, when given, should be placed on the adoption case file.
It is usual to include the father of the child in the counselling process. The birth mother should be encouraged to provide the father's name. His consent to adoption will be required if he has Parental Responsibility. When determining whether to contact a father without Parental Responsibility when the mother does not wish to disclose his identity, the following criteria must be considered:
- The nature of the child's relationship with the father;
- The nature and extent of the father's relationship with the mother and any siblings;
- Whether failure to disclose to the father would constitute a contravention of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (concerning respect for private and family life);
- The child will require background information, including health information regarding their father.
Reasons for not involving the father must be discussed with the social work team manager, the adoption Family Finding Team Manager and legal services. Any decision must be recorded on the Children's Information System. Where the father's identity cannot be established or the case is complex, legal advice must be sought as soon as possible to ensure that there is no unnecessary delay for the child.
Further interviews will be essential to continue the counselling process and should lead to a decision being made by the parent(s). Counselling should continue and issues to be explored would include:
- Contact / family time (e.g. while the child is Accommodated pending adoption and post adoption);
- Separation and loss;
- Emphasise legal process and finality of adoption;
- Family medical information;
- Comprehensive background history for the child;
- Alternatives to adoption e.g. extended family members, short term foster care with the aim of returning the child with support or staying with the parent from birth;
- Avenues of support for the parent(s);
- Meeting the adoptive parent(s) / contact post adoption;
- Choice of family;
- Inform of child's rights - access to information provision (useful to record reaction on file).
Every effort must be made to elicit comprehensive family health background information - using CoramBAAF medical forms.
Information from both parents needs to be obtained.
If the plan remains adoption the workers must explore the possibility of the baby being placed with Early Permanence carers (approved adopters who are given temporary approval as foster carers) from the outset.
The emphasis upon urgent planning is strong: in some cases it may be feasible with enough preparation for the Adoption Panel to be ready to consider the case within a day or so of the birth and the Agency Decision Maker to make the decision the same day. Upon the child's birth, additional counselling must be offered to ensure adoption remains the plan.
3. Consent and Competency
The Adoption Agency must be sure that the parent or the guardian is competent to give consent.
During the counselling sessions, care should be given to identifying whether the parent(s) are capable of giving consent, especially if there is evidence of: learning disabilities; mental health issues; cultural, ethnic or faith issues; consent being given conditionally, etc.
Where there is concern as to the parent's understanding, an additional and specialist assessment should be sought from another professional - preferably someone who already knows the parent, such as an approved mental health social worker; a disabilities social worker; GP; midwife or health visitor; psychiatrist / psychologist or someone who can offer a faith or cultural perspective.
If the issue of competency is known at the point of referral or at an early stage in the process, then the agency should not ask Cafcass to witness consent, until any such issues are resolved. Where a parent is under 18 years (i.e. considered to be a 'child' themselves within the meaning of the Children Act 1989), they can be considered to give valid consent if assessed as competent by the counselling practitioner.
The High Court in Re S (Child as parent: Adoption: Consent)  EWHC 2729 (Fam) was clear that parental Capacity to consent to a child being accommodated under s.20 Children Act 1989, does not equate to capacity to consent to an Adoption Order in respect of the child - the capacity to consent is decision-specific. (That case concerned a 'child parent' (i.e. below 18 years of age) with learning disabilities. The principles, however, will be of relevance in considering parental capacity, irrespective of their age).
The court set out the salient or 'sufficient' information which is required to be understood by a parent regarding extra-familial adoption:
- Your child will have new legal parents, and will no longer be your son or daughter in law;
- Adoption is final, and non-reversible;
- During the process, other people (including social workers from the adoption agency) will be making decisions for the child, including who can see the child, and with whom the child will live;
- You may obtain legal advice if you wish before taking the decision;
- The child will live with a different family forever; you will (probably) not be able to choose the adopters;
- You will have no right to see your child or have contact with your child; it is highly likely that direct contact with your child will cease, and any indirect contact will be limited;
- The child may later trace you, but contact will only be re-established if the child wants this;
- There are generally two stages to adoption; the child being placed with another family for adoption, and being formally adopted;
- For a limited period of time you may change your mind; once placed for adoption, your right to change your mind is limited, and is lost when an Adoption Order is made.
When determining the competence of a parent in these circumstances, 'all practicable steps' must be taken to help them to make the decision, for example using simple language, visual aids or other means. A parent will be treated as understanding the information relevant to a decision if they are able to understand an explanation of it given to them in a way which is appropriate to their circumstances.
The decision to consent to adoption is significant and life-changing. Before exercising their decision-making, the parent should freely and fully understand the information set out on the consent forms, which should be conveyed and explained to them in an appropriate way; there is no expectation that the parent would be able to understand the precise language of the consent forms.
If there is any doubt about the competence of a parent to give consent to adoption or placement for adoption, the issue should be referred to a court.
Where it is considered that the parent is not capable of giving informed consent but the local authority decide to place the child for adoption following their counselling and assessment, an application for a Placement Order must be made (see Section 22(1) Adoption and Children Act 2002).
4. Arrangement for Placement
The child's social worker and Family Finder will work together to explore the possibility of the baby being placed with Early Permanence carers whereby the child is placed at birth with prospective adopters approved as Early Permanence carers/temporary foster carers for the specific child. This opportunity may reduce potential moves for the child and should be considered as part of the counselling process. See Early Permanence Placements Procedure for more information.
If for any reason it is agreed that Early Permanence is not the appropriate route to placement then the social worker will make a referral to fostering duty service of the child's home local authority for a fostering placement using the appropriate request for placement form. Once a foster carer is identified, the birth parents should be offered an opportunity to meet the foster carer if appropriate.
The placement must conform to the Care Planning, Case and Placement Review (England) Regulations 2010 and the appropriate Children Looked After forms should be completed. The mother needs to give consent for the child to be accommodated by signing the placement agreement and the medical consent form. The treatment delegation form gives consent for all necessary medical treatment for the child whilst accommodated. These should be signed by the social work team manager and distributed to all concerned.
5. Following Baby's Birth
Following the birth of the baby the mother can decide whether to care for the baby or request segregation from the baby whilst in hospital. It is not uncommon for the mother to opt for the latter arrangement. The adoption social worker should see the mother separately and privately as soon as possible after birth.
The parent/s should be encouraged to see the baby but must not be forced to (arrangements can be made for the parent/s to see the baby at an appropriate venue). The parent/s do not need to provide anything for the baby but can and may wish to do so. On discharge the mother will leave the baby in the hospital. The birth parent/s must be advised of the services of PAC UK and provided with written information about the service.
The social worker must arrange for the baby to be discharged to pre adoption foster parents or Early Permanence (EPP) carers once the baby is medically fit for discharge. It is useful for the prospective foster/ EPP carer/s to visit the baby in hospital prior to discharge but this must be done in consultation with the birth parent/s, the hospital and the carer/s.
It is also desirable for the foster/ EPP carer to be present with the adoption social worker to discharge the baby from hospital. On discharge the hospital ward should be given details of the proposed foster/EPP carers' name, address and contact number and the foster carers' GP but there needs to be a careful discussion to ensure that the discharge details for the child are not put in the birth mother's medical records and that the carer's details address etc are not disclosed to the birth mother. A letter for the community midwife and GP will be given to the foster carers when baby is discharged.
Prior to, or on discharge, CoramBAAF medical forms M and B should be presented to the ward for completion by the paediatrician or senior nurse responsible for the child and the mother. These should be presented with the consent form signed by the birth parent. Often mother and baby are placed on different wards and so different medical professionals may need to complete the forms.
It is important that these forms are completed before discharge as the medical notes are not readily available at a later date.
6. Following Discharge From Hospital
The social worker will complete a notice of movement form when the baby is accommodated to trigger foster carer payments and also inform the relevant Independent Reviewing Service of the baby's accommodation and request the allocation of an Independent Reviewing Officer to undertake the 28 day review. The social worker needs to request that the appropriate statutory notifications of placement be sent out by Business Support as soon as the child becomes accommodated. The social worker must complete statutory visits throughout the whole period that the child is looked after with the first visit being within 1 week of the placement starting.
6.1 Subsequent Interviews
Counselling with the parent/s should continue following the birth of the baby. Parent/s can see the baby at any time and this will need to be arranged with the foster/EPP carer. They will need to be kept informed of the baby's progress and well being and can be provided with photographs if they wish.
The parent/s should be asked to provide photos, a letter explaining the reasons for the adoption and family history details for the child. The adoption social worker and social worker for the child must discuss the plan for the baby's long term care as the parent's wishes are important and should be considered where possible. For example, religious and cultural considerations and any geographical difficulties with regard to the extended family and prospective adopters. If placing the baby with Early Permanence carers at birth, these considerations should be taken into account as part of the pre-birth planning process.
The parent(s) should be advised of the need to register the child's birth as soon as possible - this is a legal requirement. The long birth certificate is required for adoption purposes and should be given to the social worker. The local authority is able to pay for this. Parents are likely to want their own copy and they should be advised to request 2 certificates at the time of registration. Additional certificates can be purchased from the Registry office up until the time of the Adoption Order.
All counselling work must be fully recorded by the child's social worker and the One Adoption worker on their respective electronic case files. Correspondence from the birth parents must be kept on file. Section 19 & section 20 consent forms can be shown and discussed during the counselling process, so that the parent/s are aware exactly what they will be required to sign to give consent to adoption.
Once a decision for adoption has been made by the birth parent/s, and shortly after the baby is born, an Adoption Panel date should be booked and information required for the Child Permanence Report should be collected. It is advisable to gain as much information as soon as you can whilst the birth parent is continuing to engage. The report should be discussed with the birth parent/s and their wishes clearly recorded. The report content must be read and signed by the social work team manager.
6.2 Health Assessment of the Child
A pre-adoption health assessment of the child should be arranged as soon as is practicable following the agency's usual process. The Medical Adviser undertaking the medical will require the appropriate Health Assessment form as well as:
- Background information in respect of the child;
- CoramBAAF medical forms M and B;
- CoramBAAF PH forms completed by the birth parents regarding their own medical history.
7. Advance Notification
As soon as counselling has been offered to the birth parents and they indicate that they intend to consent to the child being placed for adoption, advance notification of this should be sent to the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) using a standard letter.
8. Placement Planning
Birth parent/s should be involved in discussions around suitable adoptive families. They should have the opportunity to share their views on what they would like in a family and, if appropriate, be shown profiles of possible families. Again this may be considered as part of the pre-birth planning process if the child is to be placed with Early Permanence carers.
Notification will need to be sent to CAFCASS with all of the background information and a certified copy of the child's birth certificate.
The CAFCASS officer will need to make arrangements to interview the birth parent(s) to be satisfied that the consequences of giving consent are fully understood and that they are willing to do so unconditionally. The CAFCASS officer will then need to witness the formal signing by the parent(s). If a family for the child has been identified, the birth parent(s) can give written Section 19 consent for the child to be placed with this specific family when they meet with the CAFCASS officer.
The original signed Section 19 and 20 consent forms should be returned to the agency, along with written notification from the CAFCASS officer (who should keep a copy of this) that consent has been given. It is important that the agency safeguards the original consent form as this will be required by court with the adoption application.
The agency should also keep a copy of the signed consent form on the child's case record and any notice given to the agency that the parent/s does not wish to be informed of any application for an Adoption Order and any notice of withdrawal of this request.
9. Direct Placement with Adoptive Parents
If the birth parent wishes a baby, aged less than 6 weeks, to be placed directly with adoptive parents, written agreement to the placement must be obtained on the Agreement to Place Directly for Adoption form.The agency should provide additional counselling for the parent/s and make it clear both orally and in writing that the parent/s retains full Parental Responsibility until they give their written consent under section 19 and or 20 of the Act.
10. Withdrawal of Consent
The child's parent or guardian is able to withdraw their consent to the child's placement for adoption at any time up to the point where the prospective adopters apply for an Adoption Order by writing to the agency.
On receiving the notice of withdrawal of consent the authority is required to immediately review its decision to place the child for adoption. The authority may decide to apply for a Placement Order, having taken legal advice to ensure that the conditions for this are satisfied. This would prevent the child's removal until such time as the court has decided whether to make the Placement Order.
Where consent to placement has been given and withdrawn but the child is not yet placed for adoption, then the child must be returned to the parents within 7 days unless the authority decides to apply for a Placement Order.
Where the child is placed for adoption by consent under section 19 of the Act and that consent is withdrawn, the child must be returned to the agency by the prospective adopters within 14 days, and the agency must return the child to the parents, unless the authority decides to apply for a Placement Order.
It is an offence for anyone other than the agency (in sections 33 and 34 cases, only a local authority) to remove a child where the child:
- Is placed for adoption with the parents' consent under section 19 of the Act;
- Is placed for adoption and either the child is less than 6 weeks of age or the agency has at no time been authorised to place the child for adoption;
- Is not yet placed for adoption and is being accommodated by the local authority and the authority has applied for a placement order and the application has not yet been disposed of;
- Is not yet placed but the agency is authorised under section 19 of the Act or would be if consent to placement had not been withdrawn;
- It is the responsibility of the child's worker and the prospective adopter's adoption social worker to ensure that the prospective adopters are fully aware of the implications should consent be withdrawn. This must be explained before the child is placed.
11. Arrangements for Placement with Adoptive Parents
Where a 'Should be placed for adoption' (SHoBPA) decision has been made the agency should begin family finding immediately with a view to achieving a placement for adoption very soon after birth.
Adoption Panels are only able to recommend a match once the birth parents have given their formal written consent to adoption with a CAFCASS officer, however the plan for the child and the match can be heard at the same Panel.
Once a match has been agreed by the Agency Decision Maker, a Placement Planning Meeting will be held and the relevant statutory notifications must be processed by the adoption administrator.
The prospective adopters can apply to court for the making of an Adoption Order 10 weeks after placement and if the child care review has recommended this.
The Adoption Order hearing will be in two parts, so that the birth parent/s do not attend with the adopters.
The social worker will attend the full Adoption Hearing, where birth parents may also attend, and inform the adopters of the outcome of this.
The social worker will accompany the adopter/s and the baby to court for the adoption celebration hearing. The court will officially notify the birth parents of the outcome of the Adoption Hearing and the social worker will also confirm the outcome in writing to the birth parent/s.
The adoption service does not normally continue to see the birth parents following the adoption hearing but can offer further advice and support if required or preferably refer them to PAC UK.
On-going supervision of the baby's placement will end after the adoption hearing, however, the adoption social worker should contact the adoptive parent/s after 3and 6 months to ensure that the placement is going well and continue to offer support and assistance if required.
The congratulations letter and evaluation questionnaire should be sent out to the adopter/s after the adoption hearing.