Placing Relinquished Babies and Children for Adoption
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter seeks to provide a brief overview of the placement of children who have been relinquished. This is a complex area that may require additional legal advice depending on the individual circumstances.
AMENDMENTSection 1.1, Consent and Competency was added in January 2019 to reflect additional information on parental capacity to consent, in line with High Court case-law.
1. Prior to Birth
1.1 Consent and Competency
The High Court in Re S (Child as parent: Adoption: Consent)  EWHC 2729 (Fam) made clear that parental Capacity to consent to a child being accommodated under s.20 Children Act 1989, does not equate to their 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.
If the mother, prior to the birth of her child, requests that the child be adopted, she will make referral initially to the Merton Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) and then be transferred to the Adoption Service. Following the birth, the baby will be accommodated under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989. If the mother is under 16 years of age, her parents or persons with Parental Responsibility should be involved in the counselling and support from the Adoption Service, but the decision remains the mother's to make throughout, as she chooses. On referral from the mother, the MASH will decide if there are child protection issues (for the mother) requiring S47 investigation and reporting to the Police (see London Safeguarding Board Procedures). If S47 concerns are substantiated, the case will be transferred to the Safeguarding and Care Planning Team and if not to the Adoption Team. In respect of the unborn baby, the CIN Service will notify the Adoption Team and make arrangements for an early care planning meeting. The CIN service will begin the assessment of the mother and family. The allocated social worker will also ensure that the mother is:
- Aware of her legal rights and advised to have benefit of independent legal advice;
- Understands clearly the alternatives to adoption;
- Receives the information pack from the Adoption Service;
- Meets with a social worker from the Adoption Service;
- Can access independent counselling via the Adoption Service.
If the mother names the father of the child and the father acknowledges paternity, he must be involved in the decisions for the child unless he chooses otherwise, or his involvement is considered likely to be detrimental to the safety and well-being of the baby. If, after the mother has made the decision to have her baby adopted, the father is named or makes himself known, and obtains parental responsibility either by being registered on the birth certificate or through the court, his own wishes and feelings about the plans should be ascertained and taken into consideration. The care planning meeting will consider the best interests and safety of the child (see Care Planning for Looked After Children Procedure, Newborn Babies). if the mother is married, her husband is presumed by law to be the father of the child with parental responsibility unless he or another party challenges this with evidence. If the mother initially declines to name the father but subsequently does so, the social worker must make every effort to trace him. If there is reason to consider either the mother or the baby to be at risk of harm from tracing the father, the social worker will take legal advice and discuss with their manager the advisability of not doing so.
1.4 Grandparents and extended family
A possible interim placement or permanent plan with a member(s) of the extended family should be a part of the initial discussion with the child's parents as an alternative to adoption (see Section 1.2, Mother).
It is not mandatory, or a requirement, that family relatives are informed of the child's birth or a proposed plan of adoption. In considering this, Merton staff should discuss with the parent(s)/guardian the likely views of the extended family (grandparents, siblings etc.) and the consequences of them both subsequently 'knowing' or 'not knowing' of the child's birth and plans for adoption. The outcome of this discussion should be recorded on the child's record.
Nevertheless, as much information as possible about members of the extended family should be obtained as part of the child's 'life story'.
If mother does not want her family to know about the baby, the social worker will obtain legal advice and consult with their manager. This is a complex area of law, despite the wishes of the parent, and Merton Children's Services must make a decision that is in the child's best interests.
2. Actions for the Allocated Social Worker
2.1 Prior to birth
- Inform mother's GP, hospital social work team and senior nursing officer of the maternity ward of the mother's decision;
- Contact Access to Resources Team to identify a fostering placement for the baby (consideration must be given to a Fostering for Adoption placement);
- Discuss post-birth contact with the mother and father;
- Begin gathering life story material from the parent(s);
- Explain the issues of consent;
- Alert CAFCASS of the need to witness formal consent;
- Convene planning meeting and consider legal planning meeting if there any safeguarding concerns for the baby pre-birth or after birth.
2.2 After the birth
- Have parent(s) complete the Agreement to Place a Child for Adoption as soon as possible, but allowing for them to have time to consider their decision, take independent legal advice, receive counselling, and have contact with the baby, as appropriate;
- Arrange for CAFCASS to witness the Agreement to Place a Child for Adoption (note that CAFCASS can witness formal consent until the baby is six weeks old);
- Collect health and medical history of the parent(s) and if mother has not named the father, to explain the importance of having the father's medical history if possible. If the mother declines to name the father, the medical history will only be obtained for her;
- Involve parent(s) in the foster placement, as appropriate;
- Discuss hospital discharge arrangements with hospital staff;
- Ensure the birth is registered;
- Obtain parent(s) consent to the Section 20 accommodation of the baby, See Care Planning for Looked After Children Procedure, Obtaining Parental Consent;
- Complete the Child's Permanence Report, and share this with the parent(s);
- Arrange for the medical advisor to complete the Initial Health Assessment after the child is six weeks old;
- Ensure the foster carer begins to gather life story material if the foster carer is not dually approved as a prospective adopter, or a prospective adopter temporarily approved as a foster carer. See Fostering for Adoption, Concurrent Planning and Temporary Approval as Foster Carers of Approved Prospective Adopters Procedure.
3. Referral to the Adoption, Fostering and Permanence Panel
As soon as possible after the birth the permanence planning meeting should be held and immediately followed by the first statutory review to endorse the care plan for adoption (or as a dual or concurrent plan). Within 2 weeks of the first statutory review, and 6 weeks of the baby's birth the case should be referred to the Adoption, Fostering and Permanence Panel for a recommendation to the Agency Decision Maker (ADM) for a decision for adoption.
4. Mother Withdraws Consent
If at any stage the parent(s) withdraw consent to the adoption of their child, and withdraw consent to the Section 20 accommodation of their child, the social worker will consult their manager and follow the Care Planning for Looked After Children Procedure, Ceasing to Look After a Child Under Section 20. In addition, if the process has already progressed to a decision by the ADM, the ADM must review their decision for the baby's adoption and if they remain of the view that the baby should be placed for adoption the social worker will make immediate application for a placement order.