Adoption Policy Review Group: phase one report

Report on phase one of a two-phase review to look at adoption law and practice, commissioned in April 2001.


  1. Introduction

  2. Chapter 1 shows that there is a current unmet demand for families for children awaiting adoption. It also shows that insufficient adoptive families continue to be recruited.
  3. The group recognises the good work that agencies engage in as they strive to meet the needs of children and acknowledges current good practice in this area. This Chapter considers how the different stages of the recruitment process could be improved and a greater number of suitable adopters found.
  4. Current Recruitment Process

  5. Chart 2 shows the current recruitment process and outlines some reasons why potential adopters may be 'lost'.
  6. Chart 2


    Potential applicant seeks information about adoption from local authority or voluntary agency.



    A poor response or unclear information deters applicants.

    Potential adopter applies to local authority or voluntary agency.


    Agencies do not always recruit unless they have children for placement, so some prospective adopters may be 'lost'.

    Agencies do not apply standard screening criteria, so some applicants may be lost

    Agency may assess applicant to consider suitability to adopt.


    Assessment standards are variable, but less so than criteria. There is no independent appeals procedure

    If applicant is successful, matching process begins.

    This can be slow. Some families are not matched.

    Enquiry Stage

  7. Stage 1 in the recruitment process commences with an enquiry about adoption. Enquiries may be made to:
  • Local authorities
  • Voluntary Adoption Agencies
  • British Association for Adoption and Fostering
  • Citizens Advice Bureaux
  • General Practitioners
  • Fertility Treatment centres
  • The internet
  1. Each agency also has its own method of dissemination. Methods may include:
  • sending out information by post
  • telephone discussions
  • one-to-one visits with a specialist worker
  • small/large group information sessions

    The content and relevance of this information will often determine whether an enquirer continues along the recruitment process.

  1. Enquiries revealed there was much variability in the amount and quality of information provided by different agencies throughout Scotland. Written information was not easily understood and often used jargon, such as 'siblings' or 'support network', which was off-putting. Some enquirers had been misinformed about adoption by sources other than agencies, eg general practitioners. This pointed to the need for a source of accurate information, which could be easily accessed by enquirers.
  2. Enquirers considered they often received off-putting, negative and non-encouraging responses. Even agency staff workers who felt they were tackling enquiries in an honest, open, realistic and encouraging way were not always perceived as so doing.
  3. Enquirers also found it difficult to be open and discuss hesitations, concerns, doubts or to express naivety with an agency for fear it might go against them at the application stage.
  4. The group concluded that this showed the need for standard basic information about adoption and the adoption process which
  • is accurate and relevant
  • is encouraging and facilitating
  • is easily understood
  • does not disadvantage anyone
  • provides information on the types of children needing placements. This should include information on the numbers and locations of children and the difficulties they face medically and developmentally. It should explain the need for contact with other family members.
  • details the agreed criteria that applicants must meet
  • sets out the general adoption process that applicants will follow highlighting variations in different areas
  • includes case studies of individuals who have been through the adoption process
  • is available in a range of mediums including spoken, paper, newspaper and television advertising, video, CDROM, 0800 information line and in relevant community languages
  • sets out information about and contact details for all adoption agencies
  • enables enquirers to gather relevant information and discuss any questions they might have in a way that will not compromise any future application they may make
  • provides enquirers with the opportunity to talk with someone who has relevant knowledge, skills and experience.

Application Stage

  1. At stage 2 an enquirer has decided to apply. The boundary between enquiry and application is not always clear. Some potential adopters may apply to more than one agency.
  2. There are specific legal criteria about who can adopt ( see Annex 1). The group recognises that there are public pre-conceptions about the types of families who might be considered unsuitable for placement. If these perceptions were widespread in the population it could deter applicants. There is evidence to demonstrate successful placements with single people, single parents, unmarried and married couples, members of same gender couples, separated or divorced people, those over 40 years of age, unemployed people, families with disabilities, families who need financial support, families who own their own homes and families in rented accommodation. Our conclusion is that all agencies should explicitly recognise and publicise the wide variety of successful adopters and by so doing dispel any pre-conception that there is a bias in favour of middle class or professional adopters.
  3. The group found that some agencies recruit, prepare and assess prospective adopters according to their own needs and capacity. This can mean that only if there are known to be children in the area waiting for placements does the assessment of prospective adopters begin. Consequently, some potential adopters are lost to the system because their local agency may not recruit regularly. For example more children are awaiting families in Glasgow than in rural areas or in the North East. Potential adopters in some areas are unlikely to be assessed unless their own council/agency has a local child to place.

    Recruitment by agencies is generally undertaken:

  • totally for local children and therefore determined by local needs
  • or within consortia arrangements ( see Annex 9)
  • or to meet service level agreements between voluntary agencies and local authorities.
  1. Good, and full information is needed about the numbers and needs of children for whom permanence by way of adoption has been recommended as well as details of those already registered and freed for adoption and awaiting placement. In addition, the group would wish to encourage agencies to assess potential adopters to meet the shortfall of families. Assessing potential adopters who wish only to care for a baby is unlikely to meet the needs of older children waiting for families. However, agencies should assess all applicants prepared to consider adopting children matching the average profile identified in this report ie over 4 years old, potentially with siblings and requirements for birth family contact, and with potential health or attachment problems.
  2. The group also found that each agency has its own pre-assessment criteria. These incorporate regulatory and legislative requirements, but are in the main determined by local needs. For example, an agency may set criteria which require applicants for young children to be under 40 years of age as a way of controlling the number of applicants for a decreasing number of babies and very young children. Some criteria may be unrealistic and enforcing them may reduce the number of successful applicants.
  3. Assessment Stage

  4. The third stage involves the detailed assessment of applicants who have been assessed to this point. The group found that practice varied by agency. There are different methods of homestudy such as psychodynamic, systemic, or competency based assessment and the length of time taken to assess applicants can also vary. Police and financial checks might be carried out on applicants at different stages of the process. Approved applicants can move to a new area without a need for re-approval as there is a process of checking and familiarisation. However, the group felt that a standard process for transfer of approved families would be helpful.
  5. The group felt that a common framework could be established to guarantee consistency of preparation and assessment, but with local content and delivery. This would enable agencies across the country to place children for adoption with confidence. The group also noted that although agencies have developed their own appeals procedures, there is no regulatory independent appeals process for applicants who are assessed by an agency as unsuitable to adopt.
  6. The group also considered whether a duty should be placed on agencies to assess all applicants. This was rejected. Assessment is a lengthy and resource consuming process and, of itself, raises expectations that a match will be found. It is reasonable that some applicants, either through their own lack of health and vigour, or through their wish to adopt only a baby, will not be assessed because a match would not be found for them
  7. However, it is recognised that there may be increased costs if agencies recruit and assess prospective adopters to match the general profile of children needing adoption. The increase will be acutely felt by voluntary agencies in particular. The group considered that agencies should be encouraged to charge fees to cover their assessment costs (see below).
  8. Approval Stage

  9. At the end of the assessment stage, applicants are put forward for approval or non-approval. The agency's adoption panel considers the assessment reports and the applicants are invited to the panel. The panel then makes a recommendation for approval or non-approval. The agency decision-maker must make the decision to approve or not approve. At this stage, successful applicants become approved adopters.
  10. Matching Stage

  11. Some families do not find a match. This may suggest they have been inappropriately assessed and are not able to meet the needs of those children requiring adoption. We suggest that when information becomes available about the children awaiting adoption and un-matched families, the reasons for a failure to match can be established.
  12. Charging

  13. In England and Wales one agency pays another agency a fee when it places a child with a family approved by that agency. The fee covers recruitment, approval and some post placement work. The fee paid to a local authority agency is 10,539 and to a voluntary agency 14,931. In Scotland, charging by voluntary agencies is common so they can recover their costs. Some authorities such as Aberdeenshire have also started to charge.
  14. Whilst the needs of the child override financial considerations, it may be helpful to look at the cost to authorities of adoption compared with other options for children.
  15. 's per week

    Foster care


    Residential home


    Residential school


    These are average figures taken from Local Government Finance Statistics, Development Department, Scottish Executive.

  16. When the length of time spent in one 'looked after' period is considered it can be seen that a placing authority still makes economies if a successful adoptive match is found.
  17. Despite this, the group found evidence that in some parts of Scotland, adoptive parents are being matched with children from England because most Scottish local authorities do not pay fees when placing a child. This is thought to be partly because there is no tradition of doing so in Scotland, unlike England and Wales, and also because funds that would otherwise be spent on children 'looked after' away from home are not available to that part of the authority responsible for finding adoption placements.
  18. Resources should be managed within authorities in a way that enables these charges to be met.
  19. A National Recruitment Agency?

  20. The group considered whether a Scottish Recruitment Agency should be established. Concerns were raised that directing front-line staff from local authorities' children's teams would unduly increase the pressure on resource levels in authorities.

    The group considered, however, that some national arrangements could be taken forward. A consortium of all authorities working together or an existing voluntary body acting nationally might take on some of the national roles identified in this report.

    Basic principles which should inform practice in relation to recruitment, preparation and assessment

  • Those enquiring about adoption have the right to receive relevant accurate information.
  • Recruitment should be informed by good, accurate information about the needs of children locally, nationally and UK wide.


  1. A system should be developed for systematically sharing accurate and reliable information on the numbers and needs of children awaiting adoption nationally. ( see also Chapter 4). A consortium or existing national organisation could deliver this service and the others recommended here.
  2. A national recruitment strategy should be devised, based on the profile of children requiring adoption, to target potential families.
  3. Ongoing general campaigns are needed to increase public awareness about adoption.
  4. There should be clear, standard, basic information about adoption for answering enquiries. Agencies should manage enquiries effectively and quickly. An 0800 information line should be established.
  5. Agencies should assess potential adopters who are willing to consider a child reflecting the profile of children typically awaiting adoption in Scotland. A child need not be identified before assessment begins.
  6. It is reasonable for agencies to charge to recover the cost of assessing potential adopters. Financial resources should be managed within authorities in a way that enables these charges to be met.
  7. Pre-assessment criteria and the materials and issues to be covered during assessment should be standardised.
  8. Agencies should develop independent appeals procedures to cater for applicants assessed by them as unsuitable to adopt.
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