PART VII: PLACEMENT FOR ADOPTION
There are two stages covered in the regulations
- the preparation for the matching of a child with a family - which is one of the duties of the adoption panel - this is reflected in regulation 18.
- the next steps in making a placement as covered in Part VII, which are about notifications and the duties of the agency following placement.
Regulation 18(1) provides a list of information that must be presented to panel at the time of a match. A significant amount of this information will have already been presented to the panel at an earlier stage when the prospective adopters were approved and also when the plan was made to seek adoption for the child. Some areas will need updating, in particular the medical information on the adopters if this is more than 12 months out of date and also whether there has been any additional information from a 'relevant local authority' as defined in section 18(6). Any other updates will depend on individual circumstances, for example if the prospective adopters have moved during the waiting period, the accommodation should have been visited and where necessary a new health and safety check completed.
The principle new information will be that which is most directly relevant to the proposed match and is reflected in the first two requirements of regulation 18 - that the placement is in the best interests of the child. There are two major aspects to consider
- the work that has continued with both child and prospective adopters since they were considered individually
- the compatibility between the needs of the child and the assessed capabilities of the adopters.
Ongoing work prior to matching
For many adopters during the assessment stage, the main focus of their energies will have been on their approval. Once that hurdle is over they can begin to explore more fully the reality of the placement of a child. Adoption agencies need to consider how they can make most productive use of this period to ensure that families are ready for the next step and also explore in more detail their potential to take on the increasingly complex challenges presented by children awaiting placement. Regulations do not specify the contact agencies should retain with adopters during the waiting period but individual agencies should establish their own standards and procedures to ensure that they have a resourceful and supported pool of adopters available.
For children, the local authority will have its ongoing responsibility to provide a direct service. Moving ahead with the legal process and writing the necessary reports for this is time consuming but it is important for good timing of the linking process to ensure that there is ongoing work with the child that enables them to begin to understand the plans that are being made and explores their views, however they may be able to express them. Moving a child into an adoptive placement when they are confused or hostile to the plan increases the potential for the placement to disrupt, so consideration of matching should take into account the timing of any link. Training and resources should be available for staff who may be responsible for these cases on preparing children for adoption. The largest group of children placed for adoption are of pre-school age. There is sometimes resistance to beginning this work early as it becomes equated with telling a child about the search for an adoptive family for them. With young children social workers are reluctant to raise expectations until a family has been identified. This is only one part of preparation and is a final piece. This waiting period between the making of the plan for adoption and arranging the placement is not neutral. Children need simple explanations of what is happening and whether or not it is intended that they will return home. If they have been told it is not planned for them to return home, it is important to explain the purpose of any ongoing contact with birth relatives. Temporary foster carers often play a key role in this and may need support in how to respond to a child's concerns and in handling both their own and the child's distress. This calls for good communication systems between the child's social worker, the foster carer's support worker and the family finding team who are looking ahead to identifying the adoptive family.
For very young children there may be limited direct preparation needed or possible, and the skills required are about helping a child move and careful transference of attachments and trust. For other children, preparation may have reached a point where the next obvious stage is the introduction of the new family. Once a plan for adoption for a child has been made by an agency it should be clear who has responsibility for family finding for that child. Considerations here include
- Where the pool of approved adopters within the agency includes a number of potential adopters for a particular child, agency procedures should be clear about how a choice will be made. Regulations require the agency through the panel and Agency Decision Maker process to be satisfied that the placement with the prospective adopter(s) is in the best interests of the child. This does not require a choice to be presented to the panel. Panel discussion should focus on the needs of the child and the capacity of the identified adopters to meet those needs. It will be helpful to provide the panel with a matching report that indicates the steps leading to the identification of the adoptive family considered most appropriate to meet the child's needs as well a clear articulation of the compatibility between the child's needs and the adopter's strengths and the views if any of birth parents.
- Where there are no suitable families in the waiting pool of adopters, and no immediate prospect of this, it will be important to acknowledge this as quickly as possible and where necessary obtain agency approval for widening the search - which may be through a service level agreement with other agencies, a local consortium or other Scottish or UK linking mechanisms.
For some children there may be a number of factors to take into account in matching, and decisions must be made about possible compromises, risk factors and the balancing act when none of the available families has strengths in all the areas of a child's needs. Some particular dilemmas that arise are about the priority given to seeking a family who will meet the cultural needs of a child, especially one which actively reflects a child's ethnicity and/or religion. Staff involved in this area should keep up to date with the research on the long-term implications for adopted people who are brought up in a family who do not reflect their ethnicity and culture. This needs to be taken into account in considering the effort to be made in widening the search for an appropriate family and how long to allow before considering other adopters who may not fully reflect a child's culture but have identified strengths in helping a child manage difference and who have relevant experience which takes them beyond a general acceptance of a child's background.
Other dilemmas can arise in seeking a match for siblings. The regulations are framed in terms of individual children. For a number of the children waiting for adoption the first choice is for them to be placed with siblings. While this may be possible for many - and be a preference for some adopters - some groups will present special challenges. These include groups of more than two children; siblings who have been separated in foster care and have a range of different attachment needs; siblings with a wide age difference; situations where one sibling has particular additional needs such as a different ethnicity, disability or medical or development concern; siblings with varying views of adoption or levels of preparedness.
Alongside the diverse challenges of the children now being placed for adoption there is recognition of the diverse range of family structures amongst adoptive families. This increases the number of factors to be taken into consideration - very different from the days of matching infants with two parent families! This is where the quality of the assessment of the strengths of different adopters will be vital so that general perceptions of issues like the caring for children as a single parent, effect of a placement on a single birth child or social pressures on same sex adopters can be replaced by informed understanding of the particular adopters. This will, of course, have been addressed during the assessment and approval stage but may come to the fore again when the child's worker is exploring similar issues in relation to a specific child.
The 2007 Act recognises the importance of support in adoption. Alongside identifying the strengths in a particular match this is the point where any immediate support needs should be identified. Consideration should be given to the need to accompany the presentation of a proposed placement to panel with a support plan. This will be covered more fully in the guidance to the Adoption Support Services and Allowances (Scotland) Regulations, 2009 but will be a part of the consideration of any match. (Please see guidance on Adoption Support Services)
In carrying out its function, in relation to the approval of adopters and recommending adoption for the child, the panel should already have considered the quality of the information relating to those decisions. At a panel considering a match the emphasis of the additional information will be about the quality of the linking process. The panel will need to consider whether, taking all factors into account, this is the best available option for the child at the point when it is important to progress the plan, and whether there is sufficient evidence to recommend that the match is therefore in the best interests of the child. For an adopted person looking back on this part of the process there should be clear reasons why the particular family was chosen to adopt them - such as matching reports/minutes of linking meetings.
Work following matching
Once a decision on the match has been made there are a number of requirements laid out in regulation 24 about (a) the information in writing about the child that must be given to the prospective adopters, (b) notifications to other services and parents and (c) information to parents (as defined in reg 24(7)).
Information for adopters
It would be expected that during the preparation period the adopters would have had the opportunity to explore fully the need to talk to their adopted child about their adoption and their origins and would also have received information about the adopted person's right to obtain certain details from the Registrar General for Scotland. The requirement here is that this should be confirmed to them in writing in relation to the match.
It is important that agency staff are clear about how much information should be shared with any prospective adopters at different stages in the linking process. This is particularly important when a number of families are being considered in the early stages. Once a family has been identified as the potential match, as much information as possible (including photographs) should be shared.
The vital issue of support for the adopters should already have been fully covered during the preparation and assessment period. For some children the need for an active support plan for them and their adopters from the outset may have been clear and already agreed. For all other adopters, at the point of matching the availability of support services should be confirmed in writing along with details of what is currently available and how support may be accessed at any point in the future. This may be included in the letter to the adopters confirming the decision on the match. As adoption agencies develop their Adoption Support Services they should be building up more written information about the nature and provision of those services to share with adopters.
The other major body of information for adopters is about the particular child/ren that are to be placed with them. Much of the relevant information may have been shared prior to the completion of the match in order to establish whether the adopters feel equipped to offer a home to the child. Some may have responded to some form of recruitment that highlighted the need of the child for a new family and will also have retained that. Adoption agencies should pay careful attention to the way in which they share information with adopters so that they have time to absorb the written information and begin to explore the implications for themselves and the child. The main report written for presentation to the adoption panel in making the adoption plan for the child is the principle vehicle for bringing together the child's background and also an assessment of the child and her/his needs. Agency guidelines for staff need to be clear about sharing this or other such reports with the adopters. There is no question about the need for adopters to have full information about the child they are adopting and adoption agencies should ensure they are not open to challenge about withholding information. At the same time, some reports written primarily for agency or court purposes may not be in the most helpful form for adopters, either for their own understanding or for sharing with children in the future. It is recommended that agencies consider carefully whether identifying information about members of a child's family are routinely shared, especially if there is very sensitive information about them in their own right. Other, more user friendly, formats such as a background letter written by the agency for the child at a later date (sometimes called the 'later life letter') or a life story book may be good starting points but do not necessarily cover everything that the adopters might need at a later date, especially if the child requires more intensive therapeutic help. For children with complex backgrounds, techniques such as life appreciation days may also be considered as a way of helping adopters see the information through the child's eyes, or visual tools such as an illustrated timeline may be used to supplement more formal reports. The regulations also provide specifically for the health records of the child to be provided both to the adopters and to their general practitioner. In the case of the general practitioner it specifies this must be sent in writing before the child is placed.
Regulation 24 also outlines the written notification about the placement that must be sent to others. This separates out the general notification to the Health Board and the local authority for the area where the adopters live, if that is different from the agency making the placement, from the notifications that must be made prior to placement if a child has a problem of medical significance or additional support needs within the meaning of the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004. In the Looked After Children Regulations 2009, when considering the Child's plan, the importance of well co-ordinated multi-agency working was identified. Whether a local authority is developing its services for children along the lines indicated in the GIRFEC strategy or through other inter-disciplinary arrangements, there should already be established communication about looked after children who need a range of support services from different agencies. These agencies should have been involved in the assessment of the child's needs, the work leading up to the adoption plan and the proposed placement. They, or similar agencies in another area, are likely to continue to be offering a service and frequently the direct involvement of the individuals who know the child can ensure effective communication of information alongside the necessary formal notifications.
Obviously if a birth parent agrees with the plan for adoption, then they will have been involved in the choice of adopters, there may be plans for a meeting between birth parents and adopters once the match is made and the formal notification is a confirmation of the predictable progress towards completion of securing the child. It should be noted from the outset when planning adoption whether there are any other people who may have an interest in the child who would either wish to know that plans are progressing or might consider taking action in the event of an adoption placement. This includes any acknowledged parents who do not have responsibilities or rights but whose whereabouts are known, any guardian of the child if their whereabouts are known and any parent whose responsibilities and rights have been removed by a PO which did not include provision granting authority for adoption.
Duties of the adoption agency following placement
Regulation 25 addresses the minimum frequency of visits to the child following placement for adoption up to the time when the adoption order is granted. The main requirement is the visit within one week of placement, thereafter the regulations require that these are at a level necessary to supervise the child's well-being. It is also required that a written record be kept on such visits in accordance with regulation 27 on case records. The key points here are
- This emphasises the need for visits to the child which are separate from the support to the adopters. As time goes on, the petition for adoption is moving ahead and the child and adopters are building attachments, it is likely that the main emphasis will move to seeing the family as a unit. In the initial stages, however, it is necessary to ensure that the differing needs of the child and the adopters following placement are acknowledged.
- Children now placed for adoption on a PO or PO with authority for adoption or on a supervision requirement, are looked after and will continue to be until the adoption is completed. The frequency of visits in the Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009 apply.
- Times of transition are particularly stressful for children - especially as so many of them have experienced multiple moves. Links with familiar people who supported them in foster care will be reassuring. The move itself may stir up thoughts and memories about the past which their social worker may be best placed to handle. A move into an adoption placement is usually carefully planned and should feel very different from any earlier experiences of sudden or unplanned moves. It is important therefore that during this period there is continuity for the child.
- It would normally be expected that the child's worker continues with this role following the move to adopters. This may be more difficult where it has been necessary to look further a field for adopters for a child. Where alternative arrangements have to be made for visiting the child, it is important to recognise the need for the service to the child in their own right, even if this is taken on by the adoption agency who provided the family. Where distance is a factor this may also be an added stress for the child who could feel abandoned in a strange area. Other ways of maintaining contact with the child's home area may be needed during the period of transition.
The introduction to the Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009 covering services to looked after children, kinship carers, foster carers and adopters, includes the general legal framework and the principles relating to all these Case records
Regulations 27 and 28 in Part VIII of the Adoption Agencies (Scotland) Regulations 2009 cover the requirement to create a case record for each child in relation to whom an adoption panel recommendation has been made that adoption is in their best interests and each prospective adopter. The content of that record is very broadly defined in regulation 27, including both specifically defined items (any report, recommendation or decision made by the adoption agency or panel) and more generally 'any information obtained by that agency'. The discretionary regulation 27(4) apply primarily to administrative or duplicate records and not primary material which it is vital that the agency retains. Regulation 28 provides the link with the Adoption (Disclosure of Information and Medical Information about Natural Parents) (Scotland) Regulations 2009. It also states that the indexes to all case records and the case records themselves should be preserved in secure conditions for at least 100 years where an adoption order has been made and for 10 years in respect of a prospective adopter in relation to whom an adoption order is not made. Other case records should be kept in secure conditions by the adoption agency for 'so long as it considers appropriate'. Regulation 28 also allows the use of computer records or any other systems that comply with the requirements for the security and confidentiality of adoption records. Regulation 27(3) covers the continuation of the maintenance of records already established under the Adoption Agencies (Scotland) Regulations 1996.
Agency procedures for adoption records should address two key areas
- their effectiveness as working tools throughout the adoption process
- their value as records when people return for access after they are closed.
Adoption agencies should have procedures that prescribe the standard for quality record keeping and a system of monitoring that these are carried out. This should cover both paper and electronic record keeping.
Records need to illustrate the agency planning process which led to the adoption plan for a child. In creating a record under regulation 27 the agency must consider, alongside the report presented to the panel and the Agency Decision Maker to establish the adoption plan, which earlier reports should accompany it. Reports to panel frequently summarise earlier work. When an adoption is contested, the original assessment when the child became looked after; any contract made with birth parents; subsequent reviews of progress and reports from other sources such as safeguarders or external agencies are all part of the necessary evidence.
Adopted people returning to see their original records, a key part is understanding the process - why were various decisions taken along the way and do the records answer their questions in trying to understand why they were placed for adoption.
In articulating the 'best interests of the child', whether for an adoption panel, the Hearing or a court, the records also need to demonstrate an understanding of the child and her/his needs. For the adopted person returning, there is often a need to fill in gaps in their knowledge both of their birth family and of themselves as young children. Adoption agency procedures should be clear about both expectations of the process for gathering and keeping the information about a child which will be vital for them as an adult.
Consideration needs to be given to both third party information and to very sensitive information where there may be a duty of care to the recipient in sharing this at a future date.
There are different rules about how adoption agency records and looked after records may be accessed. Adoption records held under the Adoption Agencies (Scotland) Regulations 1996 are 'subject access' exempt in terms of the Data Protection (Miscellaneous Subject Access Exemptions) Order 2000, S.I. 2000/419 and the Data Protection (Miscellaneous Subject Access Exemptions) (Amendment) Order 2000, S.I. 2000/1865. Access to information in them is under the 1996 Regulations. Looked After children records are accessed through procedures under the Data Protection Act 1998.
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