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6.1.8 Procedure For Foster Carers Who Wish To Adopt A Child Currently In Their Care

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This protocol is to assist Social Workers in managing situations where a foster carer expresses a wish to adopt a child in their care.

There are several situations that may arise where the current foster carers may express an interest in adopting the child for whom they are caring.

  • When the child is placed with the foster carers under a long term fostering arrangement but the carers (and child) wish to show their long term commitment by adopting the child;
  • Where the child is placed with foster carers and the Local Authority plan is for adoption but where a Placement Order is yet to be made;
  • Where the child is placed with foster carers and is subject to a Placement Order.

This chapter was added to the manual in August 2016.


Contents

  1. Adoption and other Permanency Routes
  2. Long Term Fostering
  3. Child Subject to Child Arrangements Order
  4. Child Subject to Special Guardianship Order
  5. Child Subject to an Adoption Order
  6. Foster Carers Making a Direct Application to Court
  7. Foster Carers Seeking to be Approved as Adopters for a Child for Whom they are Caring
  8. Where a Foster Carer Wishes to Adopt a Child where their Current Plan is Not for Adoption
  9. Viability Report for Foster Cares who wish to be Considered as Adopters for a Specific Child


1. Adoption and other Permanency Routes

It is important to recognise the differences between different forms of permanence when discussing with foster carers the possible permanence care plans for children.

The key differences between different options are set out below.


2. Long Term Fostering

If children are long term fostered the foster carers never acquire Parental Responsibility. Parental Responsibility is usually shared between birth parents and the local authority (if the child is on a Care Order) or, where the child is Looked After under Section 20, exclusively by the birth parents. As a Looked After Child, the child will be regularly reviewed. As foster carers, the foster carers are regularly reviewed. There are statutory visits by social work staff to both the child and foster carers. The Local Authority has a duty to promote contact with birth families. Birth parents must be consulted about major decisions affecting the child’s life.


3. Child Subject to Child Arrangements Order

Child Arrangements Orders were introduced in April 2014 by the Children and Families Act 2014 (which amended section 8 Children Act 1989). They replace Contact Orders and Residence Orders.

A Child Arrangements Order means a court order regulating arrangements relating to any of the following:

  • With whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact; and
  • When a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person.

The ‘residence’ aspects of a Child Arrangements Order (i.e. with whom a child is to live/when a child is to live with any person) can last until the child reaches 18 years unless discharged either by the Court or by making of a Care Order.

The ‘contact’ aspects of a Child Arrangements Order (with whom and when a child is to spend time with or otherwise have contact with) cease to have effect when the child reaches 16 years, unless the court is satisfied that the circumstances of the case are exceptional.

A person named in the order as a person with whom the child is to live, will have Parental Responsibility for the child while the order remains in force. Where a person is named in the order as a person with whom the child is to spend time or otherwise have contact, but is not named in the order as a person with whom the child is to live, the court may provided in the order for that person to have Parental Responsibility for the child while the order remains in force.

Child Arrangements Orders are private law orders, and cannot be made in favour of a local authority. Where a child is the subject of a Care Order, there is a general duty on the local authority to promote contact between the child and the parents. A Contact Order can be made under Section 34 of the Children Act 1989 requiring the local authority to allow the child to have contact with a named person.

A court which is considering making, varying or discharging a Child Arrangements Orders, including making any directions or conditions which may be attached to such an order, must have regard to the paramountcy principle, the ‘no order’ principle and the welfare checklist under the Children Act 1989.


4. Child Subject to Special Guardianship Order

A Special Guardianship Order lasts until the child is 18. Like a Child Arrangements Order, Parental Responsibility is shared between birth parents and the holders of Special Guardianship Orders. However, a Special Guardianship Order has more legal security in the sense that birth parents can only apply for the discharge of a Special Guardianship Order with the consent of the court. Holders of Special Guardianship Orders have slightly more leeway e.g. they can consent to the child leaving the country for 3 months whereas with a Child Arrangements Order they can only agree to the child leaving the country for a month without the consent of the court. Children who are subject to special guardianship are entitled to a leaving care service. At the time of the making of a Special Guardianship Order, the local authority are required to detail any special guardianship support package that they will be offering to the holders of the order. The carers may be entitled to an allowance.


5. Child Subject to an Adoption Order

An Adoption Order removes Parental Responsibility from the birth parents and invests Parental Responsibility with the adopters. An Adoption Order is irrevocable. Prior to adoption the local authority have to put in place a post adoption support plan detailing the support they will offer to the adopters, child and birth parents (including other birth relatives). An Adoption Order has implications for birth children of the adopters as adopted children have the same inheritance rights as birth children. There are no restrictions on how adopters exercise their Parental Responsibility. Under certain circumstances adopters may receive financial support.

In considering the most appropriate route to permanence, staff need to consider which order best meets the identified needs of the child not just immediately but into adulthood.

In considering the most appropriate order staff should consider:

  • The likely need for ongoing social work support and the value of a Care Order in ‘protecting’ the child;
  • The Proposed level of contact with the birth family once the order is made and the complications this may pose;
  • Critically, the effect of the order when the child reaches the age of 18.

There are of course many other factors to consider.

This protocol deals only with foster carers who wish to adopt. In these circumstances two options are open to the carers:

  • Making a direct application to the court:
  • Seeking to be approved as adopters by the local authority and the child being placed with them for adoption (agency adoption).


6. Foster Carers Making a Direct Application to Court

If any child has been living with foster carers for a year or more the foster carer can make an application to court for an Adoption Order. Critically this is described as a “non agency adoption”. The implications of this are that the foster carers will not be entitled to any form of post adoption allowance nor is it necessary to have an Adoption Support Plan. Additionally the child may have less entitlements to Services if they have not been placed for adoption by an Agency.

If foster carers go down this route, as they are entitled to do, the child’s social worker is required to complete a suitability report (Annex A – all sections). This report analyses the strengths and weaknesses of the application.

In completing the suitability report the child’s social worker will consult with his/her team manager, the Fostering and Adoption Service, the child’s reviewing officer, birth parents and others determining what the recommendation of the local authority is in respect of the application.

In some situations it may be appropriate to encourage foster cares down this route. Although there is no requirement for a post adoption support plan and no adoption allowance is payable it does avoid the need to assess the foster carers as prospective adopters. If the child is not already subject to a Placement Order it also means that there is no necessity to return to court for a Placement Order. It is also likely that the adoption can be secured much faster using this route particularly if the child is not subject to Placement Order.

These factors must be carefully balanced by social work staff when discussing options with the foster carers. Social Workers need to ensure that they are aware of the regulations around non-agency adoptions and advise the foster carers accordingly. Advice may also be sought from the Adoption and Fostering Service Manager.

It is important to note that if foster carers apply to the court for an Adoption Order the child may not be removed from them without the permission of the court. If foster carers apply to the court for an Adoption Order to prevent the child being removed immediate legal advice should be sought.


7. Foster Carers Seeking to be Approved as Adopters for a Child for Whom they are Caring

From time to time foster carers may express an interest in adopting a child who they are caring for.

  • When the Agency Decision Maker has concluded that the child should be placed for adoption but the child is not yet subject to a Placement Order. It is important that the consideration of this expression of interest takes place at the pre-match stage in order not to delay the care plan for the child. Interest from a foster carer at a later date can only be considered if family finding attempts have been unsuccessful;
  • Where the child is the subject of a Placement Order;
  • Where there is no adoption plan for the child but foster carers wish to adopt to secure the child’s long term future.

If a foster carer indicates an interest in adopting a child for whom they are caring for the child’s social worker should inform their Team Manager who in turn should inform:

  • The Fostering Supervising Social Worker;
  • The Fostering and Adoption Service Manager;
  • The Adoption and Fostering Recruitment and Assessment Team Manager.

The child’s Team Manager needs to make a decision as to whether the foster carers are an option to be considered and whether further discussions are required. In order to make this decision the childcare Team Manager may wish to consult with the professionals above and also the child’s IRO.

Factors which may influence a decision not to explore the foster carers as an option may be as follows:

  • Geographical location and the risk from the birth family;
  • Age of foster carers in relation to the child;
  • Health of foster carers;
  • The progress of the adoption plan for the child e.g. adoptive family has already been identified.

Clarity regarding whether the child would meet the criteria for an Adoption allowance. The foster carer must be informed verbally and in writing of the outcome of this initial consideration and the results.

7.1 Viability Report

If the decision is that the foster carers need to be given full consideration then a viability report needs to be completed jointly by the child’s Social Worker and a Social Worker from the Adoption and Fostering Recruitment and Assessment Team.

The child’s Social Worker needs to request a Social Worker to be allocated via the Duty Social Worker for the Adoption and Fostering Recruitment and Assessment Team.

The Duty Social Worker from the Fostering and Adoption Recruitment and Assessment Team will create an adoption enquiry on ICS. The Team Manager will allocate a worker to complete a joint visit to complete the viability report.

Sources of information for the viability report will be as follows:

  • ICS records for the child and the foster carers;
  • Form F for the foster carers;
  • CPR for child (if available).

The child’s SW and the Recruitment and Assessment Social Worker will agree completion of the viability report.

(See Section 9, Viability Report for Foster Cares who wish to be Considered as Adopters for a Specific Child)

The viability report needs to be completed within 2 weeks from the decision to progress. The report needs to be quality assured by both the childcare Team Manager and the recruitment and assessment Team Manager.

The report will then be sent to the Adoption and Fostering Service Manager for a decision as to whether the foster carers should be offered a full assessment.

7.2 The Assessment Process

There is shortened process for prospective adopters who are already approved as foster carers.

There is no requirement to carry out police checks or to gather the specified information in relation to the prospective adopter and their household, unless it is considered to be necessary. The need for such checks and references should be assessed in each individual case. This may depend on the time since approval.

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 – stage two assessment.

The decision as to whether the prospective adopter is suitable to adopt a child must be made within four months of the date on which the prospective adopter registered their interest in adopting a child. This includes the time take to access information from adoption agencies and fostering services which have 15 working days to provide such information.

The information collected will vary according to the individual circumstances but will include information on:

  • The age and health of the foster carers and their ability to offer care until adulthood and beyond;
  • Their understanding of the lifelong nature of adoption;
  • The views of other family members particularly birth children of the foster carers, prospective grandparents etc;
  • The likely view of the child’s birth family;
  • Risks associated with the proposed placement, for example, do the birth family know where the foster carers live etc;
  • The length of time the child has been with the foster carers and the level of attachment;
  • The likelihood of identifying alternative adopters.

7.3 Adoption Allowance

It is important during the early discussions with foster carers to be clear about the procedure with respect to adoption allowance. Important points for consideration include:

  • Whether foster carers meet one of the primary criteria for the payment of an adoption allowance. However, an adoption allowance will only be paid if it would be impracticable to place a child with other adopters. For example if the child is under 2 with no health or development needs it would be unlikely that an adoption allowance would be paid;
  • Adoption allowances are means tested and so even if an adoption allowance is agreed in principle for the child, the income of the foster carers may preclude the payment of adoption allowance.

The Adoption Service Manager makes the decision in relation to payment of adoption allowance.

The agreement to undertake a financial assessment as part of the viability assessment is not an indication of agreement to pay an adoption allowance.


8. Where a Foster Carer Wishes to Adopt a Child where their Current Plan is Not for Adoption

In this situation two decisions must be made:

  • Is adoption the best plan for the child?
  • Are the foster carers appropriate adopters for the child?

The two decisions are inextricably linked. If adoption with the current foster carers is not viable then it is unlikely that adoption is appropriate for the child.

The child’s social worker should prepare a report for the childcare service manager analysing the advantages and disadvantages of the child being adopted by the current foster carers. The factors which should be considered include (not intended to be an exhaustive list):

  • The child’s view of adoption;
  • The birth family’s view of adoption;
  • The child’s understanding about adoption and how this will change the nature of his relationship with his birth family;
  • The level of contact between the child and his birth family.

The Childcare service manager will then need to determine in theory if the foster carers were approved as adopters, would adoption be appropriate. They may wish to seek advice from the Adoption and Fostering Service Manager in making this decision. If the decision is that it would not be appropriate then the process would cease. The foster carers would have the right to appear to the Service Manager.

If the decision is that adoption is an appropriate plan then an assessment as detailed in previous section should be conducted.

However, during this assessment the foster carers should be consulted about the most appropriate way for the application to be considered; either through a direct application or through the application for a Placement Order.

The foster cares will be informed of the decision in writing by the Childcare Service Manager.


9. Viability Report for Foster Cares who wish to be Considered as Adopters for a Specific Child

The Child

Name of child:

DOB:

Legal Status:

Summary of the Assessment of the child’s needs:

Current Permanence Plan for the Child:

Impact on siblings (if applicable):

The availability of other adopters for the child, particularly for young children without complex needs:

Child’s view (if old enough):

Birth family views:

Any risk to the child from the birth parents having current knowledge of the foster carer.

The Foster Carers

Name of Foster Carers:

Address:

Details of Household Members:

Motivation to adopt including consideration of the following:

  • Acceptance that they are providing a permanent home for the child no matter what behaviour the child may present;
  • Acknowledgement that support will be offered but in a different way from the support available to foster carers;
  • Acceptance that they may have to manage birth family contact without the high level of support they have previously received as foster carers;
  • Ability and willingness to take on parental responsibility and emotional commitment for life.

Finances – including discussion regarding adoption allowance:

Health of foster carers:

The foster carers intentions continuing as foster carers for other placements and the likely impact of this on the child needing permanence through adoption:

Views of family members including children:

View of Fostering Service in respect of foster carer’s expression of interest in adoption:

Views of others (if applicable) – e.g. IRO, CAFCASS Guardian.

Summary and Conclusion

Strengths, vulnerabilities analysis and any issues for further exploration:

SW’s recommendation:

Team Managers views and recommendations:

Service Manager decision.

End