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6.1.8 Procedure for Foster Carers who Wish to Adopt a Child Currently in their Care, including Fostering After Adopting

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

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

There are several situations in which the current foster carers may express an interest in adopting the child they are caring for.

  • 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.

AMENDMENT

This chapter was reviewed and updated in February 2022 and should be re-read in its entirety.


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. Format for Viability Assessment/Report for Foster Carers who wish to be considered as Adopters for a Specific Child
  10. Fostering After Adopting a 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 who are Looked After.

The key differences between different options are set out below.


2. Long Term Fostering

If children are in long term foster care 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’s plan will be regularly reviewed. As foster carers, the foster carers approval is 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 where this benefits the child. 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. Parental responsibility is shared between the person holding the CAO and the parents.

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 provide 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 decision making authority e.g. they can consent to the child leaving the country for up to 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 plan agreed with the holders of the order. The carers may be entitled to a means tested SGO allowance.


5. Child Subject to an Adoption Order

An Adoption Order removes Parental Responsibility from the birth parents and invests all Parental Responsibility with the adopters. An Adoption Order is irrevocable. Prior to adoption the local authority have to agree an adoption support plan with the adopters, detailing the support to be available 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 within a family. There are no restrictions on how adopters exercise their Parental Responsibility. Under certain circumstances adopters may receive financial support in the form of means tested adoption allowances.

In considering the most appropriate route to permanence, staff need to consider which order best meets the identified needs of the child now and continuing into adulthood.

In considering the most appropriate order the needs of the child are the paramount consideration. Staff will also 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 any complications this may pose;
  • Critically, the effect of the order now and 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 assessed and approved as adopters by the local authority and the child being placed with them for adoption by the local authority (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 required to have an Adoption Support Plan. Other than an application by a step parent, the Social Worker should consider the likely need of the child and adoptive family for adoption support. Additionally the child may have a reduced entitlement 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 vulnerabilities of the application.

In completing the suitability report the child’s social worker will consult with his/her team manager, the Fostering Service and the Adoption Service, the child’s independent reviewing officer, birth parents and others, in order to determine the recommendation of the local authority 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 for the local authority 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 possible the adoption can be secured more quickly using this route, particularly if the child is not already subject to a 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 Service Manager 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

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; or if there has been a particular change in circumstances. Any expression of interest received at a later stage will be considered at a care planning meeting and only be agreed if it can be demonstrated to be in the child’s best interests. The Social Worker Fostering will provide a report setting out the reasons for the late interest and whether or not they support this;
  • 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 in their family.

If a foster carer indicates an interest in adopting a child 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 Adoption Recruitment and Assessment Team Manager.

The child’s Team Manager will arrange a care planning meeting including the people named above as well as the child’s IRO. The meeting will decide whether the foster carers are a suitable option to be considered and whether an initial viability assessment should be undertaken.

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

  • Geographical location and the risk from the birth family;
  • Ability of foster carers and to meet the child’s needs on a long term basis;
  • Health of foster carers and contingency support network;
  • The progress of the adoption plan for the child e.g. has an adoptive family already been identified.

There should be 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.

7.1 Viability Report

If the decision from the care planning meeting is that the foster carers need to be considered, then an initial viability assessment and report will be completed by the child’s Social Worker. If this is positive, the Adoption Recruitment and Assessment Team will be informed and will invite the foster carers to submit a Registration of Interest.

Sources of information for the viability assessment and 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).

(See Section 9, Format for Viability Assessment/Report for Foster Carers who wish to be considered as Adopters for a Specific Child).

The report needs to be quality assured by both the childcare Team Manager

The report will then be sent to the Adoption Service Manager for a decision as to whether the foster carers should be offered a Registration of Interest.

7.2 The Assessment Process

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

The need for police and further checks and references should be assessed in each individual case. This will include the need to attend any training. This may depend on the time since their approval as foster carers, their knowledge and understanding of adoption, and any changes in circumstances.

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 of the 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 who have 15 working days to provide such information requested.

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;
  • The ability of the foster carers to meet the child’s identified needs and any support needs identified;
  • 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 nature of their 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 the child meets one of the primary criteria for the payment of an adoption allowance;
  • Adoption allowances are means tested and reviewed annually 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 their Service Manager analysing the advantages and disadvantages of the child being adopted by the current foster carers. It would be expected that this would follow consideration at the child’s CLA review and will include the views of the Social Worker Fostering. 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 views of the foster carers’ family members;
  • The views of the Fostering Social Worker.

The Childcare service manager will then consider whether a plan of adoption is likely to meet the child’s needs if the foster carers were approved as adopters. They may wish to seek consultation/advice with the Adoption Service Manager in making this decision. The foster carers will be informed of the decision in writing by the Childcare Service Manager. If the decision is that it would not be appropriate, then the process would cease. The foster carers would have the right to appeal to the Service Manager.

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

It is important during this assessment the foster carers should be informed and consulted about the most appropriate way for the application to be considered; either through a direct application to court or through the application for a Placement Order.


9. Format for Viability Assessment/Report for Foster Carers 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 and understanding the child’s needs and the impact of loss and trauma at times through their lives;
  • 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 an emotional and legal 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.


10. Fostering After Adopting a Child

Where a foster carer has adopted a child, it is important for the adopted child and their welfare and needs to be given first priority in the family. Foster carers sometimes ask how long after adopting they can foster again. There is no set time, as each child and family needs to be considered individually. For some families it may never be appropriate to foster again, for others it may, in time.

In line with the policy applied for repeat adopters, we would not generally consider an application to foster until at least two years after the Adoption order has been granted. An exception to this may be when there is the opportunity to place siblings together in the same placement, if their needs can be met in that family.

For most adopted children, it would be very difficult to live in a family where other children come and go and there are ongoing contact arrangements, due to their own losses of birth family and previous carers. Adopted children need a high level of physical and emotional availability from their adoptive parents to build secure attachments and recover from trauma and loss. For these reasons, adoption and short-term fostering are less likely to be compatible.

Where foster carers adopt a child in their care, and have other children already placed with them permanently on a fostering basis, or an existing approved support care commitment, the impact of Social Workers visiting, CLA reviews and birth family contact, will need to be considered in assessing the foster carers as adopters and in the consideration of these placements continuing. Similarly, if there are children placed with the foster carer on a short term basis at the time of the adoption, the needs of the adopted child will need to be carefully balanced with the advantages for the fostered child in remaining until they move to their permanent family.

Apart from the situations outlined in the previous paragraph, where there are other Children Looked After already in the foster home, the security and stability needs of the child being adopted will require consideration of the foster carer resigning from fostering. Should a foster carer wish to continue fostering out with the circumstances outlined above, the reasons will be considered in relation to the needs of the child being adopted in a viability assessment by the child’s team.

Where a Foster carer has resigned to adopt a child, should they wish to return to the Fostering role in the future the Fostering team will need to reassess them based on their current family situation. This assessment will include a consultation with the Adoption Support service to fully consider the potential impact on the adopted child, including any current adoption support needs.

This approach is agreed by the Adoption and Fostering services as essential in ensuring the needs of adopted and foster children are met in the families we have entrusted with their care.

End