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5.3.1 Relinquished for Adoption

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

The term "relinquished baby" is used to describe a child under the age of 6 weeks whose parents are making the choice of adoption for the child.

This chapter deals with the first stage of the adoption process for relinquished babies (i.e. identifying that a child should be placed for adoption). It also summarises the counselling and support that will be made available to the birth family in these circumstances.

AMENDMENT

This chapter was added to this online manual in October 2017.


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Responding to an Enquiry
  3. Pre-Birth Counselling
  4. Arrangement of a Placement
  5. Once a Child is Born
  6. Involving CAFCASS
  7. CAFCASS Procedure
  8. Involving the Birth Father and Extended Family Members
  9. Withdrawal of Consent


1. Introduction

Statutory adoption guidance sets out a process to be followed in the case of relinquished children under the age of six weeks. This is based on the supposition that the agency is approached in the early stages of the expectant mother’s pregnancy and that her intention to relinquish does not waver. Experience has shown, however, that this may not be the case and situations arise involving  concealed pregnancies and/or late decisions to relinquish a child for adoption. Also, birth mothers may change their mind about adoption once the child has been born. The balance between the right of the birth mother to request adoption and the right of the child to be brought up within his/her birth family is often challenging for social workers. Nevertheless, it is clear that the local authority is under a duty to do whatever it can to ensure that children are brought up within their birth family if at all possible, and that the child’s welfare must be paramount in all its considerations. The focus of Cambridgeshire County Council’s work with relinquishing birth mothers is based on the principle that adoption is a service for children and not a service for adults. Whilst the circumstances of mothers who have expressed a wish for their baby to be adopted must be carefully and sensitively considered, every effort will be made to explore the possibility of the mother or father caring for the child, or of the child being cared for within the extended birth family. The process to be followed in such circumstances reflects this approach.


2. Responding to an Enquiry

Referrals for mothers wanting to relinquish their babies for adoption can be received from hospitals, midwives, other health professionals or directly from the relinquishing mother herself. Upon receiving this referral, a separate case record on ICS should be opened for the birth mother and her child, even if unborn at the time of referral. On receipt of a referral MASH will contact the Adoption Team Manager who will allocate the case to an adoption social worker with the skills and knowledge necessary to counsel birth parents on the implications of adoption for the child, themselves and their wider family.

A Single Assessment will be undertaken and will be entered on ICS by the allocated social worker in a timely manner so as to avoid any delay in planning for the child. All case recording will be entered onto the relevant ICS record. As the information is highly sensitive, the child’s social worker must contact the ICS administrator to request that the record is ‘shielded’. At the social workers request, an adoption case file will also be set up and the documents listed in the Adoption Agencies Regulations (AAR) 12 will form part of this record.


3. Pre-Birth Counselling

As soon as possible following receipt of the referral the allocated social worker will arrange to meet with the mother and provide her with pre-birth counselling. The focus of this interview will be a general discussion of adoption and its legal and emotional implications and a discussion of available alternatives which should include:

  • Staying with the parent or parents, with close support where possible;
  • Short term foster care, with the aim of returning the child with support;
  • Long term placement within the child’s wider family;
  • Placement for adoption.

The social worker will need to get to know the parent/s properly so that they can plan for the child. Any questions asked by the parents need to be answered honestly with plenty of reassurance, particularly if there are other children in the family, that they will not be ‘taken’ too.

So far as is reasonably practicable, the mother should be given an explanation of the procedures for placement for adoption and the legal implications of adoption The agency should ascertain her wishes and feelings, including her wishes and feelings about the child’s religious and cultural upbringing, and issues of contact, both in the short and longer term. The social worker should explain to the birth mother that it is sometimes possible to place a baby direct with prospective adopters if the birth mother gives written agreement to place, and that she may be given the opportunity to meet with any prospective adopters identified. Agreement to place will also be needed from the father if he has parental responsibility. It should be made clear that this agreement is not the same as giving formal consent to the child being adopted which can only be given once the child is six weeks old, and must be witnessed by a CAFCASS officer. The birth mother should also be informed, however, that where it is not possible to place directly with prospective adopters, the child will be placed with foster carers until suitable prospective adopters can be identified.

It is usual to include the father of the child in the counselling process. The birth mother should be encouraged to provide the father's name. His consent to adoption will be required if he has parental responsibility. When determining whether to contact a father without Parental Responsibility when the mother does not wish to disclose his identity, the following issues must be considered:

  • The nature of the child’s relationship with the father;
  • The nature and extent of the father’s relationship with the mother and any siblings (past, present and future);
  • Whether failure to disclose to the father would constitute a contravention of Article 8 of the Convention (concerning respect for private and family life);
  • The child will require background information, including health information regarding his/her father.

Reasons for not involving the father must be discussed with the Adoption Team Manager and legal services. Any decision must be recorded on ICS. Where the father’s identity cannot be established or the case is complex, legal advice must be sought as soon as possible to minimise delay.

Every effort must be made to elicit comprehensive family health background information - using BAAF medical forms. Information from both parents is required.

If the plan remains adoption (and it should be noted that 50% of mothers do change their minds during counselling or in the weeks after the baby’s birth) explain to the parents that the child is likely to remain in placement with temporary foster carers for at least six weeks in order that counselling can continue and the child’s medical can be arranged.

The emphasis upon urgent planning is strong: In some cases it may be feasible with enough preparation for the Adoption Panel to be ready to consider the case within a day or so of the birth and the Agency Decision Maker to make the decision the same day. Upon the child’s birth, additional counselling must be offered to ascertain whether adoption remains the plan and if so, whether the child should be placed with particular adopters.


4. Arrangement of a Placement

If there are no suitable and  available approved adopters, if the mother has signed her consent to place pre-six weeks the social worker will make a referral to fostering team for a fostering placement. Once a foster carer is identified, the social worker should offer the birth parents an opportunity to meet the foster carer, if appropriate.

The placement must conform to the Care Planning, Case and Placement Review (England) Regulations 2010 and the appropriate Children Looked After forms should be completed. The mother needs to give consent for the child to be accommodated by signing the Placement Plan which also gives consent for all necessary medical treatment for the child whilst accommodated. These should be signed by the placing social worker and distributed to all concerned. A copy of the Placement Plan should also be placed on the child’s file.


5. Once the Child is Born

When the child is born, the birth mother should be encouraged and supported to register the birth and name the child.

The baby will be placed with either the prospective adopters identified, with the signed agreement of the birth mother, or with foster carers. The social worker will counsel the mother to confirm whether she still wishes to place the child for adoption. The mother will again be given an explanation of all procedures relevant to adoption, and the legal implications of adoption and the social worker will ensure that her wishes and feelings are ascertained. A father with Parental Responsibility has equal rights to the mother and, so far as is reasonably practicable, the obligations to counsel and inform apply to him as they do to the mother. Like the mother, his wishes and feelings regarding the child, the child’s placement for adoption and his adoption, including his wishes and feelings about the child’s religious and cultural upbringing, and issues of contact, must be ascertained and taken into account.

Where the identity of a father without Parental Responsibility is known to the agency, and the agency is satisfied it is appropriate to do so, it must carry out the same requirements that would apply if he had Parental Responsibility. The agency must also ascertain if possible whether he wishes to acquire Parental Responsibility for the child or intends applying for a Child Arrangements Order regarding either residence or contact The local authority is not bound to inform and consult a father without Parental Responsibility in all circumstances - it may sometimes be inappropriate to do so. Legal advice should always be sought before a decision is made about informing and consulting or not, a father without Parental Responsibility.

If the father’s identity cannot be established, the agency should seek legal advice The social worker must maintain close contact with the birth mother throughout this time. Every encouragement should be given to her to visit her child, if placed in foster care, and to attend reviews. Such arrangements should be as flexible as possible so that no barriers are put in the way of the birth mother developing a relationship with, and sense of responsibility for, her child. If the child is placed with adopters, arrangements should be put in place similar to fostering for adoption placements to ensure each birth parent(s) is given the opportunity to maintain contact and attend reviews.

Once a decision for adoption has been made by the birth parent/s, and shortly after the baby is born an Adoption Panel date should be booked and information required for the Child Permanence Report should be collated. It is advisable to gain as much information as early as possible, whilst the birth parent is continuing to engage. The report should be discussed with the birth parent/s and their wishes clearly recorded. The report content must be read and signed by the Adoption Team Manager.

The social worker should also immediately refer the birth mother and, if known, birth father with parental responsibility to  COUNSELLING SERVICE for independent counselling prior to referral to CAFCASS to witness consent. Issues to be explored within the counselling would include:

Counselling Checklist

  • Gain an understanding of the parent(s) specific needs i.e:
    • Communication requirements;
    • Literacy skills;
    • Cultural issues;
    • Disabilities;
    • Immigration concerns.
  • Gain an understanding of the reasons for requesting the child be placed for adoption and, if not from both parents, information about the father. Explain other options to the parent(s) and guardians and advise if there are any other support services that could be offered to allow the child to remain with parent(s) or guardians;
  • Discuss the knowledge, views of the extended family i.e: siblings, grandparents, and any consequences of them not knowing about the child’s birth, especially if the identity of the father remains unknown to the LA;
  • Discuss the birth father, if not known or not part of the relinquishing process, in relation to his:
    • Identity;
    • Address;
    • Wishes and feelings;
    • Whether he has parental responsibility or intends to acquire it, his role and potential rights in the process if he has or acquires PR.
  • If the identity of the birth father without parental responsibility is known to the local authority it must make a judgement as to whether it is appropriate to counsel and advise him.

    Be aware that the birth father could challenge this judgement and therefore the reasons for the judgement that it is not appropriate, should be carefully discussed and recorded. (AAR14);
  • To discuss the meaning of adoption:
    • Life long implications;
    • Legal consequences of consenting to placement for adoption Section19 and the advanced consent to the making of an adoption order Section 20 of Adoption and Children Act 2002 and the legal effects of adoption;
    • Contact issues, e.g. including the parents and guardians wishes about possible future involvement in the child’s life, and wishes and views of the child (if of sufficient understanding);
    • The need for information for later life for the child;
    • Whether the relinquishing parents wish to be involved in selecting the new parents for the child and/or give their consent to placement with particular adopters;
    • Entitlement to adoption support services and the processes for searching for the child when they become 18 years of age;
    • Support available to the birth parents and family beyond the child’s adoption;
    • The rights of the child to obtain information about and search for his or her birth parent(s) once they reach the age of 18;
    • The role of CAFCASS in ensuring that consent is given unconditionally and with full understanding i.e. without any conditions attached, including contact;
    • Giving the written information.

Competency

If at any point in this process, though prior to referral to CAFCASS) there is concern that a parent may lack ‘competency’ to consent to adoption, legal advice should be sought and consideration given to assessment under the Mental Capacity Act. It may be appropriate to consider initiating care and /or placement proceedings.

If the parent(s) seems to have characteristics which could impede some level of the understanding of giving consent because of i.e:

  • Moderate learning disabilities;
  • Mental health issues (not severe);
  • Cultural, ethnic or faith issues;
  • Consent not being given unconditionally (parents only willing to consent with conditions attached e.g. contact).

N.B. If consent is to be given in respect of a particular placement, this not a conditional consent. Then further information about the parent(s) understanding may need to be sought from another professional person, preferably someone who knows the parent i.e:

  • Adult learning disabilities social worker;
  • Approved mental health worker;
  • Mid wife, health visitor;
  • General practitioner.

Birth parent/s should be involved in discussions around suitable adoptive families. They should have the opportunity to share views on what they would like in a family and if appropriate be shown profiles of possible families.

Following recommendation at adoption panel and confirmation from the agency decision maker that the child should be placed for adoption, the birth parent/s should be advised that if they still wish plans for adoption to be made, a CAFCASS officer will contact them to witness formal consent.


6. Involving CAFCASS

Formal witnessing of consent when a child who is not in care proceedings is relinquished for adoption must be done by a CAFCASS practitioner if the parent is in England or Wales. This procedure takes place after the period of counselling.

The father's formal consent to adoption will also need to be sought if he has parental responsibility for the child.

Where there is parental consent to the child's adoptive placement and/or advance parental consent to the child's adoption, and the child is more than 6 weeks old, the child's social worker must arrange for a written request to be sent to CAFCASS to appoint an officer to witness the consent.

Where there is parental consent to the child's placement and the child is less than 6 weeks old, the social worker should ask the parents to sign a written agreement in the prescribed form to facilitate an early placement. Advance notice can then be sent to CAFCASS.

Usually CAFCASS will not be contacted until the CCC  has decided, after Panel recommendation and agency decision that the child should be placed for adoption, as any other plan does not require section 19 or Section 20 consent (see below) However, the law permits consent to be given before the Adoption Panel has met and the 'should be placed for adoption' decision has been made. This would be in circumstances where, for example, a parent is anxious to sign section 19 consent as soon as her child reaches 6 weeks of age, and/or there is a risk she will no longer be available to sign thereafter. If the Local Authority is satisfied that as much effort as possible has been made to counsel and advise the parent in these circumstances, an urgent request for a CAFCASS practitioner to witness consent should be made and acted upon by CAFCASS before the Adoption Panel meeting and agency decision.

This urgency is necessary because the local authority must apply for a Placement Order if the mother does not sign to consent and a very considerable delay to the child's placement for adoption may ensue. Where this situation arises and there is likely to be delay as court proceedings are likely to be instigated consideration will be given to a concurrency or fostering for adoption placement.

Section 19 Consent to Placement for Adoption

Section 19 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 provides for parents or guardians to give their consent to their child being placed for adoption. This consent can be specific to placement with particular adopters, or for placement with any adopters chosen by the agency.

Consent under section 19 is given in writing on a prescribed form and must be formally witnessed by a CAFCASS practitionerwho must be satisfied that consent is given with full understanding and unconditionally.

Section 20 Advance Consent to the Making of an Adoption Order

At the same time as giving this consent, or subsequently, formal consent may also be given under Section 20 to the making of an Adoption Order. This may be in relation to any adopters chosen by the agency or to adopters specified in the consent.

Consent under Section 20 is given in writing on a prescribed form and must be formally witnessed by a CAFCASS practitioner, who must be satisfied that consent is given with full understanding and unconditionally.

Statement with Section 20 Consent

At any time after giving consent under Section 20 (including when interviewed by the CAFCASS practitioner), the parent or guardian can make a statement that they do not wish to be notified of the subsequent application for an Adoption Order. If they don't do this, the court will formally notify them of the application

If this statement is made to the CAFCASS practitioner it should be recorded in writing and forwarded to the child's social worker. This situation could arise where a parent has requested their child be adopted and is clear that they wish to have no further involvement with the plans for the child. If such a statement is made, this must be recorded on the child’s adoption record and at the same time a copy must be filed at court.


7. CAFCASS Procedure

STAGE 1 - Actions for Adoption Service

On receiving a request from parent(s) and/or guardians that their child be placed for adoption, the child's social worker should send an advanced notice (see Advanced Notification Letter) to the CAFCASS office that is nearest to the home of the relinquishing parent(s) and/or guardians. The advanced notification will give an expected date of the Adoption Panel and a date when the Schedule 2, Adoption Agencies Regulations (AAR) 2005 information for CAFCASS will be completed (see STAGE 4 - Completion of Schedule 2 (AAR 2005) Information and Documents by Adoption Service, for further information).

The CAFCASS office addresses can be obtained from the CAFCASS Website.

STAGE 2 - Actions for CAFCASS

On receipt of the above information, CAFCASS will plan for provisional allocation to a practitioner.

STAGE 3 - Subsequent Actions for Adoption Service

Counselling should take place as described in Section 3-pre-birth counselling taking into account the issue of competency.

If the child's social worker is aware at an early stage that issues of competency may require further considerations they should not request a CAFCASS practitioner to witness consent until full enquiries have been completed and the Adoption Service is sure that the parent or guardian has competence to consent with full understanding within their capabilities and is willing to do so unconditionally.

If, during these counselling sessions the child's social worker considers that the parent is not capable of understanding the giving of consent and the local authority decides that the child should be placed for adoption without consent, the local authority must initiate care and /or placement proceedings.

STAGE 4 - Completion of Schedule 2 (AAR 2005) Information and Documents by Adoption Service

Schedule 2, (AAR 2005), states that the child's social worker should send the following to the CAFCASS office closest to the parents' address:

  • A certified copy of the child's birth certificate;
  • The name and address of the parent;
  • A Chronology of the actions and decisions made by the local authority;
  • If the child is accommodated and in foster care;
  • If the child has been placed for adoption under six weeks of age after parental agreement;
  • The date on which the local authority decided that the child should be placed for adoption, or the projected date for the Adoption and Permanence Panel hearing;
  • Confirmation that the parents have received counselling and written information on the legal implications of giving consent to the placement/adoption;
  • Whether they consider the parent/guardian to be competent;
  • Whether any other professional's views were sought about competency;
  • Which birth relative are aware of the child's birth or adoption plans; and
  • What steps should be taken by the CAFCASS practitioner in arranging to meet the consenting parent/guardian to preserve their confidentiality.

STAGE 5 - Adoption Service Notification to CAFCASS

The child's social worker should send a notification of relinquished baby notice (see Notification of Relinquished Baby Letter) to the CAFCASS office that is nearest to the home of the relinquishing parent(s) and/or guardians, enclosing the Schedule 2 information, requesting CAFCASS to appoint a practitioner.

All letters, Reports, Schedule 2, birth certificate etc. should be sent by recorded delivery, and copies should be uploaded onto the child and parent's Case Record.

STAGE 6 - Actions for CAFCASS

There are 3 possible outcomes from interviewing the parent/guardian:

  1. Countersigning Section 19 Form

    On satisfaction that consent to placing the child for adoption has been properly given and the parent/guardian fully understands its implications then the Countersigning Consent Forms for Adoption Letter is completed and this is returned along with the original signed form to the child's social worker in the Adoption Service by recorded delivery;
  2. Countersigning Section 19 & Section 20 Forms

    On satisfaction that consent to placing the child for adoption and advanced consent to the making of an Adoption Order is given with full understanding and unconditionally then the Countersigning Consent Forms for Adoption Letter is completed and this is returned along with the original signed forms to the child's social worker in the Adoption Service by recorded delivery;
  3. Inability to Countersign the Form(s)

    If there are issues about the parent(s) competency to give consent with full understanding and unconditionally that prevent the CAFCASS practitioner from countersigning the form(s) then the Inability to Countersign Consent Forms for Adoption - Section 19 and 20 Letter should be completed giving a full explanation of the reasons as to why the form(s) cannot be countersigned and sent to the child's social worker in the Adoption Service by recorded delivery.

(N.B. CAFCASS should send the original signed consent forms to the Adoption Service by recorded delivery.)

STAGE 7 - Later Consent under Section 20

If the parent/guardian is not willing to consent to Section 20 when signing section 19 consent, but later changes their minds, the child's social worker sends the Countersigning of Advanced Consent for Adoption Letter to the original CAFCASS practitioner with any additional information required.

The CACASS practitioner will re-interview the parent/guardian and, if satisfied that consent is given with full understanding and unconditionally, will send the countersigned Section 20 form and the Countersigning Consent Forms for Adoption Letter to the child's social worker in the Adoption Service.

On receipt of all parental consent witnessed by the CAFCASS practitioner, the original must be placed on the child's Case Record (as it will be required for the future adoption application).


8. Involving the Birth Father and Extended Family Members

If the birth mother does not want the father involved, the Social Worker will need to consult with the legal department as recent case law re C, in Adoption and Fostering, Volume 31:4 (2007), has clarified that a woman should be ‘encouraged’ rather than ‘forced’ to reveal the name of the father.

If the father's identity is known and the birth mother does not want him involved, Directions may need to be sought from court about this. The nature of the relationship and whether there may be any safety issues will be considered as part of this court Direction.

If, upon being contacted, the birth father does wish to care for the child himself or with his family this can be arranged with the support of the birth mother. However, if the birth mother is against this, the birth father will need to apply to the court for further assistance.

Where the parents wish to conceal from members of their family the fact of the child's existence or the fact that they are seeking their adoption, the local authority will be faced with a conflict between the parents' right to privacy and the child's right to know, and perhaps the chance of being brought up by their extended family. Where the local authority considers that it is likely to be in the child's interests to be given this opportunity, it should encourage the parents to consider the matter from the point of view of the child.

Generally, the courts have been reluctant to override a parent's determination for the extended family not to be informed but, as with fathers without parental responsibility, social workers should avoid giving parents any undertaking that the birth or the proposed adoption will be kept secret, unless such an action would pose a risk to the mother of the child or the child themselves, for example in cases involving the risk of honour-based violence. Each case will have to be considered on its own facts. See the cases of Z County Council v R (2001) 1 FLR 365 and Re C (A child) v XYZ County Council (2007) EWCA Civ 1206.


9. Withdrawal of Consent

The child's parent or guardian is able to withdraw their consent to the child's placement for adoption at any time up to the point where the prospective adopters apply for an Adoption Order, by writing to the agency.

It is the responsibility of the child’s worker and the prospective adopter’s adoption officer to ensure that the prospective adopters are fully aware of the implications should consent be withdrawn. This must be explained before the child is placed.

On receiving the notice of withdrawal of consent the authority is required to immediately review its decision to place the child for adoption. The authority may decide to apply for a Placement Order, having taken legal advice to ensure that the conditions for this are satisfied. This would prevent the child's removal until such time as the court has decided whether to make the Placement Order.

Where consent to placement has been given and withdrawn but the child is not yet placed for adoption, then the child must be returned to the parents within seven days unless the authority decides to apply for a Placement Order.

Where the child is placed for adoption by consent under section 19 of the Act and that consent is withdrawn, the child must be returned to the agency by the prospective adopters within 14 days, and the agency must return the child to the parents, unless the authority decides to apply for a Placement Order.

It is an offence for anyone other than the agency to remove a child where the child:

  • Is placed for adoption with the parents' consent under section 19 of the Act;
  • Is placed for adoption and either the child is less than six weeks of age or the agency has at no time been authorised to place the child for adoption;
  • Is not yet placed for adoption and is being accommodated by the local authority and the authority has applied for a Placement Order and the application has not yet been disposed of;
  • Is not yet placed, but the agency is authorised under section 19 of the Act or would be if consent to placement had not been withdrawn.

End