Chapter 19 The Assessment, Approval and Review of Adopters
In this chapter:
2. Who to Assess: Assessing Local Need
3. Who to Assess: Publishing and Supporting Criteria.
4. Content of the Assessment
5. The Approval Process
6. Appealing against an Agency Decision
7. Reviewing the Adopter's Approval Status
The guidance in this chapter if related to Part III of the Adoption Agencies (Scotland) Regulations 2009 and Part I of Schedule I of those Regulations. The areas covered in this chapter are:
- who to assess;
- content of the assessment;
- approval process;
- review of approval;
2. Who to assess - assessing local need
Section 4 of the 2007 Act requires each local authority to prepare and publish their adoption plan, either as a stand-alone document or as part of their Children's Services Plan. This obviously relates to the whole range of adoption services that should be provided across the country but a key part will be about the effectiveness of the authority in completing adoption plans for those children for whom it is in their best interests. This should include information about:
- the numbers and characteristics of the children placed each year;
- children waiting for adoption with no family in mind;
- any children where adoption might have been considered if there was a realistic prospect of finding an adoptive family.
Alongside this there should be information about the number and nature of approved adopters available. On the basis of this the local authority should plan for access to a sufficient pool of adopters to meet the needs of the main group of children likely to be placed and explore ways of extending this pool to encompass the more varied needs of those children who require greater efforts to be made on their behalf.
This may include making agreements with registered adoption services about the provision of some of these services or making use of consortia or other arrangements for securing inter-agency placements. On the basis of this plan the local authority and any registered adoption service should firstly decide about the information they offer to prospective adopters who approach them and whether they need to include some minimum requirements about the range of children applicants can consider in their general criteria. Secondly, they should consider the need for active recruitment plans to meet any shortfall, including any specific focus for recruitment. They may do this individually, in partnership with other agencies who have similar needs, or through a local consortium or other established local or national grouping. Any such planned recruitment should address the necessity for adequate provision for following up all enquiries through the information, preparation, assessment and approval stages.
3. Who to Assess - Publishing and Supporting Criteria
Each adoption agency must prepare and publish their general criteria for determining whether they will accept persons for assessment as adoptive parents and review these from time to time. There are two sides to this. Firstly, it is an opportunity to ensure that all potential applicants have accurate information about the wide range of people who can legally apply for an adoption order. The most obvious areas are age and marital status where some people may have been deterred from applying in the past by the impression that 'you can't adopt if …' which may not be true. This is where there is an opportunity to explain the changes made by the 2007 Act in relation to who can adopt jointly and how the agency will respond to applications from couples in a civil partnership and those who are living in an "enduring family relationship" as if married or as if civil partners.
Updating criteria in light of changing legislation and reviewing this will provide an opportunity to consider:
- Any training needs for staff in carrying out these assessments, both about exploring the stability and security of any relationship given what it is hoped adoption will achieve for a child, and also any practical issues that should be discussed with couples if their relationship breaks up before the child is adult. There should already be expertise within the agency about assessment of single applicants and families which already include birth or other children such as half or step siblings but any such review of criteria provides a useful prompt for consideration of how well the agency responds to the different family structures amongst potential applicants.
- Whether those assessing prospective adopters also need to engage in further dialogue with colleagues who may be seeking adoption placements for children. There is already some evidence that certain adopters wait longer for a placement and that this may be influenced not just by perceived capacity but also by views of their family structure, for example single adopters. This is particularly so when there is an expectation of choice for a young, pre-school child. It is very discouraging and ultimately may deter future applicants if approved adopters wait a long time for a placement and feel this is less about their ability than about attitudes to their particular type of family. This is a complex area and touches on how children are prepared for a new family - or a 'new mum and dad' - as well as working with birth parents who may not have thought about the range of people who might apply to adopt or foster. This is where agencies need to think about the channels of communication and joint training between adoption and fostering staff and social workers who concentrate on working with the children and families who may need to use the adoption or fostering service.
Legal criteria in terms of being domiciled
Another legal aspect of criteria is whether the applicant(s) is/are able to apply to adopt in Scotland. The 2007 Act says that applicants must either be domiciled in the United Kingdom or have resided in the UK for one year up to the date of the court application, (s.30(6)). When the applicants are a "relevant couple" (s.29(3)), the 2007 Act says that either one of them, at least, must be domiciled in the United Kingdom or they both must have resided in the UK for one year prior to the date of the court application. It is not necessary for prospective adopters to have British Nationality.
Domicile is about which country an applicant is most closely associated with for legal purposes. A person may be domiciled in Scotland without living here as domicile is not the same thing as where someone lives.
Prioritisation of Enquiries
A further aspect of criteria concerns those factors that are not legal requirements but come from either knowledge of the needs of children requiring adoption and the care and parenting challenges they bring. Agencies need to be clear about how they express this and check with their legal adviser. Agencies may state certain criteria that are essential for everyone who applies and should be able to state their reasons for these.
Potential applicants may not like this or agree but the agency are entitled to state their position. An example would be those agencies who will not accept applications to adopt children under five years of age from smokers and can cite from the research on passive smoking. In other areas, agencies may want some flexibility and the scope to consider applicants with certain issues in their background on a case by case basis - this may be about something that could come up in a police check or a medical that might cause concern but not be an absolute bar.
Responding to applicants undergoing infertility treatment
There is also general agreement that any adoption assessment should not start while the potential applicants are actively undergoing infertility treatment. Adoption agencies should keep in touch with their local medical services about this - given advances in possible treatment, more protracted contact with clinics and the possibility of recall as medical knowledge advances there may not be a clear end point in treatment. If this is not an essential criterion applicants may wish an assessment to proceed, even if they recognise that in the end it may not be successful. In this situation an applicant may have grounds for appeal and ultimately, if they felt that the local authority had not handled their case appropriately or fairly, may consider a judicial review.
Requirement to notify the enquirer in writing
If the agency does not accept an application from someone because he or she does not meet their criteria they must notify that person in writing. Where it seems likely that another agency would accept the application it is helpful to pass this information to the applicant.
Additional Criteria for Inter-country adoption
Clearly, the general criteria above apply where applicants are considering domestic adoption. Where prospective adopters are considering an inter-country adoption they need to be aware of the requirements both within this country and those of the sending country.
Adoption agencies should have information available based on eligibility to adopt in the Adoptions with a Foreign Element (Scotland) Regulations 2009 and also the stages depending on whether it is a convention or non-convention country. Any such applicant will also need to be aware of any additional requirements made by the country from which the applicant hopes to adopt. This may change, as may the extent to which any other country will consider adopters from other countries.
From time to time there may also be special restrictions placed on adopting from certain countries due to concerns about the situation in 'obtaining' children for adoption. Both staff and enquirers should have information about sources of up to date information to ensure that any such application is realistic. It is clear in the regulations that all inter-country assessments should be handled in accordance with the Adoption Agency regulations.
Clarifying when an enquiry becomes an application
Alongside laying out their criteria for applicants, agencies should consider the point at which applications may be made. Many people approach adoption with limited understanding both of why there are children needing adoption now - and all the implications of this for potential adopters - and of the extent of the assessment process. It therefore makes sense to provide enquirers with ample information in advance of the point of application. Agencies should have clear procedures covering the provision of written information and the arrangements they make for individual interviews or group information sessions.
The point of application should mark a clear move to the next phase, by which time the agency will have ensured that the applicants have a sound understanding of all that is involved and the applicants feel sufficiently informed to make that step. If the applicant's circumstances change or, on further discussion, they conclude that they no longer wish to adopt, they should be asked to state in writing that they wish to withdraw. It should be noted at this point if this was a personal choice and was no reflection on their suitability to adopt.
Where concerns are identified during the assessment that could lead to a report to the panel recommending that the applicants are not approved this should be fully discussed with the applicants who may choose to withdraw, which again should be requested in writing and a note made of the circumstances.
Where the applicant wants to continue with the application, this should be brought to panel when any areas of concern have been fully explored, including any independent sources of additional information and an evaluation made of the significance of the concern and how it may be balanced against positive aspects of the application. The aim should be to provide sufficient information to enable the panel to conclude whether or not they should recommend that the applicants are not suitable to adopt with reasons that can be stated and are open to review on appeal if the Agency Decision Maker decides against approval.
4. Content of the assessment
The regulations and the schedule cover the range of information to be gathered and what needs to be submitted to the panel to enable them to make their recommendation. From the perspective of the adoption agency this is about having a well thought out preparation process covering both the challenges of adoption generally and the more specific issues arising from the needs of the majority of the children now needing an adoption placement. This should be followed by more focussed work with applicants to assess and evaluate what they bring to this.
Initial Mapping of the Assessment
The assessing worker for this home study phase should discuss at the outset the main areas that will be covered that are common to all adoptive applicants and how these may be addressed and also spend time identifying with applicants the areas that are specific to their application. For applicants applying for a child known to them it will be important to explore their knowledge of the child and their attitude to his/her family of origin. For prospective inter-country adopters, this includes both the additional factors common to all inter-country adoption, such as the potential risks from limited information and the challenges for children and their parents when a child is separated from their original culture especially where they do not share their adopter's ethnicity and religion, and also any particular issues arising from adoption from the country chosen.
For all adopters there may be a number of areas that are relevant to the individual application including:
- their particular family structure and who is in the household;
- extent of their experience of children, and especially the views of any children in the household;
- significant events and experiences in their background;
- any issues likely to come up through third party enquiries.
This initial mapping of the areas for assessment will always be open to adjustment if new issues arise, but setting a broad agenda establishes a way of working together that is open, helps the applicants to think about the relevance of the different aspects of the assessment to the task and to consider their input to the process. The agency should have a range of tools, information and materials they can draw on both in preparation groups and in the home study for staff to use.
Preparation groups form a significant part of the process in most agencies and they will have both tried and tested models to use, adapt and update and will also have patterns that they can monitor about frequency and organisation of such groups. Some of this needs to be flexible to take account of the size and geography of different agencies. This is not prescribed in regulations but is an area that should be kept under review to ensure that prospective adopters are not faced with undue delay and that any groups they attend take account of their needs. This may call for a range of practical and creative solutions such as combined groups for potential foster and adoptive applicants with some sub-division or separate sessions or joining with neighbouring agencies to run a joint group - for example, inter-country adoption.
In some areas it may make sense to use some of the group preparation material with a group formed from the family and friends of applicants. Applicants need to be clear at the outset as to whether and how their participation in a group may be part of the assessment. This may be a formal point at the end of the groups when there is discussion of the next steps and the group leaders can identify with both the applicants and their assessing worker any particular issues arising from the preparation groups. Where groups are identified by the agency as a fully integrated part of the assessment they may also incorporate feedback sheets on each session to be picked up in the home study. By this stage applicants should have moved on from awareness of the general criteria for eligibility for assessment to a firm understanding of what the agency will be addressing in considering their suitability to adopt. The National Care Standards: adoption agencies, (March 2005) Standard 23.1 specify the assessment should be completed within six months for the assessment process from the date of initial interview to recommendation to adoption panel.
Checks and References
Early in the process applicants should be aware of all the information that will be gathered from other records and people and arrangements made for the timing and means of obtaining this. This should cover everything listed in Schedule 1 Part 1(14) the Adoption Agencies (Scotland) Regulations 2009 as well as medical information and references. Established good practice goes beyond what is included in regulations and has been informed by reports into situations where approved adopters did not provide safe care for children.
Clarity about this investigative aspect of the assessment and the need to obtain confirmation of the honesty and accuracy of information should be openly discussed at the outset so that this can be integrated helpfully into the overall process. Agencies should be explicit about the following:
- expectation in relation to approaching employers for a reference;
- contacting former partners; and
- interviewing adult children who have left home.
Agencies should specify how this will be done, by whom and the process for evaluation of the information and whether this will be made available to the applicants. Where this is unrealistic, attempts should be made to contact other people who can comment on the particular circumstances at that time.
Where people have lived abroad for a period there should be early enquiries about possible checks in other countries. If this is not feasible referees or employers may be able to confirm that there were no concerning issues at the time and information about this attached to the report. This will enable the panel to comment on the robustness of the checks.
Agencies should gather the names of a number of potential referees at the beginning and then prioritise who they will follow up at a later stage when there is greater clarity about the areas where comments from referees would be valuable. Applicants should be encouraged to think of possible referees who have known them individually or, if a couple, together over a period of time, including during significant times in their lives. As well as people who are not close relatives as required by the Schedule, consideration should also be given to meeting members of the applicants extended family both because they may have an additional perspective on any difficult areas arising during the assessment and also because of their potential support role.
The question of the confidentiality of this information is complex. Regulation 7(5)(f) provides for the report that is presented to the adoption panel to be shared with the prospective adopters on the basis that it shall exclude any information provided in confidence. Assessing workers should be clear about the different aspects of confidentiality so that they can explain this to applicants at the outset. This includes understanding the perspectives of other agencies and professional bodies as well as their own agency approach. Disclosure Scotland has its own guidelines about the handling of any additional information that may accompany an enhanced check. The medical profession has its own code of practice that addresses both access to medical records and also any restricted reports where there is a duty of care. Personal referees and other individuals may tentatively raise concerns but be reluctant to go further if they were to be identified as the source of negative comment.
Issues and Dilemmas related to non-approval on the basis of third party information
Regulation 8(6)(b)(i) states that where there is a decision that a prospective adopter is not suitable to adopt, they must be sent the reasons for this decision. It is obviously likely that a concern from third party information may feature here. Any such situation needs a well considered approach with time to attempt to resolve the concerns posed - if necessary by deferring panel consideration. This will require discussion with the individual providing the information in question and exploring ways in which the issue can be opened up with the applicant. In some cases this may be about the provider of the information agreeing to communicate with the applicants, in other situations it may be about thinking of ways of finding out more about the issue from other sources or bringing it into the open without identifying the source. This is often unsatisfactory as the source may be obvious to the applicant or it may divert attention to wondering who might have made an adverse comment.
In many situations it is, however, possible to negotiate a way forward that allows a full satisfactory inquiry into the difficulty raised. These situations often cause anxiety for workers who will need support and guidance on ways forward. Robust and consistent supervision by a senior Social Worker can provide this, and other guidance when necessary in order to ensure that timescales and pressures are met.
Agencies may also deliberately leave the final choice of referees to follow up with an interview and also the use of a standard visit by a second worker or supervisor to a later stage to provide further opportunity to consider difficult aspects of an application. Ultimately there is no absolute guarantee in these complex situations that confidentiality can be protected if cases are appealed. Every effort should be made in managing these cases to address issues raised thoroughly while respecting as far as possible the concerns of individuals providing information about confidentiality and with sensitivity to their anxieties. A clear record should be held at all stages of the discussion of such issues and the conclusions reached.
Civil Partnerships and Cohabitation
The 2007 Act extends the framework for joint applications to a wider range of couples including civil partners and cohabiting partners. Adoption agencies already have experience of assessing these applications but on the basis of only one partner making the application to adopt while the other partner may look at other alternatives to secure their status in relation to the child. The legislation and regulations help to regularise this position and the Schedule directs attention to some specific pieces of information where there are two prospective adopters. The phrase that will require some consideration is the need to establish when a couple are in 'an enduring family relationship'. Finding ways of testing and articulating this will be helpful in considering any relationship - simply stating that people have been married for a number of years can no longer be taken as any guarantee of this. Adoption agencies will need to keep in touch with other areas of social work and counselling to ensure that they are aware of any models that could inform their practice in this area.
Children already in the household
While adoption is still seen as a particular option for families with fertility issues, and a high proportion of applicants are childless, there are also a number of applications from those with children already. These will range from those embarking on a second - or subsequent - adoption, through families where secondary infertility is an issue, to those who have plenty of parenting experience through children born to them and have responded to the needs of children waiting for an adoptive family. There are a growing number of tools now available for use with children in the household when an adoption assessment is being completed.
One of the known risk factors in adoption is the impact of the addition of a child through adoption on a child already in the family, especially if they have extra needs in finding their place within the family unit. This should always be carefully and explicitly addressed and attention paid to the way in which children are directly included in the assessment. The 2007 Act requires local authorities to assess the needs of these children for support services on request, and the children should be made aware of this opportunity.
Religion and Culture
Part 1 of Schedule 1 brings in the reference to the prospective adopter's religious persuasion and observance. The specific area of religious practice expressed in the Schedule concerns the prospective adopter's ability to have regard to the child's religion, ethnicity and cultural and linguistic background. This is mirrored in Part II in the information about the child.
The adoption agency needs to ensure that a prospective adopter's practice is genuinely non-discriminatory with a clear emphasis upon the needs of children who may be placed. An acceptance and understanding of the child's background and identity are essential attributes for all adopters. All adopted children will experience difference and ultimately will need to come to terms with their dual family status: being part of an adoptive family, but also having a birth family. Prospective adopters will need to demonstrate the potential to help a child make sense of their past, including their religious and cultural identity, rather than trying to ignore or downplay the importance of a child's religious and cultural roots.
The adoption agency should be clear about its requirements for financial information. The assessment of detailed financial information should always be made in the context of ensuring stability for children. Alongside these considerations, information should be provided to applicants regarding potential financial support that could be available through adoption allowances.
The Schedule makes reference to the prospective adopters' ability to care for the child throughout childhood. This directs attention in the assessment to the whole period of a child's dependency and their transition to adulthood. Factors such as age and health may be relevant here. It is important to recognise however that circumstances change in families and that adoption support services have a role to play when these changes occur.
5. The Approval process
The key steps in this and the timescales are clearly laid out in the regulations. Agencies will have an agreed format for presenting the completed assessment to a panel - which is normally a standard format familiar across agencies to facilitate inter-agency placements and also to ensure that all the requirements in the regulations are covered. This must be shared with the prospective adopters in advance of the panel excluding any information provided in confidence and they should sign it.
Sufficient Time to amend Reports
Agencies should have their own procedures and timescales to ensure that the applicants have sufficient time to look at the report on their application and if necessary add comment on any concerns or inaccuracies and also to ensure the papers reach panel members in plenty of time to prepare for the panel.
Attendance at Panel by Applicants
The attendance of the applicants for part of the panel is well established practice. Agencies should have information available about the purpose of the panel, when and how the applicants will have the opportunity to meet with the panel and whatever practical information that will help them to participate. This could include the following:
- written information with some brief details of panel members;
- opportunity to meet the chairperson before being introduced to the panel;
- feedback on the positive elements noted by the panel in their application before asking any questions;
- an indication of the areas that the panel would like to discuss with them at the outset.
Their assessing social worker should have discussed with them in advance that the panel can only make a recommendation which goes to an Agency Decision Maker who cannot be a member of the panel and also the timescales for the agency decision to be made. This should be confirmed at the panel itself.
Timescales for Approval and Non-approval Decisions,
The timescales are laid out in regulation 8. The agency should have procedures to ensure that the papers and a minute of the panel covering all the areas that must be in writing reach the Agency Decision Maker in time to make the decision within 14 days. It should be noted that where the recommendation is for approval, and this is agreed by the Agency Decision Maker, there is a further 14 days to write to the applicants confirming this. If, however, the decision is not to approve the applicants, they must be notified within seven days together with the reasons for this and also the adoption panel's recommendation if they had considered the applicants suitable. They should also receive written information about timescales and process should they wish the decision to be reviewed. The agency must therefore be able to demonstrate clear reasoning throughout this process .
Further Panel Considerations beyond the Approval Recommendation
The regulations are expressed in terms of the applicants' suitability to adopt. In addressing this, there are two further areas that the panel may wish to comment upon and which link with the later function of the panel with regard to the placement of a particular child or children with the adopters. These are set out below.
- The age range and number of children who may be placed.
Adoption agencies normally make some recommendation on the parameters of the children who may be placed but the regulations are silent on this. Agencies should therefore decide the extent to which they would seek to add such recommendations to the overall suitability to adopt. The aim of leaving flexibility is that some adopters may develop their confidence in considering a wider range of children once they are approved. Adoption agencies need to continue working with adopters post approval to develop their ability to consider the real needs of children known to be awaiting adoption. Many agencies use BAAF formats to start exploring the whole range of aspects of a child that form part of the matching considerations and this will be part of the evidence shared with the panel. This goes beyond age and ability to consider siblings and issues around contact; background factors; developmental concerns, disabilities or health needs; heritage and genetic factors and a wide range of emotional, social and behavioural challenges. The agency should decide whether they will seek to make recommendations within specific parameters or will make reference to the broader ongoing work in relation to matching characteristics which will be continued during the period prior to any proposed match.
- Anticipated support needs
In any recommendation for approval there should be strong positive reasons to consider that the applicants have the capacity to meet the life-long needs of children awaiting adoption. This places the initial emphasis on the strengths of the applicants. There are always areas where applicants have less experience, are less confident or have personal experiences that may increase their empathy for a child's circumstances but also could leave them vulnerable. A good assessment will evaluate and balance these different attributes to reach a recommendation on 'suitability'. One of the main thrusts of the 2007 Act is the recognition of the level of support that should be available to adoptive families to equip them to manage the child's changing needs and also to address the significant extra challenges that often arise from the background and history of the children placed. The growth of skills and practice in this area highlight the need both for all adopters to recognise their potential need for support at times but also more specific awareness of likely areas where this may be needed. This should be built in to the matching process and should therefore be recognised from the point of approval.
6. Appealing against an Agency Decision
Applicants should be afforded a period of not less than four weeks and not more than 12 weeks to make representation about the decision.
The procedure for this is clearly laid out in the Regulation 9. The adoption agency should have arrangements in place to enable them to have a differently constituted adoption panel within the required timescale. This should also conform to Regulation 3. The existing pool of adoption panel members may be sufficiently large to service this if necessary but small agencies will possibly need to establish reciprocal arrangements with another agency to ensure that there is a sufficient pool to draw on to provide a different chairperson, legal and medical adviser as well as panel members.
Most agencies already have provision for an alternative Agency Decision Maker to cover holiday and illness but may also designate their chief executive or similar as an additional Agency Decision Maker for such eventualities. The prospective adopters should be given the opportunity to make representations to the adoption agency. Regulations do not specify the means for doing this but a fair process would allow them to put their views in writing, add any other views and comments from other sources in support of their appeal and speak to the adoption panel that is making the fresh recommendation.
7. Reviewing the Adopter's Approval Status
Regulation 10 addresses when an adoption agency must review adopters following their approval. Agency procedures should be clear how this will be carried out. Two sets of circumstances are identified when this will be necessary:
I. when adopters have been approved for two years and no child has been placed
II. where a child has been placed in accordance with regulation 18 for the purpose of adoption, no application for adoption has been made and the agency considers a review of the approval is necessary to safeguard the child.
Each of these circumstances is explored more fully below.
I. When adopters have been approved for two years and no child has been placed
Where no child has been placed within two years of approval, this should be addressed initially by the team responsible for the assessment and approval of adopters. There may be a number of reasons for this, such as:
- there may have been no children within the parameters the adopters were willing to consider needing adoptive placement
- there are factors in relation to the adopters which have meant they have not been the family choice for any children needing placement
- for personal reasons they were unable to consider a placement for part of the time, for example move of house, so they were temporarily unavailable.
The review needs to consider whether their continued approval is realistic and a placement may still be anticipated. In advance of this review, the agency is required to re-assess the adopter's suitability to become an adoptive parent. The adoption agency should maintain contact with all their approved adopters during the time when they are awaiting placement and have established how they will do this. This is particularly important where an assessment has been carried out by an independent worker on behalf of the agency.
If there are significant changes in the prospective adopters' circumstances these should be addressed at the time and where these have implications for their approval, the case should return to panel for re-consideration.
Adopters should be aware that if no child has been placed with them, their situation will be reviewed after two years. Their contact with the adoption agency should support them in thinking about the possible reasons for this. In particular, they may need to reflect on whether this relates to their own hopes and expectations or their capacities at the time of approval - and whether there is anything further they or the agency can do to address this. The re-assessment required for a two year review should concentrate on any changes and development during the waiting period and its implications in relation to the original assessment. In some instances, agency criteria may also have moved on - for example guidance on passive smoking has led some agencies to change their criteria for placement of young children within non smoking households as the requirement for all under five's rather than under two's.
Attention should also be paid to the efforts made by the agency to find a suitable link for the adopters. There are various arrangements in place to facilitate links between agencies in different parts of Scotland, across the whole of Scotland and the UK. As well as recognising the needs of waiting families, this also acknowledges that a protracted wait for a placement may undermine the confidence of families and in some circumstances the loss of a potentially valuable family for a child. As part of their required plan for the provision of adoption services, local authorities should include in their review of such plans both their approach to resource sharing and any necessary changes to practical arrangements for this. Waiting adopters should be actively involved in how a link may be identified for them and understand the implications of an inter-agency placement.
Updating Checks and Medicals
Agency procedures should also specify the frequency of updating statutory checks and medicals. The most obvious point is to update checks for the two years review but this will require to be monitored in line with any subsequent guidance from Disclosure Scotland and also with the introduction of the Vetting and Barring changes system which came into force in 2011 under the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007. Procedures should also be in place for updating medical information. Full medicals should only be necessary after five years or if there has been a significant health issue in the intervening period which has been identified by the agency in the course of ongoing contact with the approved adopters.
When the Review concludes that re-approval is not appropriate
Regulation 10 thereafter lays out the necessary steps to be taken if the conclusion of the review is that the prospective adopter may no longer be suitable and the need to refer the situation back to the adoption panel. In practice, agencies may choose to discuss all reviews of adopters waiting for two years at the panel so that the panel builds its awareness in this area. The review report in these circumstances should provide the following information to panel:
- a summary of the prospective adopters and the panel recommendations at the time of their approval; any change in circumstances;
- reasons why no placement has been made with them;
- the current view of the assessing social worker about their continued approval; and
- the discussion at the review that concluded they may no longer be suitable.
The regulations provide for the sharing of that report with the prospective adopters and their opportunity to submit representations. They should be encouraged to provide their views in writing prior to the panel and the agency should consider the provision of the opportunity to meet the panel as in their original approval. The route thereafter is similar to the initial approval process including the possibility of appeal if the Agency Decision Maker decides the prospective adopters are no longer suitable to adopt.
Further Reviews of Approval
The regulations do not define the need for further reviews but this should be clear within agency procedures. Where the agency and the panel, if involved, are happy to recommend the continued approval of the adopters they should indicate when any subsequent review should take place if no placement is made. This would normally be within a maximum of two years unless individual circumstances indicate an earlier review.
II. Where a child has been placed in accordance with regulation 18 for the purpose of adoption, no application for adoption has been made and the agency considers a review of the approval is necessary to safeguard the child.
The situation where a child has been placed, no order has been made and the adoption agency considers a review is necessary to safeguard and promote the child's welfare is more complex. Obviously if any real risk to the child is identified, child protection measures will be implemented and if necessary the child removed. Some of the children placed for adoption have very complex histories with all the challenges to carers that can also occur in foster care. In a similar way prospective adopters may struggle to find appropriate ways to manage very difficult behaviour, be open to allegations and be at risk of secondary traumatic stress.
Although these placements may have been with the intention of adoption, the placement initially may have been made on a fostering basis. The child will continue to be looked after and should be reviewed in the normal way with reference to the Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009. It is this review that should consider the way forward for the child. The challenge for local authorities, whether acting as an adoption agency and with all the wider responsibilities, or working in partnership with a registered adoption service, is to find the most effective ways for the looked after reviewing system, the adoption service and the application of different aspects of the general fostering provisions all to work together.
Dual Approval Status
A number of local authority and registered adoption service agencies specifically approve prospective adopters as foster carers as well, if they consider it is likely they will have a child placed through the Children's Hearing. If a registered adoption service approves adopters as foster carers as well, it will require to be registered as a fostering service as well. The expectation is that they will only be foster carers for a child who they would hope eventually to adopt. They do, however, need to be clear about all that is involved in acting as a foster carer for an agency and sign a Foster Care Agreement and a Foster Placement Agreement and understand the implications of that. At the same time, a system that is accustomed to handling struggling foster placements and very challenging children must be sensitive to the perspective of prospective adopters who started off wanting to make a child a full member of their family and began by thinking themselves into the role of parents to the child.
Changing the status of a placement
In the midst of this, decisions may need to be made about whether the point has been reached where alternative arrangements should be made for the child and the placement disrupted or whether the best that can be achieved is the continuation of the placement on a fostering basis. The adoption agency may wish to consider, under regulation 6(2)(e), the extent and role of the adoption panel in these circumstances. The agency may wish to use the panel's experience in permanency issues to consider change of status in these situations or address the need for more extensive adoption support services. This may be at an earlier point than is indicated in regulation 10(3), which would otherwise follow on from a Looked After Children Review at which the liaison worker from the adoption agency who supports the prospective adopters would be present and which concludes that the planned adoption is no longer viable. This should separate out the child's plan from any consequent change needed to the approval of the adopters.