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Guidance on the Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009 and the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007

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Chapter 22 Placing Children for Adoption

In this chapter:

1. Introduction
2. Matching
3. Work following the Matching
4. Duties of the Adoption Agency following Placement
5. Case Records

1. Introduction

There are two stages covered in the regulations in relation to the placement of children for adoption as follows:

  • the preparation for the matching of a child with a family - which is one of the duties of the adoption panel - this is reflected in regulation 18;
  • the next steps in making a placement as covered in Part VII, which are about notifications and the duties of the agency following placement.

2. Matching

Regulation 18(1) provides a list of information that must be presented to panel at the time of a match. A significant amount of this information will have already been presented to the panel at an earlier stage when the prospective adopters were approved and also when the plan was made to seek adoption for the child.

Some areas will need updating, in particular the medical information on the adopters if this is more than 12 months out of date and also whether there has been any additional information from a 'relevant local authority' as defined in section 18(6). Any other updates will depend on individual circumstances. For example if the prospective adopters have moved during the waiting period, the accommodation should have been visited and where necessary a new health and safety check completed.

The most important new information will be related to the proposed match and is reflected in the first two requirements of regulation 18 as follows:

  • the work that has continued with both child and prospective adopters since they were considered individually;
  • the compatibility between the needs of the child and the assessed capabilities of the adopters.

These two areas of work are explored in more detail below.

Work with adopters following approval

For many adopters during the assessment stage, the main focus of their energies will have been on their approval. Once that hurdle is over they can begin to explore more fully the reality of the placement of a child. Adoption agencies need to consider how they can make most productive use of this period to ensure that families are ready for the next step and also explore in more detail their potential to take on the increasingly complex challenges presented by children awaiting placement. Regulations do not specify the contact agencies should retain with adopters during the waiting period but individual agencies should establish their own standards and procedures to ensure that they have a resourceful and supported pool of adopters available.

Work with children prior to matching

For children, the local authority will have its ongoing responsibility to provide a direct service. It is important for good timing of the linking process to ensure that there is ongoing work with the child that enables them to begin to understand the plans that are being made and explores their views, in whatever way they may be able to express them.

Moving a child into an adoptive placement when they are confused or hostile to the plan increases the potential for the placement to disrupt, so consideration of matching should take into account the timing of any link. Training and resources should be available for staff who may be responsible for these cases on preparing children for adoption.

The largest group placed for adoption remains pre-school age children. There is sometimes resistance to beginning this work early as it becomes equated with telling a child about the search for an adoptive family for them. With young children social workers are reluctant to raise expectations until a family has been identified. This is only one part of preparation and is a final piece. This waiting period between the making of the plan for adoption and arranging the placement is not neutral. Children need simple explanations of what is happening and whether or not it is intended that they will return home. If they have been told it is not planned for them to return home, it is important to explain the purpose of any ongoing contact with birth relatives. Temporary foster carers often play a key role in this and may need support in how to respond to a child's concerns and in handling both their own and the child's distress. This calls for good communication systems between the child's social worker, the foster carer's support worker and the family finding team who are looking ahead to identifying the adoptive family.

For very young children there may be limited direct preparation needed or possible, and the skills required are about helping a child move and careful transference of attachments and trust. For other children, preparation may have reached a point where the next obvious stage is the introduction of the new family.

Selecting the Family

Once a plan for adoption for a child has been made by an agency it should be clear who has responsibility for family finding for that child. Considerations here include the following:

  • Where the pool of approved adopters within the agency includes a number of potential adopters for a particular child, agency procedures should be clear about how a choice will be made. Regulations require the agency through the panel and Agency Decision Maker process to be satisfied that the placement with the prospective adopter(s) is in the best interests of the child. This does not require a choice to be presented to the panel. Panel discussion should focus on the needs of the child and the capacity of the identified adopters to meet those needs. It will be helpful to provide the panel with a matching report that indicates the steps leading to the identification of the adoptive family considered most appropriate to meet the child's needs as well a clear articulation of the compatibility between the child's needs and the adopter's strengths and the views if any of birth parents.
  • Where there are no suitable families in the waiting pool of adopters, and no immediate prospect of this, it will be important to acknowledge this as quickly as possible and where necessary obtain agency approval for widening the search - which may be through a service level agreement with other agencies, a local consortium or other Scottish or UK linking mechanisms.

Factors to take into account when matching

For some children there may be a number of factors to take into account in matching, and decisions must be made about possible compromises, risk factors and the balancing act when none of the available families has strengths in all the areas of a child's needs.

  • Racial and Cultural Factors

Some particular dilemmas that arise concern the priority given to seeking a family who will meet the cultural needs of a child, especially one which actively reflects a child's ethnicity and/or religion. Staff involved in this area of work should keep up to date with current research on the experiences of adopted people who grow up within families who do not share their ethnicity and the current profile of adopters in their area and across Scotland. These will inform decisions about how long should be given before considering adopters who may not fully reflect a child's culture but who have identified strengths in supporting a child from a different background. Racial, Cultural and religious background should not be a barrier or delay in placing children in stable and secure permanent placements as early as possible.

  • The Placement of Siblings

Other dilemmas can arise in seeking a match for siblings. The regulations are framed in terms of individual children. For a number of the children waiting for adoption the first choice is for them to be placed with siblings. While this may be possible for many - and be a preference for some adopters - some groups will present special challenges. These include groups of more than two children; siblings who have been separated in foster care and have a range of different attachment needs; siblings with a wide age difference; situations where one sibling has particular additional needs such as a different ethnicity, disability or medical or development concern; siblings with varying views of adoption or levels of preparedness.

  • Factors related to the adoptive families

Alongside the diverse challenges of the children now being placed for adoption there is recognition of the diverse range of family structures amongst adoptive families. Factors that require consideration may include the following:

  • single parenting;
  • the impact upon a single birth child; or
  • specific discrimination that that may be experienced by same sex adopters.

Such considerations should have been addressed during the assessment and approval stage but may come to the fore again when the child's worker is exploring similar issues in relation to a specific child.

The Importance of Support

The nature of support to adoptive households can be divided into two: informal support, drawn from the adopter's own networks of friends and family; and formal support, provided by the adoption agency and other professionals.

  • Informal Support

The quality of the informal support network to the adoptive household is a crucial variable for placement success. Equally important is the support network's understanding of the role they are to play, and the support networks' expectations of a child placed for adoption. A common factor in placement disruption is that the anticipated support from an adopter's own networks failed to grasp the implications of the child's experience of trauma and loss, leaving the adopter more isolated than they expected and less able to cope. With a specific child in mind for matching, such factors can again be explored in detail, enabling exploration beyond generalised statements of support through to a more precise assessment of support that will be available.

  • Formal Support

The 2007 Act highlights the importance of support in adoption and extends the range of support that should be considered. Alongside identifying the strengths in a particular match this is the point where any immediate support needs should be identified. Consideration should be given to the need to accompany the presentation of a proposed placement to panel with a support plan. This is covered more fully in the guidance to the Adoption Support Services and Allowances (Scotland) Regulations 2009 but will be a part of the consideration of any match.

Considerations of the Adoption Panel at the point of Matching

In carrying out its earlier functions in relation to the approval of adopters and recommending adoption for the child, the panel should already have considered the quality of the information relating to those decisions.

At a panel considering a match the emphasis of the additional information will be about the quality of the linking process. The panel will need to consider whether, taking all factors into account, this is the best available option for the child at the point when it is important to progress the plan, and whether there is sufficient evidence to recommend that the match is therefore in the best interests of the child. For an adopted person looking back on this part of the process there should be clear reasons why the particular family was chosen to adopt them - such as matching reports/minutes of linking meetings.

3. Work following matching

Once a decision on the match has been made there are a number of requirements laid out in regulation 24 as about:

I. the information in writing about the child that must be given to the prospective adopters;

II. notifications to other services and parents; and

III. information to parents (as defined in reg 24(7)).

These three components are explored in more detail below.

I. Information for adopters

When agencies have made the decision to match adopters with children, regulation 24(2) lists the information which must be given to the adopters, in writing. Agencies should consider the best formats and language for each prospective adopter. Agencies should also consider how they may provide the information in a range of other accessible formats.

In summary, adopters should be given written (and other as appropriate) information about:

  • the child's background, parentage, health and development;
  • the need to tell the child about the adoption and his or her origins;
  • the adopted person's right to obtain information linking the adoption birth certificate with the original birth certificate, along with the right to receive counselling;
  • the availability of adoption support services for the adopters and their family; and
  • health information about the child.

It would be expected that, during the preparation period, adopters would have had the opportunity to explore fully the need to talk to their adopted child about their adoption and their origins; and would also have received general information about an adopted person's right to obtain information from the Registrar General for Scotland under s.55(4) of the 2007 Act, that is information showing the connection between his or her original birth certificate and the adoption birth certificate. The requirement here is that this should be confirmed to them in writing once a match is made.

It is important that agency staff are clear about how much information should be shared with any prospective adopters at different stages in the linking process. This is particularly important when a number of families are being considered in the early stages. Once a family has been identified as the potential match, as much information as possible (including photographs) should be shared.

Availability of Adoption Support

The vital issue of support for the adopters should already have been fully covered during the preparation and assessment period. For some children the need for an active support plan for them and their adopters from the outset may have been clear and already agreed. For all other adopters, at the point of matching the availability of support services should be confirmed in writing along with details of what is currently available and how support may be accessed at any point in the future. This may be included in the letter to the adopters confirming the decision on the match. As adoption agencies develop their adoption support plan they should be building up more written information about the nature and provision of those services to share with adopters.

The other major body of information for adopters is about the particular child/ren that are to be placed with them. Much of the relevant information may have been shared prior to the completion of the match in order to establish whether the adopters feel equipped to offer a home to the child. Some may have responded to some form of recruitment that highlighted the need of the child for a new family and will also have retained that. Adoption agencies should pay careful attention to the way in which they share information with adopters so that they have time to absorb the written information and begin to explore the implications for themselves and the child.

Ensuring the information is conveyed in an appropriate format

The main report written for presentation to the adoption panel in making the adoption plan for the child is the principal vehicle for bringing together the child's background and also an assessment of the child and her/his needs. Agency guidelines for staff need to be clear about sharing this or other such reports with the adopters. There is no question about the need for adopters to have full information about the child they are adopting and adoption agencies should ensure they are not open to challenge about withholding information. At the same time, some reports written primarily for agency or court purposes may not be in the most helpful form for adopters, either for their own understanding or for sharing with children in the future. It is recommended that agencies consider carefully whether identifying information about members of a child's family is routinely shared, especially if there is very sensitive information about them in their own right.

Other, more user friendly, formats such as a background letter written by the agency for the child at a later date (sometimes called the 'later life letter'), or a life story book, may be good starting points but do not necessarily cover everything that the adopters might need at a later date, especially if the child requires more intensive therapeutic help. For children with complex backgrounds, techniques such as life appreciation days may also be considered as a way of helping adopters see the information through the child's eyes, or visual tools such as an illustrated timeline may be used to supplement more formal reports

The Importance of Health Records

The regulations also provide specifically for the health records of the child to be provided both to the adopters and to their general practitioner. In the case of the general practitioner it specifies this must be sent in writing before the child is placed.

II. Notifications

Regulation 24 also outlines the written notification about the placement that must be sent to others. This separates out the general notification to the Health Board and the local authority for the area where the adopters live, if that is different from the agency making the placement, from the notifications that must be made prior to placement if a child has a problem of medical significance or additional support needs within the meaning of the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004.

Whether a local authority is developing its services for children along the lines indicated in the GIRFEC strategy or through other inter-disciplinary arrangements, there should already be established communication about looked after children who need a range of support services from different agencies. These agencies should have been involved in the assessment of the child's needs, the work leading up to the adoption plan and the proposed placement. They, or similar agencies in another area, are likely to continue to be offering a service and frequently the direct involvement of the individuals who know the child can ensure effective communication of information alongside the necessary formal notifications.

III. Information to Parents

If a birth parent agrees with the plan for adoption then they should have been involved in the choice of adopters. There may be plans for a meeting between birth parents and adopters once the match is made and the formal notification is a confirmation of the predictable progress towards completion of securing the child.

It should be noted from the outset when planning adoption whether there are any other people who may have an interest in the child who would either wish to know that plans are progressing or might consider taking action in the event of an adoption placement. This includes any acknowledged parents who do not have responsibilities or rights but whose whereabouts are known, any guardian of the child if their whereabouts are known and any parent whose responsibilities and rights have been removed by a PO which did not include provision granting authority for adoption.

4. Duties of the adoption agency following placement

Regulation 25 addresses the minimum frequency of visits to the child following placement for adoption up to the time when the adoption order is granted. The main requirement is the visit within one week of placement, thereafter the regulations require that these are at a level necessary to supervise the child's well-being. It is also required that a written record be kept on such visits in accordance with regulation 27 on case records. The key points here are as follows.

  • This emphasises the need for visits to the child which are separate from the support to the adopters. As time goes on, the petition for adoption is moving ahead and the child and adopters are building attachments, it is likely that the main emphasis will move to seeing the family as a unit. In the initial stages, however, it is necessary to ensure that the differing needs of the child and the adopters following placement are acknowledged.
  • Children who are placed for adoption under these regulations but who are also subject to POs or POs with authority for adoption or supervision requirements also continue to be looked after until the order or supervision requirements are terminated or revoked or cease when adoptions are granted. This means that the Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009 apply as well as these regulations, and the frequency of visits has to take account of this.
  • Times of transition are particularly stressful for children. Links with familiar people who supported them in foster care will be reassuring. The move itself may stir up thoughts and memories about the past which their social worker may be best placed to handle. A move into an adoption placement is usually carefully planned and should feel very different from any earlier experiences of sudden or unplanned moves. It is important therefore that during this period there is continuity for the child.
  • It would normally be expected that the child's worker continues with this role following the move to adopters. This may be more difficult where it has been necessary to look further a field for adopters for a child. Where alternative arrangements have to be made for visiting the child, it is important to recognise the need for the service to the child in their own right, even if this is taken on by the adoption agency who provided the family. Where distance is a factor this may also be an added stress for the child who could feel abandoned in a strange area. Other ways of maintaining contact with the child's home area may be needed during the period of transition.

5. Case records

The introduction to the Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009 covering services to looked after children, kinship carers, foster carers and adopters, includes the general legal framework and the principles relating to all these records.

Regulations 27 and 28 in Part VIII of the Adoption Agencies (Scotland) Regulations 2009 cover the requirement to create a case record for each child in relation to whom an adoption panel recommendation has been made that adoption is in their best interests and each prospective adopter. The content of that record is very broadly defined in regulation 27, including both specifically defined items (any report, recommendation or decision made by the adoption agency or panel) and more generally 'any information obtained by that agency'.

Retention of Records

The discretionary regulation 27(4) applies primarily to administrative or duplicate records and not primary material which it is vital that the agency retains. Regulation 28 provides the link with the Adoption (Disclosure of Information and Medical Information about Natural Parents) (Scotland) Regulations 2009. It also states that the indexes to all case records and the case records themselves should be preserved in secure conditions for at least 100 years where an adoption order has been made and for 10 years in respect of a prospective adopter in relation to whom an adoption order is not made.

Other case records should be kept in secure conditions by the adoption agency for 'so long as it considers appropriate'. Regulation 28 also allows the use of computer records or any other systems that comply with the requirements for the security and confidentiality of adoption records. Regulation 27(3) covers the continuation of the maintenance of records already established under the Adoption Agencies (Scotland) Regulations 1996.

Expectations of Agency Procedures in relation to Adoption Records

Agency procedures for adoption records should address two key areas:

  • their effectiveness as working tools throughout the adoption process
  • their value as records when people return for access after they are closed.

Adoption agencies should have procedures that prescribe the standard for quality record keeping and a system of monitoring that these are carried out. This should cover both paper and electronic record keeping.

Records need to illustrate the agency planning process which led to the adoption plan for a child. In creating a record under regulation 27 the agency must consider, alongside the report presented to the panel and the Agency Decision Maker to establish the adoption plan, which earlier reports should accompany it. Reports to panel frequently summarise earlier work.

When an adoption is contested, the original assessment when the child became looked after; any contract made with birth parents; subsequent reviews of progress and reports from other sources such as external agencies are all part of the necessary evidence.

The Importance of Records for Adopted People

For many adopted people, returning to see their original records plays a crucial role in their understanding of the process, satisfying a fundamental need to understand why and how important decisions were taken. Adoption records should always reflect this ethical and moral responsibility.

In articulating the 'best interests of the child', whether for an adoption panel, the Hearing or a court, the records also need to demonstrate an understanding of the child and her/his needs. For the adopted person returning, there is often a need to fill in gaps in their knowledge both of their birth family and of themselves as young children. Adoption agency procedures should be clear about both expectations of the process for gathering and keeping the information about a child which will be vital for them as an adult.

Consideration needs to be given to both third party information and to very sensitive information where there may be a duty of care to the recipient in sharing this at a future date.

Accessing Adoption Agency Records

There are different rules about how adoption agency records and looked after records may be accessed. Adoption records held under the Adoption Agencies (Scotland) Regulations 2009 are 'subject access' exempt in terms of the Data Protection (Miscellaneous Subject Access Exemptions) Order 2000, S.I. 2000/419 and the Data Protection (Miscellaneous Subject Access Exemptions) (Amendment) Order 2000, S.I. 2000/1865. Access to information in them is under the 2009 Regulations. Looked After children records are accessed through procedures under the Data Protection Act 1998.