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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 23 Adoption Support

In this chapter:

1. Introduction
2. Strategic Planning of Adoption Support Services
3. Assessment of Adoption Support Needs
4. Making Adoption Support Plans
5. Responding to a request for Assessment

1. Introduction

This guidance is based upon The Adoption Support Services and Allowances (Scotland) Regulations 2009. The Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007 broadens the range of services and duties of local authorities to provide support in both domestic and foreign adoptions. The legislation requires the local authority to prepare and publish a plan for the provision of the adoption service in its area. This guidance outlines the regulatory expectations in relation to these support services.

2. The Strategic Planning of Adoption Support Services

An adoption service is defined in section 1(4) of the 2007 Act and clearly includes adoption support services. One of the values of the plan for adoption services is the requirement for the local authority to consult both the Health Board(s) and any voluntary organisation which either represents the interests of those likely to use the adoption service or may provide services in the area. Just as good inter-agency and multi-disciplinary working is important in other parts of the Children's Services Plans, so will it be an active part of adoption support services.

The local authority plan will also reflect both the social work and education responsibilities in this area. Although the legislation only refers specifically to the requirement to consult certain bodies and organisations, it is expected that this will also include efforts to obtain the views of the consumers of adoption support services, whether or not there is a particular voluntary organisation in the local authority area.

Persons to be Considered

In preparing this part of the adoption services plan, local authorities should consider all the persons listed in section 1(3) of the 2007 Act in relation to the nature of the services they might seek and what should appropriately be available. In particular, the adoption support service needs to think about both those members of a 'relevant family' as defined in regulation 45(7) who can seek assessment for an adoption support plan, and the wider range of people with adoption related issues who may require certain services. In shaping this part of their adoption services plan, therefore, it will be helpful to look at:

  • the range and nature of resources required following the preparation of support plans for members of relevant families; and
  • the provision of adoption support services to others in section 1(3) who request an assessment under section 9 of the 2007 Act.

Definition of a Relevant Family

A ' relevant family' as defined in regulation 45(7) includes the following parties:

  • a child who is placed for adoption or has been adopted, where a child in this legislation means under the age of 18;
  • the person or persons with whom the child has been placed for adoption or who have adopted the child and any other children in the household.

The appetite for placing adoption support services on a sound legal basis stems from a growing awareness of the needs of adopted children. Even young children placed for adoption may have experienced significant trauma and loss. While the regulations do not define the full range of adoption support services that may be required for these families, a realistic consideration of their anticipated needs is implied throughout.

Other Persons to be Considered

Other persons listed in section 1(3) of the 2007 Act, who are not members of a relevant family, include the following:

  • adults who have been adopted;
  • birth parents;
  • siblings and other members of the birth family of children who were subsequently adopted;
  • others who have cared for the child subsequently placed for adoption;
  • persons who are considering adopting a child
  • and other persons affected by an adoption.

For some of these persons, there are already well established services especially in relation to tracing, as well the use of the Adoption Contact Register for Scotland. Other needs may be less well recognised or under-reported. Without measures to raise the profile of adoption amongst professionals, there is a danger that the extent and prevalence of the adoption support requirements of birth parents may well be under-estimated. Their adoption-related concerns and problems, for example, may be overshadowed or masked by apparently more generic mental health or substance misuse issues.

Under section 4 of the 2007 Act Local Authorities are obliged to consider whether services for the above parties are delivered directly by them, or whether services should be commissioned from the independent sector. A specific person should be identified within each Local Authority to reach an overview of adoption support needs and to plan services in response.

Requirement to Consult Health Board and the Voluntary Sector.

Given the range and complexity of adoption support services, inter-agency consultation and collaboration is essential. Where looked after children are subsequently adopted they will already have had a Child's Plan which is likely to have included carefully negotiated multi-agency working.

Children who have experienced neglect, for example, or parental drug use are likely to require an inter-agency response at some stage during their adoption. Adoption support plans therefore need to identify how best to respond and collaborate with Health Boards and the voluntary organisations to provide the specialist and responsive services they require.

3. Assessment of Adoption Support Needs

Requests and Procedures for Assessment

Regulation 5 of the regulations concerns requests for an assessment or reassessment and regulations 6 and 7, the procedures for this. Regulation 5(1) indicates that where a person falling within section 9(1) of the 2007 Act requests an assessment, this may be adequately assessed by reference only to a particular service.

Assessing the support needs adopted children and adopters

This is where the clarity of the local authority audit of requests and services will be helpful. For some of the persons listed in section 1(3) of the Act, their entitlement to an assessment is covered in other parts of the regulations and guidance. This particularly relates to the services for assessing the needs of children who may be adopted and the assessment of those who may adopt a child.

Assessing the support needs of birth family members and adopted adults

The two main groups here are adults who have been adopted and the whole range of birth parents, other birth family members, especially siblings not placed with an adopted child and guardians or other individuals who, prior to the adoption, treated the child as their own. Agency guidelines should address at what point and to what extent these enquiries ultimately require a full assessment.

Many of these start initially as a request for information, for example when individuals seek details of tracing services and the use of an adoption contact register. Once people have achieved their initial goal they may become aware of further aspects of a support service that they wish to access. This could concern the need for counselling on an adoption issue; support groups where they may meet others in their situation, or action they wish the agency to take on their behalf about contacting another party in their adoption triangle. In this way an information request can rapidly translate into a request for an adoption support assessment.

Consideration of an Adoption Support Assessment

Regulation 6(1) lists a number of considerations in carrying out an assessment but recognises that the agency should have regard to those that are 'relevant to the assessment'. For a number of the requests it may be adequate to record sufficient information to establish under regulation 6(1)(a) 'the needs of the person being assessed and how these might be met'. Agency procedures may include guidelines and/or a brief pro forma for accessing specific services which will include an element of assessing eligibility of the person and the appropriateness of the service to the enquirer's needs.

Timescales for Assessment

The requirement in regulation 5 is to start an assessment as soon as practicable and no later than four weeks from receiving the request. The effectiveness of this level of assessment and service provision relates to the quality of the bank of information held by the local authority or other agency acting on their behalf, the skill and training of the person in a position of receiving and responding to such requests and the ease with which individuals requiring an adoption support service can be directed to an appropriate source.

Issues and Dilemmas in Adoption Support

There are now a number of well established services for those separated by adoption. They frequently started up to manage the growing numbers of adults who were relinquished for adoption as babies many years ago who wished to trace birth family members, and birth parents - usually mothers - who desperately wanted to know how their adopted child fared.

The number of people accessing these services has been matched by the growing complexity of the issues and dilemmas they have had to grapple with. Examples include the following:

  • young adults with vulnerable lifestyles who have been through the care system and want to see a younger sibling who has been adopted - perhaps by adopters who are resistant to getting involved;
  • angry adopted adults who want to deal with that anger by facing the birth parent who 'failed' them;
  • adults recently diagnosed with a genetic condition and have come face to face with the implications of the biological separation of adoption;
  • birth parents who may be chronically or terminally ill.

These sorts of situations will fall outside the provisions of section 45 of the 2007 Act to make an adoption support plan although they may, in some cases, also have implications for an adoptive family with an adoption plan in their own right. Realistic planning needs to monitor and take into account the demand for all forms of adoption support services, not just where there is an agreed adoption support plan.

4. Making Adoption support plans

There are three main points at which adoption agencies need to consider the possibility of an adoption support plan. These are as follows:

I. at the point of matching;

II. when the adoption order is granted;

III. when the adopters approach the agency after an adoption seeking support that goes beyond general advice and information.

These are set out more fully below.

I. At the point of matching

Although there is no requirement to present an adoption support plan to the panel which is considering the match between a child and a particular family, there is a requirement that requests for support will be assessed, and preparation and assessment prior to approval will have established that expectation. It will be good practice to be explicit with adopters at this point about the agency view of the importance of planned support alongside the family's own identified support network.

The Adoption Agencies (Scotland) Regulations 2009 do provide a basic requirement in regulation 25 about visits to the child to ensure their welfare. Where children are being placed on a fostering basis with a view to adoption, the prospective adopters will be asked to sign a Foster Carer Agreement which has, as its first item, the agreement that support and training will be given to the foster carers. Adopters embarking on a placement need equal assurance of the support that will be offered to them.

Where agencies have a structured co-ordination process to oversee the introduction of a child to the family, the details may be clarified in that setting and will cover:

  • the transfer of any existing support for the child as identified in the Child's Plan;
  • additional support to the child and family during the transition period;
  • the frequency of visits by the family's support worker;
  • any agreed financial support;
  • tasks to be completed by the agency prior to the granting of the adoption order;
  • interim and long-term arrangements about any contact with birth family members and former foster carers, either direct or indirect;
  • the right of the adopters to request an assessment for an adoption support plan.

Where there are known elements that will require ongoing adoption agency involvement after the granting of an adoption order, an adoption plan should be formally considered at this point to provide an agreed contract about how these will operate. This will be the case where an adoption allowance was agreed at the time of the match and/or where part of the matching considerations was the need for post adoption contact. In addition, some adopters may be aware of extra therapeutic support being provided for the child while in foster care and will want assurance that this will continue to be available and funded in the future.

II. When the adoption order is granted

The extent of formal support at the point of the granting of an adoption will vary from family to family. Some adoptive families will welcome the opportunity to disentangle themselves from the statutory scrutiny that remains prior to adoption. Others, in contrast, will require the reassurance of a formalised support plan before being able to make the commitment to adoption.

At the point when the adoption order is due to be granted, therefore, the agency should explicitly address the possibility of an adoption support plan if this has not already been considered. Where adopters do not identify a need for such a plan, they should be given information in writing about their right to seek this support in the future. The tone of this communication will be important in establishing both their entitlement to support and also the understanding of the needs that could arise. In practical terms, there should be clear understanding about how the agency and the adopters will keep in touch and also who will be responsible for providing a service if they move.

III. When the adopters approach the agency after an adoption seeking support that goes beyond general advice and information.

All current prospective adopters should receive information about their right to request an assessment. Any adopters with whom the agency has contact who have completed the legal adoption and who qualify as a 'relevant family' should also receive this information. Once a local authority has procedures in place for assessing adoption support needs and has audited their adoption support services they should consider, as part of their adoption services plan, how they will inform families of this provision.

The nature of adoption support services

The 2007 Act lists in section 1(5) as the meaning of adoption support services the provision of counselling, guidance and 'any other assistance in relation to the adoption process that the local authority providing an adoption service in a particular case considers appropriate in the circumstances of that case'. The regulations provide more details about use of adoption allowances and the range of financial support that may be made available but does not further define the nature of services that may be considered.

This allows scope for creativity in developing services. The suggested options provide a foundation for defining more clearly the range of services that should be available across Scotland. These can include:

  • support to groups of adopted children, adopters and birth children
  • assistance, including mediation, in arrangements for contact between adopted children and their birth parents, siblings and other relatives
  • services to meet the therapeutic needs of adopted children
  • assistance to adopters such as training to meet special needs and respite care
  • mediation and other services if there is a disruption in an adoption placement, or risk of one.

This provides a suggested starting point for developing a robust range of services across Scotland. The consideration of support services should be included in the agency adoption service plan. Any such articulation of a range of services required should reflect the support needs of relevant families. In making an assessment, the five key areas to bear in mind are:

  • the child's needs;
  • the adoptive parent's needs;
  • the impact on the family as a unit including other children;
  • integrating knowledge of the child's background and heritage including contact;
  • financial needs.

5. Responding to a request for an assessment

The four main steps to consider in any response to a request for an assessment are as follows:

I. the initial response;

II. notice of the proposed plan;

III. notification of a decision;

IV. reassessment and reviews.

These are set out in more detail below.

I. Initial response

The initial approach may be a formal request for an assessment or may start off as a cry for help. The legislation makes it clear that where a support service is required immediately, this can be provided without an assessment. If a family is in crisis they may need an emergency intervention, but it is important to establish as quickly as possible a timescale for starting a fuller assessment of the situation. The regulations indicate that an assessment should start as soon as possible and within four weeks of a request.

In urgent situations an assessment should begin as soon as an intervention is required. The aim should be to complete an assessment within three months and where the assessment is for a particular service with its own criteria, it may be much less.

Regulation 6 lays out the considerations in making an assessment and what the local authority must do. The local authority should explain clearly how they will carry this out. Points to consider are set out below.

The Provision of Accommodation to Support an Adoptive Placement

The intention of this part of the legislation is to provide responsive and robust adoption support services to reduce the risk of disruption. The hope is that a speedy and informed response will enable a placement in crisis to continue. If it is clear that stress is at a level where the adopters and child need a break from each other, the first consideration, as for any other child, would be to consider the child's kinship network in their adoptive family. Where accommodation by the local authority is needed thought needs to be given to how to arrange this.

If the adoption has not been completed, the adoption/family placement team will be working alongside the child's social worker. If the adoption has been completed the adopters are likely to see the adoption support worker as their first point of contact. Whatever the context, all services carrying out an assessment will need to be sensitive to the adoption context.

Responding to Disruptions

The regulations do not address the possibility of disruption but given the known risk factors in some placements, agency procedures should include guidelines for handling these situations. There are three major areas to cover:

  • the role of the local authority;
  • the legal status of the child; and
  • the implications for all parties in the adoption triangle - the adopted child, the adopters and the birth parents.

Procedures should be explicit about the distinction between a placement in crisis and a placement disruption. The response to a disruption should always include convening a disruption meeting to look at the contributory factors as well as, most importantly, seeking to minimise the inevitable trauma for all parties. In order to manage the intense feelings of anger, guilt and hurt such meetings can sometimes generate, consideration should be given to appointing an independent chair.

Following a disruption, careful consideration needs to be given to the implication of sharing this significant information with the birth family. This news, for example, may provoke their renewed involvement in a child's life. Local authorities should be aware of the change in legislation in the 2007 Act which no longer bars birth parents who have lost all their responsibilities and rights through adoption from returning to court under section 11 of the 1995 Act seeking contact. They are required, however, to seek the leave of the court to do so and need to establish good reasons.

The Three Year Rule

Regulation 4 establishes the responsibility of a local authority for adoption support services for a child, his/her birth parents, the adoptive parents and any other children in the adoptive family for a period of three years or until the child reaches 18, including if they reside outside the local authority area. This is, of course, in addition to the needs of children and their adoptive families who remain in the one local authority area.

Depending on distance and established communications, adopters requesting an assessment may approach the local authority which placed their child, the adoption agency who assessed, approved and supported them, if different, or other local adoption services if they have moved since the child was placed or adopted. In any situation where more than one agency is involved, there should be clarification of the separate issues of who holds responsibility for financial provision for services and who will carry out the necessary work. This calls for good communication which keeps the needs of the adoptive family at the centre of decision making.

Where a local authority has placed a child outwith their home area they will have already have notified the adopters' home local authority. Some discussion should have already taken place about any post-placement or post-adoption services. This is likely to have included information about what is available locally to meet the needs of a particular family and who will meet any financial costs. Any subsequent requests for an assessment for further adoption support services should build on this initial understanding.

Regulation 4 also includes the proviso that a local authority can provide an adoption support service to persons outside their area after three years if it considers it appropriate to do so. This regulation puts in place the recommendation in the APRG report that 'in general, a local authority placing a child for adoption should retain responsibility for providing adoption support services to the child and the adoptive family for three years after the adoption order, after which point, if the adopted person is under 18 years of age, the responsibility would become the responsibility of the local authority where the adopted person and family lives'. This covers all dimensions of the support service including adoption allowances and contact. These raise particular issues that need to be negotiated given that the implications will often stretch well beyond the three year period. The availability of an adoption allowance may be an important factor in a particular match and adopters need to know that a change in the responsible authority will not affect their eligibility for an allowance or significantly alter the amount. In making contact arrangements, these may be anticipated as lasting for a number of years and experience of managing such arrangements indicates the need for support for all parties. A child and his/her adopters may move but the birth parents and other relatives, including siblings, may remain within the placing authority's area. This again calls for good inter-agency working rather than a clear cut transfer of all responsibility.

Aggregated or Individual Support Plans

Section 45 of the 2007 Act details a number of other areas to which staff undertaking an assessment should pay attention. Agency procedures should include a framework for ensuring that all the information in both legislation and regulations is covered. It should be clarified at the outset whether there is agreement to prepare one single support plan in respect of all members of a relevant family rather than individual plans for each member. This requires the consent of all family members aged 12 or over.

Part 1 of the support regulations includes the requirements on sending notices to children and alerts authorities to the position of children aged 12 and over. Agencies need to be sensitive to young people from the age of 12 who seek a service in confidence.

Secondary Traumatic Stress

There is a growing understanding of the impact on carers of secondary traumatic stress and the difficulty carers may experience in recognising and talking about this. Seeking an assessment for adoption support services can be even more difficult for adopters than foster carers as they may be approaching social workers they do not know or be returning after a long gap when their last contact with the adoption agency had been when everything was going well. Initial presentation therefore needs to be understood in the context of any former assessments.

Consultation and Collaboration with Health

The procedure in regulation 6 draws specific attention to the requirement to consult with the Health Board where they consider that the person may require services from the Board. This should be in the context of ongoing discussion with the Health Board and any other relevant services about the provision of therapeutic services for children in adoptive families.

Regulations 6 and 7 about the procedure for assessment and reassessment are in general terms about the need for adoption support services. The next stages of notice of the proposal to provide services and notification of decisions bring in a significant number of references to adoption allowances. Factors that are specific to adoption allowances will be covered separately in this guidance.

II. Notice of the proposed plan

The final stage of any assessment will be the written report which should be shared with the person(s) who requested the assessment and in line with any agreement on whether or not it is a single plan for the whole relevant family. This should include the assessment of the need for support services; whether or not, as a result, the local authority proposes to provide adoption support services; and if so, what these are. This notice should be accompanied by a draft support plan. Local authority procedures should include the timescales and process for making representations and how any decision will be reached.

Representations in relation to a Proposed Plan

Regulation 8 requires that no less than two weeks should be allowed for representations. The person(s) seeking support should be encouraged to give a clear response to the proposed plan by either indicating they are satisfied or making further comment on what they would hope to see or where they disagree. Some elements of an adoption support plan may be clearly defined. For example, the regulations require the local authority to lay out the basis for determining adoption allowances and any conditions. Other services are evolving and developing and are not available across Scotland. There are, for example, a growing number of different therapeutic interventions that may be suggested for children or as a basis for working with families. These include:

  • play therapy;
  • art, music or drama therapy;
  • psychotherapy;
  • cognitive behavioural techniques;
  • brief interventions;
  • family therapy;
  • training and consultation for adopters.

During this period of notice of the proposals there may need to be some debate about the range of options considered and offered by the local authority and the views of the person(s) seeking the service.

The likely starting point for the local authority in considering a support plan will be their knowledge of the services available within reasonable reach of the adoptive family. Adopters frequently make their own enquiries about options and may wish to suggest alternatives that they consider more likely to meet their assessed needs. The broad wording in regulation 10(2)(a) offers the possibility of adopters establishing a need for an adoption allowance to fund a particular therapeutic intervention 'where it is necessary to ensure that the adoptive parent can look after the adoptive child'.

The Potential for Single Payments or Payments in Instalments

Regulation 12 allows local authorities to make a single payment or payments by instalments as opposed to an ongoing periodic allowance in order to provide a flexible response.

Extending the period for making representations

A satisfactory and workable adoption support plan is most likely to be achieved when there has been sufficient time for all parties to discuss the implications fully and also where the adoptive family feel their needs are recognised and there is no unnecessary delay. The timescales should therefore include both the regulatory minimum of two weeks and also a maximum time of six weeks for making representations and within which a decision should be made.

Agency Decision Making in relation to Adoption Support Plans

Each local authority should have an identified person as the Agency Decision Maker on adoption support plans who may be the person who acts as Agency Decision Maker for the adoption panel. The agency can decide whether and in what circumstances they would wish to involve the panel in consideration of adoption support plans. The Agency Decision Maker will be assisted in the process if Adoption Support Plans form part of the matching considerations at panel. The agency will need to make budgetary provision for adoption support plans which should be monitored by the Agency Decision Maker and reflected in the local authority review of adoption plans. However, budgetary provisions should not be a limiting factor on the support services which are provided to meet the Adoption Support Plan as this forms an integral part of the adoption service required by the 2007 Act.

III. Notification of a decision

As noted above, local authority procedures should cover the mechanism and timescales for making decisions on Adoption Support Plans after completion of the period for making representations. All members of a relevant family who have agreed to the assessment for an Adoption Support Plans should have written notice of the agreed plan. This includes a child aged 12 and over unless, in the opinion of the local authority or registered adoption service, the child 'is not of sufficient age and understanding for it to be appropriate to give that child such notice'. This point should be an explicit part of the assessment for an Adoption Support Plans. The assumption should be that a child aged 12 or over should be fully involved unless there are identified contra indications which must be recorded.

The notification of the decision should be accompanied by the final version of the Adoption Support Plans. Particular attention should be paid to situations where the final plan differs from the draft plan and demonstrate how any representations by the person requesting the assessment were taken into account. Conveying this information may well be sensitive for a family which has postponed seeking support for some time, and the task should be approached with appropriate sensitivity.

IV. Reassessment and reviews

The procedure for reassessment of Adoption Support Plans is contained in regulation 7. The provision for reviews is in sections 47 and 48 of the 2007 Act. Local authorities must review all Adoption Support Plans from time to time and whenever they become aware of a change in the circumstances of a relevant member.

A member of a relevant family may request a review if they believe that the local authority is not complying with any of their obligations. Local authority procedures should indicate frequency of reviews and how these will be done.

One potential reviewing cycle could be based upon current systems used for adoption allowances. In support of this proposal, some Adoption Support Plans will include adoption allowances and reviews of these and any other adoption services should be considered as a whole. Normally, these would be done annually unless there was a change of circumstances in the interim. However, other more specific services may concern therapeutic work and the review period may be more appropriately dictated by the timescale of a specific intervention, such as at the point of completion. The review timescale remains within the discretion of the Local Authority, but should also be responsive to any requests for adjustments to the Adoption Support Plan by a member of a relevant family member.

The Distinction between Reviews and Reassessments

An important distinction must be drawn between a periodic review, carried out to a pre-determined timescale as outlined above, and a request for reassessment, which can be made at any time in response to the emerging needs of the relevant family.

Reassessment Procedures

The procedure for reassessment in regulation 7 is very similar to the assessment procedure for an Adoption Support Plan in regulation 6. In most instances it should be possible to start with the original assessment and discuss:

  • the circumstances leading to the need for a reassessment;
  • the areas where fresh information is required;
  • the points where any member of a relevant family considers that the original assessment should be readdressed;
  • whether there are any other persons or bodies who should be consulted who were not included in the original assessment;
  • an update of any other consultations where relevant such as the Health Board;
  • the implications of the child's current developmental stage and the change in needs arising from that.

For reviews, agency procedures may make different provisions depending on the nature of the Adoption Support Plans. There are three broad areas:

1) The local authority will have a full range of discrete procedures surrounding their adoption allowances scheme, including reviews and confirmation of ongoing need for financial support.

2) Post-adoption contact arrangements should be negotiated before the completion of the adoption and have been originally featured as part of the matching considerations. This should include the extent to which all parties agree to their part in the arrangements and how this will be supported and monitored. Review requirements should be written into any agreement or contract made at the time.

3) Where Adoption Support Plans are primarily about counselling, guidance or therapeutic input, much of this is likely to be face to face and in ongoing discussion with the adopters and other family members. Review procedures should be consistent with that approach and reflect an agreed frequency for all parties to sit down together and take stock of progress.