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8.3 Adoption Panel

AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated in December 2013 in line with the Adoption Agencies (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2013, which came into force on 1 July 2013. In Section 1, Adoption Panel Purpose and Function, Timescales the adoption agency must decide whether the prospective adopter is suitable to adopt a child within four months of the date on which the agency received the prospective adopter’s notification that they wished to proceed with the assessment process.

See also Forms/Signs of Safety Practice Guidance.


Contents

  1. Adoption Panel Purpose and Function
  2. Adoption Panel Membership
  3. Agency Advisor to the Panel
  4. Adoption Panel Meetings
  5. The Chair (or vice-chair if standing in)
  6. Medical Adviser
  7. The Panel Administrator
  8. The Panel Adviser
  9. Agency Decision Maker
  10. Adoption Panel Minutes
  11. Reports to Adoption Panel


1. Adoption Panel Purpose and Function

The purpose of the Adoption Panels is to ensure that the best interests of the child are safeguarded and that applicants are treated fairly. Kent Adoption Panels have an overriding responsibility to promote good practice, consistency of approach and fairness in all aspects of the adoption service across the County, in accordance with its procedures and values.

Recommendations

As part of this function, the Panel makes recommendations as to the following:

  1. The suitability of prospective adoptive applicants to adopt;
  2. Whether a child is suitable to be placed for adoption, in some cases - see below*;
  3. Whether a child should be placed for adoption with particular prospective adopters.

The recommendations must be unconditional and cannot be 'in principle'.

Cases where the criteria apply for the local authority to apply for a Placement Order, i.e. the child is the subject of a Care Order or the Threshold Criteria for a Care Order are satisfied or where there is no parent or guardian, are no longer automatically  referred to the Adoption Panel for a recommendation, but will be referred directly to the Agency Decision Maker for a decision unless the case was referred to Panel before 1 September 2012. All other cases (i.e. where the parents have given consent and there is no application for a Placement Order) will continue to be referred to the Adoption Panel for a recommendation, which the Agency Decision Maker will take into account when making a decision.

Timescales

The adoption agency must decide whether the prospective adopter is suitable to adopt a child within four months of the date on which the agency received the prospective adopter’s notification that they wished to proceed with the assessment process (Kent’s offer is that these should be completed within 6 months).

Adoption Panels make a recommendation on whether a child is suitable to be placed for adoption (where the parents consent and there will be no Placement Order application) within two months of the Child in Care Review where adoption was identified as the child's identified Permanence Plan.

Adoption Panels make a recommendation on the proposed placement of a child with particular prospective adopters within six months of the Agency Decision Maker decision that the child is suitable to be placed for adoption.

Where the timescales are not met, the Adoption Panel should record the reasons.

Advice

Where cases are referred to the Adoption Panel for a recommendation, the Panel may also advise on the following issues:

  1. Where prospective adoptive parents are recommended as suitable to adopt, the number of children the adoptive parents may be suitable to adopt, as well as their age range, sex, likely needs and background, and, in the case of inter country adopters, the country from which they are suitable to adopt;
  2. Where it is recommended that a child is suitable to be placed for adoption, what the contact arrangements for the child should be and whether a Placement Order should be applied for;
  3. Where it is recommended that a child should be placed with particular prospective adopters, the proposed adoption support, future contact arrangements and whether/how the exercise of Parental Responsibility by birth parents and/or prospective adopters should be restricted;
  4. Whether a Prospective Adopter’s Approval status should continue following a Review.

Note that in cases which are referred directly to the Agency Decision Maker for a decision, he/she is expressly prohibited from referring a case to the Adoption Panel for advice.

Monitoring

The Adoption Panel monitors the progress of individual children for whom adoption is the plan up to the making of an Adoption Order, through progress reports as required under the Placement for Adoption Procedure, and receives Disruption Reports in relation to any breakdowns in adoptive placements.

The Adoption Panel should also provide feedback to the adoption agency every six months on the quality of reports and whether there is a fair and consistent approach across the service.


2. Adoption Panel Membership

Kent County Council has Central List of Panel members, and aims to keep as much stability in membership for individual panels as possible. The maximum number of members on each Adoption Panel can be 10. The Adoption Panel is quorate when at least five of its members are present, and this must include the chairperson or vice chairperson, and a social worker with adoption experience in the employment of the Agency.

Kent Adoption Panels will consist of:

  • Independent Chairperson or Vice-Chairperson;
  • One social worker employed by the Agency with at least three years post qualifying experience in child care social work, including direct experience in adoption work;
  • The Medical Adviser to the Adoption Panel;
  • At least three Independent members who are not employed by KCC.

A member of the Children’s Services legal team will attend Adoption Panel, but not as an Adoption Panel member.

Efforts will be made to ensure that the Adoption Panel membership is comprised of a diverse group of persons in relation to gender, ethnicity, age, sexuality, disability, and family composition and also in relevant experience, such as in Education, CAMHS or as an adopter or adoptee.

2.1 Appointments to the Central List

Those on the Central List are appointed by the Designated Manager and will able to continue their membership as long as they are able to carry out their duties.

All those on the Central List should have undergone a recruitment process that includes interviews, identity checks, verification of qualifications and right to work in the UK, references and DBS checks, which are recorded.

New appointees will be asked to give signed agreement to checks being undertaken as above and cannot take up their appointment until the outcome of the checks are known. They are excluded from Panel membership if they have any offences against children or of violence. They are required to notify the Panel Adviser immediately if they receive such a conviction or caution while on the Central List.

They should have the opportunity to observe an Adoption Panel meeting before they sit as a member and to attend an annual joint training day with adoption agency staff; have induction training completed within 10 weeks of inclusion on the list and access to appropriate training and skills development and are kept abreast of changes to legislation, regulation and guidance.

They should also have access to the agency's whistle-blowing policy.

Written information about the expectations arising from their appointment should be given to new appointees to the Central List (in relation to their performance objectives, participation in induction and other training, safeguarding the confidentiality of information provided to the Panel and their general conduct - see Section 2.2 Confidentiality and Section 2.3 General Conduct) and they should be asked to sign a written agreement confirming their acceptance of these before taking up their appointment.

2.2 Confidentiality

All written and verbal information given to Panel members in the course of their duties is strictly confidential. As indicated above, those included on the Central List are required to sign a written agreement, before their appointment, to confirm that all information they receive will remain confidential.

Panel members are expected to keep all written information in a secure place and return all Panel documents to the agency immediately after each Panel meeting.

Panel members must not copy, in part or in whole, any documents that relate to a case.

If a Panel member has some knowledge of a case, whether in a personal or professional capacity, they should declare an interest and inform the Chair of the Panel at the earliest opportunity, so that an alternative member can be invited if required to ensure that the Panel is quorate (see Section 2.4 Conflicts of Interest).

Failure to comply with the above paragraphs may result in the member's inclusion on the Central List being terminated.

2.3 General Conduct

All those on the Central List should be committed to anti-discriminatory practice and should be prepared to consider each case on its own merits.

Panel members should have read the Panel papers carefully, prior to the Panel meeting, and come prepared to contribute to the Panel discussion.

The Panel Adviser will review the performance of those on the Central List on a regular basis.

The Panel Adviser, in consultation with the Chair, will review their performance on a more formal basis at least annually.

If there are concerns about the conduct or behaviour of a person on the Central List, this should be conveyed to the Chair who will raise these concerns with the person in private.

If such concerns cannot be resolved informally, the Chair, in consultation with the Panel Adviser, will write to the person concerned setting out the concerns and what action it is proposed to take. See Section 2.6 Termination of Appointment to the Central List for action that may be taken if the concerns continue.

The Chair's performance will be reviewed annually by the Agency Decision Maker, taking into account the views of those who attend Panel meetings, namely, persons on the Central List, social workers and prospective adopters.

2.4 Conflicts of Interest

Panel members should consider any conflicts of interest in relation to Panel agenda items. A potential conflict arises if an interest may be seen to adversely affect a Panel member's capacity to act without prejudice or preference in a matter.

It is anticipated that in many circumstances there may be professional knowledge of a case which should be notified to the Chair but which will not affect a member's capacity to participate in the Panel. In other circumstances there may be a personal interest or connection which would require the Panel member to refrain from participation. It may be less clear in some cases when advice should be sought.

In the case of a potential conflict of interest where advice is required, Panel members should consult the Chair, Panel Adviser or Legal Adviser, giving as much advance notice as possible particularly having regard to the implications for the quorum.

Failure to comply with the above paragraphs may result in the member's inclusion on the Central List being terminated.

2.5 Resignations from the Central List

All those on the Central List are expected to give a minimum of one month's written notice of their wish to resign, except where personal emergencies e.g. accidents, illness, make this impossible. Resignation letters should be addressed to the Designated Manager, with a copy to the Chair of the Panel.

Initial verbal resignations may be given, but should always be followed by a written resignation. Those on the Central List are asked, as a matter of courtesy, to inform the Chair of the Panel of their intention to resign, before making any public announcement.

Those on the Central List wishing to withdraw a submitted written resignation must do so before the one month notice period expires by writing to the Designated Manager, who reserves the right not to accept a withdrawal of notice and to allow the original letter of resignation to stand.

2.6 Termination of Appointment to the Central List

Where it is considered that someone is unsuitable to be on the Central List, they must be given one month's notice in writing and reasons for the decision to end their appointment.

Where there are concerns about the behaviour of a person on the Central List either inside or outside the meetings, and the difficulties have not been resolved by discussion and correspondence between the Chair, Panel Adviser and the person concerned, the matter will be raised by the Panel Adviser with the Designated Manager, who will decide whether to propose the end of the appointment and if so, will advise the person concerned in writing giving clear reasons for the proposal.

The person concerned will be given the opportunity to make observations on the matter before a final decision is made by the Designated Manager.


3. Agency Adviser to the Panel

An Agency Adviser to the Adoption Panel must be appointed - this can be the same person as the Panel Adviser. This should be someone with experience as an Adoption Team Manager or someone who has more senior management experience and who has experience of adoption.

The role of the Agency Adviser includes assisting with the appointment (including re-appointment), termination and review of appointment of members of the Central List; responsibility for the induction and training of members of the Central List; responsibility for liaison between the agency and the Adoption Panel, monitoring the performance of members of the Central List and the administration of the Adoption Panel; and giving such advice to the Adoption Panel as the panel may request in relation to any case or generally. The Agency Adviser may on request provide advice to the Agency Decision Maker when the decision-maker is considering a particular case.

The Agency Adviser is not a panel member and cannot take part in the decision-making process. They should be able to contribute to panel meetings by raising issues and providing advice, for example about the agency's procedures and practices.

The Agency Adviser should maintain an overview of the quality of the agency's reports, to both the Panel and to the Agency Decision Maker, and liaise with team managers to quality assure the Child's Permanence Report, the Prospective Adopter's Report and the Adoption Placement Report. Where there are concerns about a report, the Agency Adviser and the Panel chair should consider whether it is adequate for submission to the Panel. It will be for the Agency Adviser alone to decide whether the report is adequate for submission to the Agency Decision Maker.

The Agency Adviser should also update the Panel on the general progress of cases it has considered. This is particularly important where the Panel's recommendation or advice was not accepted.


4. Adoption Panel Meetings

The Adoption Panel should meet at least one day every month. The Panel Adviser will ask the Panel Administrator to arrange additional special meetings at short notice as necessary, with the Chair's authority, where for example there is a need to consider an urgent placement and/or the Court timetable requires it.

The Panel Administrator will prepare and circulate an annual list of Adoption Panel dates and deadlines in advance of the designated start of the Panel's year.

The Panel Adviser, who must be a senior practitioner or manager in the adoption service with at least 5 years' relevant post-qualification and management experience, attends all Panel meetings to advise the Panel but is not a member of the Panel. His or her role is to ensure all the necessary reports are available for the Panel, to advise the Panel on social work and procedural matters and to report to social workers and their managers on issues arising from Panel meetings.

Where the Panel is considering a matter relating to an inter country adoption, the Panel Adviser must arrange to provide specialist advice and any relevant information required.

The Panel Adviser's role is also to assist with appointments to the Central List, to arrange induction and other training for those on the Central List, monitor and review their performance and monitor and review the administration of the Panel.

The Panel Administrator, in consultation with the Panel Adviser, will prepare the agenda for each meeting and draw members from the Central List. The agenda and Panel papers for each meeting should be sent to Panel members at least five working days before the meeting.

The Panel's Legal Adviser attends all Panel meetings, but is not a Panel member. Access to specialist legal advice can be vital for Adoption Panels and the Regulations require the Panel to obtain legal advice on every case, together with advice on Applications for Adoption Orders.

The agenda will include at the beginning an opportunity for any Panel member to declare an interest in any item on the agenda (see Section 2.4 Conflicts of Interest). If an interest is declared, the Chair must then decide whether the Panel member should withdraw during consideration of the item.

In the event of a disagreement between Panel members, the Chair will consider whether further information is required or whether the Panel should go ahead and make a recommendation on the basis of the majority view. In this event, any dissenting view should be fully recorded in the minutes.

Social workers presenting reports to the Panel must send their report and any supporting documentation required (as specified in the relevant procedures elsewhere in the Manual; see Placement for Adoption Procedure and Recruitment, Assessment and Approval of Prospective Adopters Procedure) to the Panel Administrator at least 10 working days before the date of the Panel meeting.

At the end of each Panel meeting, the Panel Administrator will collect all members' papers. Panel members unable to attend a meeting will be asked to return his or her papers to the Panel administrator.

Quality Assurance of Reports to Adoption Panels:

  • Children in Care Team Managers are responsible for signing off the Child’s Permanence Report prior to submission;
  • Children and Young Peoples Service Managers are responsible for signing off Adoption Support Plans prior to submission;
  • Adoption Team Manager /practice supervisors are responsible for second opinion visits, and signing off the Prospective Adopters Report;
  • The Team Manager, Central Adoption Services Team, assisted by the Agency Adviser and professional advisers on each Adoption Panel, will have responsibility for checking that all documentation presented to Adoption Panel is complete and to the required standard;
  • The Adoption Panels play a key role in checking that both the assessment and decision-making process within Children and Families and the Adoption Service meets required standards and policy expectations;
  • Regular meetings of Adoption Panel Chairs and of Medical Advisers to discuss shared issues are arranged and chaired by the County Adoption Manager or Team Manager, Central Adoption Services Team. Combined meetings are held, to which Vice Chairpersons, Adoption Panel Advisers, Policy and Performance Officers, and Legal Advisers are invited;
  • Adoption Panel members will be offered the opportunity to comment on the quality of the practice that comes before them;
  • Concerns and commendation about the standards of practice will be relayed to the Agency Decision-Maker by the Panel Adviser.


5. The Chair (or vice-chair if standing in)

The Chair’s role is to ensure that:

  • All members participate fully in the meetings (unless an interest has been declared);
  • Sensitive regard is paid to applicants attending the Panel (while keeping the child’s welfare paramount);
  • Consensus is achieved wherever possible;
  • Panel has clear reasons for its recommendations.

In the event of a disagreement between Panel members, the Chair will consider whether further information is required or whether the Panel should make a recommendation on the basis of the majority view. In this event, any dissenting view should be fully recorded in the minutes.


6. Medical Adviser

The Medical Adviser is consulted  when the agency:

  • Arranges for a child to be examined and obtains a report on the child’s health;
  • Arranges for health information to be obtained about the child’s parents and siblings;
  • Prepares the child’s permanence report which is to include a comprehensive summary written by them on the child’s health;
  • Obtains a report about the health of the prospective adopter;
  • Prepares a comprehensive summary on a  PAR  for the Panel;
  • Prepares the placement report for Panel;
  • Prepares a report to the court where there has been an application for a placement order;
  • Reviews arrangements for assessing and meeting the child’s health care needs;
  • Provides summaries on the health of the child and the prospective adopter for the Court where there has been an application for an Adoption or Section 84 Order;

Where a case is being presented to Panel, the Medical Adviser must advise the Panel clerk when the child’s health report, other medical and psychiatric reports, and health information about the child’s birth parents should be sent to the Panel.

Where a child’s case is not being referred to Panel but direct to the Agency Decision Maker the Medical Adviser should be ready to answer any medical questions.

He/she is responsible for producing a  written summary of health matters pertaining to the child requested by the Agency Decision Maker.


7. The Panel Administrator

The Panel Administrator, in consultation with the Chair and the Panel Adviser, prepares the agenda and sends it out to members at least five working days before the meeting. The agenda should start with an opportunity for any interests to be declared regarding any item on the agenda.

The Panel Administrator arranges for:

  • The Medical Adviser to attend all meetings and for the Legal Adviser to attend where the Panel will be considering whether to recommend that a child is suitable for adoption and in other cases, wherever the Panel Adviser and/or Chair considers it necessary;
  • Those presenting reports to Panel to deliver one copy of each report to him/her 14 days before the date of the Panel meeting and distributing the documentation to Panel members;
  • Notifying the children’s social worker and adoption social workers in writing of the Panel date and time;
  • Prospective adopters to receive invitations to Panel and a leaflet about Panel members and the process;
  • Adopters to be invited to Panel when a case involving them is discussed, e.g. their review following approval, an appeal against a Panel decision, an allegation or linking with a child;
  • Ensuring notifications of Panel decisions comply with the prescribed timescales and at the end of meetings, collecting reports and agenda from members;
  • Preparing the minutes in which reasons for recommendations and any disagreements or dissent are be fully recorded;
  • Sending draft minutes to the Chair and the social workers who attended Panel to check for accuracy, and then submit them, together with the reports considered by the Panel, to the Agency Decision Maker so that he/she can meet the relevant timescales;
  • Arranging for observers to attend meetings, in consultation with the Chair, but ensuring no more than two observers attend at any one time.


8. The Panel Adviser

The Panel must have a Panel Adviser. All Panel meetings are attended by the Panel Adviser, but he/she  is not a Panel member.

He/she must be a social worker with 5 years relevant post qualification experience and a senior member of staff. Duties include to:

  • Assist the agency with recruitment, review and termination of Panel members;
  • Be responsible for the induction and training of Panel members;
  • Be responsible for the liaison between the Panel and the Agency, monitoring the performance of the panel members and the administration of the panel;
  • Maintain an overview of the quality of the agency’s  reports to both panel and to the Agency decision maker and liaise with team managers to quality assure the child’s permanence report, the PAR and the child permanence plan. Where there are concerns about a report, the adviser and the Panel Chair should make decisions about whether the report can be submitted;
  • Take sole responsibility on deciding whether the report is adequate for submission to the Agency Decision Maker regarding plans being submitted to court for the consideration of a placement order;
  • Give general advice to the Panel;
  • Select, together with the Panel Administrator, members of the Central List for each Panel, determining who are available on the Panel date and who best match any specialist requirements in terms of expertise for the cases on the agenda - which may include any members who may already know the case from a previous Panel meeting;
  • Arrange to provide specialist advice and any relevant information required where the Panel is considering a matter relating to an inter-country adoption;
  • Update Panel on the general progress of the cases it has considered and the implications of these;
  • Ensure, in conjunction with the Panel Chair that reports are presented on a six monthly basis on the performance of the panel members, their attendance and training, and children and prospective adopters awaiting placements, the timescales taken and the quality issues emerging, and actions to address all of these issues.


9. Agency Decision Maker

The Agency Decision Maker considers recommendations from the Adoption Panel and, in those circumstances outlined in Section 1, Adoption Panel Purpose and Function, also makes decisions about whether a child is suitable to be placed for adoption without reference to the Adoption Panel. The following principles apply to all such decisions.

In reaching his/her decision, the Agency Decision Maker must consider:

  • The welfare checklist in Section 1 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002*;
  • All the information surrounding the case including the reports submitted to the Adoption Panel (where applicable), and that the authors of the reports are appropriately qualified to prepare them (see Section 7, Reports to Adoption Panel);
  • The stability and permanence of the relationship of any couple under consideration;
  • The recommendation and reasons of the Adoption Panel and any Independent Review Panel under the Independent Review Mechanism; and
  • The final minutes of the Adoption Panel including any minutes from adjourned Panel meetings and the Independent Review Panel;
    1. *The child's ascertainable wishes and feelings regarding the decision (considered in the light of the child's age and understanding);
    2. The child's particular needs;
    3. The likely effect on the child (throughout his life) of having ceased to be a member of the original family and become an adopted person;
    4. The child's age, sex, background and any of the child's characteristics which the court or agency considers relevant;
    5. Any harm (within the meaning of the Children Act 1989 (c. 41)) which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering;
    6. The relationship which the child has with relatives, and with any other person in relation to whom the court or agency considers the relationship to be relevant, including:
      1. The likelihood of any such relationship continuing and the value to the child of its doing so;
      2. The ability and willingness of any of the child's relatives, or of any such person, to provide the child with a secure environment in which the child can develop, and otherwise to meet the child's needs;
      3. The wishes and feelings of any of the child's relatives, or of any such person, regarding the child.

It is good practice for the Agency Decision Maker:

  • To list the material taken into account in reaching the decision;
  • To identify key arguments;
  • To state whether they agree with the process and approach of the relevant Panel(s) and are satisfied as to its fairness and that the Panel(s) has/have properly addressed the arguments;
  • To consider whether any additional information now available to them that was not before the Panel has an impact on its reasons or recommendation;
  • To identify the reasons given for the relevant recommendation that they do or do not wish to adopt; and
  • To state (a) the adopted reasons by cross-reference or otherwise and (b) any further reasons for their decision.


10. Adoption Panel Minutes

The Panel minutes will always record the information in relation to the following:

  1. The reports received. (The Panel's requirements as to reports are specified in the relevant procedures elsewhere in the Manual; see Placement for Adoption Procedure and Recruitment, Assessment and Approval of Prospective Adopters Procedure);
  2. Who attended and for which part of the discussion;
  3. Medical advice;
  4. Legal advice;
  5. The Panel's discussions (main points) and conclusions;
  6. The Panel's recommendations and reasons, including any reservations expressed by any member;
  7. Any advice given by the Panel.

The Panel minutes will be written in accordance with the format agreed from time to time and kept on every child's or prospective adopter's Adoption Case Record.

The Panel chair is responsible for ensuring the accuracy of the Panel's recommendations, reasons and, following agreement with Panel members, the minutes. The chair must also make sure that a person who is not a member of the panel fulfils the task of writing these documents.

The minutes must accurately reflect the discussion and cover the key issues, rather than be a verbatim record of the meeting. Where Panel members have serious reservations, the Panel chair must ensure these are recorded in the minutes and are attached to the Panel's recommendation. If the Panel cannot reach a consensus on its recommendation after the chair and other members of the Panel have voted, the Panel chair has a second vote, i.e. the casting vote. The Panel's minutes should clearly set out the reasons why the Panel chair had to use the casting vote.

The Panel minutes must be produced promptly and agreed by the Panel members before being approved by the Chair and sent to the Agency Decision Maker, together with the reports considered by the Panel when the recommendation was made, so that the Agency Decision Maker can meet the timescales for making the decision as set out in the relevant procedures - usually the timescale is within 7 working days of receipt.

Arrangements should be made by the Agency Adviser to the Panel for the safekeeping of the minutes and the record. Panel minutes, like other parts of adoption case records, are exempt from the subject access provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 (i.e. the person to whom they relate does not have a statutory right of access to the information they contain).


11. Reports to Adoption Panel

Reports to the Adoption Panel in relation to matters upon which the Panel are asked to make recommendations must be prepared by qualified social workers with at least 3 years' post-qualification experience. This must include direct experience of adoption work either in assessing prospective adoptive parents or implementing an adoption plan for a Children in Care. Where the author of the report does not have the requisite qualifications and experience, he or she must have either a qualification in social work or be a social worker in training, and must be supervised by a qualified social worker with 3 years' relevant experience.

Where the person preparing the report is an independent social worker, they must always be suitably qualified and experienced and be supervised by a member of staff with the suitable qualifications and experience.

The same qualifications and experience are required for social workers undertaking visits of children placed for adoption (see Monitoring and Supervision of Adoptive Placements Procedure) and authors of Court Reports in adoption cases.

End