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8.15 Step Parent and other Non-Agency Adoption

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This procedure applies to applications in relation to adoptive placements that have not been arranged by a local authority or registered adoption agency (other than children brought into the UK for the purposes of adoption by people with prior approval as prospective adopters). This will include adoption applications by step-parents, relatives, private foster carers or local authority foster carers who have not sought or obtained the local authority's approval to the placement becoming an adoptive placement.

In relation to such applications, the residence requirements are as follows:

  • If the applicant or one of the applicants is the partner of the parent of the child, the child must have lived with the applicants continuously for 6 months prior to the application;
  • If the applicants are local authority foster carers, the child must have lived with the applicants continuously for 12 months prior to the application;
  • In any other case, the child must have lived with the applicant(s) for three out of the last five years prior to the application or the Court must have granted leave for an earlier application.

For the procedure in relation to children who have been brought into the UK for the purposes of adoption (by people with prior approval as prospective adopters) - see Inter Country Adoption Procedure.

For the contents of the Court report for adoption applications, see Court Reports in Placement Orders/Adoption Orders/Special Guardianship Orders Guidance.

AMENDMENT

This chapter was reviewed and updated throughout in November 2014; Detail was added into Section 2, Notifications concerning the step-parent adoption information pack and the information it should contain. A new sub section on Welfare Supervision was also added into Section 2, Notifications. The chapter should be read in full.


Contents

  1. Initial Contact
  2. Notifications
  3. Medical Information
  4. Other Checks
  5. Court Request for Report
  6. Parental Consent
  7. Child's Wishes and Feelings
  8. The Applicants
  9. Adoption Support
  10. Alternatives to Adoption
  11. Adoption Hearing
  12. After the Court Process


1. Initial Contact

Enquiries from step-parents considering adoption should be made to the Referral and Assessment team and will be passed to the Safeguarding team covering the area where the child lives. Upon initial enquiry, step parent adopters will be sent a brief letter and the Notification of Intent to Adopt  form to complete and return. On receipt of the Notification of Intent to Adopt, the Referral and Assessment team will send out a further more detailed letter with information about adoption and the contact number for the Service  Manager of the Safeguarding team covering the area where the child lives. The case will be passed to that Safeguarding team.

Enquiries about any other form of non-agency adoption should be passed to the Service Manager Adoption.

The prospective applicants should be offered information and advice on the adoption process and the implications of adoption, including the following:

  1. Alternatives to adoption; Step parents can obtain Parental Responsibility for the child either by agreement of both birth parents with parental responsibility or the court may, on the application of the step-parent, order that the step-parent shall have parental responsibility for the child;
  2. The child's need to know that s/he is adopted and have information about the birth family;
  3. The requirement for the consent of parents with Parental Responsibility to be obtained;
  4. The role of CAFCASS;
  5. The need to notify the local authority of their intention to apply for an Adoption Order.

If it is clear that the applicants do not fulfil the criteria of Domicile / Habitual Residence in the UK, the interviewing social worker should advise them to obtain legal advice.

Where a foster carer is making a non-agency application to adopt a Child in Care, with the support of the local authority, the case will be allocated as soon as possible.


2. Notifications

Applicants for adoption, in the case of non-agency placements, must notify the local authority for the area where they live of their intention to apply for an Adoption Order. The notification should be sent at least three months and not more than two years before the date of the adoption application.

Any such notification received should be passed to the the Referral and Assessment team, who will then pass it to the Safeguarding Service Manager covering the area where the child lives for allocation. The allocated worker must fulfil the qualifications and experience criteria set out in the Restriction on the Preparation of Adoption Reports Regulations 2005 - that they have at least 3 years post qualification child care experience including adoption, or are supervised by someone in the agency meeting this requirement. If a student social worker, that they are supervised by someone in the agency meeting this requirement.

Upon receipt of the notification, the local authority will have a duty to supervise the welfare of the child if the child is within the definition of Privately Fostered.

An Adoption file record should be opened for the child or each of the children involved.

As soon as practicable after notification is received, the allocated social worker will leave forms for the prospective adopters to complete for Disclosure and Barring checks for all members of the household aged 18 or over.

Following notification, the child of the applicant becomes a protected child and is subject to welfare supervision. Welfare supervision will be conducted by the allocated social worker. The social worker will provide applicants with an information pack containing information about step-parent adoption. Applicants should be advised of the following:

  • Applications will not be supported from applicants who have been cohabiting for less than a year. It is important that the stability of the relationship can be demonstrated, therefore the length of cohabitation will be given serious consideration;
  • The non resident birth parent for the child will be interviewed and their views sought irrespective of their parental responsibility status;
  • Enquiries will be made to the Police, Health Authority, Education and Social Care Services;
  • The child will be fully involved in the application process and direct work undertaken with him/her to Ascertain their views;
  • The views of extended family members, particularly siblings, will also be taken into account. Two family references will be required, one from the applicants extended family and one from the child's extended family;
  • The applicants and child will be visited on a number of occasions;
  • The process is not a formality and the assessing worker will be required to make a recommendation to the Court;
  • Applicants may find it useful to have legal advice from a Solicitor. This will be particularly important should the application be contested by the birth parent or should the application not be supported by the Local Authority;
  • Applicants should be advised of the alternatives to adoption;
  • Applicants should be advised that they are not entitled to see the completed court reports unless the Court hearing the application gives leave. Applicants will be advised of a negative recommendation and the reasons for this recommendation.

If, following discussion, the applicants decide not to proceed with their application they must notify the Local Authority in writing of their intention to withdraw.

The following circumstances are more likely to lead to applications being positively recommended:

  • The child is asking to be adopted and is of sufficient age and understanding;
  • The child has been in the care of the applicants for a number of years and has a positive relationship with the step-parent;
  • The other birth parent has died;
  • The other birth parent has shown no lasting interest in the child.

The following circumstances may give rise to caution:

  • The applicants' relationship is short and there are concerns about its stability;
  • The child has clear memories of living with their other birth parent and/or having contact with him/her;
  • The birth father or mother, or their extended family, lives nearby;
  • The birth father or mother, or their extended family, continues to take an active interest in the child;
  • There are indications that the application has been made in order to exclude the child's birth father or mother;
  • The applicants have not told, or do not intend to tell the child about their birth parent and family.

Where the social worker is considering a negative recommendation, early discussions should take place between the Service Manager, the assessing social worker and the agency's legal adviser.

Welfare Supervision

Welfare supervision is required by law in order to monitor a child's well being within the family proposing to adopt him/her and for the prospective adopters to receive counselling on the implications of adoption both in the long and short-term.

The Local Authority has a duty to:

  • Visit the family from time to time;
  • Obtain sufficient opportunities to see the child with the applicants in the home environment;
  • Investigate the applicant's suitability;
  • Submit a report to Court within six weeks of receiving a notice of hearing;
  • Prepare the report as prescribed in the Adoption Court Rules.

Welfare supervision can cease only:

  • Upon the granting or refusal of the application for an Adoption Order;
  • If the Local Authority receives written notification from the applicants that they have withdrawn their application for an Adoption Order;
  • Where no application is made for an Adoption Order on the expiry of two years from the giving of the notice;
  • Upon the making of a Child Arrangements Order, Care Order or Supervision Order;
  • Upon the appointment of a CAFCASS officer;
  • Upon the child attaining the age of 18 years;
  • Upon the child's marriage.


3.  Medical Information

Except where the application is by a step parent- in which case a medical report is not required- the social worker will check that the applicants(s) and the child have received a medical examination before the adoption application is submitted.

If medical examinations are required, the social worker will provide the applicants with the relevant BAAF medical forms for completion. The completed medical forms should be passed by the GP who has completed the medical forms to the Medical Adviser for comment. These comments should then be included in the Court report (see Section 6, Court Request for Report).


4. Other Checks

Consent should also be obtained for checks to be carried out with the local authority, Probation and the health trust - and the necessary checks should be made.


5. Court Request for Report

Where a Court receives an adoption application in relation to a non-agency adoptive placement, the Court will notify the local authority of the hearing date and request a Report be prepared and submitted to the Court, usually within 6 weeks of the receipt of the notification. The Court timescales should be clarified at an early stage and if more time is required, a written request must be submitted to the Court as soon as the need for an extension is identified.

Following the receipt of the application, the Court will appoint a Reporting Officer if the Order is not contested or a Children's Guardian if the Order is contested. The Reporting Officer/Children's Guardian must have a copy of the court report and will interview both the birth father and birth mother. It is the Reporting Officer/Children's Guardian's role to obtain signed consent (if applicable) from the non adopting birth parent. However it is appropriate that the adoption social worker has interviewed and/or sought both birth parents views for inclusion in the court report.

The social worker responsible for the supervision of the child will be responsible for preparing the Report, and for this purpose should gather available information on the child and parents - see sections below.

The allocated worker must fulfil the qualifications and experience criteria set out in Section 2, Notifications.

For the contents of the report, see Court Reports in Placement Orders/Adoption Orders/Special Guardianship Orders Guidance.

Once completed, the social worker should send the Court Report to their Service Manager for approval so that it can be filed with the Court within the required timescale.

The Local Authority is required to provide the Court with a court report on the application within six weeks of receiving notice of the hearing. Three copies of the court report should be provided to the court.

Anyone requesting sight of the court report should be advised to seek the permission of the Court.


6. Parental Consent

The adoptive applicants will have to indicate in their adoption application whether or not there is Parental Consent to the application. If the parents do not consent, it is for the applicants to ask the Court to dispense with the agreement of the parent or parents.

The social worker preparing the report should attempt to interview both birth parents in relation to the adoption application and ascertain their views. If the parents do not live within a reasonable travelling distance, the social worker may request that a social worker from the local authority for the area where the birth parents now live interview them.

The report should address the significance of the role played so far by the birth parents in the child's life and the implications of an Adoption Order for any future parental role.


7. Child's Wishes and Feelings

The social worker should speak to the child to ascertain his or her wishes and feelings in relation to the adoption and report on these to the Court. Where the child is not aware of the adoption application, the social worker should discuss with the adopters the best way to address this so that the child's views can be obtained.

The discussion with the child should address any confusion on the part of the child in relation to the implications of an Adoption Order, for example where the adoptive applicant is a relative.


8. The Applicants

The report will need to comment on the strength and duration of any new family relationships, particularly in the case of an adoption application by a step parent. Where there is limited evidence of the strength and stability of the relationship, the applicants should be advised to consider deferring the application until there is more evidence of stability.

In addition, alternatives to adoption should be discussed and explored with the applicants, who should be encouraged to consider them.

For example where the main concern is the child's name, the applicants should be advised to seek legal advice on how to achieve this without the need for an adoption order.


9. Adoption Support

Other than an application by a step parent, the social worker should consider the likely need of the child and adoptive family for adoption support. See Adoption Support Procedure.


10. Alternatives to Adoption

The report should address any alternatives to adoption, which may offer a better framework for the child and the birth parents' future role.


11. Adoption Hearing

The social worker responsible for preparing the report should attend the adoption hearing.


12.  After the Court Process

Once the adoption proceedings are complete, the social worker should notify the adoption service administrator of the date and details of the Adoption Order. The completed Adoption case file should be passed to the social worker’s Service Manager to sign off for closure and when this has been done, send the file to the adoption service administrator to arrange for its safe storage in the Adoption Archives.

End