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14.1.6 Working with and Supporting Birth Families

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter describes how social workers will work with and support birth families whose children are the subject of an adoption plan, both during the period leading up to the presentation of the adoption plan to the Adoption Panel and, where the plan is approved, both before and after the adoptive placement.

It should be read in conjunction with Section 11, Independent Birth Family Counselling Service, which describes the support offered to birth families to discuss their feelings with someone independent of the social worker.

It should also be read in the context of the Placement for Adoption Procedure and the Adoption Support Services Procedure.

RELEVANT LEGISLATION AND GUIDANCE

  • Adoption and Children Act 2002;
  • Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005 (Regulation 14);
  • Adoption Support Services Regulations 2005 (Regulations 4 and 13);
  • Adoption and Children Act Guidance (2011) - Chapters 2 and 9;
  • Adoption National Minimum Standards (2011) - Standards 12 and 15.


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. General Principles
  3. Identifying Adoption as the Permanence Plan
  4. Counselling Birth Parents and Wider Family
  5. Babies Who Are Relinquished for Adoption
  6. Fathers without Parental Responsibility
  7. Involving Birth Family Members in Planning for Adoption 
  8. Planning for on-going Contact
  9. Sharing Information with Birth Parents
  10. Notifications After Adoption Panel
  11. Independent Birth Family Counselling Service
  12. Adoption Support Services
  13. Adoptions before 30th December 2005
  14. Adoptions on or after 30th December 2005
  15. Representations and Complaints


1. Introduction 

This chapter addresses the issues of working with and supporting birth families whose children are being placed for adoption.

The adoption process brings into play very specific requirements for the way in which birth parents and members of the wider birth family should be counseled, involved and supported.

These requirements are found in:

  • Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005 (Reg 14);
  • Statutory Adoption Guidance (Chap.2: paragraphs 22 - 43).


2. General Principles

2.1 Nottinghamshire Children and Young People Services will consider the wishes and views of birth parents and will explore all alternatives to adoption with them, provided that that this is consistent with the duty to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare
2.2 Birth parents will be informed of Nottinghamshire’s commitment to active permanency planning for children. The primary focus for permanency planning will be to enable the child to return to his or her own family, provided that that this is consistent with the duty to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare
2.3 Birth parents must be informed and consulted at the earliest possible stage when the agency has decided to pursue parallel plans for rehabilitation or alternative permanence, including adoption. The agency will provide written information about the options for permanence. Birth parents should be informed that such plans are being made to meet the child’s needs and avoid unnecessary delay. The parents’ views, wishes and feelings will be recorded and fully considered
2.4 Other than in exceptional circumstances, and having first taken legal advice, children’s social workers should make all reasonable attempts to identify and consult absent birth parents, even where they do not have parental responsibility.
2.5 Children’s social workers must also thoroughly explore members of the extended birth families to ascertain whether any member could care for the child if the birth parent/s prove unable to do so
2.6 In the event that neither birth parents nor members of the extended birth families can offer a secure and permanent home to the child, it is likely that an adoption plan will be considered as offering the greatest opportunity for permanence. Timescales in Statutory Guidance state that a plan for permanence should be made at the four month review
2.7 Whenever consistent with the interests of the child, the involvement of birth parents and other members of the birth family in planning for adoption should be maximised. In this way birth parents may continue to be seen as a resource for their children.


3. Identifying Adoption as the Permanence Plan

3.1 An appropriate permanence plan should be identified no later than at the second (four month) Statutory Review. This review should consider all the options for best meeting the child’s welfare, including the child’s needs for permanence.
3.2

These options may include:

  • Returning the child to the parent, with support where necessary;
  • Long term placement with the child’s wider family;
  • Long term placement with foster carers;
  • Residential placement until independence;
  • Placement for adoption.
3.3 In the event that neither birth parents nor members of the extended birth families can offer a secure and permanent home to the child, it is likely that an adoption plan will be considered as offering the greatest opportunity for permanence.


4. Counselling Birth Parents and Wider Family

4.1

The agency is required to:

  • Provide a counselling service for the parent or guardian of the child;
  • Ascertain the wishes and feelings of the parent or guardian of the child and of any other person the agency considers relevant.
4.2 Counselling must be sensitive to the parent’s ethnic origins and religious beliefs.
4.3 If English is not the parent’s first language, the agency should ensure that counselling is provided by someone who can communicate effectively with him or her.
4.4

As part of the counselling, the social worker must explain and provide written information about the procedures involved for placement for adoption and adoption, and the legal implications of:

  • Giving consent to placement for adoption (ACA 2002 s.19);
  • Giving consent to the making of a future adoption order (ACA 2002 s.20);
  • A Placement Order;
  • An adoption order;

Birth parents should be advised to consider seeking their own legal advice.

4.5 Clear explanations should also be provided about why the agency believes the child should be placed for adoption, the consequences of adoption for Parental Responsibility and its implications in terms of contact arrangements. The social worker must explain the right of parents, guardians and others to apply for a Child Arrangements Order.
4.6 The social worker must inform birth parents that they will be able to access an independent counselling service, if the adoption panel recommends and the agency decision maker agrees that their child should be placed for adoption (see Section 11, Independent Birth Family Counselling Service below). This will be particularly important if birth parents are refusing counselling from the agency. For further details, see Section 11, Independent Birth Family Counselling Service.
4.7

In establishing the wishes and feelings of the parent, guardian or any other person the agency considers relevant, the agency must ascertain their views about:

  • The child;
  • Placement of the child for adoption and his adoption, including any wishes and feelings about the child’s religious and cultural upbringing;
  • Contact with the child if the agency is authorised to place the child for adoption or the child is adopted.

Wishes and feelings must be recorded on the child’s file so that this information is available when writing subsequent reports, and can be taken into account during the matching process.

4.8 The agency should explain that the child will have a right on reaching 18 years to find out information from birth records and that the Support After Adoption Team provides support services for birth family members once the Adoption Order has been made (see Section 12, Adoption Support Services below).


5. Babies Who Are Relinquished for Adoption

Separate guidance is available for such circumstances. This can be found in Placing Relinquished Babies for Adoption Procedure.


6. Fathers without Parental Responsibility

This section is based on guidance contained in paragraphs 35 to 43 of the statutory Adoption Guidance to the Adoption and Children Act 2002.

6.1

A father only has parental responsibility in the following circumstances:

  • Where he was married to the child’s mother at the time of the birth;
  • Where he subsequently married the child’s mother;
  • Where he registered the child’s birth jointly with the mother (for a child born on or after 1st December 2003);
  • Where he has acquired parental responsibility by a court order or by through a “parental responsibility agreement” with the child’s mother.
6.2 Article 8(1) of the European Convention of Human Rights deals with the right to respect for family life. Whether or not an unmarried father enjoys this right will depend on the facts of each individual case.
6.3 The adoption agency will consider the nature of the child’s relationship with the unmarried father, and the nature and extent of the father’s relationship with the child’s mother and any siblings of the child.
6.4 Where the agency considers that it is in the child’s best interests, the agency must take all reasonable steps to trace and counsel the child’s unmarried father, if his identity is known. The agency should seek to ascertain his wishes and feelings about the child, the proposed placement for adoption, the child’s religious and cultural upbringing and contact with the child.
6.5

The agency should ascertain as far as possible whether the father intends to apply for parental responsibility (CA 1989 s.4) or intends to apply for:

  • A Child Arrangements Order;
  • Or, where the child is subject to a care order, an order under CA 1989 s. 34 (parental contact etc with children in care).
6.6

If the father’s identity cannot be established, the agency should seek legal advice. Each individual case will need to be considered and legal advice sought. Possible options are:

To seek a direction from the court on whether it is lawful to place the child for adoption without consulting the father(1).

To apply for a Placement Order where a Local Authority considers that the requirements for section 31 of the 1989 Act are met(2). This approach has the merit of enabling the court to consider the circumstances of the case and reach an earlier decision on whether the child should be placed for adoption.

6.7 Sometimes birth mothers have been led to understand that they will not be pressed to disclose the identity of the father without parental responsibility. Courts have been critical of such arrangements. The agency should therefore be clear that they have obligations to the child and to other parties, and workers should avoid entering into any arrangements that would undermine such obligations.
6.8 The paramount consideration for the agency must be the child’s welfare. The agency should not enter into any arrangement which places conditions on consent for placement, or advance consent to adoption.

(1)This is provided for by the Family Procedure Rules 2010.

(2)A court may not make a placement order unless the child is already subject to a care order or the court is satisfied that the conditions in section 31(2) of the 1989 Act (conditions for making a care order - threshold criteria) are met or the child has no parent or guardian.


7. Involving Birth Family Members in Planning for Adoption

Active consideration should be given to the extent and ways in which birth family members may be involved in planning for adoption.

Examples are:

  • Taking into account the parent’s wishes with regard to the child’s religion, ethnicity, culture, education, interests, position in the family, placement with siblings, characteristics of adopters etc.;
  • Encouraging birth family members to provide information about themselves and their background, including health information. A clear explanation should be given as to why such information is sought (i.e. to provide for the child’s needs now and in the future);
  • Discussions about the sort of adoptive family that is being considered;
  • Sharing non-identifying information about the adoptive family to allow the birth family to develop a sense of the family’s lifestyle and interests;
  • Encouraging birth parents to have a “one-off” meeting with the adopters where circumstances are conducive to this being a positive experience for both parties. This will have additional benefits if there is a plan for contact after the placement (see Section 8, Planning for on-going Contact below);
  • Keeping birth parents fully informed up to the point of adoption about significant developments affecting their children by providing non-identifying information, unless they record their wish not to receive this or a clear decision has been made by the agency that it would be unsafe to do so;
  • Recording a clear decision about how, following adoption, the birth parent should be kept informed, if they wish, of significant developments such as the serious illness or death of a child. This is subject to the agreement of the adoptive parents;
  • Ensuring that birth family members are aware that they can deposit information with the agency for it to pass to the child later, if they request it, when they are an adopted adult.

(2)A court may not make a placement order unless the child is already subject to a care order or the court is satisfied that the conditions in section 31(2) of the 1989 Act (conditions for making a care order - threshold criteria) are met or the child has no parent or guardian.


8. Planning for On-going Contact

8.1 For many children continued contact with birth family members after placement, whether indirect through the Letterbox or direct face-to-face meetings, plays an important part in enhancing the child’s sense of identity and the success of the adoptive placement. Where there is to be continuing contact of any kind, the involved birth family members should be consulted about the contact arrangements proposed and the reasons for these. They should be invited to sign their agreement to these and assisted, where necessary, to fulfil agreed plans.
8.2

The Support After Adoption Team (SAA) is available for consultation on all issues to do with contact. SAA has a historical and long-term perspective on contact arrangements which is invaluable when planning both the principles and the practicalities of contact as it impacts on all parties in the adoption triangle.

Further detailed guidance on contact can be found in Adoption Plans and Contact Arrangements (Including The Letterbox Scheme) Procedure.


9. Sharing Information with Birth Parents

9.1 The agency should explain the purposes of providing information for the child’s permanence report, and the fact that this will need to be shared with others, including the Panel, the prospective adopters and the court.
9.2 Arrangements should be made to share appropriate information from the child’s permanence report with birth parents before the Adoption Panel meets so that they can comment on it and have their feedback recorded. Where this has not happened, the reasons should be recorded.


10. Notifications After Adoption Panel

10.1

Birth parents will be informed orally of the agency’s decision within two working days (by the social worker) and written confirmation should be sent to then within five working days (by the Panel Co-ordinator).

Birth fathers who do not have parental responsibility should also be notified if their identity and whereabouts are known, if the agency considers this appropriate.

10.2 Two weeks after the letter of notification has been sent to the birth parent/s, the Panel Co-ordinator will send a letter and leaflet about the Independent Birth Family Counselling Service. These details will also be sent to any other birth relative identified by the child’s worker as having a significant relationship with the child.


11. Independent Birth Family Counselling Service

This service is provided under contract by an organisation called Adoption Plus. Birth parents will be able to contact the Counselling Service direct or ask their social worker to do this on their behalf. In either case the social worker will be asked by Adoption Plus to provide basic information to enable the first meeting between the counsellor and the birth relative to be arranged.

For full details of the service see Independent Birth Family Counselling Service Procedure.


12. Adoption Support Services

See also Adoption Support Services Procedure.

12.1

The Adoption and Children Act 2002 Section 3(2)(b) requires Local Authorities to provide adoption support services to all those affected by adoption.

The Adoption Support Services Regulations 2005 gives details of the services to be provided to birth family members, as follows:

Birth parents

  • Counselling, advice and information;
  • Groups to enable birth parents to discuss matters relating to adoption;
  • Assistance, including mediation services, in relation to arrangements for contact.

Birth Siblings

  • Counselling, advice and information;
  • Assistance, including mediation services, in relation to arrangements for contact.

Other birth relatives

  • Counselling, advice and information;
  • Assistance, including mediation services, in relation to arrangements for contact.
12.2 Birth parents will be provided with written information containing details of support groups and services, both national and local. Once the adoption order has been made, they are able to join Support After Adoption’s mailing list to receive a regular newsletter and information.
12.3 Support After Adoption provides advice and counselling via its dedicated phone line and will offer further counselling via appointments if appropriate.
12.4 Advice and support can be given to birth family members who wish to write a letter which can be lodged on the child’s file for the future.
12.5 Where indirect (Letterbox) contact has been agreed, the Letterbox co-ordinator at Support after Adoption is available to give advice and support to birth family members. This may be to advise on the content of letters or help in writing the letter. Birth relatives may feel upset, confused or angry about the information they receive and the Letterbox co-ordinator will offer support at such times.
12.6 If direct (face-to-face contact) has been agreed, Support After Adoption can be involved in such arrangements, from giving advice to the actual supervision of the contact if necessary.


13. Adoptions before 30th December 2005

Nottinghamshire provides an intermediary service for birth relatives under the terms of the Adoption Information and Intermediary Services (Pre-Commencement Adoptions) Regulations 2005. This enables the agency to assist birth relatives in obtaining the information they need for the purpose of tracing their adult adopted relative and establishing contact with them, subject to the adopted adult’s agreement.

For further details see Intermediary Services Procedure.


14. Adoptions on or after 30th December 2005

Birth relatives may apply for information about their adult adopted relative under the terms of The Disclosure of Adoption Information (Post-Commencement Adoptions) Regulations 2005. This is subject to stringent safeguards and the consent of the adopted person and others who may have been involved in the adoption.

For further details see Intermediary Services Procedure.


15. Representations and Complaints

Complaints received in relation to any adoption-related service provided by Nottinghamshire Children and Young People’s Department will be dealt with through the Department’s Complaints Procedure.

Birth parents will be provided with Nottinghamshire’s complaints leaflet.

End