Relinquishing a Child for Adoption
The term relinquished baby is used to describe a child under the age of six weeks, whose parents are making the choice of adoption for the child.
When a person contacts the borough stating that they wish to relinquish their child for adoption the referral should be managed by both MASH and the Adoption Team. MASH should undertake checks to verify if the person is known to key services, alongside the adoption team providing information regarding the options available. It is important to establish early on who has Parental Responsibility (PR) for the child (mother, father, legal guardian) as these are the only people that can give consent to any placement.
It is important that work undertaken with the parent not only informs them of their rights, responsibilities and the process, but also fully explores all of the options available to them, (including family members or close friends who may be able to care for the child). It is important that the social worker maintains a neutral stance to these options. Given that the child is likely to become a looked after child, it is ideal for the case to be allocated to a social worker in the Children in Care team alongside a social worker in the adoption team, with them working together in planning for the child and supporting the parent/s.
The most common requests for relinquishment come from mothers during pregnancy and therefore, there is usually some time to explore options with the parent/s prior to the baby's birth.
The options to be explored are as follows:
- Support that can be provided to the parent/s to enable the child to remain with them;
- Placement with wider family/close friend;
- Short-term foster care if parent is unsure as to the decision that they will make;
- Fostering to adopt placement if adoption appears the most likely outcome.
RELEVANT GUIDANCEAdoption Support Procedure
1. Enquiries with Parent/s and Extended Family
In working with the parent/s it is the responsibility of the adoption agency to 'counsel' them and give both verbal and written information regarding the process and legal consequences of adoption, (see Appendix 1: Checklist for Initial Discussion with Parents). It is required to work with birth fathers without Parental Responsibility where they are known and the agency considers it appropriate to work with them. In this instance, they would need to advise the birth father of his right to acquire PR and establish whether he intends to do this. The agency is also required to ensure that the parent/s is competent to give consent to accommodation and adoption, (see Appendix 2: Guidance for Adoption Agencies in Establishing Competency).
The work with the parent/s needs to:
- Take account of their communication requirements, literacy skills, cultural issues, disabilities and immigration concerns. A parent under the age of 18 years can give valid consent if assessed as competent to do so by the Agency;
- Understand the reasons for requesting the child be placed for adoption. Explain other options including Special Guardianship or Child Arrangement Order with a relative, and advise if there are any other support services that could be offered to allow the child to remain with them;
- Check the child's birth certificate to establish if an unmarried birth father has acquired PR by being named on the birth certificate;
- If the birth father is not known or not part of the relinquishing process discuss with the birth mother and to encourage her to provide:
- The birth father's identity and address;
- The birth father's wishes and feelings; and
- Whether the birth father intends to acquire PR, outlining his role and potential rights in the process if PR is obtained.
Case law has confirmed that the law will not usually be used to force a birth mother to reveal the identity of the birth father without PR, nor is there any mandatory and absolute requirement in adoption law that other relatives should be informed of the child's birth and the proposed adoption. However, Adoption is a permanent and irreversible Order. Therefore, the agency needs to consider whether the father has established family life with the mother and child. A birth mother should be encouraged to share information with regards to her plans to relinquish with the father and family members to ensure that all possible alternative carers can be explored. The agency should provide information to those relatives where the mother gives consent. Attempts to establish links with other family members needs to be balanced alongside the principal that the welfare of the child is paramount, the mother's wishes for her child and her right to confidentiality, and the avoidance of unnecessary delay. When a mother is seeking to relinquish care of her child, there are no court proceedings in the early stages. However, the local authority can seek court direction if it considers it necessary to serve notice on the birth father without the mother's consent. The court is likely to require evidence that reasonable steps were taken to ascertain birth father's wishes.
When determining whether to contact a father without Parental Responsibility when the mother does not wish to disclose his identity, the following criteria must be considered:
- The nature of the child's relationship with the father;
- The nature and extent of the father's relationship with the mother and any siblings;
- Whether failure to disclose to the father would constitute a contravention of Article 8 of the Convention (concerning respect for private and family life);
- The child will require background information, including health information regarding his/her father.
Reason for not involving the father must be discussed with the child's social work team manager, the adoption manager and legal services. Any decision must be recorded on Frameworki. Where the father's identity cannot be established or the case is complex, legal advice must be sought as soon as possible to ensure that there is no unnecessary delay for the child.
Appendix 3: Guidance for Adoption Agencies on Birth Fathers who Subsequently Acquire PR and on the Extended Family gives further information in relation to involving birth fathers and extended family members.
Having explored the areas above, and being satisfied that there is no alternative to care for the child outside of the family by way of adoption, the adoption agency must notify the Cafcass office that is closest to the parents' address of the need for Cafcass to appoint an officer to witness consent. This is done by providing the information set out in Schedule 2 of the Adoption Agency Regulations 2005. (See Appendix 4: Completion of Information and Documents by the Adoption Agency). The adoption agency also needs to provide the relevant letter for the consent that they are seeking. These are attached in Appendix 5: Good Practice Guidance for Adoption Agencies and Cafcass: Children Relinquished for Adoption.
The Cafcass office addresses can be obtained from the Cafcass website.
On receipt of notification from the Adoption Agency, Cafcass will plan for provisional allocation to an officer in time for the date of the adoption panel meeting.
If the baby is being relinquished at birth, the parent cannot consent to adoption until 6 weeks after the baby's birth. This is based on the premise that a birth mother cannot reasonably make such a decision within the first 6 weeks of the baby's birth. With this in mind, the baby would be placed under fostering regulations in the first instance, with the birth parent giving agreement to accommodation under Section 20 of The Children Act 1989. A birth father without parental responsibility cannot consent to accommodation or adoption.
The birth parent(s) must register the birth together and obtain a long birth certificate which is given to the social worker. They need to be advised that this is a legal requirement. This certificate is required as part of the CAFCASS application. Parents are likely to want their own copy and they should be advised to request 2 certificates at the time of registration. Additional certificates can be purchased from the Registry office up until the time of the Adoption Order.
A pre- adoption health assessment of the child should be arranged at 6 weeks by the child's social work business support. The following documents need to be sent to child health:
- Coram/BAAF medical forms M and B;
- Coram/BAAF PH forms completed by the birth parents regarding their own medical history.
The birth parents should be encouraged to provide family medical information
Where there are no court proceedings in process, a referral needs to be made to the Adoption and Fostering Panel at the earliest opportunity as they need to consider whether the child should be placed for adoption, within 6 weeks of the child being relinquished. A Child Permanence Report needs to be completed along with the statutory medical and LAC review report. (Note that 'relinquished child' cases are presented to panel, whereas 'adoption as plan' (not relinquished) are directly referred to the Agency Decision Maker).
Once a CAFCASS officer is appointed, they will meet with the birth parent/s to witness the signing of the relevant consent forms, ensuring that they are doing this unconditionally and with full understanding of what is involved.
There are 3 possible outcomes from interviewing the parent/guardian:
- Countersigning Section 19 Form only
This gives the adoption agency consent to place the child with any prospective adopters or identified prospective adopters;
- Countersigning Section 19 and Section 20 Forms
This gives consent as above and in addition, advanced consent to the making of an Adoption Order. Birth parent/s can also make a statement that they do not wish to be notified of the application for an adoption order (Section 20(4));
- Inability to Countersign the Form(s)
If the CAFCASS officer considers there to be issues about the parent/s competency to give consent unconditionally and with full understanding of what is involved, they will refer back to the Adoption Agency, giving a full explanation of the reasons as to why the form(s) cannot be countersigned.
Once completed, these forms are returned to the adoption agency.
Best practice would be for the parent/s to sign section 19 and 20 Consent at the same time. Where that is not possible, the Adoption Agency can re-refer to the original Cafcass officer with any additional information required at the point that parent/s are able to give their consent to section 20. The Cafcass officer will then re-interview the parent/s to witness the signing of the consent.
3. Withdrawing of Consent
The person with PR, who has given consent to placement, can change their mind at any time in the first six weeks of the baby's life and ask that the baby be returned to their care. Whilst the Local Authority has no legal authority not to return the child, they may wish to make enquiries to ensure that the baby will be safe, especially given the emotionally demanding process that the parent/s will have gone through in relinquishing the child in the first place.
Once consent has been given to place the child for adoption, the parent/s right to change their mind will be limited. They can withdraw consent at any time until the prospective adopters submit their application to adopt to the court. If the child has not been placed for adoption and the LA considers that the child is safe to return to the parent/s, this needs to occur within seven days. If the child is already placed for adoption and the LA considers that the child is safe to return to the parent/s, this should occur within fourteen days. If the LA considers that the child should be adopted, a placement order application needs to be submitted to the court.
Once prospective adopters have submitted their application to adopt to the court, the parent/s cannot request that the child be returned to their care. However, they can seek permission to oppose the making of the adoption order, demonstrating that there has been a change of circumstances since giving consent, which means that it would be in the child's best interests to be returned to their care.
4. Possible Placements
At the point that the child comes into the care of the LA, they will need to be placed under fostering regulations, requiring consent from the birth parent/s under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989. Best practice would be to place the child with people who can also adopt the child as this would result in the child not needing to move placement once consent has been given to the adoption. Such carers are either dually approved as foster carers and adopters, or are approved as adopters and are given emergency approval as foster carers by the Fostering Agency Decision Maker in the LA that has responsibility for the child.
If no such carers are available, or the parent/s does not give their consent to such a placement, the child would be placed with foster carers in the first instance. Once consent to adoption is given, a child could then be placed with prospective adopters.
In making a fostering to adopt placement, an assessment of the carer's capacity to manage the uncertainty of the placement would need to be made. They need to be aware of the voluntary nature of the arrangement and that the birth parent can withdraw their consent as set out above.
It is also best practice for the birth parent/s to meet with the prospective carers prior to the placement being made, assuming that it is safe for this to happen. Whilst the parent/s is consenting to the placement, all involved need to be mindful of not sharing information which locates the address of the prospective carers, as the long term confidentiality of the placement needs to be safeguarded.
Contact between the child, birth parent/s and prospective adoptive carers also needs to be considered, both in the short and long term. This can only be done once the social worker has an understanding of the wishes of each party and how these arrangements can be managed in the best interests of the child.
Once the CAFCASS forms have been signed, the child and prospective adopters can be presented to the Fostering and Adoption Panel for recommendation of the adoption match. The adoption plan for the child and the match can be heard at the same panel. Once ratified by the Agency Decision Maker the placement becomes and adoptive one either because:
- The fostering element of the fostering to adopt placement ceases ( including financial allowances) and the carers become solely adopters;
- It is a new placement and the child has moved from foster care to the adopters.
The adopters will hold partial parental responsibility which is shared with the birth parents and the local authority.
The child remains a looked after child until the Adoption Order is granted and is subject to statutory reviews and regular social work visits.
Adopters can submit their application to adopt to the court once the child has had their home with them for 10 weeks, as long as all necessary consents are signed.
Appendix 1: Checklist for Initial Discussion with Parents
When discussing the meaning of adoption, through the counselling process, it is important to make sure that each of the consenting parents has been made aware of:
- The lifelong implications;
- Separation and loss;
- The alternatives to adoption;
- The legal consequences of consenting to placement for adoption (section 19) and the advance consent to the making of an adoption order (section 20) and the legal effects of adoption;
- The option of indicating that they do not want to be involved further in proceedings once they have provided section 19 and section 20 consents i.e. Section 20(4);
- Contact issues, including whether they wish to meet the adoptive family, and the legal position in respect of contact after placement and adoption;
- Providing comprehensive background history that can be used for the 'later life' letter and life story book for the child;
- The importance of providing family photos and a letter from them explaining the reasons for adoption and family history details for the child;
- Whether the relinquishing parent(s)/guardian(s) wish to be involved in the matching considerations for the prospective adoptive parents for the child and/or give their consent to placement with particular adopters;
- Their wishes are important and will be considered where possible. This includes religious and cultural considerations and any geographical difficulties with regard to the extended family and prospective adopters;
- The availability of intermediary services for help in making contact with the child when he/she is an adult (18 years and beyond) if the adopted adult consents;
- The rights of the child to obtain information about his or her parent(s) once they reach the age of 18;
- The availability of support to the parents and family beyond the child's adoption, in respect of contact, information and counselling;
- The role of cafcass in ensuring that consent is given unconditionally and with full understanding i.e. Without any conditions attached, including contact;
- The availability of written information about the adoption process.
Appendix 2: Guidance for Adoption Agencies in Establishing Competency
If, during the counselling sessions (but prior to referral to Cafcass), the AA considers that the parent is not capable of understanding the giving of consent and decides that the child should be placed for adoption without consent, the local authority must apply for a placement order (N.B. - a placement order cannot be granted unless the conditions set out in section 22(1) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, are met).
Care will need to be taken if there are factors which appear to impede the parents' level of understanding of giving consent to adoption, for example:
- Moderate learning disabilities;
- Mental health issues;
- Cultural, ethnic or faith issues;
- Consent not being given unconditionally, e.g. Parents only willing to consent with conditions attached (N.B. - if consent is given in respect of a particular placement, this not conditional consent).
Further information about the parent's understanding may need to be sought from another professional person, preferably someone who knows the parent such as an:
- Adult learning disabilities social worker;
- Approved mental health worker;
- Mid-wife or health visitor;
- General practitioner;
- Member of cultural/faith community;
If the AA is aware at an early stage that issues of competency may require further considerations, they should not request a Cafcass officer to witness consent until full enquiries have been completed. The AA must be sure that the parent or guardian is competent to give consent.
Appendix 3: Guidance for Adoption Agencies on Birth Fathers who Subsequently Acquire PR and on the Extended Family
A father who acquires PR after section 19 consent has been given by the mother to his child's placement for adoption, is deemed in law to have given his consent to placement. He may withdraw this consent, and if he and/or the mother request(s) the child's return, but the AA wishes to continue the adoptive placement, the AA must apply for a placement order (provided the child meets the criteria set out in section 22(1) Adoption and Children Act 2002). Whilst the application is before the court the local authority is not obliged to return the child to the parent(s).
The legal position of the extended birth family is similar to that of the birth father without PR - it is a matter of judgment by the AA as to whether contacting them is appropriate. In forming this judgment it is essential to discuss with the consenting parent(s) the likely views of the extended family, i.e. siblings, grandparents etc. including the consequences of them discovering that the child had been born, and the consequences for the child in the extended family not knowing about the child's birth or the plans for adoption.
The Cafcass officer will be assisted in understanding the circumstances of the consenting parent(s) if full information is available in the Schedule 2 AAR report. However, it is not part of the Cafcass officer's duties in witnessing sections 19 and 20 consent/advance consent to challenge the AA's decisions in respect of birth fathers without PR, or the extended family. Nor is it part of the officer's duties to challenge a parent's decision to relinquish his/her child for adoption if they are competent and willing to do so (provided consent is given unconditionally and with full understanding of what is involved).
Appendix 4: Completion of Information and Documents by the Adoption Agency
Appendix 5: Good Practice Guidance for Adoption Agencies and Cafcass: Children Relinquished for Adoption
See also CAFCASS for additional good practice guidance.