An in-depth guide to adoption

Last updated: 18 March 2022 Adoption information pack (pdf, 1.2 MB)
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Placement of a child with their adoptive family

Authority to place a child for adoption

A child cannot be placed with adopters unless the adoption agency has 'Authority to place'. An adoption agency would seek 'authority to place' after the Agency Decision Maker has agreed with this plan.

An adoption agency may have 'authority to place' a child with adopters with the consent of the child’s birth parents. Consent is given through signing a prescribed form and witnessed by a Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Services (CAFCASS) officers. This officer must be satisfied that consent is given unconditionally and will require a full understanding of the consequences.

Placement Order

If birth parents are unwilling to give consent or they might later withdraw their consent, a Local Authority must apply to a Court for a Placement Order. The court may also make a care order at the same time

A Court may not make a Placement Order unless the child is already subject to a Care Order (or the same conditions for making a Care Order apply). A Court has to be satisfied that a child is suffering or likely to suffer 'significant harm' and the harm is attributable to the care the child has been given or would be given if an order is not made.

The Court uses a 'welfare checklist' to help them decide if these conditions are met. In addition, the Court can only make the Placement Order if the birth parents give consent or the Court is satisfied that the consent of the birth parents should be dispensed with.

Contact Order

A Court can make a Contact Order at the same time as making a Placement Order. A Contact Order orders the person the child is living with to allow the child to have contact with the person in whose favour the order is made. A Contact Order can also be made at the same time as Adoption Order. However, under the Adoption and Children Act 2002 there is no presumption for or against contact when a child is being adopted.

The Court places the needs and welfare of the child at the centre of its decision-making. In practice the Court also takes into account the views of the adopters.

When the adoption agency has 'authority to place' through consent or a Placement Order, the adoption agency acquires parental responsibility for the child. The birth parents still have parental responsibility but the agency determines how this parental responsibility is restricted. (These legal matters are quite complex – please ask us if you would find it helpful to explore this information further.)

Adoption placement plan

The Adoption Placement Plan includes arrangements for reviews, exercise of parental responsibility, adoption support, contact, as well as the arrangements for the child and adopters to get to know one another before the child moves into their home.

Placement day

The placement day is a very special occasion for you and the child. It is also a major life event for the child who may react to this change in a variety of ways, which can impact on their behaviour.

Significant life changes all take time to adjust to and you will all need the time and space to do so. Your support networks will be important, though you may need to keep them at arm’s length in the beginning, so the child can get settled with you before having to get used to others too.

Support will be on hand and there will be regular visits from your adoption and the child’s social worker. They will need to see the child as well as you when they visit, and will come each week for the first month.

In the early stages you may have some mixed emotions as you adjust to this major life change, having worked towards it for a long time. You will be faced with new challenges on top of being a new parent to a child who has immediate needs. Although this is the outcome you have worked towards for so long, it can result in some feelings of being low in spirits as well as some elation.

We are aware of the impact of this and will encourage you to share any mixed feelings openly. Your worker will be available to offer support, advice and counselling and the advice and guidance of other experienced adopters can be on hand too. Your bond with the child will need to be allowed to grow over time. At such time as all concerned consider that the time is right for the child and for you, you will be helped to make an application to the court for an Adoption Order.

This is the end of this stage and the final stage in the adoption process – application to Court and making of the adoption order follows. In the following section, information is given about legal issues surrounding adoption and the application to court.

When a child is placed

When a child is placed with adopters, the adopters are delegated a level of parental responsibility to make certain decisions until the Adoption Order is granted. When a child is in the care of the local authority, their situation is reviewed at regular intervals. This reviewing process continues when a Placement Order is made and when they are placed with adopters.

A review must be held within 20 working days of a child being placed with adopters and an Independent Reviewing Officer will chair the reviews.

Before this first review is held the agency must visit the child every week for the first 4 weeks that the child is placed.

At the first review, the pattern of further reviews and visits will be agreed. The next review must be within three months or earlier and thereafter every 6 months or earlier, until such time as an Adoption Order has been made.

Prospective adopters may take a child out of the country for up to a month before such time as they are adopted. The child would need a passport in their original name and arrangements for the holiday would need to be discussed and agreed with workers concerned. The leave of the Court or the written consent of each parent is required for the child to be taken out of the country for more than a month before adoption.

The child cannot be known by a different surname until such time as they are legally adopted unless the Court authorises this or the written consent of the parents is obtained.

Application to the court for an Adoption Orders

An application cannot be made for an adoption order until the child has been in the care of the adopters for at least 10 weeks. Depending on the age and needs of the child and how things are progressing in the placement, it may well be that an application is not made until later than this.

Once the application has been made to the Court, the birth parents may seek the leave of the Court to oppose the adoption order and could apply for a Residence or Contact Order in respect of the child. However, the Court would expect the parents’ circumstances to have changed significantly for such leave to be given and any order would have to be in the interests of the child.

The Adoption social worker will be able to provide support and guidance throughout this time.

The Court will ask the adoption agency to submit a report about the child and the adopters, within 6 weeks of the application being made.

The Court will have a formal hearing to consider the application and set out any actions required. This is called a Directions hearing. There will be a separate hearing to make the Adoption Order. Following this, a celebration hearing occurs, which is a very special occasion for the child and for you to participate in.

When an Adoption Order is made, the adopters gain sole parental responsibility for the child.

The adoption agency and the birth parents no longer have parental responsibility.

The adoption agency ceases to have a responsibility to visit the child but adoption support services may continue or a request for adoption support needs may be made at a later stage.

Early Permanence

Although it is not possible to place a child for adoption without either the court’s consent or parent’s agreement, it is possible to approve adopters as foster carers to enable the child to be placed as early as possible. Buckinghamshire Adoption Service is able to approve prospective adopters as adopters and as foster carers so that a child can be placed with them at an earlier stage.

Early permanence placements are selected for children where adoption is the likely but not certain outcome of care proceedings in the local authority’s view. The benefits to the child of being able to make attachments to carers who may continue to look after him or her throughout childhood are significant. While this arrangement creates risks for the adopters involved, it does mean that adopters would care for a child from the point of removal, and therefore are much less likely to experience difficulties as a result of problems in the child’s attachments due to changes in placements.

It is also possible to approve adopters temporarily as foster carers for specific children if it is felt that the child could and should be placed with them at an early stage and a Placement Order has not yet been made, for example when adopters are caring for an older sibling.