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We provide advice to parents, grandparents, relatives, friends and kinship carers who are involved with children’s services in England or need their help. We can help you understand processes and options when social workers or courts are making decisions about your child’s welfare.

Our advice service is free, independent and confidential.

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Our get help and advice section describes the processes that you and your family are likely to go through, so that you know what to expect. Our webchat service can help you find the information and advice on our website which will help you understand the law and your rights.

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When looking at whether adoption is the best plan for a child, what must children’s services do?

There are four key steps that children’s services must take when considering whether adoption is the best plan for a child.

These are show in the diagram below. Click on the dropdowns below for more information about each step.

Step one: Consider options for the child to live within their family and friends’ network

All options that are realistically possible for a child’s long-term care must be explored. This must happen before children’s services consider adoption. This was said by judges in the case of Re B-S (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 1146). This is a decision made in the Court of Appeal.

What does this mean in practice for children’s services?

It means children’s services must look at whether:

  • With support, parents may be able to care for their child
  • Support from local services or practitioners is needed
  • Support is available from wider family and friends
  • Anyone in the wider family and friends’ network could care for the child, if the parents are not able to.

A family group conference is a good way to do this. A family group conference is a family-led decision-making meeting. It brings together the whole family, and others who are important to the child. Together, at the family group conference, they make a plan for child.

What does this mean in practice for families?

If there is anyone in the family who might be a suitable carer, parents should tell their solicitor and the social worker straight away.

Government statutory guidance called Volume 1 Children Act 1989: Court orders and pre -proceedings says children’s services should consider making a referral for an FGC ‘if they believe there is a possibility that the child may not be able to remain with their parents… unless this would place the child at risk.’

If a family group conference has not been suggested, the family can request one. And can remind children’s services of what that government guidance says.

See our Family group conference: advice for families page for more information

And what does it mean in practice for the Family Court?

It means when children’s services present a plan of adoption to the Family Court during care proceedings:

  • The court has to analyse the arguments for and against each of the realistic possible options for the child’s long term care
  • This is an important part of the Family Court deciding what the best long term plan for the child is. And deciding whether adoption is the right.

Step two: Provide parents and others in the family with information, counselling and support

Children’s services must provide parents with specific support when they are considering a plan of adoption for a child. This includes counselling and information about adoption.

Where is this requirement set out in law?

The Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005 and the National Minimum Standards on adoption require children’s services to:

  • Provide parents with information about the implications of adoption for them and the child. This should include information about fostering for adoption
  • Inform parents their child may be placed for adoption
  • Provide counselling and information to the child, and their siblings
  • Appoint a key worker to support the parents.

What can parents do to access this help?

So if there is a plan for a child to be adopted, parents should ask the social worker to put this support in place for their family.

Some parents may feel unsure about receiving counselling from the same agency that is arranging the child’s adoption. But there are independent organisations which can provide this. The key worker should arrange for parents to be referred.

See the Adoption section of our Useful links page for details.

Step three: Find out parents’ wishes and feeling regarding the proposed adoption

Children’s services must seek parents’ wishes and feelings about specific things. This is required under Regulation 14 of the Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005.

The child’s social worker should speak to the parents about:

  • The possibility of the child being adopted
  • The child’s religion and culture
  • Any possible plans for the child, or stay in contact with, their birth family. Both during the adoption process, and longer term.

Will this include speaking with the child’s father?

It is important that the child’s mother and father are involved. Even if a father does not have parental responsibility for his child, social workers must ask him about the plan for adoption. The only exception is if the Family Court has said this should not be done. The discussion with a father should include looking at whether there is anyone in his family and friends’ network who could potentially care for the child.

Where a child is old enough, the social worker should speak to them about the plan for adoption.

How is the information gathered used?

The information gathered should go into the child’s permanence report. This report is used by children’s services and the Family Court when making decisions about the adoption. And the information about the child and family in the report helps to identify prospective adopters who will be able to meet the specific needs of the child.

What if parents find it hard to share their wishes and feelings with the social worker?

It is important for parents to have the chance to share their wishes in relation to adoption with the social worker. This helps to make sure what is in the report is right and accurate. But parents may find talking about adoption very difficult and upsetting. Even if they are agreeing to the adoption. So, thinking through with a trusted friend or family member how to best to share information, may be a good idea.

Parents might want to think about doing the following things:

  • Make sure the adoption agency has all the correct information about them and their family. This is important in relation to health issues, for example. And it will ensure that decisions are made on the basis of accurate information
  • Think about what arrangements they would like to suggest for their child to remain in touch with their birth family so this can be raised with any prospective adopters
  • Ask if the prospective adopters would be willing to meet with them
  • Say what kind of person they might want their child to live with
  • Putting thoughts and views in writing to the adoption panel. This might include putting together information for the child (for example, contributing to their ‘life story book’). For more information about this, see our advice sheet on Post-adoption contact.

Step four: Approval of the adoption plan by a senior person in children’s services

A plan for adoption of a child is a very serious step.  Adoption has lifelong implications for a child and their family. Before the plan reaches the Family Court, it must be looked at by a senior person in children’s services.

Who is the senior person and what exactly is their role?

This senior person is called the Agency Decision Maker. They:

  • Should decide whether they agree that adoption is the right plan for the child
  • Should have knowledge and experience of making final plans for children (‘permanency planning’) including plans for adoption (see Adoption National Minimum Standards, Standard 23.17)
  • Cannot be part of the social work team who have put the plan for adoption together.

Only if the Agency Decision Maker approves the plan, can it then be presented to the Family Court.

But the exact process that an Agency Decision Maker must follow will depend on whether the parents agree to their child being adopted or not.

Open or download this table which explains what happens where parents do not agree with a plan for adoption. And the process which should be followed where they do.

After those four steps have been followed, is a child then adopted?

No. This is still only internal approval for children’s services to proceed with a plan for adoption.

If parents do not agree with the plan for adoption, there are further legal procedures that must be followed before a child can be placed for adoption. See Placing a child for adoption for more information.

But those procedures do not apply where a child is going to be cared for by foster for adoption foster carers. Foster for adoption is a type of foster care used when adoption is being considered for a child.

Important information about foster for adoption

and it:

  • Involves babies and younger children who are looked after in the care system living with foster carers who may go on to adopt them
  • Is allowed even though adoption is not yet the formal plan for the child
  • Can happen even when the Family Court is not involved and has not agreed.

The idea is that the child is able to form a strong, early relationship with the people who may go on to be adopt them.

Children’s services and the court have to follow strict legal procedures before a child can live with a family who wants to adopt them. But the law and process is different if children’s services want to place a child in a foster for adoption placement.

So it is very important that any parent who thinks children’s services may be proposing their child is cared for in a foster for adoption placement urgently:

Our Foster for adoption: information for parents advice sheet covers:

  • What foster for adoption means, including implications for parents and the child
  • What needs to happen before a child is placed in a foster for adoption placement

What parents should do if a social worker tells them they want to place their child in a foster for adoption placement.

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