The Adoption and Children Act 2002 brought about some key changes in the placement of children for adoption. Placement for adoption of a child over 6 weeks old can now only take place if the Parental Consent or if the Local Authority obtains a Placement Order. ACA S 22; AAR
2. What is a Placement Order?
A Placement Order is a court order authorising the local authority to place a child for adoption with any prospective adopters it chooses.
It continues until it is revoked, the child is adopted or reaches the age of 18 years.
3. Effects of a Placement Order
- A Placement Order suspends an existing Care Order, Section 8 Order, Section 34 Order or Supervision Order.
- The Placement Order authorises a Local Authority to place a child for adoption with any prospective adopters it chooses.
- When a Placement Order is made Parental Responsibility is granted to the Adoption Agency and it has the authority to restrict the parental responsibility of the child’s parent or guardian.
- Once a child is placed for adoption under a Placement Order, Parental Responsibility is also automatically given to the prospective adopters. The local authority, guardians and birth parents still share parental responsibility with the prospective adopters but the local authority can decide whether to restrict the degree to which the prospective adopters can exercise their parental responsibility.
- Only the adoption agency may remove a child who is placed for adoption under a Placement Order.
Applications for a Residence Order or Special Guardianship Order, which seek to reverse the placement decision, are not appropriate while the Placement Order is in force.
A Placement Order can be revoked on application of ‘any person’, however no one other than the Local Authority or the child may apply, unless with the leave of the court and the child has not been placed for adoption.
The expectation is that if a child is not placed within 9 months of a Placement Order being made the Local Authority will consider revocation.
4. When to Seek a Placement Order
Social workers must seek a Placement Order when:
- The child’s permanence decision is adoption and
- The threshold criteria in S31(2) of the 1989 Children Act are met and
- The parents have refused consent for adoption or have withdrawn their consent
Social workers should seek a Placement Order when:
- The child is Looked After and the local authority intends to apply for a S31 1989 CA care order or has already done so and the permanence plan for the child is adoption. The application for a Placement Order can be made within the Care Proceedings.
- The Permanence Plan for the child is adoption, the parents have given consent but there is no care order and there is a possibility the parents may reconsider their consent before an adoption application has been made.
- The child has been presented at the Adoption and Permanency Panel and has a permanence decision for adoption and the Panel has advised the local authority to seek a Placement Order
- The child is Looked After under S 20 of the Children Act 1989, the parents have given consent to adoption and then withdrawn it.
- The permanence plan for the child is adoption and there is no living parent or guardian to give consent.
Social workers should not seek a Placement Order if reunification with the child’s parents is still part of the Care Plan.
5. How to Prepare for a Placement Order Application
Social workers should:
- Consult with the Independent Reviewing Officer and ensure the Looked After Review has confirmed the Permanence Plan
- Discuss their intentions with the legal department through a planning meeting
- Start to prepare the Child’s Permanence Report and health report for the Adoption and Permanency Panel - see Placement for Adoption Procedure. Social workers can obtain advice on the report from the Tri-Borough Fostering and Adoption Service.
- Gather information for the Placement Order report for the court.
Family finding, including by referrals made to the Adoption Register, and preparation for matching may proceed before a Placement Order has been granted.
- The child may not move to the adoptive placement until a Placement Order has been obtained or the parents have signed consent.
6. The Adoption and Permanence Panel
- Social workers should prepare the Child’s Permanence Report within six weeks of the decision to make adoption the prime Permanence Plan for a child
- The child’s social worker should book a Panel date with the Panel Administrator on extension 4537
- Social workers should send the Child’s Permanence Report to the Adoption and Permanency Panel Administrator in electronic and hard copy by the Panel deadline.
- Deadlines for submission of reports are published a year in advance and are available from the Panel administrator by email or telephoning ext. 4537
7. Writing the Child’s Permanence Report
- The report format is available on the intranet under forms/ families and children/BAAF forms/child’s permanency report
- The author of the report should also be a qualified Social Worker with at least three years post qualification experience or supervised by a worker with three years post qualifying experience.
- The report contains specific information about the child, the birth family, health information and future health care needs.
- The child should make a direct contribution to the report where they are old enough including their views about their permanency plan. Where a child does not wish to make their own contribution the social worker should use the child’s own words to express their view about adoption whenever possible. Younger children’s views should be conveyed to the Panel by observation and information gathered from their careers. The wishes of the child should also be recorded.
8. Placement with Consent
Adoption cannot take place without the consent of the parent or guardian or the Court exercising its power to dispense with that consent. Social workers should always try to gain consent from the parents where possible.
Having formal consent to adoption does not preclude the Court from making a Placement Order.
When considering an application for a Placement Order, the Court will need to be satisfied that all that is possible has been done to give the parents the opportunity to consent to the adoption. However it is always possible that parents will change their minds.
Under Section 19 of the Act each parent or Guardian must consent to the child being placed for adoption. That consent may either be a placement with specific prospective adopters or to the placement with prospective adopters chosen by the Agency. See Consent to Adoption Procedure.
Consent to placement must be given by signing a prescribed form, which must be witnessed by a CAFCASS Officer. That Officer must be satisfied that consent is given unconditionally with the full understanding of the consequences.
The child’s social worker must notify the CAFCASS office that is closest to the parent’s address.
If consent of the parent or Guardian is not forthcoming, placement for adoption can now only take place with the consent of the Court following the making of a Placement Order.
Placement Orders are similar to Care Orders under the Children Act 1989. The Local Authority has been entrusted with the care of the child by the Court. It is for the Authority to take responsibility for the child and decide where placement is in the best interests and to manage the placement on a daily basis.
9. Applying to the Court
Applications for Placement Orders will usually be made during the course of Care Proceedings where the parent is contesting the threshold or does not agree to the Care Plan for adoption.
Requirements by the Court for the making of a Placement Order
A Placement Order cannot be made unless the child is:
- Subject to a Care Order or
- The Court is satisfied that the same conditions are met as applying for a Care Order under Section 31 of the Child Act; or
- The child has no parent or Guardian.
The child’s welfare will be of paramount consideration and the Court will be obliged by Section 1 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 to apply the Welfare Checklist. NB the welfare checklist in the 2002 Act is different from the welfare checklist in the 1989 Children Act. See Appendix 1 (to follow).
The Court is also obliged to consider the full range of alternatives available to it and they only make the Order if, in the case of each parent or Guardian, it is satisfied that:
- They consent to the child being placed for adoption;
- Their consent should be dispensed with;
- The Court can dispense with consent if “the welfare of the child requires consent to be dispensed with” or the parent cannot be found or is incapable of giving consent.
The Court must also consider that making a Placement Order is better for the child than not doing so.
Parties to the Application
- The Local Authority will be the applicant.
- The respondents will be each parent who has parental responsibility for the child or a guardian of the child. This will include any person in whose favour a Residence Order under the Children Act 1989 is in force in relation to the child.
- The child will also be a party, normally acting through the solicitor for the child in the Section 31 care proceedings and the Children’s Guardian.
- Any other person who was a party to the Section 31 care proceedings should also be a party to a Placement Order application.
- Fathers without Parental Responsibility are not automatically made a party to an application. Reasonably practical steps must be taken to trace the father to ascertain his views and give notice of the Placement Order proceedings. It may be necessary to seek legal advice regarding a father without parental responsibility.
- The Court may, of its own volition, make any other person a party to the proceedings it considers appropriate.
Documents to be Provided
- Application (to be completed by the Legal Dept.);
- Statement of Facts setting out the summary of the history of the case and other facts to satisfy the Court that the parent or guardian cannot be found or is incapable of giving consent or alternatively, the welfare of the child requires the consent to be dispensed with (to be drafted by the Legal Dept.);
- The child/children’s birth certificate(s).
Once an application has been issued, the child cannot be removed from the placement without leave of the Court.
Writing the Placement Order Court Report
- The Local Authority will be requested to file a report on the placement of a child for adoption by the Court and that timetable must be adhered to.
- The format of the report is set out in Appendix 2 (to follow)below.
- The child’s social worker will prepare the report and send it to the legal department.
- A copy should be sent to the family finding worker for the child’s family finding file.
- The Court may request further reports.
- Any reports filed under the Rule will be confidential.
The Court Hearing
- Following the issue of the application, the Court will convene a Directions Hearing, which will timetable the proceedings including the date for the Final Hearing. (It is anticipated that following the transitional period, the application for a Placement Order in the majority of the cases will be made at the same time as the Final Hearing of the care application.)
- The proceedings provide an opportunity for the parents and other family members to challenge the plan for adoption
- The Court needs to be satisfied it is better for the child’s welfare to make a Placement Order than not to do so.
- If the local authority has applied for both a Care Order and a Placement Order the Court will first consider whether it can make a Care Order and then whether to make a Placement Order.
- The Court may make a Care Order instead of a Placement Order if both are applied for.
- The Court may make both orders so that the child is still protected if the Placement Order is revoked.
The process allows the Court the opportunity to consider questions of contact.
- Contact to the child should be considered at each stage of the adoption process including when the Adoption and Permanency Panel is advising whether a Placement Order should be sought.
- Upon the making of a Placement Order, the Court will consider contact including wishes and feelings of parents and where appropriate, the father. The Court must consider the Welfare Checklist and the paramountcy of the child’s welfare throughout its life.
- The child’s Placement Plan must set out the contact arrangements.
- If a Placement Order is made, the Local Authority is no longer required to promote and maintain contact to a Looked After Child and all Section 8 Contact Orders are discharged
- The Court will invite the parties to comment on the contact arrangements.
- Any Contact Orders made by the Court will be pursuant to Section 26 of the Adoption of Children Act 2002 but such Contact Orders will be discharged upon the making of an Adoption Order.
Relatives have the right to seek a Section 26 Contact Order for the period between the making of a Placement Order and an Adoption Order.
Any Contact Order made at the time of an Adoption Order will again be made under Section 8 of the Children Act 1989.
10. Revocation of a Placement Order
- Placement Orders can be revoked.
- The child or the local authority can apply for the Placement Order to be revoked.
- Others need leave from the court and may apply only if the child has not already been placed.
- If there is also a Care Order it is reactivated if the Placement Order is revoked.
- If the court revokes the Placement Order and decides the child should not remain with the adopters they must return the child to the local authority within a time determined by the court.
- If the court has determined a child should be returned to their parents then the local authority must return the child within the timescale set by the Court.
- In case of no adoption placement taking place following a Placement Order or the adoptive placement breaks down, either the Local Authority or any party can apply for the Placement Order to be revoked.
- A review of the child’s case should take place. Any Care Order suspended by the Placement Order will be revived.
11. After Placement – Parental Responsibility
When considering the proposed placement of a child with particular prospective adopters, the Adoption and Permanency Panel may advise on the extent to which prospective adopters may exercise Parental Responsibility.
Social workers should have a view on the following areas of parental responsibility and the degree to which the local authority should exercise full control and the measure of parental responsibility which can appropriately be delegated to prospective adopters in any individual case:
- Health, for example consent to medical treatment or involvement in counselling
- Education and day care for example choice of school
- Religion e.g. Baptism or initiation of child in any particular faith
- Holidays and social e.g. plans to go away from the family home for more than a weekend
- Contact e.g. contact with previous foster carers.