Step 5: Next Steps
1) Adoption Panel
The next step in the adoption process is the meeting of the Adoption Panel.
The Adoption Panel is responsible for discussing the situation and making recommendations to an adoption agency.
If you are currently responsible for the child being considered for adoption, your social worker will be your representative to the Panel and will present your wishes for your child’s future in matters such as religion and whether you would like to maintain contact in some form. Children’s Services will also present a report to be read by the Panel containing the information it has collected on your situation.
After the Panel has met it will make recommendations to the adoption agency as to the best next steps. A key figure at the agency, the so-called Agency Decision Maker, or ADM, will make the final decision about whether or not the agency believes adoption is in your child’s best interests. You will be told about this decision either in person or over the telephone and then sent written confirmation.
If the agency decides that adoption offers your child the best future, the next step depends on whether or not the agency needs to apply for a placement order. This is required in certain specific situations to permit the agency to look for suitable adoptive parents.
If no placement order is required then the agency may immediately begin looking for adoptive parents for the child.
2) Placement Order
A placement order must be obtained in certain situations in order to enable an adoption agency to try to find adoptive parents. A placement order ends any existing contact arrangements for the child.
There are two tests which must be met for the Court to grant a placement order (s21 ACA 2002).
the child must be in care;
the child must have no parent or guardian; or
the ‘threshold criteria’ must be met. These criteria are found in s31 of the Children’s Act
1989 and are that the child must be suffering (or likely to suffer) significant harm either because he is beyond parental control or because the parental care given (or likely to be given) to the child is not what would be reasonably expected from a parent.
the birth parents must have given their consent; or
the Court must decide that such consent can be dispensed of. As already explained, there are only three situations in which the Court may dispense of parental consent:
1. where the parents cannot be found;
2. where the parents are incapable of giving consent; or
3. where adoption is required for the welfare of the child.
The first two scenarios in the first test are factual and therefore easily established. If the Court wants to rely on the third, however, it must make this decision based on objective evidence. This evidence is usually provided by the local authority and will include statements from professionals such as teachers or doctors of the events which have led up to the child being put forward for adoption. Recent cases have shown that the risk to the child must be severe and that the local authority must be very precise as to the type of harm suffered (or likely to be suffered) and why it is significant. General accusations will not be accepted by the Court.
In addition to clearly stating what the risk is, the Court must be satisfied that this harm has been caused by the parent(s) not providing reasonable care. The Court must therefore be able to specify what sort of care would be expected and how the care provided falls short of this standard.
It should also be noted that the responsibility lies on the local authority to persuade the Court that the care given to the child is sub-standard: the assumption is that care is suitable unless it can be proven otherwise (1).
The second test means that even if your child is in care, the Court cannot permit adoption unless you consent or it decides that adoption is in your child’s best interests.
Even if both of these tests are passed, the Court is not required to permit adoption: it may decide that there is another order it could make which would be of greater benefit to your child than a placement order.
When making its decision the Court is also under a duty to prioritise the so-called ‘welfare principle’ and ‘welfare checklist’ (found under s1(3) Children’s Act 1989). The ‘welfare principle’ requires the Court to prioritise the child’s best interests, whilst the ‘welfare checklist’ sets out in more detail the matters to be considered when deciding what would be in the best interest of the child. Matters such as the child’s age and personal preferences, as well as the effect on existing family relationships must be taken into account, not least because granting a placement order will end any existing contact arrangements.
It is important to remember that the main decision about whether or not to place your child for adoption is taken when determining whether or not to grant the placement order. Changing the Court’s mind after this point is difficult.
(1) IMA (Care Proceedings: No Threshold)  EWFC B110 (13 August 2014), para 134