AMENDMENTThis chapter was reviewed and updated in November 2015 to clarify the Panel Advisors role and position, that the Panel deals only with Adoption matters and to emphasise the nature of the confidential material sent to Panel members.
1. Adoption Panel Purpose and Function
1.1 Adoption Function
The Adoption Panel contributes to the running and quality assurance of the local authority's Adoption Service and receives annual reports on the service and its performance. Knowsley Adoption Panel is constituted in a manner that allows it to deal with approving adopters and matching children with adoptive families.
In doing so it has an overriding responsibility to promote good practice, consistency of approach and fairness in all aspects of the Adoption Service, in accordance with its procedures and values.
As part of this function, the Panel makes recommendations as to the following:
- The suitability of prospective adoptive applicants to adopt;
- Whether a child should be placed for adoption;
- Whether a child should be placed for adoption with particular prospective adopters;
- Concurrent planning arrangements concerned with temporary change of status of adopters to foster carers;
- Permanence through foster care;
- Special Guardianship.
The recommendations must be unconditional and cannot be 'in principle'.
The recommendations of Adoption Panel are sent to the Agency Decision Maker for their endorsement.
The adoption agency must decide whether the prospective adopter is suitable to adopt a child within four months of the date on which the agency received the prospective adopter's notification that they wished to proceed with the assessment process.
Adoption Panels make a recommendation on whether a child is suitable to be placed for adoption within two months of the Looked After Review where adoption was identified as the child's identified Permanence Plan.
Adoption Panels make a recommendation on the proposed placement of a child with particular prospective adopters within six months of the Agency Decision Maker's decision that the child is suitable to be placed for adoption.
Where the timescales are not met, the Adoption Panel should record the reasons.
The Adoption Panel may also advise on the following issues:
- Where prospective adoptive parents are recommended as suitable to adopt, the number of children the adoptive parents may be suitable to adopt, as well as their age range, sex, likely needs and background; in relation to inter country adopters the advice may also relate to the named country of origin of the child;
- Where it is recommended that a child should be placed for adoption, what the contact arrangements for the child should be and whether a Placement Order should be applied for;
- Where it is recommended that a child should be placed with particular prospective adopters, the proposed adoption support, future contact arrangements and whether/how the exercise of Parental Responsibility by birth parents and/or prospective adopters should be restricted;
- Whether a child should be considered for permanency through concurrent planning, Child Arrangements Order or Special Guardianship.
The Adoption Panel monitors the progress of individual children for whom adoption is the plan up to the making of an Adoption Order, through progress reports as required under chapter on Placement For Adoption Procedure, and receives Disruption Reports in relation to any breakdowns in adoptive placements (see chapter on Disruption of Agency Adoptive Placement Procedure).
The Adoption Panel should also provide feedback to the adoption agency every six months of the quality of reports and whether there is a fair and consistent approach across the service.
2. Adoption Panel Membership
There is no fixed Panel membership or maximum number of members or maximum tenure of office.
A Central List needs to be maintained containing a list of persons considered to be suitable to be members of an Adoption Panel.
When setting up an Adoption Panel, members will be drawn from this Central List. The same people do not have to be appointed to every Panel meeting.
The Central List should include (in addition to the Independent Chair):
- Adoption social workers with at least 3 years' relevant post qualifying experience in child care social work, including direct experience in adoption work (not necessarily employed by the agency);
- The Medical Adviser/s;
- Other persons whom the agency considers suitable including specialists in education; race and culture; child and adolescent mental health services; and those with personal experience of adoption.
The Chair must be independent of the adoption agency, and is appointed by the Designated Manager (Adoption Panel Appointments).
The Panel must also have one, and can have two Vice Chairs (who are not necessarily independent members), who are also appointed by the Designated Manager (Adoption Panel Appointments).
The agency should decide how many people should sit at each Adoption Panel meeting, provided that there is a quorum of five, one of whom must be the Chair or Vice Chair, one of the adoption social worker representatives and at least one independent member.
2.1 Appointments to the Central List
The Chair must be an independent member, and is appointed by the Agency Decision Maker (Adoption Panel Appointments).
The Panel must also have a Vice Chair (not necessarily an independent member), who is also appointed by the Agency Decision Maker.
The Panel Chair should have knowledge and experience of the area of adoption, be familiar with the regulatory framework of the Adoption Service and be able to analyse the discussion and summarise the views expressed.
He or she should command respect from Panel members and be able to manage the meeting with firmness, tact and wisdom, by eliciting the views of Panel members fairly and ensuring all views are heard in a way which values each member's opinion.
The Panel Chair must always manage any Panel member who acts in a manner which is oppressive or discriminatory to other Panel members or those attending Panel.
Those on the Central List are appointed by the Panel Advisor and will able to continue their membership as long as they are able to carry out their duties.
All those on the Central List should have undergone a recruitment process that includes interviews, identity checks, verification of qualifications and right to work in the UK, references and DBS checks, which are recorded.
New appointees will be asked to give signed agreement to checks being undertaken as above and cannot take up their appointment until the outcome of the checks are known. They are excluded from Panel membership if they have any offences against children or of violence, and any offences of a serious nature. They are required to notify the Panel Adviser immediately if they receive such a conviction or caution while on the Central List.
Panel members will have the opportunity to observe an Adoption Panel meeting before they sit as a member and to attend an annual joint training day with adoption agency staff; have induction training completed within 10 weeks of inclusion on the list and access to appropriate training and skills development and are kept abreast of changes to legislation, regulation and guidance.
They should also have access to the agency's whistle-blowing policy.
Written information about the expectations arising from their appointment should be given to new appointees to the Central List (in relation to their performance objectives, participation in induction and other training, safeguarding the confidentiality of information provided to the Panel and their general conduct - see Section 2.2, Confidentiality and Section 2.3, General Conduct) and they should be asked to sign a written agreement confirming their acceptance of these before taking up their appointment.
All written and verbal information given to Panel members in the course of their duties is strictly confidential. As indicated above those included on the Central List are required to sign a Confidentiality Statement for Adoption Panel members, before taking up their appointment, to confirm that all information they receive will remain confidential.
Panel members receive all their information before Panel on secure password protected e-readers. All information is then deleted after Panel. Panel minutes are sent to Panel members by encrypted secure email.
All those on the Central List must not copy, in part or in whole, any documents that relate to a case.
If a person on the Central List has some knowledge of a case, whether in a personal or professional capacity, they should declare an interest and inform the Chair of the Panel. This should be done at the earliest opportunity, so that an alternative member can be invited if required to ensure the Panel is quorate (see Section 2.4, Conflicts of Interest below).
Failure to comply with the above paragraphs may result in the member's inclusion on the Central List being withdrawn.
All those on the Central List should be committed to anti-discriminatory practice and should be prepared to consider each case on its own merits.
Panel members should have read the Panel papers carefully, prior to the Panel meeting, and come prepared to contribute to the Panel discussion.
The Panel Adviser will review the performance of those on the Central List on a regular basis.
The Panel Adviser, in consultation with the Chair, will review their performance on a more formal basis at least annually (and this will be recorded on the Annual Appraisal form for those on the Central List).
If there are concerns about the conduct or behaviour of a person on the Central List, this should be conveyed to the Chair who will raise these concerns with the them in private.
If concerns about a the person's conduct or behaviour cannot be resolved informally, the Chair, in consultation with the Panel Adviser, will write to the person concerned setting out the concerns and what action it is proposed to take. See Section 2.6, Termination of Appointment to the Central List below for action that may be taken if the concerns continue.
The Chair's performance will be reviewed annually by the Agency Decision Maker, taking into account the views of those on the Central List and those who attend Panel meetings, for example social workers and prospective adopters. This will be recorded on the Annual Appraisal Form for the Panel Chair.
Panel members should consider any conflicts of interest in relation to Panel agenda items. A potential conflict arises if an interest may be seen to adversely affect a Panel member's capacity to act without prejudice or preference in a matter.
It is anticipated that in many circumstances there may be professional knowledge of a case which should be notified to the Chair but which will not affect a member's capacity to participate in the Panel. In other circumstances there may be a personal interest or connection which would require the Panel member to refrain from participation. It may be less clear in some cases when advice should be sought.
In the case of a potential conflict of interest where advice is required, Panel members should consult the Chair, Panel Adviser or Legal Adviser, giving as much advance notice as possible particularly having regard to the implications for the quorum.
2.5 Resignations from the Central List
Those on the Central List are expected to give a minimum of one month's written notice of their wish to resign, except where personal emergencies e.g. accidents, illness, make this impossible. Resignation letters should be addressed to the Panel Advisor, with a copy to the Chair of the Panel.
Initial verbal resignations may be given, but only at the close of Panel business and should always be followed by a written resignation. Those on the Central List are asked, as a matter of courtesy, to inform the Chair of the Panel of their intention to resign, before making any public announcement.
Panel members wishing to withdraw a submitted written resignation must do so before the one month notice period expires by writing to the Panel Advisor, who reserves the right not to accept a withdrawal of notice and to allow the original letter of resignation to stand.
Where it is considered that someone is unsuitable to be on the Central List, they must be given one month's notice in writing and reasons for the decision to end their appointment.
Where there are concerns about a person on the Central List behaviour either inside or outside the meetings, and the difficulties have not been resolved by discussion and correspondence between the Chair, Panel Adviser and the member concerned, the Panel Adviser, will decide whether to propose the end of the appointment and if so, will advise the Panel member in writing giving clear reasons for the proposal.
The person on the Central List will be given the opportunity to make observations on the matter before a final decision is made by Designated Manager (Adoption Panel Appointments).
3. Adoption Panel Meetings
The Adoption Panel usually meets on the first Monday afternoon of each month. The Panel Adviser (with the chair's authority) will ask the Panel Administrator to arrange additional special meetings at short notice as necessary, with the Chair's authority, where for example there is a need to consider an urgent placement.
The Panel Administrator will prepare and circulate an annual list of Adoption Panel dates and deadlines in advance of the designated start of the Panel's year.
The Panel Adviser, who must be a senior practitioner or manager in the Adoption Service with at least 5 years' relevant post-qualification experience; attends all Panel meetings to advise the Panel but is not a member of the Panel. His or her role is to ensure all the necessary reports are available for the Panel, to advise Panel on social work and procedural matters and to report to social workers and their managers on issues arising from Panel meetings.
Where the Panel is considering a matter relating to an inter country adoption, the Panel Adviser must arrange to provide specialist advice and any relevant information required.
The Panel Adviser's role is also to assist with appointments to the Central List, to arrange induction and other training for members, monitor and review their performance and monitor and review the administration of the Panel.
The Panel Adviser will also prepare monthly statistical reports for the Children's Service Manager on children approved/placed for adoption and approved adopters waiting for placements/with children placed for adoption prior to the Adoption Order.
The Panel Administrator, in consultation with the Panel Adviser, will prepare the agenda for each meeting. The agenda and Panel papers should be sent to members at least one week before the meeting. The Agency Decision Maker will receive a copy of the Panel papers at the same time as they are circulated to Panel members.
Those on the Central List are required to inform the Panel Administrator as early as possible if they are unable to attend a Panel meeting and the Panel Administrator will ensure that the Panel meeting will be quorate.
The Panel's legal adviser attends all Panel meetings, but is not a member of the Central List.
The agenda will include at the beginning an opportunity for any Panel member to declare an interest in any item on the agenda (see Section 2.4, Conflicts of Interest above). If an interest is declared, the Chair must then decide whether the Panel member should withdraw during consideration of the item.
In the event of a disagreement between those on the Central List, the Chair will consider whether further information is required or whether the Panel should go ahead and make a recommendation on the basis of the majority view. In this event, any dissenting view should be fully recorded in the minutes. In coming to a positive recommendation by a majority of panel members, there must be a majority of two or more members in favour in order for that recommendation to be put forward to the Agency Decision Maker.
Social workers presenting reports to the Panel must send their report and any supporting documentation required (as specified in the relevant procedures elsewhere in the Manual; see Placement for Adoption Procedure and Assessment and Approval of Prospective Adopters Procedure) to the Panel Administrator at least 10 working days before the date of the Panel meeting.At the end of each Panel meeting, the Panel Administrator will collect all members' papers. Those on the Central list unable to attend a meeting will be asked to return his or her papers to the Panel administrator.
4. Adoption Panel Minutes
The Panel minutes will always record the information in relation to the following:
- The reports received. (The Panel's requirements as to reports are specified in the relevant procedures elsewhere in the Manual; see chapter on Placement for Adoption and chapter on Assessment and Approval of Prospective Adopters Procedure);
- Who attended and for which part of the discussion;
- Medical advice;
- Legal advice;
- The Panel's discussions (main points) and conclusions;
- The Panel's recommendations and reasons, including any reservations expressed by any member;
- Any advice given by the Panel.
The Panel minutes will be written in accordance with the format agreed from time to time and kept on every child's or prospective adopter's Adoption Case Record.
The Agency Decision Maker will receive a copy of the Panel papers at the same time as they are circulated to Panel members. The Panel minutes will be approved by the Chair and sent to the Agency Decision Maker so that the Agency Decision Maker can meet the timescales for making the decision as set out in the relevant procedures.
5. Reports to Adoption Panel
Reports to the Adoption Panel in relation to matters upon which the Panel are asked to make recommendations must be prepared by qualified social workers with at least 3 years' post-qualification experience. This must include direct experience of adoption work either in assessing prospective adoptive parents or implementing an adoption plan for a Looked After child. Where the author of the report does not have the requisite qualifications and experience, he or she must have either a qualification in social work or be a social worker in training, and must be supervised by a qualified social worker with 3 years' relevant experience.
Where the person preparing the report is an independent social worker, they must always be suitably qualified and experienced and be supervised by a member of staff with the suitable qualifications and experience.
The same qualifications and experience are required for social workers undertaking visits of children placed for adoption - see chapter on Monitoring and Supervision of Adoptive Placements - and authors of Court Reports in Adoption cases - see chapter on Court Reports in Adoption/Special Guardianship Guidance.