Losing a child to adoption is one of the most distressing things that can happen to you as a parent or close relative such as a grandparent, brother or sister. The distress you feel will be very painful and possibly tempered by a small sense of relief that you have made a decision that allows you to move on with your life, but most often there will be acute distress followed by a sense of long-term sadness and in a minority of cases, long-term mental ill-health.
When a parent gives consent for their child to be adopted
Even when parents consider that adoption is the right thing to do for the child and themselves, even though they know it will be a very hard thing to do, it is essential to talk through the alternatives with a trusted friend or relative and also to seek professional advice from CoramBAAF.
Deciding to give a child up to be adopted is likely to have a life-long impact, even if you haven’t spent much time at all with your child. Later on questions such as what you say to your partner or later children may come up. Many birth parents feel sad every year on the child’s birthday, but find it hard to explain their sadness to those around them. And most wonder whether their child will ‘look them up’ at some stage after they reach the age of 18, or even before.
If you are sure you want to go ahead with the adoption, you should contact a voluntary or local authority adoption agency, or discuss with a social worker if you are already receiving assistance. If you are the mother and you are not living with the child’s father, you must be clear that he is also in agreement or that there are very strong reasons which will be scrutinised by the court why he should not be informed.
The social worker will want to be sure that this is the appropriate step to take and may arrange for your child to be looked after temporarily in a foster family to allow you to think through your decision once you are no longer living with your child. You retain full parental responsibility whilst your child is voluntarily accommodated, including the right to resume care of your child, although the local authority may decide to apply for a care order if it thinks that your child may suffer harm if he/she returns to your care.
The social worker will make an application for an adoption placement order (by consent) and a social worker attached to the Court (a Cafcass Family Court Adviser) will interview you to check that your consent is freely given, and witness the consent. This cannot be done before the baby is 6 weeks old. The baby may be placed with prospective adopters (approved as foster parents to allow this to happen) even before a placement order is made.
It is often a good idea for a parent or close relative to continue to see the baby as discussions will be taking place about the role the parent/s and relatives may play in the child’s life after adoption.
Children adopted without their parents’ consent
International and UK law make it clear that placing a child for adoption without the agreement of each parent can only be done if the child’s welfare requires the child to be adopted and the parents’ consent to be dispensed with (Adoption and Children Act 2002 section 52, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Human Rights Convention ‘right to family life’).
Adoption against the wishes of a parent who has parental responsibility is a last and not a first resort, even when it is clear that a child cannot live permanently with his/her parent/s. Recent English court of appeal judgements have restated the principle that ‘requires’ means that no lesser legal alternative than the total legal severance of a child from his/her family of origin by the making of an adoption order will safeguard and promote the child’s welfare throughout his/her childhood.
Before making an adoption placement order by dispensing with consent of the parent/s, the court will need to be satisfied that
- the child has suffered or is likely to suffer significant harm and that the harm or likely harm is attributable to parental fault (this does not necessarily mean abusing or neglecting the child, and includes taking actions or not taking actions that can be shown to have resulted in or be likely to result in significant harm)
- that the local authority has made reasonable efforts to help the parent/s to meet the child’s needs to a good enough standard, including any special needs resulting from a disability of parent or child
- that there is no relative or close friend who (with appropriate assistance) is able and willing to provide a good quality permanent home for the child without the need for an adoption order
- that the child’s need for a permanent home cannot be appropriately met by placement in care in a long term foster home.
With young children, an adoption placement order and a judgement about whether parental consent can be dispensed with, will often be made at the same time as a care order, but with children past infancy the court is likely to make a care order first, especially if there is some possibility that a plan other than adoption may be appropriate. The local authority will then continue to work with family members and professionals involved with the family to decide which route to a permanent placement is most likely to meet the child’s needs.
Care orders and placement orders
When a care order or a placement order has been made the parent/s retain parental responsibility. With a care order, they can only exercise those aspects of their parental responsibility that are agreed by the local authority (likely to be a broader role with older children than with infants, but see section on contact).
Once an adoption placement order has been made, the parent loses the right to ask for the child to be returned to them. However they do not stop being the child’s parents until the adoption order is made. They must be notified of the adoption hearing unless they specifically ask not to be, and may be heard at the adoption hearing (usually separately from the adopters) but may not oppose the adoption, unless permission for them to do so is granted by a court because there has been a substantial change in their circumstances.
Once a placement order has been made and sometimes before in the case of infants if the local authority considers the court is likely to make an order because the above criteria are satisfied, the child can be matched and placed with approved adopters, who will have been approved also as foster parents for this initial stage.
While the child is in care (usually referred to as 'looked after') or in care on a placement order, the care plan and the child’s progress in their current placement will be reviewed on a six monthly basis and more frequently if necessary. During this period the child is most likely to be living with a foster carer, but exceptionally this may be a relative with a plan for adoption by that relative. The parent must be consulted by the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) and even when a placement order has been made the parent can ask to be kept informed about the child’s progress.
Please note that this is background information and cannot replace the legal advice that should be sought by any parent who is considering placing a child for adoption, or whose child is taken into care with a possible plan for adoption.