Placement and Adoption Orders

With thanks to Mike McCabe for his assistance with this post. 

 

How do children get adopted?

The first thing to remember is that care proceedings are NOT adoption proceedings.

The relevance of the 26 week timetable and placement orders

The first and very important point to make is that care proceedings are not adoption proceedings.  Before a child can be adopted, The LA has to obtain a placement order. This is often applied for at the same time as a final care order.

However note section 22 of the ACA – a LA can apply for a placement order if a child is simply accommodated by them under section 20 of the Children Act 1989. This can cause problems as it is likely parents had much less access to legal help and advice if their children went into LA accommodation via section 20 and NOT via care proceedings – where the proceedings are in a court and legal help and representation is automatic.

A Placement Order is made by a court under section 21 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002. It allows a LA to find an adoptive home for a child. If the parents don’t agree with this, the court can decide to go ahead without their consent, if the court decides this is the right thing to do for the child.

The court cannot make a placement order unless:

  • the child is subject to a care order OR
  • the court is satisfied that the conditions in section 31(2) of the Children Act 1989 are met (for example a child in a ‘foster to adopt’ placement if there are no care proceedings); OR
  • the child has no parent or guardian

The conditions set out in section 31(2) are those required to exist before a court can make a care or supervision order:

  • that the child concerned is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm; and
  • that the harm, or likelihood of harm, is attributable to—
    • the care given to the child, or likely to be given to him if the order were not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give to him; or
    • the child’s being beyond parental control.

This is a high threshold – for obvious reasons. Taking children away from their families is recognised as the most serious interference with people’s family and private lives; it has life long consequences for all concerned.

Section 22 of the ACA sets out that a local authority must apply to the court for a placement order in respect of a child if:

  • the child is placed for adoption by them or is being provided with accommodation by them,
  • no adoption agency is authorised to place the child for adoption,
  • the child has no parent or guardian or the authority consider that the conditions in section 31(2) of the 1989 Act are met, and
  • the authority are satisfied that the child ought to be placed for adoption.

Speeding up care proceedings

The government became so concerned by how long care proceedings were taking that section 14 of the Children and Families Act 2014 now provides that care proceedings must finish as soon as possible or in any event, take no longer than 26 weeks to conclude.

Care Proceedings may go beyond 26 weeks when this is necessary to resolve the proceedings justly. The Children And Families Act further provides at section 14(5).

A court in which an application under this Part is proceeding may extend the period that is for the time being allowed under subsection (1)(a)(ii) in the case of the application, but may do so only if the court considers that the extension is necessary to enable the court to resolve the proceedings justly.

Adoption can take place either with parents’ consent or by order of the court.

If parents give consent, both must do so, and the consent can be withdrawn at any time until the Adoption Order is made. A mother cannot give her consent until her child is at least six weeks old.

Assuming that the parents do NOT consent to adoption, the most likely route by which a child becomes adopted is:

  • a final care order, endorsing a plan for adoption; then
  • a placement order which authorises the LA to place a child for adoption (often made at the same time as the final care order); then
  • an adoption order which gives the child the legal status as child of his adoptive parents.

Some parents express anxiety that a social worker could simply come and take their children away to be adopted but the reality is that it is the court that makes the adoption order and this will be the final order in what is usually a fairly long set of proceedings.

After the final care and placement orders are made, the LA will look for possible adoptive parents for the child – this may take many months as there are more children waiting to be adopted than there are adoptive parents.

If a placement order is made and the LA can’t find an adoptive family for the child, it should consider applying to revoke the placement order – we discuss revoking the placement order below. However, this does not necessarily mean that the child will return to his birth family; the LA may instead look for a long term foster placement.

 

Dispensing with the parents’ consent to placement or adoption orders

Section 52 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002:

(1)The court cannot dispense with the consent of any parent or guardian of a child to the child being placed for adoption or to the making of an adoption order in respect of the child unless the court is satisfied that—

(a)the parent or guardian cannot be found or is incapable of giving consent, or

(b)the welfare of the child requires the consent to be dispensed with

Adoption will sever all legal ties between the parent and child. An adoption order can only be reversed in very rare circumstances. However, we have moved on some way from the climate of previous years when children might not even be told they had been adopted; now much more openness is expected and children and birth parents can keep a link with one another even after the adoption order is made. Most commonly this is by letters and photos a couple of times a year.

Some adoptions are ‘open’ and direct contact can continue after the order, but this is rare. We agree more research about supporting direct contact post adoption would be beneficial.

 

Adoption orders

Who can apply to adopt a child?

Applicants must live in the United Kingdom, Channel Islands or the Isle of Man. They must be 21 years old (if the child’s father or mother, they can be 18 years old, but the other adoptive parent must be 21), and the child must have lived with them for at least 10 weeks before the application is made.

 

What happens after an Adoption Order is granted?

The adoption is permanent. An adoption certificate is issued for the child with his/her new name. This replaces his/her birth certificate. The child receives the same rights s/he would as if the birth child of the adoptive parents (e.g. – rights to inheritance). All those who previously had parental responsibilities for the child lose them.

 

I don’t agree my child should be adopted – what can I do?

A parent has the following options. it will depend at what stage of the proceedings you have reached and what orders have already been made.

  • Final care order made but no placement order. If a placement order hasn’t been made yet, you may be able to appeal against the care order or apply to discharge it. We discuss this in another post – I want to appeal or discharge the care order.
  • Final care order and placement order made – Parents can apply for leave to revoke a placement order under section 24 of the ACA 2002, IF:
    • their child hasn’t yet been placed for adoption; and
    • they can show a ‘change of circumstances’ since the placement order was made.
    • The form to make an application to revoke a placement order is here. 
  • Potential adoptive parents have applied for an adoption order – Parents can apply for permission to contest the making of an adoption order under section 47(7) of the ACA 2002 but only if they can show a ‘change of circumstances’
  • An adoption order has been made – it is possible for the court to revoke an adoption order using its ‘inherent jurisdiction’ but this is a very exceptional and very rare step for the court to take. See the case of PK v Mr and Mrs K [2015] EWCH 2316 for consideration of the law about revoking adoption orders, and an example of where the court agreed to do it. For a helpful overview of the cases where adoption orders have been overturned, see this article by Dr Julie Doughty of the Transparency Project in 2016.

 

For further information, please see this post about appealing against adoption orders. 

 

Can I have contact with my child after an adoption order is made?

The Children and Families Act 2014 came into force on 22nd April 2014 and introduced a new section 51A of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 which will allow applications to be made for contact after an adoption order has been made. Suesspicious minds has written a detailed post explaining  this here.

You also might be interested in our discussion about contact after adoption – time for a new default position?

 

Why are adoption orders made?

The general view is that if a child can’t be safely looked after in his birth family,  finding an adoptive family  represents the best chance that child will have of achieving stability in his childhood.

The key distinction between adoption and fostering is that an adopted child will be part of a new family whereas a foster carer is a paid professional. For further discussion, see our post on the differences between adoption and fostering.

However, the older the child or the more challenging his behaviour, the less likely it is that adoption will be the right outcome for that child. An older child, with clear memories of birth families or other carers may not find it easy to become part of the adoptive family. it is clear there are serious issues around the availability of post adoption support.

Research published on April 9th 2014 by the University of Bristol offers another perspective on adoption disruption rates, concluding that they are low but emphasising the importance of post adoption support, particularly for older and more challenging children. 

30 thoughts on “Placement and Adoption Orders

  1. Hilary Searing

    Much has changed since I was in practice. However, one situation comes to mind that I am unclear about – what is the current law with regard to children who are placed in voluntary care for adoption? How does the LA obtain the legal powers to proceed with the adoption without undue concerns that the mother might change her mind? Can a Placement Order be made without a Care Order being in place?

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Yes it can – see section 21 of the ACA 2002. Thanks for this comment, I think the post needs editing to include the section in full.

      Reply
  2. Sarah Phillimore Post author

    Hilary – I hope the post is clearer now. I have edited to include fuller reference to section 21.

    Reply
  3. CS

    Thank you for a clear and informative website – a relief to find.
    As an adoptive parent, I had one query not covered above – if a birth family requests the right to appeal against an adoption order and this is rejected, why are they then allowed to appeal against this judgement? We have been told this is increasingly common but I can find no information on this – generally the information online only details the right to request to challenge an AO and appears final in most cases.
    Perhaps this is something that could be included?

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Parents must seek permission to contest the making of an adoption order. If that permission is denied, I have never known a case go further; either that is because there is no right of appeal against refusal to allow a contest or most parents will give up by then as they won’t get any help with funding. I need to check that as I am not sure off the top of my head.

      The sad reality is that I am aware of only one case since 1976 where there was a successful challenge to an application to adopt – this was a recent case where the child was moved to live with his paternal aunt. But attempts to challenge are on the rise (certainly in my local court at Bristol a Circuit Judge recently expressed his surprise at just how many applications he was dealing with) and it causes immense heartache for everyone – the birth parents get their hopes raised, the potential adoptive parents have months of uncertainty and stress.

      Reply
    2. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Ah, that was an embarrassing lapse of memory. Of course the quintessential appeal against refusal to allow a parent to contest an adoption order was Re B-S http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed117048. It’s the age old battle to find a balance between the need for finality in litigation but the need to preserve our rights to a fair hearing. Adoption is considered such a serious order that there is general reluctance to bring the guillotine down too early – but whether or not the right balance is always or mostly struck is a different matter.

      Reply
      1. CS

        From an adoptive parents perspective, the process is excruciating and I doubt birth family are finding it any easier to cope with. It feels like the current process helps no one – adopters have the favourable odds but the nightmare spectre of our case being the exception that proves the rule. Birth family has a final ray of hope that is unlikely to deliver in reality.
        We are in the unfortunate position of birth family being denied leave to contest the adoption order but given permission to appeal that decision so we continue to live with the feeling of a large boulder on our chest while we try and ensure none of the stress and strain reaches our child. The uncertainty is unbearable.
        I do wonder if adopters should have access to independent legal advice at this stage – we feel very much in the dark and helpless.

        Reply
        1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

          I have often thought that the current three stage process – care order, placement order and adoption order – is simply cruel. Once a final care order is made with a plan for adoption, even if parents can make significant changes to their lives, it usually takes years and a court is very unlikely to want to disrupt a child again after such a long period of time. I agree that giving people false hope is often very unkind.

          I am sorry to hear that you feel in the dark and helpless – are you getting any help/support from your adoption agency? Have you contacted any of the charities on our links and resources page? The mumsnet forum is also very good and has an adoption topic. There are some very knowlegeable posters there who have been through it all.

          Reply
        2. Louise

          I had the fear that this would just keep cropping up – until I read about vexatious litigation. Ask your LA legal team.

          Reply
  4. Pingback: Placement and Adoption Orders | Child Protection Resource | advice and help for people going through the family courts UK

  5. Jane Kell

    My 2 children [redacted] and [redacted]are forced adoption on a fake medical report and fake body photos of headless children and family isnt either considered by [redacted] council coaching my daughter with fostor carer to say daddy licked her bum this is untrue and shocking on false information stop this forced adoption in uk .

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Sorry, I can’t publish names of children on here. What is you lawyer doing? If the allegations against you are false, you have to challenge them in court.

      Reply
  6. Louise

    Our adoption order was set aside due to a procedural error… Almost a year after it was made and nine months after we’d had the celebration hearing. A painful and distressing time. We’re told that appeals are on the increase and are becoming the norm, rather than the exception. Social services and the LA legal team were eventually very helpful, but it was a fight to make them understand what we were going through. The birth parents had a case with regards to the order being set aside for a time – that is, until the procedural error could be rectified – and, though it pains me to admit it, I’m glad we have a legal system that provided for them. The adoption is now, thankfully, solid, and my child is flourishing, blissfully unaware of the legal machinations that have kept him in our loving care.

    Reply
  7. Pingback: When can the court agree adoption is necessary ? | L8in

  8. frank

    Court has just granted the LA with a placement order for my children I as a father have absolutely never harmed my children never even been given the chance to look after my children they were took away from there mother I complied with all LA assessments all reports on me were positive! All contact with children positive said my parenting ability was growing on a week to week basis yet the court has still granted this placement order based on the opinion that they believe I don’t have the capacity to look after 2 children how is that a reason to grant a placement order I feel totally sick and angry at the system I’m been treated like a criminal for wat the system is messed up! I feel helpless and don’t no what to do anymore I still get to see my children now till they find suitable adopters but when that happens all ties are cut isn’t that making my child abuse in its own right! Allowing me to see my children only to have them stop me from having contact when they are adopted this makes me sick I’m just so lost don’t know what to do

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Did you discuss with your lawyer if you had any grounds to appeal? The court would have to show that there was no other reasonable alternative to adoption and every effort should be made to keep children with their parents or other family members.

      Reply
      1. frank

        Yea I discussed this and he told me within law the judge has it covered and he don’t believe there is any right to appeal don’t know how I can take this any further

        Reply
  9. Sarah Phillimore Post author

    If you trust your lawyer and think he did a good job for you then you probably have to accept his advice that there are no grounds for appeal I am afraid. But if you are unhappy with how your lawyer represented you, then it may be worth getting a second opinion about whether or not there are any grounds to appeal. You could try a direct access barrister, they are listed on the Bar Council website. Have a look at the Legal advice and information section on this website, under Resources.

    But it is very difficult to appeal as usually judges are pretty careful to make sure their judgments cover all the relevant areas. I don’t want to get your hopes up.

    Reply
  10. frank

    Yea I understand I will look into that thanks I just don’t understand how it is actually legal to do what they have done I complied with all assessments was polite no one noted any concerns and they have still done this basically what happened I was with my partner for 4 years had my first child in 2012 then in 2013 had problems with my partner in march 2014 split up and had a hard time seeing my children from March till November due to my ex been impossible to talk with she got in a new relationship which was really abusive and had my children removed from her care due to domestic violence/drug use in November she voluntarily signed a s20 the LA never contacted me about any concerns they had for my children never even contacted me when they removed them I found out from a friend of my ex partners and went straight down there myself she has now split up with this abusive partner she was with has stopped drugs and still they fail to try and help her or myself they say the only option is adoption how can they do that they say that only if it is the last option should adoption be considered how is it possible for them to do it I have never hurt my children there are no concerns about me I will try my best to get a second opinion as I find this really unlawful what they have done.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      It will be lawful to do this if the judge has concluded that the children can’t wait any longer for any problems you have to get sorted out or if the judge thinks it is very unlikely you will carry on dealing well with your problems. It does seem clear from what you say that their mother has some really serious issues; abusive relationship and drug use.

      You say you ‘had problems’ with your partner in March 2014 and then had a ‘hard time seeing’ the children from March until November. Without knowing what kind of problems these were and what kind of relationship you had with the children after November, I can’t comment on how serious the situation was – but its clear to me that even on this short account, there were clearly some ‘issues’ for you.

      But the LA should have contacted you in November when she signed section 20 – do you know why they didn’t? Did she refuse to let them know your details? Or did they know them but not contact you?

      You really need to get a second opinion from someone who can access all the paperwork.

      Reply
  11. diana

    the judge made recommended, that parents had help to unite the children, they have done none of the work, only focus in telling the child she was coming home, now telling that she will have a new mummy and daddy and only 7 years old. now playing up in and out of school. We were told the courts decide and follow procedures the local LA, seem to be the the law.

    Reply
  12. Sam

    Then hopefully your lawyer should pick that up. I found it really useful to keep a diary, in fact my solicitor asked me to, with all this sort of thing noted down

    Reply
  13. Chrissy

    I was wondering if you can apply to revoke a care and placement order, if your child is living with a prospective adoptive family, but they have not yet applied to the court to make the adoption legally binding? I see above it says a parent can apply to revoke the care and placement order if the child “Hasn’t yet been placed for adoption”, i just wasn’t sure if this meant the adopters have made it final in court, or if this refers to prospective adopters also? I hope someone can help with this.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      you need to look at section 24 of the ACA

      Revoking placement orders

      (1)The court may revoke a placement order on the application of any person.
      (2)But an application may not be made by a person other than the child or the local authority authorised by the order to place the child for adoption unless—
      (a)the court has given leave to apply, and
      (b)the child is not placed for adoption by the authority.
      (3)The court cannot give leave under subsection (2)(a) unless satisfied that there has been a change in circumstances since the order was made.
      (4)If the court determines, on an application for an adoption order, not to make the order, it may revoke any placement order in respect of the child.

      So, if the child is now living with prospective adopters, the only legal challenge for birth parent is to challenge the application for an adoption order, once it is made.

      Reply
      1. looked_after_child

        What about this Sarah?

        – Were there sustained attempts to place the child within the wider family? Is there any way a guardian would be persuaded to apply on the child’s behalf if there were family members prepared to take on care?
        I think the LA would have a difficulty placing a child with strangers if family members are happy and able to take the child under another arrangement like Kinship carers, if Chrissy is not able to take on care? ( Sorry Chrissy I don’t know your circumstances)

        Reply
        1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

          sorry, I don’t think that would work. Placement with relatives is supposed to be explored in the care proceedings. Only in pretty extreme circumstances would the court open that up again. Although the court must consider a family placement very carefully, the court is also under a duty to cause minimal delay to child being placed.

          Reply
          1. Angelo Granda

            Unfortunately, the standards followed by Family Courts are iffy to say the least. As Sarah so rightly points out, the Court MUST consider a family placement very carefully but many children find that rule means very little (or nothing) in practice. The Court relies on the CS and the departments idea of considering matters carefully differs from the idea normal folk have. For example, they won’t even go to see, question or talk to the actual parent let alone the prospective extended family carer. It is highly unlikely they will call a family conference ( see FRG statistics) and the department is never held scrupulously by the Court to the Working Together Frameworks of the Children Act 2014.
            Chrissy, this is the truth. It is possible your lawyers let you down during the original care proceedings. It happens a lot. Where were they? A s Sarah says , only in pretty extreme circumstances will the Court open that up again and the department’s failure to follow correct procedures in fairness to the unfortunate children is not considered wrong by the average family court. What you want is a really good one who will go into court for you and argue for your child more than for the LA. It isn’t fair that a child must be condemned to life away from his or her natural family when it is not absolutely necessary.
            You can apply for discharge of the placement order after six months theoretically but if you do, I advise you to pick your lawyers very, very carefully and get yourself an independent advocate before you even try. Annie will be starting a new advocacy service soon, I think, and you will find her contact details somewhere on this resource.
            Unless you prepare a case meticulously yourself well beforehand, your lawyers may well fail your child just as at the original care proceedings. Be warned!

  14. looked_after_child

    Hello Chrissy
    I’m not a professional and this is not my area but have you looked at the family rights group website – their most up tp date info is aimed for young parents ( actually up to age 30!)
    I’m also surprised a child would have been placed with strangers. Were there sustained attempts to place the child within the wider family? What about the child’s guardian? This is something the FRG have a lot of experience with.
    I’m told the FRG has so much demand they are currently only able to answer one in three calls. If you email you will need to give lots of factual info. around dates etc. Being the organised type, ( me!) I’d prepare a ‘dateline’ like a spreadsheet with date/action type info and add key supporting documents as Appendices so you do not have to tell your story again and again as this can be exhausting in itself. Keep it factual and honest.
    I’d also get the best solicitor I could and I would not delay. The longer the status quo, the more likely it is no one else will challenge it?
    Do not attend any meeting with Social Care on your own. You must have an ‘independent’ witness of some kind. The cynical bit of me says’ Always think about the financial cost to the LA when looking for reasons why something might/might not be happening ‘

    Others with more experience may be able to help but I suspect all would need more details and this is not place to post this kind of personal info..better to speak to a solicitor or the FRG?

    Reply
  15. lee pattle

    my two eldest children have a court order but as far as i am aware not to be adopted just long term foster care only, me and my partner suppose to have letterbox contact once a year which we do our letter but have no response ever and when contacting LA they are with they say the children don’t want to write to us and this will be 3 years now with no letter back or photos etc. what can be done about it? also when my partner last phoned them she was told one of them is going up for adoption how can this be when they don’t have a adoption order. we also wanted to appeal the order which was at Bournemouth county court in 2014 and remember judge saying something about 21 days and had to be heard by him only but the situation was very complicated because mine and my partner solicitors were useless to say the least! hers broke confidentiality and i have also learned they have been closed down for suspected dishonesty since (redfern solicitors, portland, dorset) and mine quit saying that he couldn’t represent me as what he told court was different to what i was saying directly to judge, so he quit day 1 of 4 day hearing, which we ended up representing ourselves and lost the case. at that point i said we would want to appeal and tried our hardest to get solicitors with no luck, because we had previous court proceedings in different LA area and was placed on 1yr supervision order which finished with no problems at all and was discard from social services books and solicitors who dealt with that case we wanted dealing with this but they no longer do legal aid. so no appeal has ever taken place, i was also arrested sent to prison for common assault on the children’s social worker and police officer within the 21 days we had to appeal, i had put official complaints in about that social worker on lots of occasions but felt was ignored. we had contact whilst proceedings where going on which ended when court proceedings finished we then also had a final contact with the children when i got out of prison and that last contact we have had. there is a lot more to this case but i just need any advice please. thanks

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I think the first step must be for you to find out what order was actually made about your children. Can you go to the court that made the order and ask for a copy? There is a massive difference between long term foster care and an order for adoption and the steps you can take will depend on what order was made.

      Reply

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