6.2.8 Disruption of Adoptive Placements
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter applies to disruptions of adoptive placements, which occur prior to an Adoption Order having been made. Where a disruption takes place after an Adoption Order has been made, a Disruption Meeting may be held as part of the adoption support provided to the child and adoptive family in which case the same principles as set out in this chapter may be followed. All post order adoptions should consider having a Disruption Meeting where the disruption involves a NCC child and the Adoption Order is under 3 years and any future plan for the child is likely to be adoption.
- Definition of Disruption
- Placement Support Meeting
- Planning Meetings
- Disruptions After Lodging
- Identifying Concerns
- Notice of Intention to Remove a Child
- Notifications After Lodging
- Review of the Child
- Siblings in Disruptions - Practice Issues
- Disruption Meetings
- After the Disruption Meeting - Adopters Review
- Disruptions Post Adoption Order
- Identifying a Disruption
- Siblings in Contact
- Disruption Meetings
A disruption is the premature ending of a placement of a child/ren that has been placed for adoption.
A decision not to proceed with a potential adoptive placement during introductions is not considered a disruption for these procedures.
A placement can disrupt by being requested by the adoptive parents, by the placing authority or the child/ren and different procedures may then apply.
Disruptions can occur both before or after an Adoption Order is made.
Disruptions do not happen overnight. There is usually a process leading to a disruption and all parties involved, the prospective adopters, child's social worker and support social worker will have been working together so all reasonable attempts will have been made to support the situation. There is often a fine line between a desperate cry for help and a plea for closure as the symptoms may be almost identical. Families under pressure will ask for more of everything in an attempt to make it come out right. The carers will become more despondent, the children more disturbed and the social workers more anxious.
This is a point that a Placement Support Meeting should be convened. The meeting should be chaired by an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) who has had no direct involvement with the LAC Reviews.
The prospective adopters and all social workers concerned should attend together with their Managers. The Team Managers should have discussed options, including their financial implications, with their Service Manager before the meeting and be empowered to make decisions. Consideration should be given to other people appropriate to attend, eg CAMHS, relatives etc.
All decisions must be recorded so there can be no doubt about what action will be taken.
A Placement Support Meeting is not like a routine review and should not be a substitute for other scheduled meetings. The agenda will depend on the presenting situation and should be focused on questions such as: What helps? What doesn't? Its purpose is:-
- to demonstrate support for the carers and the child;
- to try to move on and not get stuck;
- to share and acknowledge feelings rather than apportion blame;
- to identify issues leading to placement difficulties;
- to agree the child's and carer's current needs;
- to make plans to provide for needs or to state clearly if any needs cannot be met;
- to set time limits for action and dates to monitor progress;
- to hear and understand the child's wishes and feelings;
- to leave the door open for continuation or disruption.
If there has been a Placement Support Meeting before a disruption the carers are less likely to demand an instant ending.
Planning disruptions should be as careful a task as planning introductions. If prospective carers still wish to end the placement they should be ideally as involved in the child's move away as they were when the child/ren came to them.
Wherever possible, a Planning Meeting should be organised with the prospective adopters, chaired by the Team Manager for the child with the Team Manager for the adopters and relevant social workers. The child's needs will be the focus. It should discuss:
- Who will say what, when and where to the child(ren)?
- Consideration of the most appropriate alternative placement;
- Who would be the best person to move the child and how and when this should be done;
- How will the child's belongings be transferred?
- The appropriateness of continuing contact between the adopters and the child;
- The birth parents present situation and clarification of who should advise them of the change of plan;
- The child's current legal status and how this may be affected by the change of plan.
The prospective adopters should be given as much support as possible during this difficult time. They should be advised that a review and discussions will take place at a later time, after a Disruption meeting, about whether they should or wish to be considered for the placement of another child.
If prospective adopters wish to end the placement after lodging the same procedures 2-3 should be followed. Additionally, the support Social Worker for the prospective adopters must immediately notify the Court and CAFCASS about the change in plans. The prospective adopters, or their solicitor, should then notify the court in writing that they wish to withdraw their application.
At any point up to the granting of an Adoption Order, the Social Workers involved in the placement may become concerned about the care of the children by the prospective adopters or they may have received information which raises child protection concerns.
If there are any concerns or allegations of child abuse or neglect against the adoptive parents then Chapter 7 of the Child Protection Procedures must be followed. The Practice Guidance: Safeguarding Children Placed for Adoption also applies.
If the concerns are more generalised about the care of the child and not raising issues of significant harm, then the social workers must discuss the situation with their Manager and the Service Manager, Adoption. For example, if there are concerns that the relationship between the prospective adopters and child is not positive and not improving over time. Consideration should be given, according to the circumstances, whether a Placement Support Meeting, as in Section 2, is appropriate and if so these procedures should be followed.
It may equally be appropriate to call a professionals Placement Strategy meeting. This should be chaired by the Service Manager, Adoption, with social workers and their managers attending. The S.M. Adoption will have had prior discussion with the S.M. Fieldwork. The areas to focus on in the meeting should include:
- the areas of concern and the evidence available to substantiate these;
- to look at the child's and carer's current needs and whether more support can meet these needs or whether any needs cannot be met;
- the views of the social workers and consideration whether the placement should continue to be supported or disrupted;
- the implications for the child of this change of plan, including consideration of the most appropriate alternative placement;
- who should inform the prospective adopters of the decision not to continue to support the placement;
- who would be the most appropriate person to move the child from the adoptive home, and how and when this should be done;
- the birth parents present situation and who should advise them of the change of plan;
- the child's current legal status and how this may be affected by the change of plan;
- future contact needs of the child and prospective adopters.
The prospective adopters should have been visited and involved in discussions before the strategy meeting so that they will be aware of the concerns and will have had time to consider the area of difficulty or dispute and consider their future plans. The prospective adopters must be visited again immediately after the meeting and advised of the outcome. They should be advised to seek legal advice.
In some circumstances and ideally, it may be possible to work with the prospective adopters to prepare the child for moving, in which case the Planning Meeting, as in Section 3, should be convened. In other circumstances it may be that prospective adopters are either too distressed or too angry to be involved, and the social workers should be prepared for a request to remove the child at the time.
The prospective adopters must be served notice of the agency's intention to remove the child and the child must be returned to the care of Nottingham City within 7 days of notice. Legal Section should be consulted about the drafting of this notice. The birth parents must also be notified in writing that the placement has disrupted.The Social Worker for the prospective adopters must offer whatever support and help the family need after the child has been removed. Discussions will take place later, after the Disruption Meeting, about whether the prospective adopters should be reassessed and either deregistered or reapproved for further children.
If concerns are highlighted after the application has been lodged in court, then the child cannot be removed without leave of the Court. In such circumstances legal advice must be sought.
A Looked After Child's Review must be held no earlier than 28 days or no later than 42 days, after the date when the child is returned. This is a formal review and may run alongside, but is separate from, a Disruption Meeting
The most difficult disruptions can be those involving sibling placements, when the request may be for the removal of only one child, often the oldest.
Social workers have to assess not only whether the children would do better together or apart, but also have to balance the value of an established placement for one against that of an unknown future for the intact group.
There may be an apprehension that if the oldest child is "pushed out" then the next will follow in due course, but this is not borne out by feedback from disruption meetings. What is apparent is that the child, who has already been damaged, may be further traumatised by preferential rejection.
Social workers have to assess on a case-by-case basis whether specific concerns or needs of the children argue for a different decision.
Research shows that sibling placements are as stable as or more stable than the placements of separated siblings and the norm is that siblings should be kept together.
Siblings are likely to recreate patterns in their adoptive families that replicate their experiences in their birth families entailing problematic interactions and behaviour patterns. Consideration must be given to obtaining specialist help with sibling relationships if this is an identified problem.
There are also "high risk" behaviours such as sexualised behaviour and levels of aggression. Consideration must first be given to appropriate treatment and whether there has been any response to this. If it is minimal then separation may be inevitable.
If separation occurs then the consequences of this must be addressed for the children
- children will experience loss and grief related to the separation regardless of the quality of the relationship;
- siblings need to know why they are separated;
- there needs to be clear contact arrangements for the future eg direct contact, cards, letters, telephone calls. The implications for the confidentiality of the adoptive placement of the remaining sibling must be addressed if the separated sibling has contact with their birth family reinstated.
All adoption disruptions should have a Disruption Meeting. The Disruption Meeting will be held no sooner than 28 days and no later than 42 days after the placement breakdown and will follow a set agenda. The the appropriate timing varies after disruption as everyone needs some time to recover from a disruption before they can reflect on what happened. The important thing is to enable children and families to regard disruption meetings as an integral part of placement support.
Disruption Meetings are an opportunity for all those involved to look in an open way, and with the benefit of hindsight, at the issues that may have contributed to the placement breakdown so all can learn from the experience. The purpose is:
- to enable participants to share information and feelings about the adoption process, the placement and the disruption without assigning blame;
- to identify factors that have led to disruption;
- to identify what has been learnt from the placement about the child, and to use this to plan further for the child;
- to identify with the adopters what has been learnt about the placement and to highlight what support will be needed to come to terms with the disruption;
- to highlight areas for development in practice and policy.
It needs to be recognised that a Disruption Meeting will be stressful for all concerned, particularly the adopters, and attention must be paid to creating a comfortable atmosphere.
The Disruption Meeting is always chaired by an independent chair, not a Team Manager or IRO who has previous line management responsibility for the child or carers.
Our agency is linked to the East Midlands Consortium, and for any child placed within the consortium there is a disruption policy that consortium members will chair Disruption Meetings for each other.
The Service Manager Adoption will facilitate the link and organise an independent chair from the other members of the consortium.
If the child is not placed within the consortium the Service Manger will commission an appropriate alternative independent chair.
The child's Team Manager and Social Worker will act as convenor of the Disruption Meeting with responsibility for the preparation, co-ordination and liaison necessary. They will:
- agree with the Chair a suitable date;
- make sure all parties are consulted about dates, travel and childcare arrangements, and have the support they require in order to participate in the meeting;
- book a suitable venue with refreshments;
- send out invitations and maps.
Disruption Meetings usually take the whole day.
Careful consideration must be given about who should attend the meeting. Everyone who has been involved before, during and after the placement could have valuable observations to make. Consider:
- previous and current carers;
- the prospective adopters;
- health professionals;
- all the Social Workers and their Team Managers;
- Independent Reviewing Officer;
- relevant others, eg grandparents.
If carers want to bring their solicitor they should be advised that the function of the meeting is not adversarial and helped to feel confident that a lawyer will not be needed. If they insist our Legal Department must be consulted.
Consideration must always be given to the child's attendance or contribution to the meeting. This depends on their age, understanding and particular circumstances. Their Social Worker must talk to them about how they can be involved and should they not attend how their wishes and views can be conveyed to the meeting. This can be a variety of ways eg tape, video, letters as well as coming to all or part of the meeting. Some chairs of the meeting arrange to meet the child beforehand.
Reports. The following reports must be sent to the Chair a week before the Disruption Meeting:
- Child's Placement Reports;
- Prospective Adopters Report;
- Matching Report and Adoption Support Plan;
- LAC Reviews held after placement with prospective adopters * Any other relevant meetings, eg Placement Support Meeting.
The Chair is independent and will have their own way of running Disruption Meetings. However, they are commissioned by this agency who have the following expectations that they:
- read all the background paper in advance;
- draw up an agenda which should ideally be circulated before the meeting. A 'typical' agenda should include: the child's history with birth family, the child's preparation for adoption, the prospective adopters experience from application to matching, reasons why the match seemed a good one, the introductions and move, the child's time with the adoptive family including help offered, the disruption, the child's present situation;
- sum up at the end of the meeting and include any recurring themes, concerns, or lessons to be learnt, practice issues and recommendations;
- agree to complete their own summary of the Disruption Meeting together with an action plan for the child and the previous adopters, feedback on our agencies practice and any suggested recommendations.
Full minutes, covering every person's contribution, must be made of the Disruption Meeting. The minutes will be very long and an experienced minute taker will be needed. A minute taker from the Adoption Service must be arranged.
Minutes should be completed in a draft report and sent to the Chair within 10 working days of the meeting.
The Chair is responsible for checking and distributing the minutes to all the participants of the Meeting together with their own summary and action plans. Any policy or practice recommendations should only be sent to the Managers and Social Workers.
The Disruption Meeting Report including the Chair's summary and recommendations on policy and practice should be sent to the Service Manager Adoption who arranges for it to be considered by the Adoption Panel.
After the Disruption Meeting and the report being completed, there must be a review of the adopters by the Adoption Team Manager. This should focus on the impact of the disruption and whether it is appropriate to recommend the continuing approval of the adopters. It should be noted that adopters have gone on from a disruption to create a successful family with other children.
This Adopters review together with the original PAR, Matching Report, Panel Minutes and Disruption Report must be presented to Adoption Panel for them to recommend either the continuing approval or withdrawal of approval of the adopters. The relevant document should be sent to the Panel Administrator 10 working days before the Panel meeting.
Adoptive parents, post Order, have full legal responsibility for their adopted child.
The Post Adoption Service offer a service to Nottingham City children placed for adoption for up to 3 years after an Adoption Order. They equally offer a service to any adoptive family where they live in the city, after 3 years from the Adoption Order.
P.A.S are to be involved in all post order disruptions where this responsibility is identified.
The P.A.S. will have already been notified of all adoption placements of Nottingham City children and have a copy of the child's Adoption Support Plan and date of Adoption Order.
A potential disruption may become known to the childcare Duty Team. If adopters contact, or become referred to the Duty Team, where there is any ongoing problem or risk of a disruption, then the adopters should be redirected immediately to the P.A.Service, providing the child is Nottingham City's responsibility. (See section 12, Disruptions Post Adoption Order above)
P.A.Service. are able to offer an assessment for services, support and mediation and an allocated Social Worker within 1-7 days.
If the adoption placement looks imminent of disruption then P.A.Service. will notify the childcare Duty Team and a childcare Social Worker for the child must be allocated. P.A.Service. will offer support to the adopters and an advisory role. Consideration should be given to arranging a Placement Support Meeting as in Section 2.
If the adopters request the child to be removed and they live in the city, then the childcare Social Worker will arrange for accommodation and ideally a Planning Meeting arranged as in Section 3.
If there are concerns of child abuse or neglect, and the child and adopters live within Nottingham City, the Child Protection Procedures must be followed by the child's Social Worker. In this instance the adoptive parents are the child's legal parents and the procedures as for birth parents apply.
If the child and adopters live outside Nottingham City, even though the 3 year rule applies to adoption support issues, the Local Authority where the child lives must be notified to instigate their Child Protection Procedures.
The practices issues in Section 9 apply if there is a disruption that may involve decisions about separating siblings. Childcare Workers must contact the Post Adoption Service. directly in the following circumstances:-
- siblings are being separated;
- letterbox or direct contact is already in place;
- before any consideration is made to contact the child's birth family.
All post order adoptions should consider having a Disruption Meeting where:
- the disruption involves a Nottingham City child and the Adoption Order is under 3 years ago (where ever they live) and any future plan for the child is likely to be adoption.