Most children’s social workers will eventually have to present a case for adoption to the agency decision maker. In my experience it’s something that people can find challenging, and even daunting at times.
If this is your first case, you’ll be relieved to hear that there’s lots of support available to you. Whether you access help via the adoption service, or from your more experienced colleagues, there’s no need for you to feel alone in the preparation phase.
What’s the agency decision maker’s role?
The agency decision maker (ADM) is responsible for deciding whether a child’s final Care Plan should be for adoption. They may be take advice from experienced colleagues from the adoption service and the local authority’s legal team, but the decision is theirs alone.
On one hand, this is great because the ADM can reach an outcome and inform you in the meeting. The decision and the ADM’s rationale will be recorded in detailed minutes and the court may wish to refer to these later. Effective ADMs will also refer to the Welfare Checklist and will add a case note to child’s record which will then form part of the chronology.
On the other hand, if you fail to make a convincing case, it may result in delays. It’s important to bear this in mind throughout, and make sure you provide the ADM with the information they need. The better informed they are, the fewer questions they will have.
Preparing your case
In most Local Authorities the ADM will want to meet with the child’s social worker (and probably the team manager as well) in a meeting that might be referred to as ADM or SHOBPA - should be placed for adoption.
The decision making meeting with the ADM will usually happen further down the line. All assessments will need to have been completed and written up – it should be just before the filing of final evidence. Social workers will need to send a bundle of documents to whoever coordinates the ADM process and include the Child Permanence Report (CPR), all assessments including those relating to extended family, and reports relating to drug and alcohol tests, etc. The ADM needs to see everything that has been done before making a decision. They will also want to know that the child’s independent reviewing officer supports the case.
All this documentation needs to be submitted by the deadline so that the ADM has enough time to read and understand the information before the meeting. Some ADMs may contact the social worker or team manager before the meeting if they have any specific questions or observations and this can be quite helpful.
Things to remember:
The CPR is key
The Child’s Permanence Report (CPR) should cover everything that an Agency Decision Maker needs to know about a child and the case for adoption. Crucially, it should be written with prospective adopters in mind. It will be the first they hear of the child, and it will hopefully be kept to share with the child when they are older.
First impressions count
The child’s photo is really important. Adopters will have many children to consider so anything you can do to make your child stand out will help. If you haven’t got a good photo, check with foster carers – they will have many more chances than you to get a really nice one.
Know your child!
If you’re new to a case, remember that foster carers will know the child better than anyone – don’t hesitate to ask them for help. Bringing the child to life in the CPR and for the ADM will really help. Even for tiny babies, if you can say what’s their favourite food, which toys do they like, whether they like bath-time, etc.
As a social worker, you should be proactive in your efforts to track down and talk to family members who could care for the child. Make sure you keep track of this process as you’ll need to back up the conclusions you come to.
Dot the Is and cross the Ts
If you’re responsible for the CPR, you’ll have spent time and energy on pulling the information together. Ask someone with a fresh pair of eyes to proof read it for you. Your manager may need to approve the document, and spelling mistakes never make a good impression. Believe it or not, I’ve also seen examples where social workers have re-used a CPR written by a colleague – and failed to include the correct child’s name. Definitely not the approach you’re aiming for!
Richard Fawcett has been involved in children’s social care since the early ‘90s. Now an independent practitioner and consultant, he’s working in partnership with Equinox: “This is a great opportunity for me to get to know practitioners and services across the country and to support them as they deliver an outstanding service to the children they’re working with. I’m delighted to be working with Equinox as we share the same commitment to staff care and delivering an excellent service.”