The adoption assessment in the UK is in two parts. Stage One is where initial checks take place and things like medicals, DBS checks, referees and training are done. Stage Two is the home assessment where you have a number of sessions with your social worker to discuss various topics in detail. These are things like relationships, childhood, trauma, support network and how you intend to parent.

At the end of Stage Two, your social worker will file your Prospective Adopters Report (PAR) which contains details of everything you’ve done during the assessment. The conclusion will recommend the number and age range of children they think you should be approved for. Although your social worker is the one who’s done the assessment with you and knows you very well, they don’t make the decision as to whether you are approved as adopters. This is done by the adoption Panel.

What is an adoption Panel?

Every adoption agency has an adoption Panel. Their role is to approve adopters and if the agency deals with matching, approve a match. The Panel is made up of people from a Central List of members who are asked to attend a meeting. For a Panel to be able to make a recommendation, there needs to be at least five or six members sitting.

Adoption Panels are made up from people who have experience of adoption, working with children in a medical or other context, those who have personal experience of adoption, adoption social workers with at least three years’ relevant experience, council members and the Medical Adviser. The Chairperson of the Panel is usually independent of the adoption agency.

Panel’s tend to sit monthly but extra dates can be added as and when they are necessary. Busier agencies may sit fortnightly or even weekly. Most meetings are now held in person. During Covid they moved to virtual meetings and may still be done that way in some circumstances.

What happens at an adoption Panel meeting?

Your PAR will be sent to each member who is going to be sitting on the day of your Panel. They’ll read the report before the meeting and then will take part in a discussion about you prior to you going before them. The Panel will always ask you questions, even if they’re happy with the content of the report. The type of questions will vary depending on what’s in your report and whether there’s something Panel want a bit more detail about.

They could be about how you’ll prepare pets for the arrival of a child or managing caring for children and elderly relatives. If you’re adopting for a second (or third) time, they’ll probably want to know ore about how you’ll manage the needs of children of different ages. If you’re got a medical condition, questions will probably be around how you manage it and how you’d cope with a flare-up.

Adoption Panel. An empty meeting room.
Photo by Damir Kopezhanov on Unsplash

The thought of going before a group of people you’ve never met before who will decide whether you should become a parent can be daunting. But the purpose of the Panel isn’t to “catch out” adopters and ask them questions they won’t be able to answer. Their role is to make sure all of aspects of adoption have been considered and the necessary preparation has taken place.

The format will vary with each Panel, but generally your social worker will go in first and discuss the report. Either they’ll come out and let you know what questions Panel have and help you think about how you’ll reply, or you’ll be invited in and you’ll be asked the questions by either the chairperson or one of the members.

Our experience

We’ve gone before two approval Panels. The first time we were asked a couple of questions. One was about my husband’s medical condition and the other was about my relationship with my dad.

The second time we were doing approval and matching Panel on the same day (which was very stressful!). Our social worker came out with some questions and we had some time with her to reply to them. I think they were about how we’d managed two children and again the relationship with my dad.

Possible outcomes

There are three possible outcomes from the Panel which are recommendation for approval, deferred or not approved. It’s important to remember that any issues or potential problems will have been discussed during your assessment. Your social worker is supervised by a manager who will be kept up-to-date with your progress. They also check the report once it’s completed so any issues should be picked up well before panel date.

Deferment usually happens if the Panel members think an issue needs to be explored a bit more, or if they need more information that can’t be obtained on the day.

It does happen that applicants are considered to be not suitable, but this happens very rarely. You won’t be booked into a Panel until your social worker and their manager are satisfied that everything is covered and there are no issues that would mean you’re not approved.

Matching Panel

As well as approving adopters, some Panels will also approve a match. For matching, you’ll go before the placing agency’s Panel which is usually a local authority. Again, the members will have read a report about you and will formulate some questions to ask. The format will be largely the same as for approval Panel. A common question for matching is “Why this child?”. I think that’s incredibly difficult to answer on the spot, so it’s worth thinking about that in advance. Other questions may be about managing particular issues or health concerns, and asking for help.

Ratification of the adoption Panel’s decision

The Panel can’t make the final decision about approval or matching. They make a recommendation which is then ratified by the agency’s decision-maker. The decision maker is someone who is nominated by your agency and has legal responsibility to make a decision. They’ll review the report and make sure that the Panel’s recommendation is in line with it. So, in the vast majority of cases, the decision maker will accept the Panel’s recommendation. This usually takes 10-14 days after the Panel date.

Adoption Panel. Children's legs and feet wearing bright wellies.
Photo by Ben Wicks on Unsplash

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