Who this policy applies
This policy applies to our work with birthparents and adoptive applicants once birthparents have decided to pursue an adoption plan.
Informing applicants of proposed placement
Once birthparents have confirmed a provisional adoption plan, they can request that the adoptive applicants they have chosen are informed of this decision.
Wherever possible, arrange to meet the applicants to:
- find out whether this is an appropriate time for the proposed placement of a tamaiti – given the sudden changes in lifestyle involved
- confirm that their circumstances have not changed in any way which would affect the birthparents’ choice of their profile, their status as approved applicants or the court’s likelihood of granting an order
- carefully convey information about te tamaiti and the birthparents to the applicants who need to consider the facts of the situation and accept or decline to proceed with the placement
- inform them carefully of any particular features of the health of te tamaiti – suggest obtaining specialist professional opinion if appropriate
- ensure that they have sufficient information to enable informed decision-making.
While not guaranteeing that the placement will proceed, we provide an outline of the sequence of events to occur, including a preliminary plan to meet the birthparents and baby.
Allow for time to organise travel if te tamaiti has been born in another city.
Meeting the chosen adoptive family/whānau
We must facilitate the initial exchange of information between birthparents and adoptive applicants to enable both parties to determine if they wish to proceed with the adoption.
Before arranging a meeting between adoptive applicants and birthparents, we must ensure:
- there is a high likelihood that the adoption plan will proceed, while recognising the right of birthparents and adoptive applicants to change their decision
- all participants agree to the venue and timing of the meeting and take part beforehand in preparing their expectations for the first meeting (a written plan may help all parties know what to expect and ensure important issues are covered)
- all parties are aware of the facilitation, mediation and negotiation role of the social worker at the first meeting and agree to who will attend the meeting, for example, other family/whānau members, tamaiti, siblings, etc.
- the birthparents have considered how the applicants will be introduced to te tamaiti. Encourage birthparents to take responsibility for this process to whatever extent possible.
At the initial meeting, we can discuss future contact arrangements, but these may not be finalised until both parties have had the opportunity to reflect on their position and confirm their thinking. Once confirmed, we draw up an agreement that specifies the parties' commitments and expectations around ongoing contact between the birthparents and te tamaiti.
More than one meeting may be arranged. You can mediate if either party asks for help.
Contact agreements detail the identifying information that the parties agree to share and the nature of the future contact that they commit to.
Adopted tamaiti will benefit from collaborative relationships between birth and adoptive families/whānau. Contact agreements promote collaborative relationships by capturing shared expectations for future contact. Completed and signed contact agreements should be appended to the social worker's court report.
Preparing contact agreements
- Applicants will have considered the degree of contact and involvement they are able to offer birth families/whānau, and then described this in their profile.
- When birthparents are choosing adoptive applicants from their profile, it is essential the nature of the contact that applicants are offering is carefully taken into consideration.
- When a placement proposal is discussed with the chosen applicants, the birthparents’ expectations about contact must be conveyed to them along with other background information.
- Birthparents and adoptive applicants should understand that a contact agreement is not legally enforceable – but represents a statement of intent that is made in good faith in the best interests of te tamaiti.
Content of a contact agreement
The contact agreement template provides a starting point for parties to consider. The contact agreement should:
- specify how and when contact and communication will be handled from the time of placement of te tamaiti with the adoptive applicants and following the granting of an adoption order
- be mutually agreed by the parties
- allow for flexibility over time and enable review by either party when required
- be tailored to the individual participants and their situations
- follow the basic components of the template and include any additional elements specific to the situation – for example, exchange of gifts, support for the culture of te tamaiti, whakapapa and whanaungatanga; the involvement of siblings and wider family/whānau
- specify the parties’ agreement to future contact from Oranga Tamariki should either party seek to re-establish contact.
When placements are made across sites, the social worker for the birthparents will be responsible for managing the contact agreement, in consultation with the social worker for the applicants. When in the same site, both social workers will be involved.
While other family/whānau members may be included in contact arrangements, they are not parties to the agreement, but included with the agreement of the parties to the adoption.
Ideally the birthfather is a participant in the agreement from the outset. When he is not at the time of placement, his inclusion may be negotiated later. Alternatively consider a separate contact agreement if appropriate.
Approving the placement
Under section 6(1) of the Adoption Act 1955 it is unlawful for a tamaiti to be placed, received or kept in the home for the purposes of adoption (except in certain specified cases) without the prior approval of a social worker
- approve the placement of te tamaiti with the adoptive family/whānau before te tamaiti can be lawfully placed with the adoptive applicants
- only issue a placement approval once the consents to adoption have been both given by birthparents and received by the solicitor for the applicants.
- while the Adoption Act specifies that birthparents can legally sign their consent to adoption after their tamaiti is 10 days old, in practice this is interpreted by the High Court to be 12 days after birth. This incorporates the day of birth and the day after the 10-day period.
Social worker approval for placement of te tamaiti
A social worker has the statutory authority to give prior approval to the placement of any tamaiti under the age of 15 years in the home of any person for the purpose of adoption. This power to grant approval is vested in the individual social worker and not in the Chief Executive (CE) of Oranga Tamariki.
The social worker cannot be directed by any person, including the CE, to grant approval or to withhold approval for placement. A social worker must consider all relevant matters when making their decision.
Duration of approval
A social worker’s placement approval will generally remain in force for 1 month from the date it is issued. Where an application for an adoption order is made to the court before the 1 month expires, the approval remains in force until the application is either abandoned, dismissed or an order is made.
If a solicitor requests a re-issue of an approval because the original has been mislaid, another certificate can be produced, dated as previously for the day the placement came into effect.
Where an adoption application has not been filed in the court within the month following the issue of social work approval, Oranga Tamariki does not issue any further placement approval – as te tamaiti is already in the home and prior approval has already been issued.
Prior approval is not required in certain cases
Under section 6(4) of the Adoption Act 1955, there is no need to issue a placement approval in an adoption proposal where te tamaiti is already lawfully in the home:
- under an order or provision of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989
- by an order under the Care of Children Act 2004, or
- of one of the parents of te tamaiti and a step-parent of te tamaiti
- of a relative of te tamaiti (defined in section 2 of the Adoption Act 1955 as “in relation to any child, means a grandparent, brother, sister, uncle, or aunt, whether of the full blood, of the half blood, or by affinity.”)
Issuing the social worker placement approval
Approval is given for a specific named tamaiti to enter the home of identified applicants. The form required for approval for the placement of a tamaiti for the purpose of adoption is SW 602 and is available on the client record on CYRAS.
Unless exceptional circumstances apply, a social worker placement approval is issued only after consents have been signed by birthparents and after these consents have been received by the applicants’ solicitor. There are significant risks if the social worker approval is given before the consents have been signed — particularly if the birthparents change their mind. If there are exceptional circumstances and you wish to give approval before the consent you should consult your supervisor and obtain legal advice. (Where the adoption is a result of IVF surrogacy, refer to the In-vitro fertilisation surrogacy adoption guidelines).
Where birthparents and adoptive applicants want te tamaiti to move to the applicants’ care on the issuing of the social worker approval, prior planning with all parties will be needed. The solicitor receiving the consent on behalf of the applicants will need to confirm receipt of the consents to the social worker as soon as possible. Ensure that the solicitor is aware of this expectation.
The placement approval is usually signed by the social worker who knows the adoptive applicants, and they will write the report for the court. If the assigned social worker is not available, approval may be signed by a supervisor or another social worker.
Where for whatever reason, a tamaiti is unlawfully in the home for the purpose of adoption, social workers should not try to 'legalise' the situation by issuing a social work approval after the event. Adoptive applicants in this situation need to seek their own legal advice.
Reporting to the Family Court
The court will seek a social worker’s report on an adoption application (section 10) prior to determining the application. The report is commissioned by the court, and Oranga Tamariki may not release it to the applicants or their solicitor. Together with a copy of the contact agreement, the social worker’s report will help the Family Court judge to have a view of the new kinship network, determine if the applicants are fit and proper, and whether adoption promotes the welfare and interests of te tamaiti. The court will usually rely on our report for accurate, objective information, and give serious consideration to your recommendation.
Once adoptive applicants have filed an application for an adoption order in the Family Court, the Registrar will request the local Oranga Tamariki Adoption Service site to provide a social worker’s report.
The social worker is entitled to appear at the hearing of the application, and to cross-examine, call evidence, and address the court.
Purpose of the social worker's report
The social worker's report must assist the court to determine:
- whether the applicants are fit and proper people, who have the ability to bring up, maintain and educate te tamaiti, and
- whether adoption promotes the welfare and interests of te tamaiti.
The social worker's report should:
- have a sound basis of fact
- record fully and accurately the facts about the applicants and their material circumstances
- state the observations of the social workers, drawn from assessment interviews and documentary checks
- give any opinions which the social workers may wish to express and their basis
- make any recommendations that the social worker may wish to make.
The court will consider as relevant the applicants’ health, character, ages, marriage, family situation, general background, as well as any convictions disclosed by the applicants and/or notified in the Police report. This information helps the court to determine the applicants' suitability and eligibility to raise a tamaiti not born to them – and the court must be satisfied that there are no factors which might significantly impair the applicants' ability to provide a safe and nurturing family life for te tamaiti.
The Family Court will also need to consider whether the adoption of te tamaiti by specific applicants will promote the present and future welfare of te tamaiti, meeting the physical, emotional, educational and cultural needs of te tamaiti.
The social worker will usually recommend that an interim order is made. During the period of the interim order, the social worker will visit to review the progress of te tamaiti in the applicants’ care. The interim period is intended to allow the court to consider the progress of te tamaiti before determining the application for a final order of adoption.