Report to Court for an Adoption Order
Updated: 01 July 2013
What's Important To Us
The social worker’s report is a full account of the adoption including the birth family perspective and the child’s. Together with a copy of the contact agreement, this will help the judge to have a view of the new kinship network and to determine the best interests of the child. Judges will usually rely on your report for accurate, objective information, and give serious consideration to your recommendation.
Legal status of the report
There are usually two reports requested by the Registrar of the Court, the first for an Interim Order and the second more brief report to confirm the satisfactory state of the placement for the Adoption Order, which is final. Court reports are formal documents and will be written accordingly with particular care to ensure that spelling, grammar and layout are correct and pages are numbered. Adults should not be called by their first names alone, but either by their full names e.g., Mary White or using the title they prefer e.g. Ms, Mrs., or Dr White.
The report forms part of the adoption records, which can only be opened for inspection on the limited grounds stated in s23 of the Adoption Act 1955. The judge may release it to the applicants via their solicitor, but Oranga Tamariki may not do so for any reason.
Content of the interim report
The report should have a sound basis of fact and should:
- record fully and fairly the facts about the applicants and their material circumstances
- make observations drawn from assessment interviews and inquiries
- give any opinions you may wish to express and the basis for the forming of those opinions
- make any recommendations that you wish to make.
All details of the applicants’ family situation, life style, attributes and intentions, will be clearly and concisely stated under the appropriate headings. There will follow a section devoted to the child, the circumstances leading up to the placement with the applicant, the date of issue of the social worker’s approval and the subsequent progress of the child with the applicants. Where there is a joint application in the names of married or non-married applicants explain the intentions of the birthparents and of the applicants that the child should have two parents of equal status, and recommend accordingly.
Birthparent content in the interim report
As social worker for the applicants you provide the court report and are therefore responsible for content and recommendation. You would appear in support of your recommendations if called upon to do so in a hearing.
It is also important that the birthparents be represented in the report showing them to be parties of equal status in the transaction of adoption. When there are two social workers involved, the social worker for the birth family with the greater knowledge of their situation is in the better position to describe this in the Court report. The social worker for the birthparents will prepare a draft of this section for the reporting social worker who, having the overall responsibility for the report, may discuss the content with the writer before including it in the report.
Intercountry adoption report
Where an intercountry application is to be heard in the New Zealand Family Court, provide full information on the proposal from the country of origin, information about the child and the circumstances of the placement. Include information pertaining to the Hague status of the child’s country of origin, compatibility of legislation with that of New Zealand and the residency/citizenship status of the applicants.
Consider how to present as full a picture as possible, of the child’s demeanour in the new family, his or her beginning attachment with the adoptive parents and the wider family and surroundings.
Standard of timeliness
When reporting on applicants who have been given prior approval there should be little delay in providing the report. Having checked the information in the file prior to placement, you can have the report largely drafted soon after the placement. You can complete it after having spoken with both applicants, and noted how attachment is developing. Confirmation of the child’s progress may be obtained from midwife or Plunket nurse.
As a guideline, within 10 working days of receipt of the request send a letter to the Court advising the likely time when a report will be available or the reason it can not be completed immediately, and seeking any additional information which may be required.
For direct applications from the court see Key Information: Direct applications from the Family Court.
Consideration of the social worker's report
The Court will consider the applicants’ health, character, ages, marriage, family situation, education and occupations, financial provision, as well as any convictions disclosed by the applicants and/or notified in the police report. This is to allow the Court to be satisfied that there are no factors which might significantly impair the parenting ability of the applicants or jeopardise the safety of the child.
At issue is whether the adoption of a child in a specific family will promote the present and future welfare of the child, meeting the child's physical, emotional, educational and cultural needs. The judicial assessment is based on the particular case, rather than a comparison with any other unidentified persons who might be willing to care for the child. Emotional bonding and continuity of care are usually given weight by judges. Some judgments, however, have specifically stated that it is not just the child's immediate welfare that needs to be taken into account but the interests of the child in the medium and longer terms. Due weight will also be given to the cultural values of the people involved. You can assist the process by providing the objective evidence required.
For effect of interim order see Resource: Applying for an Adoption Order
The final order report should not repeat the information contained in the interim report. It is to confirm that the applicants continue to be ‘fit and proper’, that the child has lived with them and developed an attachment to them, and they to him or her. The child's physical and emotional progress needs to be mentioned with reference to any relevant milestones, Plunket or medical reports. Mention should be made of any contact there has been with the birth family.
If there had been any major changes or crises during the interim period the court would need to be informed. You need to remain of the opinion that the adoption will promote the welfare and interests of the child. Check CYRAS again just before reporting, but no other checks are required unless in exceptional circumstances.
It is important to note that the final order can only be made in respect of the original applicants. In the event that one applicant has died or a couple have separated, the birthparents who consented originally would have to be consulted again as to whether they agreed to the remaining partner continuing with the adoption. You should make a definite recommendation either for or against the making of the adoption order.
Social worker's report when consent is being withdrawn
Having assisted in facilitating the placement, the social worker may learn subsequently that the birthparent wishes to withdraw his or her consent. If the birthparent has not already seen a lawyer regarding the wish to withdraw consent, the advice must be to seek independent legal advice without delay.
The adoption application being before the court, the Registrar may or may not call for a report before the hearing of the application to withdraw consent. If a request is made, the report is provided in the usual format, with details of the applicants, the birthparents and the placement. The social worker’s report need not cover the application to withdraw consent, as this is a legal matter of the validity or otherwise of the consent and not about who should care for the child. It can be noted in the summary that as the matter of the consent is before the court, it may not be appropriate to make a recommendation.