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6.2.6 Relinquished Babies for Adoption


The term ‘relinquished baby’ is used to describe a child under the age of 6 weeks whose parents are making the choice of adoption for the child.

This chapter deals with the first stage of the adoption process for relinquished babies. It also summarises the counselling and support that will be made available to family in these circumstances.

It should therefore be read in the overall context of other related procedures.


Placement for Adoption Procedure

Permanence for Children Procedure

Adoption Case Records Procedure


Adoption and Children Act 2002

Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005 (Regulations 35)

Adoption and Children Act 2002 Guidance (2011)

Adoption Minimum Standards 2011

Statutory Guidance on Adoption (July 2013)

ADCS, Good Practice Guidance for Adoption Agencies and Cafcass: Children Relinquished for Adoption


In March 2019, Section 9, Section 19 Consent was updated to include additional information on parental capacity to consent, in line with High Court case-law.


  1. Introduction
  2. Responding to an Enquiry
  3. Counselling
  4. Arrangement for Placement
  5. Following the Baby's Birth
  6. Following Discharge from Hospital
  7. Health Assessment of the Child
  8. Involving CAFCASS
  9. Section 19 Consent
  10. Section 20 Advance Consent to the making of an Adoption Order
  11. Statement within Section 20
  12. CAFCASS Procedure
  13. Concealed Pregnancies
  14. Meeting between Birth Parents and Prospective Adopters
  15. When Parents change their minds / Reunification
  16. Child who is already Born
  17. Accommodation of the Child
  18. Preparing the Child

1. Introduction

Statutory adoption guidance sets out a process to be followed in case of relinquished children under the age of 6 weeks. See Placement for Adoption Procedure. This is based on the supposition that the agency is approached in the early stages of the expectant mother’s pregnancy and that her intention to relinquish does not waver. Experience has shown however, that this does not match the reality, which includes concealed pregnancies and/or late decisions to relinquish a child for adoption. Nor does it recognise that many birth mothers may change their mind about adoption once the child has been born.

The balance between the right of the birth mother to request adoption and the right of the child to be brought up within his/her birth family is often challenging for social workers. Regardless that it is clear that the local authority is under a duty to do whatever it can to ensure that children are brought up within their birth family if at all possible, and that the child’s welfare must be paramount in all its considerations.

The focus of Bolton’s work with relinquishing birth mothers is based on the principle that adoption is a service for children and not a service for adults. Whilst the circumstances of mothers who have expressed a wish for their baby to be adopted must carefully and sensitively be considered, every effort will be made to explore the possibility of the mother or father caring for the child, or of the child being cared for within the extended family.

If the decision is to be adoption, on considering placement, a fostering to adopt placement must be considered. These adopters however need to be aware of the informed risk that the birth mother may change her mind. This placement would hopefully secure less disruption for a child from birth.

2. Responding to an Enquiry

A request to relinquish a baby for adoption will normally be made to the Multi-Agency Screening and Safeguarding Service. Once a referral of this nature is received, a Referral and Assessment social worker will notify the Adoption Team (Regional Adoption Agency - Adoption Now) of the referral and a joint visit is undertaken to jointly assess the initial circumstances.

It will be the role of the Referral and Assessment Social worker to undertake an assessment of the families’ circumstances. It will be the role of the Adoption worker to explain the adoption process and commence on the counselling service.

The workers will establish the circumstances of the case and help the expectant mother to consider the possible options for the child’s future:

  • Staying with the parents/parents with close support of targeted services and/or universal services;
  • Permanency within the extended family;
  • Placement for adoption.

The father’s views must be sought under the guidance of the Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005. Where the father does not have Parental Responsibility (PR), it still may be appropriate to provide the pre-birth counselling to the father of the child, and any other person the agency considers relevant to the child. Advice and guidance should be given to fathers without PR, should they not agree with the mother’s decision to place the baby for Adoption. A family group meeting should also be considered in these circumstances to consider support across the wider family.

A child and family assessment will be undertaken within 45 days by the Referral and Assessment Social Worker from the receipt of the referral. (See Children and Families - Single Assessment Protocol and Guidance Procedure.)

Once the assessment is finalised and completed and a plan of action is detailed, the case will then transfer to the Safeguarding Team. A Head of Service case management decision should be sought to agree the plan, and a legal gateway will be required. Should the plan not be adoption but safeguarding concerns become evident, an Initial Child Protection Conference can be convened and a safeguarding plan recommended. It may be that birth parents change their mind though the assessment stage and there are no apparent safeguarding issues. Referral and Assessment should ensure a child action meeting (see Child in Need Practice Guidance) is formulated and a Child in Need Plan agreed which is multi-agency to ensure the family is linked to universal and/or targeted services for support. A Head of Service will review and determine the plan in these cases, and consider if further legal advice is required to consider options where concerns arise that a baby maybe at risk if in parents care.

3. Counselling

The initial visit will be to establish details of family and a general discussion of adoption and its legal and emotional implications and alternatives to adoption.

The social worker and adoption worker will need to develop relationships with the birth parents and wider family so they can fully assess the circumstances and ensure adoption is the right plan for the child. Siblings also need to be considered where there are already children within the family.

Should the father not be involved, the birth mother should be encouraged to provide his details so he can also be included in the counselling process. His consent will be required for adoption, should he have PR. When determining whether to contact a father without Parental Responsibility, when the mother does not wish to disclose his identity the following must be considered:

  • The nature and extent of the father’s relationship with the mother and any siblings;
  • Whether failure to disclose to the father would constitute a contravention of Article 8 of the Convention, (concerning respect for private and family life);
  • The child will require background information, including health information in relation to the father;
  • Risks that sharing the information may pose to the mother and or siblings/child.

Reasons not to involve the father should be endorsed by the Referral and Assessment Team Manager, Adoption Team Manager and a legal representative. The decisions must be clearly recorded on the child’s file and included within the assessments. Where the father’s identity cannot be established or the case is complex, legal advice must be sought as soon as possible to ensure that there is no unnecessary delay for the child.

Further interviews will be essential to continue the counselling process and should lead to a decision being made by the parents. These enquiries however, should not provoke any delay for the child and ideally would be made at pre-birth stage.

Issues should be addressed such as:

  • Will the parent wish to have contact (following birth) or during the process?
  • Separation and loss/parents/siblings/wider family;
  • Emphasis on the legal process and finality of adoption;
  • Family medical information;
  • Comprehensive background history for the child;
  • Alternatives to adoption e.g. extended family;
  • Avenues for support for family;
  • Do parents wish to meet the adopters;
  • Choice of family.

The CoramBAAF medical forms should be used to ensure a comprehensive health history is recorded.

If the plan remains adoption for the parents, (N.B. large majority do change their minds during the counselling/assessment stage), explain to the parents that the child is likely to remain in placement with fosters cares for 6 weeks in order that counselling can continue and a child’s medical will need to be arranged.

If parents decline to engage in this process then this should clearly be recorded.

The parents counselling should be sensitive to their ethnic origins and religious beliefs. Also learning or mental/physical health difficulties need to be considered. Also any issues with the immigration status of the relinquishing parents should be explored and determined at this point.

4. Arrangement for Placement

A referral should be made to the family placement team, and once a carer has been identified the birth parents should be given the choice to meet the carers. Fostering to adopt placement should seriously be considered but carers informed of the risk of mothers withdrawing their consent before an Adoption Order can be applied for.

The placement must conform to the Care Planning, Case and Placement Review (England) Regulations 2010 (see DfE, Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (2015)).

5. Following the Baby's Birth

The mother can decide whether to remain with the baby whilst in hospital or not.

The parents should be encouraged to see the baby, but not be forced. The parents do not need to provide anything but can do so if they wish. The parents must be advised of After Adoption support services and provided with leaflet information.

It would be prudent at this stage to also request a photo of the mother/father/wider family with baby if possible for the purposes for the child permanence report should the mother be willing.

The social worker will then arrange for the discharge of the baby into the foster carers care. Prior to discharge or at discharge the CoramBAAF medical forms M and B should be presented to the ward for completion by the paediatrician or senior nurse responsible for the child and mother. These should be presented with the consent form signed by the birth parent.

It is important that these forms are complete before discharge as the medical notes are not readily available at a later date.

Child Looked After forms should be completed. A choc form must be completed by the social worker and Section 20 consent (Children Act 1989) voluntary agreement by mother for child to be accommodated signed by the parents, alongside the medical consent forms for emergency treatment.

6. Following Discharge from Hospital

It is to be noted that no formal procedure for adoption can be obtain until the baby is 6 weeks old. Any consent that a parent gives to adoption is ineffective before the child is 6 weeks old. (Section 52(3) of Adoption Act 2002.) Special provision is made for those cases where it is desirable to place a child as soon as is possible, but formal consent to adoption, must not be sought before 6 weeks. Formal consent under Section 19 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 will be required as soon as the child is 6 weeks old.

However preparation and planning can be underway and counselling and discussion will continue with the family. The usual procedure for Looked After Children will be required, therefore a Placement Planning Meeting, followed by a statutory review and statutory visits will be required. The role of the Safeguarding social worker at this point will be to ensure that statutory requirements continue and to prepare the case for the formal stage of adoption consent at 6 weeks. The Child Permanence Report (CPR) will be prepared during this time and essential information for the child’s later life story be collated.

The parents should be advised of the need to register the child’s birth as soon as is possible. A copy of this registration certificate will be required for the adoption.

Once the decision to adopt is finalised an adoption panel date and agency decision should be booked. The Child’s Permanence Report and must be completed for the purposes of the agency decision and adoption panel date.

7. Health Assessment of the Child

A pre adoption health assessment should be arranged for the child at 6 weeks.

8. Involving CAFCASS

Formal witnessing of consent when a child is not in care proceedings where they are relinquished for adoption must be done by a CAFCASS practitioner if the parent is in England or Wales. This will take place after the period of counselling where it is clear that parents’ consent to adoption and all avenues have been explored.

The father’s formal consent will be required if he has parental responsibility at the time. He will have Parental Responsibility if he is named on the birth certificate.

Usually CAFCASS will not be contacted until the Adoption Service has decided, after a panel recommendation and agency decision, that the child should be placed for adoption as any other plan does not require Section 19 or Section 20 consent (Adoption and Children Act 2002)

However the law permits consent to be given before the Adoption Panel has met and the Agency Decision Maker has agreed the plan. This would only be in circumstances where for example a parent is anxious to sign Section 19 consent as soon as the child reaches 6 weeks of age, and where there may be a risk she will no longer be available to sign thereafter.

If the adoption service is satisfied that as much effort has possible has been made to counsel the parents and is clear the decision is final, an urgent request for a CAFCASS practitioner to witness the consent should be made and acted upon by CAFCASS before the Adoption Panel and agency decision.

9. Section 19 Consent

Section 19 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 provides for parents or guardians to give their consent to their child being placed for adoption. This consent can be specific to placement with particular adopters, or for placement with any adopters chosen by the agency.

Consent under Section 19 is given in writing on a prescribed form and must be formally witnessed by a CAFCASS practitioner, at the request of a child’s social worker, who must ensure consent is given with full understanding and unconditionally.

The High Court in Re S (Child as parent: Adoption: Consent) [2017] EWHC 2729 (Fam) made clear that parental Capacity to consent to a child being accommodated under s.20 Children Act 1989, does not equate to their capacity to consent to an adoption order in respect of the child - the capacity to consent is decision-specific. (That case concerned a ‘child parent’ (i.e. below 18 years of age) with learning disabilities. The principles, however, will be of relevance in considering parental capacity, irrespective of their age).

The court set out the salient or ‘sufficient’ information which is required to be understood by a parent regarding extra-familial adoption:

  1. Your child will have new legal parents, and will no longer be your son or daughter in law;
  2. Adoption is final, and non-reversible;
  3. During the process, other people (including social workers from the adoption agency) will be making decisions for the child, including who can see the child, and with whom the child will live;
  4. You may obtain legal advice if you wish before taking the decision;
  5. The child will live with a different family forever; you will (probably) not be able to choose the adopters;
  6. You will have no right to see your child or have contact with your child; it is highly likely that direct contact with your child will cease, and any indirect contact will be limited;
  7. The child may later trace you, but contact will only be re-established if the child wants this;
  8. There are generally two stages to adoption; the child being placed with another family for adoption, and being formally adopted;
  9. For a limited period of time you may change your mind; once placed for adoption, your right to change your mind is limited, and is lost when an adoption order is made.

When determining the competence of a parent in these circumstances, ‘all practicable steps’ must be taken to help them to make the decision, for example using simple language, visual aids or other means. A parent will be treated as understanding the information relevant to a decision if they are able to understand an explanation of it given to them in a way which is appropriate to their circumstances.

The decision to consent to adoption is significant and life-changing. Before exercising their decision-making, the parent should freely and fully understand the information set out on the consent forms, which should be conveyed and explained to them in an appropriate way; there is no expectation that the parent would be able to understand the precise language of the consent forms.

If there is any doubt about the competence of a parent to give consent to adoption or placement for adoption, the issue should be referred to a court.

10. Section 20 Advance Consent to the making of an Adoption Order

At the same time as giving consent under Section 19 or subsequently formal consent may also be given under Section 20 to the making of an adoption order, and also the form must be signed and witnessed by a CAFCASS officer.

11. Statement within Section 20

At any time after giving consent under Section 20, the parent or guardian can make a statement that they do not wish to be notified of the subsequent application of an adoption order. If they don’t do this, the court will notify them of the application at the time.

12. CAFCASS Procedure

Stage 1 - Actions for the Adoption Worker

Where an assessment indicates that the family wish to relinquish a baby, an advanced notice should be sent to the local CAFCASS office. The advanced notification will give an expected date of the adoption panel and a date when the Schedule 2 Adoption Agencies regulations (AAR) 2005 information for CAFCASS will be completed. Schedule 2 (AAR 2005) Information and Documents by Adoption Service Schedule 2 (AAR 2005) states the child’s social worker should send the following to the CAFCASS office closest to the parents’ address:

  • A certified copy of the child’s birth certificate;
  • The name and address of the parents;
  • A chronology of actions and decisions made by the local authority;
  • If the child is accommodated in foster care;
  • If the child has been placed for adoption under the 6 weeks of age after parental agreement;
  • The date on which the Local Authority decided that the child should be placed for adoption, or date of adoption Panel;
  • Confirmation that the parents have received counselling and written information on the legal implications of giving consent to the placement/adoption;
  • Whether they consider the parent to be competent;
  • Which north relative are aware of the child’s birth/adoption plans;
  • Whether any professional views where sought over competency;
  • What steps should be taken by the CAFACASS practitioner in arranging to meet the consenting parent to preserve confidentiality.

Stage 2

On receipt of above information, CAFCASS will plan for allocation to a practitioner.

Stage 3 - Subsequent actions

During this stage the counselling intervention will continue via the social worker and Adoption worker of the local authority. If at any stage there are any issues regarding consent, competency or any other issue highlighted a CAFCASS practitioner should not be requested until these matters are resolved.

If during these counselling sessions the child’s social worker consider that the parent is not capable of understanding the giving of consent and the local authority feels that the child should be placed for adoption without consent that the local authority must initiate care proceedings.

Stage 4 - Adoption Service Notification to CAFCASS

The child’s social worker should send a notification of relinquished baby notice to the CAFCASS office which is nearest to the home of the relinquishing parent(s) and or guardians, enclosing the Schedule 2 information, requesting CAFCASS to appoint a practitioner.

All letters, Reports, birth certificate etc. should be sent recorded delivery, and copies should be uploaded onto the child and parents case record.

Stage 5 - Actions for CAFCASS

3 possible outcomes following interviewing the parents/guardians:

  • Countersigning Section 19 form.

    On satisfaction that consent to placing the child for adoption has been properly given and the parent understands its implications then the Section 19 template form is signed witnessed by the CAFCASS officer.
  • Countersigning Section 19 and 20 forms.

    On satisfaction that consent to placing the child for adoption and advanced consent for making of an adoption order is given with full understanding and unconditionally, then again both forms are signed and witnessed by the CAFCASS officer.
  • Inability to Countersign.

    If there are issues about the parents competency to give consent with full understanding and unconditionally that prevent the CAFCASS practitioner from countersigning the forms, full explanation will be given and advice to the social worker provided.

Stage 6: Later consent under Section 20

If parent is not willing to consent to Section 20 when signing Section 19 consent, but later changes their minds, the child’s social worker will notify the CAFCASS officer.

The CAFCASS practitioner will re-interview the parent and, if satisfied that consent is given with full understanding and unconditionally, will send the countersigned Section 20 form, to child’s social worker.

13. Concealed Pregnancies

If the birth mother does not want the father involved the social worker will need to consult with the legal department has in recent case law re C, in Adoption and Fostering, Volume 31:4 ( 2007), has clarified that a woman should be encouraged rather than forced to reveal the name of the father.

If the father’s identity is known and the birth mother does not want him involved, directions may need to be sought from court about this. The nature of the relationship and whether there may be any safety issues will be considered as part of this court direction.

If upon being contacted the birth father does wish to care for the child himself or with his family, this can be arranged with the support of the birth mother. However if the birth mother is against this, the birth father will need to apply in his own right to the court for further assistance.

Where the parents wish to conceal from members of their family the fact of the child’s existence, or the fact that they are seeking their adoption, the local authority will be faced with a conflict between the parents’ right to privacy and the child’s right to know, and perhaps the chance of being brought up by their extended family. Where the local authority considers that it is likely to be in the child’s interest to be given this opportunity, it should encourage the parents to consider the matter from the point of view of the child.

Generally the courts have been reluctant to override a parent’s determination for the extended family not to be informed but, as with fathers without Parental Responsibility, social workers should avoid giving parents any undertaking that the birth or proposed adoption will be kept secret, unless such an action would pose a risk to the mother of the child or the child themselves.

14. Meeting between Birth Parents and Prospective Adopters

Organising a meeting between the relinquishing birth parents and adopters can be extremely useful, though can be highly emotional and require careful planning. Ideally, this meeting should take place after the matching panel’s recommendation has been formally ratified but before the child is placed. The birth parents’ social worker and prospective adopter’s social worker should be present as means of support. There should be planning discussions leading up to the meeting to enable it to be used as an exchange of information and to allow both parties to become real for one another. A photograph of the birth parents and prospective adopters together could be valuable for the child in later life and should become part of their life story work.

15. When Parents change their minds / Reunification

Once a birth parent has signed the consent to their child’s placement for adoption, their right to change their mind will be limited and may be lost all together. They will be able to withdraw consent at any time until the prospective adopters start an adoption application to court. If the relinquishing birth parent does change their mind they need to understand that it will not automatically be the case that their child will be returned to them.

  • If the child has not been placed with the prospective adopters and the Local Authority agrees that the child should be returned to birth parents this should be done in seven days;
  • If the child has been placed with prospective adopters and the Local Authority agrees that the child should return to their birth parents, this shall be done within 14 days;
  • If the Local Authority feels that the child should not be returned, and the plan should remain adoption, an application will be required for a Placement Order and the court will decide whether the child should be returned to their birth parents. (See Court Report in Adoption / Placement Order / Special Guardianship Applications Guidance). 

Once the prospective adopters have made an application to the court for an adoption order, the child’s parents will not be able to ask for their child to be returned. Unless the birth parents have said they do not wish to be informed they will be told when the prospective adopters make their application, but they will also have to ask permission of the court to oppose the application. The birth parent will have to show the court that there has been a significant change of circumstance since they gave their consent to their child being placed for adoption and that permission to oppose is in their child’s interest.

It is relevant to note at this juncture that the allocated social worker must fully assess any plan for a child to return home and consider any welfare/safeguarding concerns. It will be that the allocated social worker will remain involved in supporting the return of the child back to birth parents and for support to continue either within the remit of a safeguarding plan should there be concerns regarding Child Protection and Significant Harm threshold be met or within the child in need arena. If the Local Authority is of the view that the child’s plan should remain adoption, or be so significantly concerned as to consider issuing care proceedings then a case management decision will be arranged with a Head of Service and a legal planning meeting be convened to agree whether care proceedings will be considered.

It will not be accepted that once a child has returned home that a case will be closed and there should be a series of meetings coordinated within the child in need arena (where there are no safeguarding concerns) to check the progress of the baby in birth parents care.

It cannot be underestimated how reunification of birth parents care of a child who has been in substitute care needs to be considered carefully. The developmental needs of the child, impact on any older siblings remaining in the family, the meaning for the parents of the individual child, their parenting capacity, history of attachment requires careful evaluation, even when there is no obvious indication of risk.

There is a valuable body of research which shows that reunification of children with their parents after a prolonged separation is complex work which needs to be carefully planned and monitored. 

Careful consideration needs to be given to mental health issues, Domestic Violence and Abuse factors and extended family pressure where decisions to relinquish babies often are prevalent. These issues need to be carefully reassessed to consider change and motivational factors influencing parent’s decision making. Careful assessment of attachment and parent’s history of parenting needs to be included in ongoing assessment and planning.

Should the threshold of Significant Harm not be met, there should at least be child action meetings involving all relevant agencies where full information of the child’s and families circumstances needs to be considered via a multi-agency plan.

16. Child who is already Born

Where the child is already in the care of the parent(s), an assessment and decision should be promptly made as to the point at which the child should be Accommodated, bearing in mind that separation will impact upon the child’s developing attachment; this could be ‘positively’ if the parent(s)/guardian bond is poor, with the consequent impact upon the child’s attachment. In many circumstances, the child will be accommodated promptly under Section 20 (1989 Act) because of a parent(s)/guardian’s circumstances and wishes. (See Decision to Look After and Care Planning Procedure).

The parent should sign their consent to the placement for adoption - having been provided with all relevant information in respect of adoption, contact and support for them and their family, (see Section 3, Counselling).

When the matter has been presented to Adoption Panel and agreed by the Agency Decision Maker and Cafcass have completed their role, an adoptive placement should be sought.

A referral to the Adoption Team should be made as soon as possible within the ‘relinquished process’ so that efforts can be made to identify an appropriate placement, including a Foster to Adopt placement, (see Fostering for Adoption/Concurrency Procedure).

17. Accommodation of the Child

Following Accommodation of the child, the practitioner should progress the matter as with any other child who becomes looked after:

  • Ensure a case record for the child is opened and the electronic recording system is provided with all relevant information, particularly the child’s status, (this to be updated throughout);
  • Advise the Independent Reviewing Unit of the child’s placement and status and ensure the first review is completed within 20 working days, completing all necessary documentation;
  • Complete a Care Plan for the child;
  • Commence the Child’s Permanence Report (for Adoption Panel);
  • Progress a referral to the (Adoption Panel) Medical Advisor for a health assessment including CoramBAAF medical assessment forms M and B together with CoramBAAF PH form, (completed by parent(s));
  • Ensure a birth certificate is obtained: this can be undertaken by the parent;
  • Visit the child’s placement in accordance with the regulations and other requirements, (see Social Worker Visits to Looked After Children Procedure);
  • Continue to keep in contact with the parent(s) and continue with counselling about adoption as wanted/needed by them;
  • Arrange and support contact arrangements with the child as required;
  • Ensure that the child’s Life Story Book is commenced and progressed and that the foster carer is involved in this on as continuous basis;
  • At 6 weeks, obtain parent(s) consent to place the child for adoption and advance placement to adopt;
  • Discuss with the parent(s) their level of engagement within the process and at what point they may wish to disengage from the adoption process.

In many instances the parent(s) will be completely disengaged at an early stage and there might therefore be an issue of continuing engagement to undertake necessary tasks, e.g. obtaining a birth certificate, completing consent forms, etc.

See ADCS, Good Practice Guidance for Adoption Agencies and Cafcass: Children Relinquished for Adoption - Annexe 5 ‘Statement That I Do Not Wish to be Notified of the Application for an Adoption Order for my Child - Section 20(4) Adoption and Children Act 2002' Proforma.

18. Preparing the Child

Work with the child, in an age-appropriate way, should be begin to be undertaken to help prepare them for the planning and changes that will progress them to their permanent placement. The nature and style of this work will vary greatly on the child and their age, understanding and capacity and is likely to be a mixture of play, counselling and ‘discussion’. This could include a final ‘goodbye’ contact with their parent(s)/guardian and family.