A Knight’s Tale (114: Adoption Panels)

In https://derrickjknight.com/2021/10/14/a-knights-tale-50-adoption/ I have written earlier about the early stumbling into professional assessment of adoption applicants.

The Adoption Act of 1958 which came into force the following year, was the first of a series over the next few decades that sought to improve regulatory requirements for adopters, requirements for adoption agencies and the procedure to be used when making or appealing a court decision on adoption. Whilst these developments have undoubtedly been necessary, in practice the placement of babies and toddlers has in many cases been delayed.

The Adoption Panel has an overriding responsibility to promote good practice, consistency of approach and fairness in all aspects of the adoption service, in accordance with its procedures and values. Within the remit of the panel’s recommendations are the suitability of prospective adoptive applicants to adopt; whether a particular child is suitable to be placed for adoption; and whether that child should be placed with particular prospective adopters.

By the mid-1990s and beyond I chaired adoption panels for the Voluntary Agency Parents for Children and for the London Borough of Camden; and the Fostering Panel of the same London Borough.

This welcome Paper Weight was given to me by the voluntary agency upon my resignation.

Panel members were expected to study the paperwork involved, which would include recommendations of the Medical Officer, and full assessment reports from the Social Workers. The various members had different experiences of the work and differing ideas about suitable parenting. There was generally a Council Member of the local authority included. As such my extensive experience of child care and of group work in general was invaluable in managing the discussions. One issue which could prove problematic was individual’s attitudes towards religion. Some people would be reluctant to approve applicants adhering to particular faiths, being wary of fundamentalism. Even in those earlier days smokers would be frowned upon. Changes of names of children was often open to discussion. It was considered more acceptable to retain the birth parent’s choice, especially for a middle name. On the whole, however, those who voluntarily gave up their time to this work were honourable and dedicated.


  1. I think I may have mentioned that my mother did this work back in the late eighties, early nineties. She loved the job. I have her scrapbook of all the families she helped.

  2. I had a member of staff successfully go through the adoption process: mounds of paperwork, endless interviews, meetings cancelled or arranged at short notice. But through it all it was obvious that the children’s wellfare was paramount. Said member of staff went on to adopt further children who bizarrely grew to resemble their adoptive parents.

  3. Both a dear friend and my sister-in-law were adopted as babies. Their respective journeys towards finding their birth mothers (both for medical reasons relating to their children) have been interesting to witness. Both felt their adoptive parents were ‘theirs’ and had no desire to hurt them. One’s mother rejected any advances while the biological mother of the other saw the connection as a wonderful opportunity for free holidays to South Africa! On the other hand, another friend gave up her child for adoption when she was seventeen and still living in England. Sadly, she and her husband have no children of their own and moved to South Africa when he retired. Three years ago – quite out of the blue – she received a phone call: “Hello, this might be rather awkward but I have reason to believe that I am your son.” She had to confess to her husband what had happened before she met him and then – with his support – went to England to meet her son and her three grandchildren. Lives turned upside down – mostly happy though.

  4. I can remember very well the change of attitudes over the years. Particularly because of race.
    It seemed to me that it was a crying shame to leave some children in care instead of allowing a white family to adopt a child of colour.

    You did a very difficult job Derrick which you obviously excelled at, and I applaud you.

  5. Very interesting. I’m sure we all have tales of adoption, good and bad. It strikes me as one of the most challenging aspects of a civilised society. Related, but slightly off topic, I can’t get my head round the amount of abuse that seems to be prevalent in our care homes. Cruelty aside – what were they thinking?!!

  6. The timeline you reference would fall within what we here in Australia now term the Forced Adoption Era. Consent forms were obtained from the relinquishing mother and these included questions about background, health and religious preference. Then the Social Worker placed the baby/child with a family who was vetted and considered a suitable match. Then the Supreme Court ratified the adoption based on the social worker’s report, resulting in the original birth certificate being sealed and another issued as if the child had been born to the adoptive family. In the course of this, the adoptive parents usually completely renamed that child.
    I started to write a long paragraph about my personal experience and what misrepresentations I discovered when I was granted access to my paperwork, but decided it was a case of ‘least said, soonest mended’.

  7. Hi Derrick, this is a very interesting post about adoption. It is not that easy to adopt a child of a different race here in South Africa. The authorities prefer children to remain with people of the same heritage as the biological parents.

  8. I can see a plethora of issues when adoption decisions are open to panel discussions. As much as we find many faults with our Family Court system and the Department of Children and Families, once a judge rules that a minor is available for adoption, the rest is a matter of paperwork.

  9. Oh, wow, Derrick. I can only imagine the baggage you took home at night in your mind dealing with such monumental issues. I know you did an enormous amount of good over the years. Hugs to you.

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