How to… Adopt a Child


Adopting a child can be an exciting and nerve wracking experience, so it is important to know the process you will be going through to put your mind at ease. Figures from March 2012 show that 3,450 children were adopted out of the care system despite it being a complicated ordeal. It is important to seek legal advice to prepare yourself for all possible outcomes.

Adoption Process

What is an adoption?

An adoption legally occurs when a court grants you an adoption order, making you the child's legal parent. The order cannot be reversed and is permanent. Adoptions are usually arranged through a voluntary organisation or your local authority. They are responsible for ensuring that you meet certain legal criteria before you are allowed to adopt a child. They may also have their own system of matching parents with the children that are available.

Who can adopt a child?

You can adopt a child if you are over the age of 21. There is no upper age limit for adopting a child, but the agency will try to ensure that you are capable of looking after children and offering them a stable home.

You can adopt whether you are:
  • Single
  • Married
  • In a civil partnership
  • An unmarried couple. This applies to same sex and heterosexual couples
  • The partner of the child's parent

Private adoptions and adoptions of children looked after by the state are subject to different rules.

The adoption process

Once you have contacted your chosen adoption agency, they will send you information on the adoption process. You can make inquiries to more than one agency but you will only be able to apply to one. They will arrange to meet you and if you decide to carry on with the process they will give you an application form.

Once your application form is received they will:
  • Invite you to a series of preparation classes to give advice on the effect of adoption on yourself and your existing family
  • Arrange for a social worker assessment to ensure your suitability as an 'adoptive parent'
  • Organise a police check- if you have been convicted of an offence against a child your application will be rejected
  • Ask you to provide them with the names of 3 referees who will give you a personal reference
  • Arrange for a full medical examination

If the agency decides you can adopt, they will begin the process of finding you a child. Your social worker will then decide if the child should be placed with you.

If your application is rejected, you can challenge the decision by writing to the adoption agency. Alternatively, you can apply to the Independent Review Mechanism who will look into your case.

How do I adopt a step child?

The process is very similar to the adoption agency assessment and will be carried out by a social worker. The court will decide whether you are suitable to adopt the child based on this assessment.

If your request is granted, you will be given parental responsibility of the child along with your spouse or partner. The court will enquire with the child's other birth parent and anyone else who had parental responsibility of the child, and if they have an ongoing relationship with the child and object this could result in the order being refused by the court.

Can I adopt a child from overseas?

The process of adopting a child from overseas is much like that in the UK and will be carried out by a UK adoption agency.

You can adopt a child from overseas if:
  • The adoption is in the child's best interests
  • They can't be cared for in a safe environment in their own country
  • You’re deemed suitable and eligible to adopt from overseas by a UK adoption agency

You will also need to visit the child in their home country and your assessment will be sent to their overseas adoption authority.

How do I apply for the adoption order?

You can apply for the adoption order as soon as the child comes to live with you but it will not be processed until they have lived with you for 10 weeks.

If the child was adopted from abroad, you will have to wait 6 months before you can apply for an adoption order. You may also have to pay a small fee to apply.

Once an adoption order has been granted it is permanent. The child becomes your legal responsibility and all legal rights of the birth parents cease.

What about the birth parents?

You may be able to stay in contact with your child via photos and letters through the adoption agency who arranged the adoption. In some cases it may be possible to arrange meetings with your child but this will only happen in exceptional circumstances.

Usually, both parents have to agree to the adoption unless:
  • They cannot give consent due to some impairment eg mental disability
  • The child would be at risk if not adopted
  • You cannot be found to give your consent

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