Adoption is a legal device designed to provide permanent new homes and families to some of the thousands of children in the UK who are orphaned or who have birth parents either unwilling or unable to look after them. Some adoptions are of step-children or relatives but the most are of children in local authority care.
An Adoption Order transfers all legal parental rights and responsibilities to the new adoptive family. The birth parents have no legal rights over the child and they cannot claim them back. The child becomes a full member of your family, taking your surname and has the same rights and privileges as a birth child, including the right of inheritance.
A child can be adopted if they are: under the age of 18 when the adoption application is made; and is not (or has never been) married or in a civil partnership.
Both of the child’s birth parents normally have to consent to the adoption but a court may grant a Placement Order if:
Provided you are over 21 (over 18 if one of a couple is the birth parent) you are eligible to adopt, regardless of whether you are single, married, in a civil partnership, or living together.
You don’t have to be a British citizen to adopt a child, but at least one of you must have a permanent home in the UK, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, and both of you must have lived in the UK for at least 12 months before you begin the application process.
There is no upper age limit, although the placing authority will have to be satisfied that prospective adopters will have enough energy to cope with a child and be healthy enough to provide a long-term stable environment.
You can adopt whatever your race, religion or sexuality; disability is no bar to adoption either. You don’t have to be rich to adopt – or even have a job – but you will have to give details of your income and satisfy the placing authority that you will be able to support the child and have enough space to cater for its needs.
If you have a criminal record you must disclose this when applying. You may still be able to adopt – although not if you or anyone else in your home have been convicted or cautioned for offences against a child.
If you want to adopt a child who is a close relative or a step-child, an adoption agency will not be required. Inform your local authority that you want to adopt the child and after investigating your situation thoroughly, it will prepare a report for the court. The court will consider the report before deciding whether or not to grant the adoption.
Prospective adoptive parents need to go through a rigorous vetting process before an adoption agency can place a child for adoption. The whole process from the making of a formal application to placement should take around eight months.
To adopt a child you can go through either:
Your first step is to contact local council adoption agencies or the Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies to find the adoption agencies which serve your area. They should provide written information within five working days and invite you to an information meeting within two months. You complete an application form and the checking process begins.
You will need to go through health and police checks and your medical records will be scrutinised. Local authorities will also be consulted to see if you have had any previous problems with children.
You can nominate three friends to be interviewed (one can be a relative) – the interviews will be face to face with the adoption agency and the referees need to submit a written reference.
A social worker will visit your home several times to allow them to complete a home study and you will be expected to attend parenting workshops to learn about the problems associated with bringing up an adopted child. All the information gathered will be put together in a Prospective Adopters Assessment Report.
A recommendation on whether you should be allowed to adopt will be made by an Independent Adoption Panel which you may need to appear before. The adoption agency will then make a decision.
If the agency rejects your application, you can seek a review with the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM). The IRM will review your application and make its own recommendation. This cannot overturn the adoption panel’s recommendation though – it is up to the agency to decide which way to go.
If the agency decides you can adopt, it will start to look for a child for you to adopt. The agency must refer you to the Adoption Register (which holds details of children who need adopting) within three months of approval if you have not been matched with any children locally.
Once a child has lived with you for 10 weeks, you can apply to the court for an Adoption Order. This makes the adoption permanent and gives you parental rights and responsibilities for the child. It takes away parental responsibility from the child’s birth parent(s) or anyone else who has parental responsibility for the child. In exceptional circumstance though, the court can make another order at the same time as the adoption order which would give members of the birth family the right to contact with the child.
LexisNexis LawyerLocator complies with the Solicitors Regulation Authority's Code of Conduct 2011 regarding referrals published by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, and any solicitor to whom we refer you is an independent professional, from whom you will receive impartial and confidential advice. You are free to choose another Solicitor. In the event that you instruct a solicitor, LexisNexis LawyerLocator will be paid a referral fee of up to £40 per solicitor, per accepted enquiry, but this will not be added to your bill.