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UK Child Adoption Process

Understanding the child adoption process is important for anyone trying to adopt. Find out the eligibility criteria, how the assessment works, and the rights of the birth parents.

BEING ADOPTED: The child must be under the age of 18 at the time of the adoption application. The child must not be (nor never have been) married or living in a civil partnership.

There are certain conditions for birth parents of an adopted child. As a rule, both birth parents must agree (give consent) to the adoption, unless:

  • Their whereabouts are unknown (cannot be found).
  • They are incapable of giving their consent (e.g. because of a mental illness).
  • Not getting adopted would put the child at risk.

Child Adoption Eligibility Criteria

There is no upper age limit to adopt a child in the United Kingdom. But, providing you are at least 21 years old, an adoptive parent can be:

  • Single, married, or living in a civil partnership.
  • An unmarried couple (either same sex or opposite sex).
  • The partner of the child’s parent.

Note: A different set of rules and procedures apply to private adoptions and to those of looked-after children.

Time Spent Living in the United Kingdom

There is no legal requirement for you to be a British citizen when adopting a child. But you (and your partner for couples) must have:

  • A fixed and permanent home in the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man, or the Channel Islands.
  • Lived in the United Kingdom for a period of at least one (1) year before beginning the adoption application process.

Early Stages of Adoption Process

There is more than one way to adopt a child in the United Kingdom. You can apply to adopt a child through your council using one of their adoption agencies. You can also go through CVAA UK to search for a voluntary adoption agency in your area.

  1. Contact the adoption agency of your choosing. They will send further information about the child adoption process to you.
  2. The agency will set up a meeting with you. They may also invite you to a group meeting (e.g. with others who want to adopt a child).
  3. You will get an application form from the agency if you both agree to continue through the process.

Note: The full adoption approval process can take up to six (6) months before you get matched with a child.

How the Adoption Assessment Works

When the agency receives your application they will start the adoption assessment process. As a rule, they will:

  1. Ask you to attend a series of preparation classes. The main purpose is to give advice on how adoption may affect you. In most cases, the location for the classes would be near to where you live.
  2. Make arrangements for a social worker to visit you (several times). The purpose of their assessments is to check that you are suitable for becoming an adoptive parent.
  3. Arrange for a police check. They will not process the adoption if you, or if any adult member of your family, received a conviction for a serious offence (e.g. abuse against a child).
  4. Request the names of three (3) referees who will give a personal reference about you. One of the nominated referees can be one of your relatives.
  5. Make arrangements for you to get a full medical examination.

Note: The DfE announced better support to adopt for thousands of families when adopting children. The strategy tackles the postcode lottery and breaks down barriers to help create permanent, loving homes for kids.

The Adoption Assessment Report

The next step is for the social worker to send the assessment report to an adoption panel. It is an independent group of people experienced in adoption cases.

You can attend the assessment and ask questions if you want to. Based on the results of your assessment, the panel will make a recommendation to the adoption agency. The agency will then decide on your suitability (or not) to adopt a child.

If the Adoption Agency Approves the Application

If the agency decides that you can adopt, they begin the process of finding a child for adoption. They also provide extra support to start a family by referring you to (either):

The two registers hold the details of children who need adopting across England and Wales. After approval, you may get referred to the register straight away or it may take a few months. It would depend on whether they are looking for a local match with a child.

If the Adoption Agency Does Not Approve the Application

There are several options for recourse if you disagree with the decision of an adoption agency. You can (either):

  • Write to them and make an official challenge to their decision.
  • Contact other adoption agencies. You would need to start the full child adoption process over again.
  • Apply to the Independent Review Mechanism and ask them to look into your case.

Applying for an Adoption Court Order

Once the child has lived with you for at least ten (10) weeks, you would need to apply for an adoption court order. The order makes the adoption legal and grants you parental rights and responsibilities for a child. It also means:

  • The adoption would become permanent.
  • The child would have the same rights as if they were your own birth child (e.g. the right of inheritance).
  • You can buy a copy of the adoption certificate (you do not get one as an automatic process).

Note: The adoption order also takes away parental responsibility from the child’s birth parent(s) and anyone else with parental responsibility.

Court Order Application Process

As a rule, your nearest Family Court will deal with applications for adoption orders. You will need to fill in and send a completed application ‘Form A58: Apply for an adoption order‘ to the court.

How to Get an Adoption Certificate

The General Register Office create an adoption certificate once an application is successful. It will show the new name for the child and replaces their original birth certificate.

You would need to pay for a copy of the new certificate. The ‘full’ copy will cost £11. You can order a copy of an adoption certificate online.

You can also get one by post using the adoption certificate application form if registered in England and Wales.

Note: As a rule, you would need the full version to carry out most legal tasks for the child (e.g. getting a child passport).

Adopting a Child You are Fostering

In some cases, you can adopt a child you have already been fostering. You would need to get reassessed and then get approved to become adoptive parents.

Adopting a Stepchild

You must inform your local council if you plan on adopting the child of your spouse or partner. You must tell the council at least three (3) months before applying for an adoption order at the court.

Note: You cannot apply to adopt a stepchild until they have lived with both of you for at least of six months.

The Adoption Assessment Process

The assessment procedures for adopting a stepchild are like those of an adoption agency. The main difference is that the court uses the assessment to decide if you can adopt (not an independent adoption panel).

Thus, the court would ask your local council authority to provide them with a report on the child as well as:

  • Your partner
  • The other birth parent

A social worker would prepare the report which the court will then use to help them make a decision. If the court grants it, the adoption order would give you, and your spouse or partner, parental responsibility for the child.

The court order would also take away any parental responsibility from:

  • The other birth parent of the child.
  • Anyone else with parental responsibility for the child.

Note: Having the adoption order would cancel out any other type of court order. So for example, how (and how often) the child’s birth parent can make a visit.

Legal Rights of Birth Parents

As a rule, you would need to agree to another couple (or a single person) adopting your child. But, once adopted, you no longer have parental rights and responsibility for the child.

In some cases, you would be able to stay in contact with the adopted child. This is often done through the agency responsible for arranging the adoption. They generally allow letters for communication and photographs (they will sometimes allow a meeting).

The Rights of Fathers

The father of the child will get asked to agree to the adoption. But, this only takes place if you are a father with parental responsibility.

What if you were never married to the mother of the child or not named on the birth certificate? In this case, you would need to apply to the court for a Parental Responsibility Order. That would be the only way to get parental responsibility.

Trying to Stop an Adoption Process

It can be a complex task to stop the adoption process once it has started. It would be better to get legal advice from Citizens Advice or from a solicitor.

A court must grant a court order to make an adoption legal. The agency that arranges the adoption must inform you of your rights. They should also tell you at what point you can stop the adoption.

The court will grant you the opportunity to say why you do not want your child to get adopted. In this case, an independent social worker would visit you and:

  • Make a record of the reasons why you want to stop your child getting adopted.
  • Inform the court of your reasons (you can also go to court and explain the reasons yourself).

Note: A court would not grant an adoption order unless they believe it to be in the best interests of the child.

Adoption Without Consent

In some cases, a court may decide that the adoption can go ahead, even without your consent. Typical examples include situations if:

  • The court thinks the child would be at risk if they were not adopted. They would send you the evidence that they had received (e.g. from the social services).
  • The parent was not capable of giving their consent (e.g. because of a mental illness or disability).

Adopting a Child from Overseas

A separate section explains the processes of adopting a child from abroad and bringing them to live in the United Kingdom. Check DfE fees, several key restrictions, and how to register an overseas adoption.

Child Adoption Process in the United Kingdom