Choosing to adopt a child changes the life of more than one person. Given the importance of all the factors involved in the adoption process, it can feel complicated and emotionally stressful.
Whether you’re hoping to adopt a child to bring into your family, or you want to legally adopt your partner’s child, this guide will help to break down how to start the legal process.
To adopt a child, you must:
- Contact your local council or a voluntary adoption agency.
- Attend meetings and interviews to assess your suitability.
- Fill out a prospective adopter’s report.
- Attend an adoption panel assessment.
- Be added to the national adoption register.
- Apply for an adoption court order.
Given the complexity of the situation, getting expert legal advice can help to ensure the entire process runs as smoothly as possible. Contacting the family law specialists at First4lawyers will give you the guidance you need to help transform and expand your family.
Who can adopt a child?
Anyone aged 21 or older can adopt a child in the UK. You can be single, in a partnership (married, civil partnership, unmarried), and you can be a partner of the child’s parent. You (or your partner) should also have a permanent home in the UK and have lived in the UK for more than one year before the application.
How to start the adoption process
You can start the process of adoption by contacting two types of agencies; those run by your local council, or a voluntary agency.
Local council adoption agencies
To find your local adoption agency, you can either use a postcode tool on the government website, or go to your local council’s website to find how the process works in your area. You will be able to request a call back by leaving your contact details on the site. You should also be able to access a free phone number, allowing you to state your intention to adopt directly.
Voluntary adoption agencies
There are 33 voluntary adoption agencies across the UK, and you can learn about them on the Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies (CVAA) website. Using the search tool, you’ll be able to find the contact information for the agencies that serve your area – alternatively, you can contact the CVAA head office directly at email@example.com.
To start the process, you’ll need to directly contact each of the agencies that serve your local area to state your interest in adoption.
Whether you choose to adopt through your local council or with a voluntary agency, you’ll be sent information through the post about the adoption process. You may also be sent a Registration of Interest form, which officially states your intention to adopt.
Meeting the agency
Once you’ve been given the time to process the information about adoption – and you’re sure you want to proceed – you’ll be invited to several meetings, along with a number of one-to-one interviews to assess your suitability.
You’ll often be invited to group meetings that give several people interested in adoption a chance to meet each other and the social workers. These meetings will provide you with support and advice, and give you the opportunity to ask questions about adoption and the assessment process.
You’ll also need to meet with your assigned adoption worker a number of times. They will usually visit you at your house, and they will write an assessment report about your suitability. Factors they will look at include your lifestyle, your reasons for adoption, and anything else that might come into play.
They will help you fill out the prospective adopter’s report, which is essentially an application for adoption.
You’ll also have to undergo several checks, such as a police check and health assessment. Finally, you’ll need to provide three independent personal references, one of which can be from a relative.
Once you’ve filled out all the forms, and your adoption worker has assessed you, it will all be sent to an independent adoption panel. Their role is to review all the information to see if you are a good candidate.
You should be asked to speak to the panel. If they have any questions or concerns, answering these directly can improve your chances.
The panel will then give their assessment of your application to the adoption agency, who will make the final decision about your suitability.
If you are found unsuitable for adoption
If you are found to be unsuitable, you can argue the decision. To do so, you can either write to the adoption agency stating your case, or apply to the Independent Review Mechanism. The IRM will then look into your application and provide another assessment.
You also have the option of applying to another adoption agency. You will, however, have to start the process from scratch, completing new forms, and attending meetings and interviews.
If you are found suitable for adoption
If the agency approves your application, they will start to match you with a suitable child or young person. Given how important the decision is, this process can take several months, and there is no set timeline.
Your details will be added to an adoption register, which allows social workers to find the best match for both you and the child or children, whether this is locally or based elsewhere in the country.
When a social worker believes they have made a suitable match, the adoption panel will once again have to provide their approval. If they think the match can work, you will begin the process of meeting the child.
This, again, takes time, and there’s no strict timeline in place. There is also no limit to the number of meetings between you and the child or children – the match needs to be very carefully assessed before official adoption can occur.
If everyone involves feels the match is a good one, you’ll be given the chance to have the child live with you for a certain number of weeks, with plenty of visits and assessments by a social worker.
How to legally adopt a child
Once the child has lived with you for more than 10 weeks, you can legally adopt them and gain parental rights. To do this, you need to apply for an adoption court order – Form A58 – which is typically submitted to a Family Court.
You can get help with the form from your social worker, or a family law solicitor. It is highly recommended that you have expert advice and guidance with this form, as it is often the final assessment needed for you to officially adopt a child.
Once the order has been approved, you will have all of the parental rights and responsibilities of being a parent. You’ll receive an adoption certificate, which replaces the child’s original birth certificate, and the child will have the rights of any birth child.
How to adopt a step-child
If you want to officially adopt your partner’s child, the process is very similar to a standard adoption. You’ll need to notify your local council’s adoption services, who will in turn assess you according to a number of the standard adoption reviews.
The social worker your assigned will need to provide a review of not only yourself, but of the child in question, your partner, and the other birth parent of the child. After three months from the start date of your assessment, you’ll be able to apply for an adoption order from the family court.
The court will then assess your suitability based on the social workers report, as well as your own applications and testimonial. Looking to learn more about adoption?
The CVAA website, and your local council website, will be able to provide you with extra information about adoption. But for personalised, professional advice, at whatever stage of the adoption process you’re at, consider talking to an experience family law solicitor.
Get in touch with First4lawyers today, for a no-obligation phone call about your current situation.
Note: First4lawyers offers this information as guidance, not advice. Before taking any action, you should seek professional assistance tailored to your personal circumstances and not rely on First4lawyers’ online information alone. All details correct at time of last update.
Last updated: October 2016