If you are considering adoption in the UK, this guide provides an overview of how to adopt a baby, including the eligibility requirements you will need to meet and the process to follow.
What is adoption?
Adoption is the legal process by which a child becomes a full and permanent member of their new adoptive family, providing the child with a supportive, loving and stable family home in circumstances where it is not possible for them to be raised by their birth parents or family.
An adoption order legally transfers all parental rights and responsibilities for the child to the adoptive parents, as if the child were born to them. The birth parents or any other individuals who had previously held parental responsibility will no longer retain any legal rights in relation to the child.
The difference between adoption and fostering
Fostering is a way of providing temporary care within a family environment for a child, or children, who are unable to live with their own parents, for example, following an illness. The responsibility for the child in foster care is shared between the carers, the local authority and the child’s parents.
There are different types of foster care, including emergency care where a child needs somewhere safe to stay for a few nights, right through to long-term fostering until the child reaches adulthood and is capable of independent living.
Fostering, even long-term, does not provide the child with the same legal security as adoption. Fostering a child is temporary, where parental rights and responsibilities are not transferred to the foster parents.
Adoption is permanent, and once an adoption order has been granted, save except in very rare circumstances, it cannot be revoked.
Am I eligible to adopt a baby?
To adopt a baby in the UK you will need to evidence that you meet the qualifying criteria. You must:
• Be over the age of 21 (there is no upper age limit).
• Be legally resident in the UK, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, and have been so for at least 12 months.
It is possible to adopt in the UK irrespective of your sexual orientation, gender or marital status. Accordingly you may be able to adopt if you are:
• Heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender
• Single, either male or female
• Married or in a civil partnership
• An unmarried couple, including same sex couples
Key aspects of your background and lifestyle will be considered when assessing your suitability to provide a supportive, loving and stable family environment for a child on a permanent basis. In particular, consideration will be given to the following:
• Your health – as part of the adoption process your medical health will be checked with a view to assessing your longevity in being present for the child long-term, and whether any health issues will impact on your ability to raise and parent a child.
• Your lifestyle – here the adoption agency may consider issues such as your weight, smoking and alcohol consumption. Whilst these issues are not automatic barriers to adopting, they could constitute health risks for both you and/or the child, such as passive smoking.
• Your home – whilst you do not need to be a homeowner, nor live in a large house, adoption agencies typically prefer there to be a spare bedroom for the adoptive child, although there can be some flexibility where there is a possibility of converting existing accommodation to create an extra bedroom.
• Your other children – if you have other children, you will need to demonstrate how you will meet the needs of an adoptive child, as well as your existing children.
• Your criminal record – if you, or a member or your household, have a criminal conviction or caution for offences against children or for serious sexual offences you will not be able to adopt. Whilst other criminal offences will not automatically exclude you, these will be taken into consideration as part of the adoption process.
How to adopt a baby in the UK
To adopt a baby you can go through either an adoption agency associated with your local authority, or through a voluntary adoption agency such as Barnardos.
The process involved in adopting a baby in the UK involves intensive preparation and assessment by social workers, a recommendation by an adoption panel and a final decision made by the agency decision maker. The individual steps involved in “how to adopt a baby” are set out in more detail below.
Having registered your interest with an adoption agency, and having been approved for assessment, you will undergo a two-stage assessment process.
During the first stage of the process, which is expected to take around two months, the adoption agency will take references and make checks on applicants. This will include undergoing a medical examination, as well as police and financial checks.
You will also be expected to attend compulsory training classes to learn about various aspects of adopting including the needs of adopted children and the challenges that you may face when adopting a baby.
Once your initial training is complete, and you have passed all necessary checks, you will be invited to continue the adoption assessment process.
During the second stage, which is expected to take around four months, you will be expected to attend an adoption preparation course. You will also be assigned a social worker who will visit your home on a number of occasions, to spend time with you and your family, and to assess your suitability to adopt a baby.
During these visits information will be gathered about you, including your reasons for wanting to adopt. You will also be asked about your family background, and contact will be made with significant former partners.
All of this information will then be collated within what’s known as a Prospective Adopters Report.
Adoption panel recommendation
The Prospective Adopters Report will be sent to an independent adoption panel, a group of individuals experienced in adoption. You will be allowed to meet the panel in order to ask and answer any questions.
The adoption panel will make a recommendation to the adoption agency as to your suitability to adopt a baby based on meeting you in person, as well as the contents of the Prospective Adopters Report. That said, the final decision will be made by an agency decision-maker having taken into account the panel’s recommendation.
Review of an adoption agency decision
If the agency decides that you are not suitable to adopt a baby at that time, you will receive a letter explaining why. This is known as a ‘qualifying determination’.
If you disagree with an adoption agency’s decision, you can either make written representations to the agency or apply for what’s known as an Independent Review Mechanism (IRM). The IRM is a review process conducted by an independent panel. You can, however, only exercise one of these options.
If you choose not to act, the agency decision will take effect 40 workings days after the date on your decision letter.
If you choose to use the IRM, the panel will review your suitability as a prospective adopter and make a recommendation to your agency on your suitability to adopt a baby.
The IRM will not make a final decision about your case, this is done by your adoption agency after they have received the IRM recommendation.
Finding you the right child
If the agency approves you as suitable to adopt a baby, you will be matched with a child, although both your social worker and the adoption panel must agree that any match is right in order for the adoption to go ahead.
Once a match has been approved, you will be able to meet your prospective adoptive child. A final planning meeting will be arranged before your child comes to live with you and an adoption placement plan will be agreed to ensure that you and your adoptive child are fully supported.
Making the adoption legal
To make an adoption official and legal, you must apply to the Family Court for an adoption order. Your adoptive child must live with you for at least 10 weeks before you can apply.
Both birth parents normally have to agree to the adoption, unless they can’t be found, they are incapable of giving consent, for example, due to a mental disability, or the child would be put at risk if they weren’t adopted.
If your application to adopt a baby is successful, the General Register Office will create an adoption certificate. This replaces the original birth certificate, and shows your child’s new name.