Children available for adoption in the UK come from a wide variety of backgrounds and, if you are considering adopting, you will need to consider what kind of child you would be able to care for. A child available for adoption might have been relinquished by their birth parents, or might have been taken into care and placed for adoption by a local authority. Looked-after children might have been in care for some time and/or might have special emotional or physical needs.
The only absolute legal restrictions are that:
However, to adopt an unrelated child you must be approved as a suitable prospective adopter by an adoption agency and matched with a child whose needs you can meet. This means that many other issues will be taken into account before you can adopt, including your health, age, support network, financial circumstances, any other children in your family, your religion and ethnic background.
If you are a heterosexual couple, you can apply for adoption jointly if you are married or living together in an enduring family relationship. If you have been having fertility treatment, you are normally expected to have drawn a clear line from the end of your fertility treatment. Most agencies will not assess you if you are still having fertility treatment and will expect you to wait a period of time before applying for adoption (usually 6-12 months after the end of fertility treatment).
Gay and lesbian couples have been able to apply for adoption jointly in England and Wales since December 2005. Like heterosexual couples, you can be married, civil partners or living together in an enduring family relationship. It is unlawful for adoption agencies in England and Wales to discriminate on the basis of sexuality.
You can also apply for adoption as a single woman or man.
The first step is for you to make contact with an adoption agency, which could be a local authority or a voluntary adoption society. The agency will provide you with information and might ask you to attend an information session. If you decide to work with them, you can formally apply to be assessed.
The home study assessment
You will then be allocated a social worker who will assess you in accordance with the regulations. The 'home study' process typically takes 6-8 months and involves home visits, preparation groups, personal references and background and medical checks.
At the end of the process, your social worker will prepare a Prospective Adopters' Report and present this to your agency's adoption panel. The panel is a group of about ten experts which makes a recommendation as to whether you should be approved. Your agency then makes a final decision on whether to approve you as an adopter.
If you are turned down, there are several different appeal mechanisms you can consider (including the Independent Review Mechanism) if you feel that there has been discrimination or that you have been unfairly treated.
If you are approved, your agency will start trying to match you with a suitable child or children. You can also search among the records of UK children available for adoption. After discussing any possible match with everyone involved, an Adoption Placement Report will be prepared and presented to a matching panel, which recommends whether to approve the match. You and the child will then gradually get to know each other before he or she moves in with you. From this point you will share parental responsibility with the birth parents and the local authority, so that you have the power to make decisions about the child's day-to-day care.
The legal process: an adoption order
Once the child has lived with you for at least ten weeks (and assuming the placement is working successfully) you can apply to the family court for an adoption order. A judge will consider the legal issues, including whether the birth parents have given valid consent (or consent is not required) and whether the order is in the child's best interests.
If the adoption order is made, your child will become a permanent member of your family and the birth parents' legal parenthood will be fully and permanently extinguished. The General Register Office will issue an adoption certificate for your child which replaces his or her birth certificate and names you as the parents. Your child also takes your family name at this point.