Adopting in the UK
The first step is for you to make contact with an adoption agency, which can be a local authority or a voluntary adoption society. They 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.
You are allocated a social worker who assesses you in accordance with the regulations. This process typically takes 6-8 months and involves home visits, preparation groups, personal references and background and medical checks. Your social worker prepares a Prospective Adopters' Report and this is presented to your agency's adoption panel. This is a group of about ten experts; it makes a recommendation as to whether you should be approved. Your agency then makes a final decision whether to approve you for adoption.
Although most prospective parents are approved, 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.
Once you are approved, your agency starts trying to match you with a child. This might be a child who is being relinquished for adoption by his or her birth parents (in which case the parents consent to their child being placed for adoption) or it might be a child for whom the local authority has obtained a placement order (a 'looked-after child').
After discussing any possible match with everyone involved, and considering carefully whether you can meet the child's needs, an Adoption Placement Report is prepared and presented to a matching panel, which recommends whether to approve the match.
You and your child then gradually get to know each other before your child moves in with you. From the time that your child moves in with you, you have parental responsibility, which you share with the birth parents and the local authority. This gives you the legal decision-making power you need to care for your child and make medical decisions etc.
Once your child has lived with you for at least ten weeks (and assuming that the placement is working well) you can apply to the court for an adoption order. The court considers whether the birth parents have given valid consent, or whether this is not required, and whether the order is in the child's best interests. If the adoption order is made, the child becomes a permanent part of your family and the birth parents' legal status and responsibilities are extinguished. Your child is issued with an adoption certificate, which replaces his or her birth certificate, and can take your family name at this point.