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The adoption process

The adoption process

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  • Advice

    Adoption is a lengthy process involving various stages of assessment by an adoption agency before legalising the placement. The Adoption and Children Act (2002) states that the welfare of the child must be the primary concern of the court, as such they must consider the wishes and needs of the child, the relationships with any relatives or prospective adopters and the potential effects of adoption. When the court issues the adoption order the legal connection between the child and their birth family is completely and permanently ended.


    Who is eligible to adopt?

    The 2002 Adoption and Children Act states that:-

    • Couples must have lived with each other for at least a year at the time of application;
    • At least one applicant must be over 21, there is no upper limit;
    • Must both be domiciled in the UK for at least a year and have a permanent fixed home in the UK or the Channel Islands; and
    • Step-parents can adopt a child if the child has lived with them for at least 6 months.

    Beyond these eligibility criteria, adoption agencies will look at the home of prospective adopters, their relationships with existing children and extended family, relationships between a couple seeking to adopt, employment and finances and how good a parent they think candidates will make. It is important to remember that the process requires a careful assessment of prospective adopters to ensure that children go to a safe and loving home where they can be happy and thrive.


    What is the process for being approved as adoptive parents?

    The first stage of adoption is conducted by an adoption agency. It includes registration, preparation, assessment conducted by a social worker and approval by a panel. Adoption agencies will guide prospective adopters through the process as it is rather complex.

    Stage 1 - Registration of interest 

    This is the initial stage of officially putting prospective adopters forward for the adoption process. Before the submission of registration documents, agencies will hold an initial meeting with the prospective parents. At this stage, agencies will flag up any concerns that may make it unlikely that the prospective adopter will be able to complete the process.

    Stage 2 - Assessment plan: 

    Following the registration of interest, prospective adopters will be assigned a social worker who will work with them throughout the process. Together, adopters and social workers will organise and plan when and how assessments will be carried out and ensure all parties understand what is involved.

    The main part of the assessment is the ‘home study’, here the social worker will visit the prospective adopter’s home and get to know them on a personal level. The agency will also require personal references from friends and family and perform checks with their local authority, employer and/or GP. It is common for the agency staff to also interview prospective grandparents to ensure they are supportive of their child's wishes to adopt.

    Stage 3 – Preparation and training: 

    Prospective adopters must take part in preparation groups alongside assessments. These groups aim to prepare them for the challenges of the process and looking after an adopted child, especially if the child has previously been subject to abuse or neglect.

    Stage 4 – Decision

    A decision will be made by an independent panel of adoption experts within the adoption agency based on the information gathered by the social worker. Approximately 94% of those who reach this stage are approved which results in the adoption agency aligning a suitable child to place with them.


    What is the legal process involved in adoption?

    After being accepted as adoptive parents, the adoption agency will help prospective parents through the legal stage of the adoption. The amount of time this stage can take varies depending on the consent of birth parents and the smoothness of the placement.


    Placement order

    This is the first of two orders given by the court and grants the local authority permission to place a child with any family they find suitable. This can be issued before a specific family is selected and requires consent from the birth parent(s) unless the court has deemed this unnecessary (for example if they are mentally incapable or the child was taken away for reasons of abuse or neglect, etc.). Consent from a birth parent before the child has reached six weeks old is invalid.


    Under a placement order, parental responsibilities are shared between adoption agencies and birth parents. Therefore, if the birth parents wish to challenge the placement or withdraw their consent it must be done at this stage. After it has been issued parents cannot withdraw consent. Following the issue of the placement order, the child will move in with adoptive parents. This time is key for courts and adoption agencies to see whether the child is doing well in their new home or whether any strains within the family are emerging. While unlikely, a placement may not work out, if this is the case the local authority will take the child back into their care and the birth parent(s) must be notified.


    Adoption order 

    The second order is the final stage in the legal process of adoption. It transfers legal parenthood from the local authority or biological parents to the new adoptive family. At this stage, birth parents have no legal rights over their children, they can no longer remove consent for the adoption. Few cases break down here, however, occasionally children will not fit into the family as expected.


    After the child has lived with prospective parents for at least 10 weeks and provided all has gone well the adoption agencies will support the new parents to obtain an adoption order. Consent from the birth parents must be achieved at this stage also (unless they no longer have parental responsibility or it is deemed that it would be unsafe for the child if they were not adopted). The court will consider the application based on the testimony of prospective parents and social workers (children are usually too young to give evidence) and if satisfied will grant the order. This marks the end of the legal process of adoption. However, agencies will provide support for families following the adoption to help ease the transition.


    Contact with biological parents’ post-adoption

    The child's new parents may decide to forward updates on their general development. These are sent to the adoption agency staff to check over before sending on. This ensures data protection is maintained. These updates would be purposefully vague, “making lots of new friends”, “enjoying playing in the park” etc. They would not mention any specifics such as the name of the local town, school etc.


    What are the laws surrounding international adoption?

    International adoption can hold many legal ramifications and one must be aware of these before attempting international adoption. International will be subject to the laws operating in both jurisdictions, which often complicates the process. It is advisable to seek advice from a lawyer with experience in overseas adoption before pursuing it.. Those considering adopting from overseas must consider that there may be extra costs incurred due to differences in the process.



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