Adoption: everything you need to know if you want to adopt

parents with adopted baby

by Alison Coldridge |

Adoption is where you become the legal parents of a child who cannot be brought up within their birth family.

Choosing to adopt is a big decision, but stick with the steps and legalities and at the end of the process you’ll get something amazing – a child to bring up as your own. The latest government figures reveal there’s currently over 80,000 children in care, with adoption rates down by 18% since 2020.

Whether you’re unable to have your own child or are already a parent, adoption is a fantastic way to allow everyone in the world who wants to become a mum or dad, to be one. Here’s everything you need to know about adoption in the UK, from how old you need to be to adopt to the cost and process.

Who can adopt a child?

'How old do you have to be to adopt?' is a common question, but there are only a few restrictions as to who can adopt. You must be over 21 but there’s no upper age limit and your marital status is unimportant.

‘You need the physical and emotional energy to care for a child,’ explains Elaine Dibben, adoption development consultant at the British Association for Adoption and Fostering.

‘Should you have a criminal record, your offences will be carefully looked into but, apart from offences against children, this will not necessarily rule you out.’

How to adopt a child

You'll start by visiting an adoption agency where, once your registration is accepted, the first stage of the adoption process will start. This usually takes about two months.

‘At this point you will have all the first checks – police checks, a check with the local social services department to identify any previous contact with them and a health check,’ explains Elaine. ‘You’ll need to provide references from friends and a family member.’

If no concerns crop up, you’ll move to the next stage – a full assessment that takes around four months and involves more training. ‘You’ll be visited by a social worker who will discuss the responsibilities of being the parent of an adopted child,’ says Elaine.

Once you get through that assessment, you’ll meet the agency's adoption panel who’ll consider everything and recommend whether or not you should be approved as adopters.

Who decides which child is matched to you?

Both you and your social worker will decide which child is the best fit for you. This will take into account everything from personality to how accepting your family are of the child.

You may be invited to an event where you can see profiles of children

‘You may be invited to event where you can see profiles of children and meet with their social workers to talk about them informally,’ says Elaine.

Once you or your social worker have identified possible children to adopt, you’ll both discuss whether this is the right place for the child and the right match for you.

‘It would be very unusual for a match to be turned down at the adoption panel or by the decision maker of the adoption agency as significant thought and discussion would have taken place by this time,’ says Elaine.

‘But it would probably reflect significant concerns about the prospective adopters being able to meet the child's short term or longer term needs.’

Ages of children up for adoption

There are a small percentage of babies given up for adoption at birth and lots of young children aged between one and four who are looked after by foster carers before being adopted.

‘The government is encouraging local authorities to use a new scheme called “Fostering for Adoption”,’ says Elaine. ‘This is for children who probably won’t return to their birth families. Approved adopters will foster the child while all legal decisions are made, so that the child can settle in earlier.’

Can the child’s birth parents remain involved?

This is undoubtedly a sensitive area and it all stems down to what’s right for the child.

‘The most usual form of contact would be an exchange of letters between the adoptive parents and birth parents once a year,’ says Elaine. ‘This is so the child can continue to have an understanding of their birth family as they get older and ask more questions.’

How much does it cost to adopt a child?

Adoption itself doesn't cost anything, in fact, it's actually illegal for any agency to try and make a profit from adoption. However, other costs may crop up during the process, such as court fees or a police check, other than that, adopting a child itself won't cost you a penny.

Can I adopt as a single parent?

Yes, both single men and women can be considered for adoption in the same way as couples are. The important thing for all potential adopters is that you have a loving home and the time and dedication to welcome a child into it.

Read more: Can you adopt as a single parent?

What's the difference between adoption and fostering?

While adoption and fostering are similar in the sense that you're caring for a child, the main difference is adoption is usually permanent, where you become the child's legal parents, whereas fosteringis temporary.

Adoption services and support

Below are a list of charities and services in the UK who can assist and support you with further information on adoption.

Adoption UK - the UK’s leading adoption charity.

Barnardo's - the UK’s largest voluntary adoption agency.

First4adoption - a national information service for people interested in adopting a child in England.

Adoption Matters - one of the largest voluntary adoption agencies (VAA) in the UK.

You Can Adopt- allows you to search for adoption agencies in your area with their postcode search tool.

There is also plenty of information on the government website.

The British Association for Adoption and Fostering has now closed. Some of its functions have transferred to children’s charity and adoption and fostering agency, Coram, and to its new entity, CoramBAAF Adoption & Fostering Academy.

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