Legal Guides

We use plain and simple English to give you an overview of the most common areas of law.

How adoption works in the UK

Adoption is a way of providing a child or multiple children who cannot be raised by their own parents, for a number of reasons, with a new family. It is a legal procedure that transfers the parental responsibility to the adoptive parents. Once an adoption order has been granted, it likely cannot be reversed. A child who has been adopted no longer retains any legal ties to their birth family and is recognised by law as a part of their new family.

How is adoption different from fostering? 

Adoption is a permanent arrangement in which a child is recognised as part of a family; fostering on the other hand is temporary. The responsibility for a child in foster care is shared between the foster family, the local authority and the child’s parents.

Fostering can be a long or short term arrangement and “permanent fostering” does exist. It doesn’t however provide the child or foster family with the same legal security as adoption but can be the right solution depending on the circumstances.

Who can adopt? 

There are laws around who can adopt and you must match the criteria before adopting a child or children. 

  • You need to be over the age of 21
  • You must have the time and space for a child
  • You can adopt if you are single or in a relationship
  • People with disabilities can also adopt
  • You don’t have to own your own home
  • People being on low income or benefits are eligible
  • People with criminal records can also apply but some may be ruled out depending on the offence
  • You must have lived in the British Isles for at least a year to apply to adopt

How do you apply to adopt a child?

If you are looking to adopt a child, you need to apply through an adoption agency. In England and Wales, most adoption agencies are part of the local authority or the social work department in Scotland. 

Some adoption agencies are voluntary organisations. You can find your local agency online at the Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies. ]Initially, you can contact a number of adoption agencies but it is only possible to follow through with an adoption application via one agency. 

If you are based in Northern Ireland, the process is somewhat different. You can apply to a trust outside of your local area.

How do you get approved to adopt?

In England and Wales, there is a two-stage adoption process that takes around six months to complete. Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland use the same processes as England but they are not as rigidly set. 

It takes at least six months for social workers from an adoption agency to get to know prospective parents and assess them for the task ahead. A number of enquiries will be made by the local social services and the police to ensure they are suitable. Prospective adopters are also examined by their local GP and asked for at least two references from friends. 

From there, the agency’s internal panel will consider the application and recommend whether the applicants should be approved as adopters, they will also be given the chance to meet the panel. 

How are adopters matched with a child?

After the prospective adopter(s) are approved, the agency will begin the process of matching them with a child. They can enquire about children who are profiled in family-finding publications or on local media as well. 

In England and Wales, an agency will also refer the prospective adopter to the Adoption Register for England and Wales which helps to link children waiting to be adopted with approved adopters. Once a potential match is found, it is presented to an adoption panel who will recommend whether to proceed with the placement. 

After a number of introduction meetings, that can span for a few weeks to a few months, the child will move into their new parents’ home. During this time, social workers will stay involved to support the new family and the child until an adoption order is made. 

How is the adoption made legal?

An adoption order is used to officially declare the adoption as legal. There is a minimum period that the child must live with the adopters before an adoption order can be applied for via the court. 

The minimum period before applying for an adoption order is 10 weeks, although many families are helped by a longer period of time to adjust and the additional support of the social workers during this time. 

Ultimately, adoption is a great opportunity to provide a great life for a child who may not have had the best start. It also gives people who can’t have children of their own a chance to have children. While the laws around adoption are complex, it is worthwhile for those considering it. 

Article contributed by Cygnet Law

DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances. This article is merely a general comment on the relevant topic. If specific advice is required in connection with any of the matters covered in this article, please speak to Cygnet Law directly.

Published on 21st April 2022
(Last updated 21st April 2022)

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