There are various situations in which people may consider adopting a child. The process can be rather lengthy and involve police checks, references and various requirements of the prospective parents. Read this guide to understand what's involved in the adoption process.

Who is allowed to adopt?

People aged 21 or over are allowed to adopt. There is no upper age limit. There are no limitations on relationship status; people can adopt if they are single, married, in a civil partnership, living as an unmarried couple, or if they are the partner of the child who is being adopted.

Adopting in the UK is not restricted to British citizens but:

  • the prospective adoptive parent (or their partner if a couple) must have a fixed and permanent home in the UK
  • the prospective adoptive parent (and their partner if a couple) must have lived in the UK for at least one year prior to applying for adoption

What is the adoption process?

The first step is to contact an adoption agency which is part of the local council or a voluntary adoption agency to find out about their particular adoption process. The agency will meet the prospective adoptive parent/s and this will then lead on to the formal adoption application.

Adoption assessment

Once a formal adoption application has been received by an agency, it will normally invite the prospective adoptive parent/s to a series of classes which aim to provide advice about the effect of adoption.

The next step is a series of visits by a social worker who will assess the suitability of the adoptive parent/s, followed by a police check.

Three referees will then need to provide personal references (only one of whom can be a relative) and finally a full medical examination will need to be undergone.

The assessment will be sent to an independent adoption panel. They may ask further questions before submitting a recommendation to the agency which will then make a decision on the suitability of the adoptive parent(s).

If the agency approves the adoption, the adoptive parent/s will be referred to the Adoption Register for England or the National Adoption Service for Wales.

If the agency refuses the application, prospective adoptive parent/s can challenge them in writing or apply to the Independent Review Mechanism. Or they can apply again to a different agency.

The overall approval process normally takes about six months.

How do you get parental rights and responsibility?

After adoption has taken place, and the child has lived with their adoptive parent/s for at least 10 weeks, an application for an adoption court order should be made to a family court using form A58. This will confer parental rights and responsibilities upon the adoptive parent(s), provide them with an adoption certificate and make the adoption fully legal and permanent.

What are the rights of birth parents?

The child's birth parents must give consent to the adoption unless:

  • they are absent and cannot be found
  • they do not have the mental capacity to provide consent (eg due to a mental illness)
  • the child would otherwise be at risk

How can a step-child be adopted?

The local council should be told if a step-parent wishes to adopt their step-child. This should be done at least three months before any application for an adoption order and the step-parent should have lived with the step-child for at least six months. An adoption assessment will then need to take place - which is broadly similar to the general adoption assessment described above. An adoption court order will generally remove parental responsibility from the other birth parent (ie who is not living with the child) - so they either have to agree to the adoption or the court will need to make a decision.

What are the rules for adopting a child abroad?

In order to adopt a child from overseas, prospective adoptive parents must contact their local council or a voluntary adoption agency which handles overseas adoption. The adoption process is broadly the same as for adopting a child from the UK but the relevant overseas adoption authority will also be involved.

There are certain restrictions and fees when adopting from abroad - see GOV.UK for more information.