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I’m thinking about adopting a child

Adopting a child is a lifelong journey. It can be fraught with challenges, but it is equally hugely rewarding.

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What is adoption?

Adoption gives children who cannot safely live with their birth family the chance to have a lovingsafe and secure family life. Finding a new family for children who need it gives them the opportunity to reach their full potential, despite their difficult early experiences.

Adoption is a legal process whereby adoptive parents become the child’s legal parents with the same rights and responsibilities as a biological parent. Adopted children no longer have any legal ties with their birth parents and become full members of their new family.

Children from a range of backgrounds, ages and experiences are in need of adoption. Around 3,000 to 4,000 children are adopted in the UK each year, but there are still thousands of children who cannot return to their birth families and are in need of a secure and loving adoptive home. Among the children awaiting adoption relatively few are babies. Many are of school age, and there are groups of brothers and sisters who need to stay together. The majority of these children will have experienced some form of early trauma or loss, and all of them need a devoted family environment where they can experience unconditional lovesupport and security.

The adoption process

The adoption process has several stages and is slightly different in each country of the UK. Each stage gives you and the agency supporting you time to consider if adoption is the right route for you and helps you prepare with confidence for your adopted child(ren) to become part of your family.

It should take up to 6 months from registering your interest with an agency to being approved, unless you choose to take a break between Stages 1 and 2. Typically, the whole process – from enquiring with your chosen agency to being matched with a child – takes between 9 and 12 months. However, this can vary considerably: every child and adopter will have their own needs, and it is important to proceed at a pace that works for everyone.

All VAAs have adapted the services that they provide in response to the pandemic and government guidelines on social distancing. To find out more about how this might affect your adoption process, it is important to speak to agencies directly. Many agencies are running online information sessions, and all are very easy to reach via email and telephone.

Enquire about Adoption

The first step is to find out as much as possible about adoption. All adoption agencies will be happy to answer your questions and talk you through the process.

Thinking about Intercounty Adoption? Find more information about VAAs offering on Intercounty Adoption here.

There are currently three kinds of adoption agency:

  • Regional adoption agencies (RAAs), which oversee adoption across a number of local authorities;
  • Local authorities, where they have not yet joined a regional adoption agency; and
  • Voluntary adoption agencies (VAAs), which are charitable or not-for-profit organisations.

All CVAA members are VAAs and provide excellent support to prospective adopters.

It’s important to find an agency that you feel comfortable with, so you may need to speak to a few to find one that feels right. You will be invited to attend an information session or you may decide that you would like to move straight to a home visit, where you can discuss the process in more detail. Once you and your chosen agency are satisfied that you would like to proceed, you will be provided with a registration of interest form which you can return when you feel you are ready to enter Stage 1. Returning your Registration of Interest, or ROI, is the first official step in the adoption process.

Stage 1: Initial visits and checks

Once you have chosen an agency to work with, they will officially register your interest in adopting and begin Stage 1 of the process. References will be sought, criminal background checks undertaken, and a GP medical report requested. You will also be invited to attend preparation groups with other prospective adopters where you can learn parenting skills, ask questions and hear from experienced adopters. Stage 1 should take no more than 2 months

At the end of Stage 1, you and your agency will decide whether you should continue to Stage 2. If you go ahead, there is the option of taking a break for up to 6 months before proceeding. Some adopters take this break to, for example, prepare their home or make changes in their career. When you are ready to move into Stage 2, an assessing social worker will be appointed to take you through this part of your journey.

Stage 2: Training and assessment

During Stage 2 you will work with your social worker to prepare an assessment plan and complete a Prospective Adopter’s Report (PAR). Your agency will provide training to enable you to understand and support the child or children you may adopt. Home visits will help your social worker learn about your lifestyle, family and friends network, and all the qualities and experiences that you will bring to parenting. This will all contribute to your PAR.

Approval

At the end of Stage 2, your social worker will present your PAR to a panel of adoption professionals, independent members, and adopters. You will be invited to attend the panel meeting, too. The panel will discuss with you your reasons for wanting to adopt and ask you other questions before deciding whether to recommend that you are suitable to adopt. The agency will consider the panel’s recommendation, and the agency’s decision maker (ADM) will make the final decision. From entering Stage 2 to the agency making a decision about approval should take around 4 months.

Matching

Once you are approved, your social worker will begin to search for children for whom you would be a suitable match. It is important to understand that the decisions on matching prioritise the needs of the child above everything else. At this point, you may want to take part in further training to help you better prepare to parent children waiting for adoption. VAAs specialise in preparing and supporting adopters to care for children with particular needs.

Once a match has been found, your social worker and the child’s social worker will write a report for presentation to a matching panel. This second panel will decide if this match meets the needs of the child, and make a recommendation to the agency decision maker. As with approval, the agency decision maker is responsible for the final decision about your match.

Becoming a family

Once the agency decision makers approves your match, your social worker will continue to support you through introductions, getting to know your child(ren), and the process of moving the child(ren) in with you. After 10 weeks of placement, you will be able to apply to the courts for an adoption order. The adoption order will give you full parental rights and responsibilities for your child(ren).

Post-adoption support is an important part of the adoption process – you can find out more here. The need for additional help varies hugely between families and may arise early on, or much later as your child grows up. All VAAs offer lifelong adoption support to you and your child(ren) as well as easy access to information and peer support from other adoptive families.

Adopting in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

The adoption process differs slightly in all the countries of the UK. In Scotland and Northern Ireland there are no stages 1 and 2, so the processes run concurrently with checks normally taking place after the preparation and application process. Wales introduced the two-stage process in autumn 2019.

Adoption support

It is normal for adoptive families to need help and support. VAAs deliver a range of specialist adoption support services to ensure your family is supported throughout your lifelong adoption journey. All kinds of support are available, including therapeutic, financial and educational. VAAs support all parties affected by adoption, including birth families.

“I know that Voluntary Adoption Agencies (VAAs) have been at the forefront of listening to and learning from those affected by adoption, recognising its lifelong impact, and seeking to ensure that support is available as and when it is needed. It isn’t always easy to ask for help, particularly when life is difficult, but you don’t need to struggle on your own. I’ve seen how VAAs encourage adoptive families to stay in touch with them and with other adopters even when things are going well; this can provide a sound basis for asking for help when the going gets tough. That’s a message that applies to birth families too and I know that many VAAs provide special services which reach out to support them.

If your connection with adoption is through a VAA, that agency will always aim ’to be there for you’, whether as a first point of call, to signpost to the services you need, or to provide those services directly. There are many challenges in adoption, but with help and support, then the rewards can be immense.”

Chris Smith, former CEO of St Francis’ Children’s Society and former Director of CVAA

Often the method of support offered varies from agency to agency, however all our members are expert and able to meet your needs, or help you find someone who can.

CVAA also has close links with CASA, the Consortium of Adoption Support Agencies. CASA provides information on adoption support agencies (ASAs), including a directory of all its members. ASAs offer a range of support to those affected by adoption and other forms of permanent care, e.g. special guardianship and kinship care. Find out more about CASA and its members here.

Myth busting

There is a lot to get your head round when you’re thinking about adopting, and you may have come across confusing, misleading, or incorrect information. Here we want to clarify some of the most common myths that surround adoption. At the heart of the adoption system are people who are committed to ensuring that what is best for the child is at the centre of any decisions made about their life, and that adopters are supported to be the best parents they can be.

There are no wrong questions. You should discuss any concerns you have, no matter how small or silly they may seem to you, with your adoption agency – they want you be well-informed, and many adopters before you will probably have asked the same questions.

You have to wait longer to adopt a child through a VAA as they don’t have the children awaiting adoption.

Not true! Local authorities (LAs) are responsible for looking after children awaiting adoption, but both local authorities and VAAs, as well as regional adoption agencies (RAAs), look for the right adoptive parents and work together to find the best potential adopters to meet the needs of the children waiting.

Once you are approved, your social worker will communicate with LA children’s social workers throughout the country to find children for whom you would be a good fit. In 2019, 60% of matched adopters were introduced to their child or children’s profile by their own social worker (Adoption Barometer 2020).

Once you are approved, you will also be able to access LinkMaker, a website which has the details of many of the children waiting for a home. Scotland and Wales also have Adoption Registers which list children and adopters waiting.

Adopters who have very narrow criteria for the children they wish to adopt tend to wait the longest before finding the right match. Many of the children waiting for adoption have special placement needs (e.g. a disability or a need to be placed with their siblings), so if you are open to more children then you have a good chance of being matched more quickly.

Once I’ve adopted, I’ll be on my own.

You won’t be on your own. All adoption agencies offer ongoing support to their adoptive families. The services that are available do vary between agencies, however, so before registering with an agency we recommend doing your research and identifying what is important to you. You can look at different agency’s websites and online discussion forums (e.g. on Facebook and Mumsnet), as well as asking the agency themselves what is on offer and how they will be able to support your family.

The Government has set up an Adoption Support Fund (ASF) in England to pay for essential therapeutic support. Your local authority can apply to the fund on your behalf, and if you adopted through a VAA then they can support you to put in an application through your local authority. In addition, most agencies have adopter peer support groups where you can talk about common concerns as well as celebrate and have fun, and many VAAs host annual events such as discos, picnics, and Christmas parties.

If we’re approved to adopt, we won’t have any say in the child(ren) we are matched with

This isn’t true! It essential that you and your child(ren) are the ‘right fit’ for one another. Once you are approved, your agency will work with you to identify children who may be a good fit. Your assessing social worker will send your profile to local authorities and regional adoption agencies; likewise, other agencies will start sending children’s profiles to your social worker. You will probably look at a lot of children’s profiles and it may feel a bit overwhelming – there are thousands of children waiting for an adoptive family, and you do not need to say ‘yes’ to the first child(ren) you see. Your agency will support you throughout the linking and matching process to ensure that you and your child(ren) are right for one another, and you will always have the final say.

I would have to be well-off and/or have no debt to adopt.

Adoption is about providing a loving home and protecting children from ongoing serious harm. It is not a question of class or income. Adoptive parents come from a range of backgrounds, as do the children waiting for a home.

Being on a low income or benefits, renting your home or having debts do not stand in the way of adopting a child. Suitability for being an adopter is based on a number of factors, the most important of which is that you have the commitment, warmth, energy and flexibility to meet a child’s emotional and physical needs as they grow up.

Adopters may have debts, but so long as these are understood and you can manage repayments alongside living expenses then this shouldn’t be a problem.

You need to be able to give your adopted child plenty of time and attention, too, which may mean work has to change. This could have financial implications. Your adoption agency will provide advice on this, but having a low income is in no way a barrier to being an adoptive parent. If you are in receipt of benefits, you might need to provide evidence of a stable lifestyle and the ability to manage on the income you receive.

Openness and honesty about financial pressures is encouraged right from the outset of your application.

Adoption agencies don’t charge to assess or approve adopters. But there may be some additional costs such as GP charges for a medical certificate.  This depends on the individual GP practice and you may be able to get costs covered by the local authority in some circumstances.

I’m unemployed, on benefits or have a low income, so I won’t be allowed to adopt.

Being on a low income or benefits should not stop you applying to adopt a child. As part of the assessment process your adoption agency will consider first and foremost your ability to provide a loving and secure home for a child, which will include consideration of your financial circumstances and employment status.

We don’t have any experience of looking after children, so we can’t adopt.

It is certainly helpful for prospective adopters to have some experience with children, particularly if you are going to adopt older children or siblings. However, a lack of experience won’t prevent you from beginning the adopter approval process. Some adoption agencies might suggest you do some voluntary work with a school or club to gain childcare experience and become more comfortable spending time with children you don’t know well.

I’m too old to adopt.

There is no upper age limit to adoption as long as you have the physical and mental energy to care for children. However, you do have to be at least 21 years of age in order to adopt.

I’m disabled/ have a long-term illness so I won’t be allowed to adopt.

Having a disability or a long-term illness (e.g. HIV or diabetes) is not a barrier to adoption, provided you are able care for a child. In fact, many people who adopt have a disability or medical condition.

Medical advice will be sought in relation to all medical conditions and the focus of discussion will relate to how well you are able to care for a child throughout childhood, the sort of support you have from a partner or other close family members or friends if you are unwell and consideration about the long term prognosis of your condition. The focus will be on considering how you can safely and consistently meet the needs of a child throughout their childhood. In some cases, people with disabilities or long-term health conditions have been provided with additional support to enable an adoption to go ahead.

I can’t adopt because I’m single/a single man.

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