Adopting a child

Children|October 21st 2019

Adopting a child

Last week in The Guardian a headline reported: “Twice as many children waiting to be adopted as families to adopt.” 

This caught my eye for two main reasons: first, it was National Adoption Week and second, as a family lawyer I have trained to manage the legal process when adopting a child in England and Wales.  

The statistics quoted in the article were taken from the Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board (ASGLB) and it makes for sobering reading,   

  • 4,140 children in England where a decision has been made that they should be adopted. 
  • 1,700 families who are approved to adopt but waiting to be matched 
  • 2,760 children where a placement order has been made for adoption, but they have not yet been placed. 

So why are fewer people coming forward to adopt a child?  

I have heard multiple reasons but the ones that ring true to me are societal changes, improvements in IVF success rates and a misunderstanding of who can adopt and the legal process.  

As a family lawyer, I hear many myths about adoption law and I agree, it is a specialist area of law but with an experienced adoption lawyer by your side, it is relatively easy to navigate.  

Can I adopt a child in England and Wales?  

First off, who can adopt a child in England or Wales?  To qualify you must be over 21 and happy to make space in your life and home for a child.  

Now let me dispel some myths, you CAN adopt if, 

  • You are married, living together, in a civil partnership, opposite-sex couple, same-sex couple or single 
  • Employed or on benefits 
  • Any ethnic or religious background  
  • Have children or not 
  • Own your home or live in rented 
  • Already adopted a child  
  • If you are disabled 
  • You are not a British citizen (although you must have a fixed and permanent home here and lived here for at least a year before you begin the application process) 

What is the process to adopt a child?

To adopt a child, you must go through an agency, either one that is part of your local council or a voluntary adoption agency. (See links at the end of the article).  

The agency will supply information, meet with you to assess your suitability, explain the process and provide the application form.  

Once you have applied there will be a full assessment of you (and partner if involved) including: 

  • Social worker visits on a number of occasions to assess your suitability to become adoptive parents 
  • Police checks (You will not be allowed to adopt if you, or an adult member of your family, have been convicted of a serious offence, for example against a child.) 
  • A full medical examination 
  • Three personal references. One can be a relative.  
  • You will also need to attend a series of preparation classes, often held locally. 

What is the adoption panel?

Your social worker will prepare and send the assessment report to an independent panel who are experienced in adoption.  They will make a recommendation based on your assessment.  

This recommendation will be sent to your chosen agency and they will decide if you are suitable to adopt or not.  

If approved, the agency will work with the local authority to start the process of finding a child.  

How do they match with a child?

After matching potential adoptive parents with a child, the suitability of the situation for the child and parents will be discussed between the agencies involved. A matching panel will make the final decision.  

When does the child move into the family home permanently?

Once a child has been matched with an adoptive parent/s, the process of moving in is taken, understandably, very slowly. There are a series of visits and stays, supported by your social worker to make the transition as comfortable as possible before moving in permanently.  

How is adopting a child made legal?  

Before a child moves in, Social Services need to obtain a Placement Order (unless the biological parents have consented).  This order gives Social Services the power as an adoption agency to place a child with a chosen adopter (you). 

Once the relationship is working well under the Placement Order and the child has been living with you for at least 10 continuous weeks, steps are taken to get an Adoption Order.  

What is an Adoption Order?

The effect of an Adoption Order is to make the adopters the legal parents of the child.  The biological parents lose their parental status as a result of this Order, so it is an important step that requires careful thought. 

If the child has been placed with you under a Placement Order, then their biological parents are not allowed to oppose an Adoption Order without permission from the Court.   

In some cases, the biological parents may try to prevent the Adoption Order from happening, but you would know well in advance if that was going to be a risk.  The biological parents will be told about a hearing for an Adoption Order even if they are not allowed to challenge it, and so you can be anonymous on your application.   

In most cases, the adopters do not attend the first hearing in case there are any problems with the biological parents, and instead, attend the celebratory event when the order is granted. 

Once the Court is satisfied that adoption is the best option for the child, an Adoption Order is granted and there is a celebratory event at Court where it is confirmed that you are the parents of your adopted child.  

What is the future of adoption? 

The discrepancy between children needed to be adopted and families/people who can adopt increases year after year. Children are not taken into care easily and they often stay in care. As this gap widens, more and more children will end up staying in care.  

I hope that more work will be done to expel the myths of adoption.  A process that can transform a child’s life and future.  

What are your next steps: 

If you would like to find out more about adopting a child or the legal process you can get in touch with our adoption team here. 

Useful links:  

Voluntary adoption agency finder:  www.cvaa.org.uk/thinking-about-adoption/find-your-nearest-agency  

Apply through a local authority agency: www.gov.uk/apply-to-adopt-child-through-council  

The charity Adoption UK runs a helpline: www.adoptionuk.org/helpline 

Victoria Clarke is a solicitor in Stowe Family Law’s Esher office.    After completing her legal studies in Guildford, she trained with a regional Legal 500 firm and later worked in Surrey and Hampshire. Her experience includes complex financial assets as well as difficult matters concerning children.

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