This page explains the legal process of adoption. It explains who can adopt a child, the legal effects of adoption and how to apply for an adoption order. It also explains post-adoption contact.
What is adoption?
Adoption is a legal procedure in which the parental responsibility for a child is transferred from their birth parent or other person with parental responsibility to their adopters. An adopted child loses all the legal ties with their original parents. When an adoption order is made in respect of a child, the child becomes a full member of their new family, usually takes the family name, and assumes the same rights and privileges as if they had been born to the adoptive family including the right of inheritance. Adoption is a significant legal order and is not usually reversible.
Do biological parents lose their parental responsibility when their child is adopted?
Yes, when a child is adopted, the parental responsibility of their biological (birth) parents as well as any other person who holds parental responsibility will end. Parental responsibility will be held solely by the adopter/s. This can be found in Adoption and Children Act 2002, section 46 (2) (a).
Why are children adopted?
Children may be adopted because they are unable to be brought up by their own parents, in order to provide a permanent new family for a child. Children in local authority care who are unable to live with their parents or extended family may be adopted, but only with their parents’ consent or if there are welfare concerns and the court decides that adoption is required and is in the child’s best interests. Step-parents may wish to adopt their partner’s child(ren). Relatives, including those that already hold parental responsibility for the child through Special Guardianship or Child Arrangements Orders may wish to adopt a child from within their family.
Can a young person over the age of 18 be adopted?
An application to court to adopt must be made before the child’s 18th birthday, although an adoption order can be granted up to their 19th birthday. Allowing for 3 months’ notice to be given to the local authority prior to the application to adopt, it is advisable to start the adoption process well in advance of the child’s 18th birthday.
Who can adopt a child?
A child can be adopted by either a single person or a couple (whether married or in a civil partnership and whether of different gender or the same gender). An adoption order can be made in favour of two applicants if they are a married couple, a couple who have entered into a civil partnership or ‘two people (whether of different sexes or the same sex) living as partners in an enduring relationship’. The applicants must be living as a couple; for example a brother and sister is not a ‘couple’ for the purposes of adoption. This can be found in Adoption and Children Act 2002 section 50.
An adoption order can be made on the application of a couple if both are at least 21 years of age. Alternatively, an adoption order can be made on the application of a couple where one is the mother or father of the child who is at least 18 years of age and the other is at least 21 years of age.
There is no legal upper age limit for adoptive parents. However, adoption agencies will undertake an assessment of people who wish to adopt to see if they are suitable. Ability to care for a child will be the agency’s main consideration and a person’s age may be relevant to that assessment.
An application for an adoption order may only be made if one of the following two conditions is satisfied:
- One of the couple must be domiciled in a part of the British Islands
- Both of the couple have been habitually resident in a part of the British Islands for a period of not less than one year ending with the date of application.
A criminal record check is obtained for adoption applicants and anyone aged 18 or over in their household, and it is not possible to adopt if the applicant or household member has committed a specified offence (an offence against a child and certain other serious sexual offences) Other offences would also be considered, however a minor offence won’t necessarily prevent someone from adopting.
How do I apply to adopt?
The process will be different depending on whether you are applying to adopt a child from care or a child already known to you, a step-child, relative, or child you have been fostering. Any application to adopt will require the involvement of professional social workers and it is not legally possible to arrange adoption privately in the UK.
In all cases, information about the prospective adopter will be sought, including health information, criminal record checks and personal references. Information and counselling will also be provided about the legal and other implications of adoption. Please select from the following information according to your particular circumstances.
How do I adopt a child from care?
Adoption is a way of providing a new family for a child when living with their own family is no longer an option. For adoption to be the plan for the child there will be some reason why it is not in the child's best interests to remain in the birth family and for a court to have decided that adoption is in the child’s best interests. Usually children adopted from care are those who are unable to live with their birth family because of concerns about their welfare, though sometimes a birth family may choose adoption for their child.
To start the adoption process in England, you can seek information from any adoption agency (local authority or voluntary adoption agency). First4Adoption is the national information service for anyone interested in adopting a child in England, and can provide information as well as assistance with finding adoption agencies via their website and Information Line.
Once your formal application to adopt is accepted by an adoption agency, the agency undertakes an assessment with you which takes approximately 6 months. First4Adoption can provide information and answer questions about the assessment process, whether you are just starting or at any stage of the process. Once approved to adopt you are able to seek matches with the child or children that you may go on to adopt. A child to be adopted initially remains in the care of a local authority and is placed with their prospective adoptive family under a court Placement Order, or with the consent of the birth parents. When a child placed for adoption has lived with their prospective adopter for a minimum period of 10 weeks, the adoptive family can apply to court to adopt the child.
How do I adopt my spouse or partner’s child (step parent adoption)?
A child’s step parent may make an application for an adoption order, either on their own or as one of a married or unmarried couple. If you are applying to adopt the child as part of a couple then both of you need to be named as applicants for the adoption order. They must satisfy the basic requirements as stated under who can adopt a child. If they are not married to the child’s parent, the couple will need to show that they are living together in a lasting relationship. They will also need to be living as a family with the child for a minimum of six months for an adoption order to be made.
An application to court to adopt must be made before the child’s 18th birthday. In order to give sufficient notice to the local authority, a step parent will need to start the process well in advance of the child’s 18th birthday.
Prior to applying to court for an adoption order, the prospective adopter must first give three months’ notice in writing to the local authority Children’s Services Department where they and the child are living. The local authority will appoint a social worker to prepare a report for the court about the child, the family circumstances, the prospective adopter and their partner. The social worker will need to meet with the prospective adopter/partner and the child and will fully discuss the adoption process and requirements with them.
Any court fees must be paid when an application is made to court. If both birth parents agree to the adoption and it is not going to be contested a solicitor is not usually needed, however if the adoption is contested by one of the birth parents it is advisable to consult a solicitor.
The court will decide whether adoption is in the child’s best interests. They must also find out whether the other birth parent agrees to adoption.
If both birth parents have parental responsibility for the child (i.e. if the biological father is named on the child(rens) birth certificate, or has a Parental Responsibility Order/Agreement or if the mother is married to the father), the court will appoint an officer or ask the local authority to interview and witness the birth parent’s consent. If a birth parent does not have parental responsibility, (if the father is not named on the birth certificate, or if there is no Parental Responsibility Order/Agreement in place or if the parents are not married, the local authority will seek his views wherever possible.
If one of the birth parents does not consent, a CAFCASS officer will be appointed as the Children’s Guardian (for court purposes only). They represent the child and ensure that the child’s views, as well as the views of all relatives are known by the court, before an order can be made. An adoption order may be made without the birth parent’s consent if the court decides that the child’s welfare requires this.
The court has to consider what order is best for the child, and has a duty to ensure that the child’s welfare is the main priority. The court will consider if one of the alternatives below or no order is more suitable after taking into account everyone’s views and the child’s need for a stable family life.
Alternatives to adoption for step-parents
Alternatives that can give parental responsibility to a step-parent (which they share with the other parent(s)) are Parental Responsibility Agreements, and legal orders such as Parental Responsibility Orders and Child Arrangements Orders (previously called Residence Orders).
For information about Parental Responsibility Agreements and Parental Responsibility Orders see our page on Parental Responsibility. Please note you can only apply for this if you are married to the biological parent of the child.
Another alternative is a Child Arrangements Order stating that the child should reside with the step parent. This is an order that states where (with whom) a child will live. It gives parental responsibility to anyone named on the order, which they then share with the child’s parents. Please see our how to guides on applying for a Child Arrangements Order for more information.
While a Child Arrangements Order is in force no one is allowed to agree to adoption, change the child's surname or remove the child from the country for over 28 days, unless everyone with parental responsibility agrees. If a Child Arrangements Order names a step-parent, they continue to hold parental responsibility if their partner dies.
How do I adopt a child that is related to me or known to me?
If you are a close relative, or privately fostering a child and the child has lived with you for three years in the past five years, you can apply to adopt the child. This is likely to cover situations such as adoption by close relatives, private foster carers and relatives who already hold parental responsibility through orders such as a Special Guardianship Order, Residence Order or Child Arrangements Order. If the period the child has lived with the prospective adopter is less than three years, an application to adopt cannot be made without first obtaining leave of the court to apply.
In all cases the adopters will need to satisfy the basic requirements as stated under who can adopt a child.
The process is similar to step-parent adoption (see above). Prior to applying to court for an adoption order, the prospective adopters must first give three months’ notice in writing to the local authority Children’s Services Department where they and the child are living. The local authority will appoint a social worker to prepare a report for the court about the child, the family circumstances, the prospective adopter and their partner if they have one. The social worker will need to meet with the prospective adopter/partner and the child. The consent of any birth parent with parental responsibility will be sought, and the views of a parent without parental responsibility will be considered.
I am a foster carer. Can I adopt the child I am fostering?
If you are fostering a looked after child placed with you through a local authority or independent fostering agency and the local authority responsible for the child supports the plan for adoption, they should be willing to assess and approve you as an adopter. Once approved as an adopter, your suitability to be matched for adoption with the child you are fostering can be considered. Once formally matched with a child, an application to court to finalise the adoption through the making of an Adoption Order can be made.
You can find information about the ‘fast track’ assessment process for currently approved foster carers via First4Adoption’s website here. First4Adoption can also give information about any aspect of the adoption process where a child is in the care of a local authority in England.
If you do not have the support of the local authority responsible for the child, you are able to make a ‘non-agency’ application to adopt if you have fostered a child for a minimum period of 12 months immediately preceding the application. If you have not fostered the child for the required period of time, you cannot apply to adopt unless you first obtain leave of the court to apply.
The application process is similar to step-parent adoption. Prior to applying to court for an adoption order, the prospective adopter must first give three months’ notice in writing to the local authority Children’s Services Department where they and the child are living. The local authority will appoint a social worker to prepare a report for the court about the child, the family circumstances, the prospective adopter and their partner if they have one. The social worker will need to meet with the prospective adopter/partner and the child. The consent of any birth parent with parental responsibility will be sought, and the views of a parent without parental responsibility will be considered. Foster carers who adopt by the ‘non-agency’ route may not be entitled to access the same post-adoption support as adopters assessed and approved by an adoption agency.
How do I adopt a child from overseas?
Inter country adoption is permitted for children who cannot be safely cared for in their country of origin. Anyone adopting a child from overseas must comply with the law in the country they are adopting from, and with the law concerning adoption in the UK. See who can adopt a child for the core legal requirements for adoption in the UK. This applies regardless of whether the child you wish to adopt is known to you.
In order to adopt a child from overseas, you must be assessed and approved as an adopter under UK law. This applies even if the child you wish to adopt is related to you or known to you. You can approach the local authority where you live, or a Voluntary Adoption Agency that undertakes overseas assessments, which you can find via the Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies.
What if I’m thinking about adoption for my own child?
If you are pregnant and considering adoption for your child, or for a child already born, you will need to seek professional advice. Private adoption is not possible in the UK; although you can arrange for your child to live with a close relative if you wish, an adoption cannot be arranged unless through an adoption agency. The only alternative is if another person has cared for the child for three years and makes a non-agency application to adopt (see how do I adopt a child related to me or known to me). Each local authority operates an adoption agency and you can ask to speak to someone in the Children’s Services Department of the local authority where you live.
Alternatively, if you are already in touch with a hospital during your pregnancy, you can talk to the Hospital Social Worker, or your midwives who may be able to put you in touch with the adoption team.
When you contact an adoption agency, you should be offered an opportunity to discuss your situation and wishes, and also to be counselled about possible alternatives to enable you to be confident that you are making the right choice for yourself and your child. A social worker from the adoption agency will offer to discuss this with you, or you could ask a midwife, GP or health clinic to arrange counselling.
If you decide that adoption is right for your baby, the social worker at the agency will support you with making preparations for the adoption. If you are pregnant, no firm arrangements will be made until after your baby is born and you free to change your mind. You cannot give legal consent to the adoption until your child is at least six weeks old, however a baby below this age may be placed with your consent, either with a temporary foster carer or with the prospective adopter.
You retain full parental responsibility during the time your child is voluntarily in the care of the local authority with your consent, and you have the right to change your mind and resume the care of your child. An application for an Adoption Order (with your consent) will be made and the court will appoint a CAFCASS officer to meet with you and witness your consent.
The child’s father’s consent will also be needed, unless you are unmarried and he is not named on the birth certificate, in which case his views will be sought wherever possible. If the father has parental responsibility and does not consent to the adoption, a CAFCASS officer will be appointed as Children’s Guardian (for court purposes only). They represent the child and ensure that the child’s views, as well as the views of all relatives are known by the court, before an order can be made. An adoption order may be made without the father’s consent if the court decides that the child’s welfare requires this.
Do children remain in contact with their birth family?
Adoption can sometimes involve continuing contact between the birth parents and the adoptive family, either through direct (face to face, telephone) or indirect (confidential letterbox) contact. Direct contact is less common, although children who have siblings living elsewhere may be supported to remain in direct contact with their siblings. The most common form of contact is confidential letterbox contact, where an exchange of information once or twice a year takes place between the birth family and the adoptive family with the communication handled by the confidential letterbox service so that addresses are not shared. Decisions about contact must always be considered when a child is adopted.
A Child Arrangements Order could be applied for at a later date if informal arrangements cannot be made. You will require leave from the court before you make this application. See our how to guide on Contact for more information.
What if adoption is being proposed for my child, and I disagree with this?
If your child is in the care of a local authority and you believe that adoption is being considered, it is important to seek advice as soon as possible. You should contact a Solicitor and can find one on the Law Society website.
Parental consent must be considered:
- Firstly when the court is making a decision about whether to grant a local authority a Placement Order which would give the local authority the authorisation to place the child with prospective adopters
- Then again when the court comes to consider making a final adoption order.
However, the court can issue an Adoption Order without Parental Consent if the parent or guardian cannot be found or lacks the capacity or the welfare of the child requires it to be dispensed of.
If you refuse to give your consent initially and the Local Authority or Adoption Agency feel it is in your child’s best interests to be adopted, they can apply for a Placement Order. The court must be satisfied that the child is under a Care Order or the child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm. The court will also consider the welfare checklist.
Once a Placement Order has been issued, it is very difficult to oppose adoption and so we strongly advise you to seek independent legal advice at this point. Once a Placement Order has been issued, you can only oppose the adoption if you can show there has been a change of circumstances. You will need permission to make this application if a Placement Order has already been issued.
You may wish to consider proposing to the court alternative arrangements. You may have family members who are able to care for your child. The courts could consider issuing a Special Guardianship Order or a Child Arrangements Order. This would ensure that you maintain Parental Responsibility for your child.
What is the court process to finalise an adoption?
Whether an adoption is undertaken via an adoption agency or by making an application direct to court after giving notice to the local authority the final part of the process is the court hearing to consider the application for an Adoption Order.
Once permission has been granted, you can apply for the Adoption Order on form A58 which you can find from the same sources as above. The applicant will be the prospective adopter(s).
The respondents will be each person with parental responsibility for the child (unless they have given notice stating that they do not wish to be informed of any adoption), any person who is named in a Child Arrangements Order as a person with whom the child is to have contact or spend time with, any Local Authority or adoption agency connected with the child’s adoption, and in some circumstances the child.
Where the child is a party, they will normally be represented by a child’s guardian and a solicitor for the child must be appointed. If the child has a guardian, they will produce a report to the court of what they believe to be in the child’s best interests.
Children’s Services or the Adoption Agency will be required to file their assessment to the court. This assessment will be about the prospective adopter(s) and their suitability to adopt and the child, their views and a background of the case.
The court will hold a first directions hearing at which a number of issues will be considered with a view to ensuring the case is properly prepared for a final hearing.
If the parent opposes to the making of an adoption order there will be a final hearing at which the principle issue is likely to be whether or not the parent’s consent to adoption should be dispensed with.
The court will establish whether your consent is given or if not, whether your consent should be dispensed with. The courts must consider the child’s welfare throughout their life. To determine this, they will consider the Welfare Checklist.
The court must also consider all other orders available to them and must not make an order for Adoption unless making the order would be better for the child than not doing so.
Where an adoption order is to be made, the court will usually hold an adoption ceremony, when adoptive parents, wider family members and the child can attend the court for the adoption certificate to be handed over.