1. Express your interest
Just thinking or definitely considering adoption? Contact your local authority (or your Health and Social Care Trust in Northern Ireland) or a voluntary adoption agency. All agencies have to work to agreed standards and are inspected regularly. It’s fine to talk to several, but you can only register with one. www.baaf.org.uk/agencies is an easy to use agency locator. Don’t be put off if an agency isn’t recruiting or there’s no information event in the near future. There’s a shortage of adopters across the UK so persevere!
Or request an information pack by using the Free text service: text NAW followed by your name to 80800.
2. Preparing to adopt
You may be asked to complete a form and invited to an information event where you can talk to social workers and adopters, or perhaps have an informal 1:1 meeting. You can then decide whether you want to register your interest in going further. At this stage you are selecting an agency you trust to take you through the assessment process..
In England there’s a two stage process. Stage One covers the basics. You will be asked to supply references and will agree for medical and other checks to take place. You don’t need to be perfect though. Next you will be invited to attend a preparation group along with other prospective adopters to give you an insight into what adoption means today, learning more about the needs of the children waiting to be adopted. It will help you explore what you are able to offer and whether you wish to commit to the next stage.
At the end of Stage One the agency will confirm that you’ve passed the checks and invite you to start Stage Two. Stage One should take no more than two months, but you may want to set the pace and take more time to think things through, which is fine.
In Scotland and Wales this might be expressed a bit differently but there are timescales and standards to ensure you have all the information you need from the outset, you have the opportunity to attend a preparation group and you know how to complete an application. The same goes for Northern Ireland except timescales aren’t prescribed.
3. You are assessed
The formal assessment process is required by law and carried out by a social worker. It is sometimes referred to as a home study. The assessing social worker will visit you at home and you will talk through why you want to adopt, the kind of child you would best be able to care for and your overall suitability. You will also be invited to attend more detailed training to prepare you for adoption. In England this is known as Stage Two and you can expect it to take around four months.
Again the process in Scotland, Wales and in Northern Ireland may differ a little in timescales and terminology but following preparation groups, they will carry out a similar home study.
4. Going to panel
Your social worker writes up a report for presentation to an adoption panel. You will be invited to attend. Remember that most people who go to panel are approved! The panel makes the recommendation, but it will be the agency that approves you.
5. Being linked with a child
As so many children are waiting, agencies are encouraged to explore linking you to a child or children before final approval. If there doesn’t seem to be a good match locally, the net is spread wider through Exchange Days , Adoption Activity Days and national family-finding services such as BAAF’s Be My Parent, or Adoption UK’s Children Who Wait.
If you have been approved but not been matched after three months you should be referred to the Adoption Register of children waiting across England and Wales, Scotland’s Adoption Register or the Adoption Regional Information System in Northern Ireland depending on where you live. Ask your social worker about this.
6. A match is made
Once the link is made, you will be given more information about the child or children, including their family background, a history of their early years, why the child came into care, the child’s characteristics and any particular needs the child may have. When you have agreed the match, you will attend a matching panel, which will look at whether or not to recommend the match. In Northern Ireland prospective adopters don’t attend the matching panel otherwise it’s the same. Once again, the final approval will be given by your agency..
7. Meeting the child
You may have seen a video of your child, or even played together at an Adoption Activity Day. Formal introductions must wait till the match has been approved. They are well planned by the social worker, yourself and the foster carer (assuming the child is in foster care). You can expect to visit the foster carer’s house and plan outings, and the child will visit you at home, including overnight stays. Gradually, you will be getting to know each other and the child will move in as soon as you’re all ready.
8. Moving in
An exciting and daunting time for all concerned! It doesn’t take much to imagine the mix of emotions this can evoke. Most importantly, it marks the beginning of your life together as a family. You are entitled to statutory adoption leave and pay, and will continue to be supported by your social worker.
9. Making the adoption legal
After a minimum of ten weeks you can apply to the courts for an adoption order. This is the final legal step. It means the child will be legally yours and can take your surname.
10. Your life together
Parenting is one of the most rewarding and most challenging jobs in life. There are bound to be ups and downs! Adoption support is widely available to see you through, so please ask your agency when you need help.
You can find out more about each one of these steps the book Adoption: some questions answered.