Adopting a child

Table of Contents

In order to legally adopt a child, you must apply for an adoption order. This transfers parental responsibility from one person to another. You can only do this when the child has been living with you for a certain amount of time.

In most cases, an adoption order cuts all legal ties between an adopted child and their birth parents, and creates a new legal relationship between the child and the adoptive parents. The exception is cases involving adopting a stepchild, where birth parents and the step-parent share parental responsibility.

If everyone agrees to the adoption the Cafcass worker is known as a reporting officer. They will speak to everybody involved to make sure that they: understand what the adoption means for them and the child; and really do agree to the adoption. They will then witness the consent forms being signed and inform the court. 

The forms will be sent to the court together with a short report.  This is evidence of the parent’s consent to the adoption.

There are two types of adoption:

Non-agency adoption

This is where adults are applying to adopt a child (‘non-agency adoption’).

Here the courts may seek the view of Cafcass in these cases is to make sure the adults understand what the adoption means for them and the child, and that the birth parents really do agree to it.

Agency adoption

This is where the local authority and an adoption agency want to place a child for adoption (‘agency adoption’).

Here to make sure that the birth parents fully understand the process and agree to it, the court may involve Cafcass or, if they do not agree to it, to tell the court what we think is best for the child.

Parental consent for adoption

Parents can give their consent for their child to be adopted. The law puts safeguards around this decision to make sure that the parent is giving this consent in an informed and considered way. This is achieved by making the parent give two different consents:

  • Consent for the child to be placed for adoption (section 19, Adoption and Children Act 2002 (ACA 2002)).
  • Consent for the child to be adopted (section 20, ACA 2002).

Both consents can only be given if the child is six weeks old or older (section 53(2), ACA 2002). If the baby is younger than six weeks old, the parent can give a consent for the child to be placed for adoption, but this consent must be given again after the baby turns six weeks old.

Consents are required from every person with parental responsibility (PR) for the child.

When consent is not given

If the consent to place for adoption is not given, the local authority (LA) should consider making an application for a care order and placement order. This would be necessary when a mother cannot be contacted or is unwilling to meet and discuss the issue after the child was placed before turning six weeks old.

While a LA should reasonably make more than one attempt to engage the mother to give consent, it must avoid delay in making an application for a care order. This delay will be detrimental to the child if they are placed in a foster placement, rather than an Early Permanence Placement where the foster carer is also the child’s prospective adopter.

Consent from child mothers

A child mother can give valid consent for her baby to be accommodated, placed for adoption and adopted if she has the competence or capacity to make the decision. This requires the child mother to have “a sufficient understanding and intelligence to enable them to comprehend fully what is proposed” and:

  • Understand the nature and implications of the decision and the process of implementing that decision.
  • Understand the implications of not pursuing the decision.
  • Retain the information long enough for the decision-making process to take place.
  • Be of sufficient intelligence and maturity to weigh up the information and arrive at a decision.
  • Be able to communicate that decision.

The child mother must understand the following salient or sufficient information about adoption:

  • Her child will live with a different family forever. She is unlikely to be part of the choosing of the new family.
  • The child will have new legal parents. The child will legally no longer be her child.
  • Adoption is final and non-reversible.
  • Decisions about who the child lives with and sees will be made by other people.
  • She will have no right to see the child. Direct contact is unlikely and any indirect contact will be limited.
  • In the future, the child may try to find her; any future contact will only happen if the child wants it.
  • There are two stages to adoption. The child will be placed with the new family for adoption, and then there is the formal adoption stage.
  • She has limited time to change her mind and the right to change her mind once the child is placed is limited. There is no right to change her mind once the adoption order is made.
  • She may get legal advice before making her decision.

All practical steps must be taken to help the mother understand what she is consenting to at the decision-making stage. This requires age-appropriate information about adoption, and the use of simple language, visual aids, or other means. The mother should understand the information in the consent forms for placement for adoption and for adoption.

After 6 weeks (of the child being born)

The birth parents can give their final consent. Here a social worker will explain the full process before, to make sure you understand what the adoption will involve.

After 10 weeks

The new parents can apply for an adoption order which gives them full rights over your child. The new parents will be assessed, and if everyone is happy this will be finalised.

Social work assessment process

A summary of the stages that take place in a typical scenario is as follows:

  • Mother tells hospital staff that she does not want to care for the baby once it is born. The hospital staff in turn inform children’s services.
  • An adoption social worker visits the mother and discusses the mother’s anxieties and reasons for not wanting to care for the child.
  • The adoption social worker should ensure that the mother gets, or is at least offered, counselling and information about adoption. The information must be given both orally and in writing. 
  • The adoption social worker contacts the local Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) office asking for a CAFCASS officer to be appointed to witness the parent’s consents. The request must contain:
    • a certified copy of the child’s birth certificate;
    • the name and address of the child’s parent;
    • a chronology of what actions the adoption agency has taken so far;
    • confirmation that counselling and information about adoption has been given or offered to the parent. A copy of the written information must be provided; and
    • any other relevant information about the parent.
  • The adoption social worker books a time for the adoption panel to consider whether the child should be placed for adoption.
  • The adoption social worker completes the CPR for the adoption panel.
  • At the same time, a search for prospective adopters should be made and, if possible, a potential match should be booked (known as a matching panel) before the same adoption panel as the one considering whether the child should be placed for adoption. Where perspective adoptive parents are in place then this stage will be skipped. There is no restriction on the two taking place at the same time.
  • The consents are witnessed by the CAFCASS officer and the completed consents are sent to the adoption social worker, who incorporates these with the CPR.
  • The child’s case is presented by the adoption social worker to the adoption panel and a recommendation to the adoption agency decision maker is made with reasons. The legal adviser will attend this adoption panel to ask any questions necessary to ensure details not apparent in the CPR are known and advise on the lawfulness of making a decision. The adoption panel should have conducted a thorough analysis of the realistic options for the child’s care. The parent’s wish for the child to be adopted is an important consideration for deciding whether adoption is necessary and proportionate.
  • The recommendation is given to the agency decision maker to ratify.

Information to clarify in the Child Permanence Report

Before attending the adoption panel, the panel administrators should have provided a copy of the CPR for the child. The legal adviser is allowed to ask the adoption social worker questions to clarify any information in the CPR. Particular areas that a legal adviser should look out for are as follows:

  • The ability of the parent to understand what adoption means for them practically and legally. Are there:
    • mental health difficulties;
    • learning disabilities; or
    • language issues.
  • The identity of the child’s father. If this is known, the adoption agency must notify him if he has parental responsibility (PR) for the child and, at least, have his consent for placement for adoption. The adoption agency can notify the father even if he does not have PR. A father will be entitled to counselling and information too.
  • The exploration of other care options within the wider family. This must have been conducted with the parent at the earliest opportunity. Social workers cannot take the information given by a parent at face value and should investigate this aspect more fully with the parent. If these investigations have left the LA in the position where it is unsure whether to explore and assess wider family, the LA should make an application to the court to make a decision.
  • If the consents have not been obtained through CAFCASS, information about when this will be done is necessary. A panel recommendation on placement can be made before the consents are provided.

Withdrawal of consent

A parent can withdraw their consent to their child being placed for adoption and their consent to adoption at any time until the prospective adopters have issued an application for an adoption order. Once an adoption order application has been issued, the parent’s only recourse will be to apply for leave to oppose the adoption order.

The withdrawal of consent may result in negotiations with the LA around reunification of the child, but can also be the trigger for care proceedings.

Adoption orders

An adoption order transfers parental responsibility from one person to another.

If an adoption order is made, the applicant will become the legal parent of the child (along with their partner).  The legal relationship between the child and the other birth parent will be broken. This is a permanent decision and cannot be reversed at a later date.

Statutory adoption leave and pay: 

The availability of statutory adoption leave (SAL) and statutory adoption pay (SAP) depends on an employee adopting in one of the ways covered by the statutory scheme.

The adoption leave and pay scheme was initially limited to those who were “matched for adoption” with a child by an “adoption agency”, and those who adopted children from overseas under the law of that jurisdiction. The availability of SAL and SAP was extended on 5 April 2015 to include:

  • Foster parents who are approved for adoption under a “fostering for adoption” scheme.
  • Parents of a child born to a surrogate mother (“parental order” parents).

There remains no right to statutory adoption leave or pay for:

  • Private adoptions.
  • Step-parents who adopt their step-children.
  • Parents who have a child with the help of a surrogate but who are not eligible for a parental order (for example where neither of them has supplied the genetic material for the child).
  • Special guardians or kinship carers. Special guardianship orders are intended to provide legally secure placements for children who cannot live with their birth parents. Kinship carers are relatives or family friends who provide a home for children who cannot be looked after by their parents.

Please contact us today for a free no-obligation chat regarding your adoption matter. Our team of legal representatives will be more than happy to assist.

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