Adoption – the basics

Are you considering adoption? Perhaps you are ready to take the first step and contact an agency, or maybe you just want to find out a bit more.

Introduction to adoption

introduction-to-adoptionAs part of BAAF, the Be My Parent service believes that every child has the right to a secure, permanent family of their own. For children who cannot live with their own parents or relatives, adoption is a way of providing a new permanent family.

Over 4,000 children in the UK are waiting for a new family, either through adoption or permanent (also known as long-term) fostering. Most of them are in the care of their local authority, and are currently living with foster carers. The local authority currently caring for the child has a duty to make every effort to return the child to their birth family, where possible. When this is no longer an option, adoption or permanent fostering may be considered.

For the year ending March 2006, just over 4,000 children were adopted from care in the UK (3700 in England; 249 in Wales; 280 in Scotland; and 50 in Northern Ireland).

All types of people from all kinds of backgrounds can adopt. If you are thinking about adopting a child or group of brothers and sisters, it is worth finding out more and contacting an adoption agency in your area to find out if you are suitable. Most adoption agencies will consider prospective adoptive families who live within a 50-mile radius.

The Adoption Act 2002 (England and Wales) was fully implemented in December 2005 and covers all areas of adoption. Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own sets of legislation. Find out more

The types of children waiting

There are children of all ages and backgrounds across the UK who need adoptive families, and Be My Parent profiles a selection in its family-finding newspaper and website.

Adoptive families are particularly needed for the groups of children who wait the longest. They include:

Groups of brothers and sisters who need to stay together

For most people who are part of a sibling group, they benefit from a lifetime of comfort and support that siblings provide for each other.

Over half of all the children waiting for adoptive families are groups of brothers and sisters and the majority need to stay together. Most of these children are in sibling groups of two and three, although there are also larger groups of four or more. For most siblings, it is important that they stay together, where appropriate or possible. Sadly some groups of brothers and sisters are separated because their needs cannot be met together, or because no suitable family comes forward for them.

If siblings are not placed together, the issue of ongoing contact between the children, either direct or indirect, is considered by the agency. If separated, most siblings have some form of contact with each other after adoption.

Black and minority ethnic children

A child’s well-being is linked to who they are, and feeling comfortable with their identity. This is built up through their ethnicity, religious, cultural and linguistic background, community, relationship with their birth family, and current and past experiences.

Ideally, a child’s new family should meet all their emotional, identity, health and development needs. In BAAF’s view, practice experience indicates that children do best when brought up in a family that reflects their ethnic and racial identity as closely as possible. In part, this is informed by reports from black and minority ethnic adopted adults who grew up with families who did not match their ethnic and racial identity, describing difficulties in belonging to any community outside of their immediate family.

What this means in practice is that vigorous efforts are made to find a family that matches the child’s individual identity. Given the profile of prospective adopters, this is not always achievable. In these instances, social workers will have to make a decision about when to consider alternative families in order to minimise delay for the child. Children would then be placed with families that best match most of their needs, even if this means they are of a different ethnic group.

Children who are black Caribbean or black African, Asian (particularly Asian Muslim), and of mixed ethnicity (black African and white, black Caribbean and white, or Asian and white) wait much longer for an adoptive family in comparison to white children.

More black and minority ethnic adopters are urgently needed across the UK, and particularly in London.

Older children

Nowadays, there are relatively few babies available for adoption, particularly healthy white babies. Children over the age of seven wait considerably longer to be matched with a new family in comparison to younger children. Permanent fostering may be considered for older children.

Children who are disabled or have special needs

Many children waiting to be placed for adoption have special needs that can range from health conditions, to learning or physical disabilities, and emotional or behavioural difficulties. For some children, their future development may be uncertain, or they may be too young for a prognosis to be made.

Read more about children who are disabled or have developmental delay, special educational needs, and emotional and behavioural needs

Who can adopt

People from all walks of life are encouraged to consider adoption. Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to be married, under a certain age, or own your own home. Single people and same-sex couples can also apply to adopt. If you are thinking about adoption, and you think you have what it takes, please take the first step and get in touch with an adoption agency.


You must be over 21 years of age to adopt. There is no upper age limit, most agencies would consider an age gap of up to 45 years between the child and adoptive parent. However, this is not inflexible, depending on what you are offering in relation to the needs of waiting children. The average age of an adopter in the UK is 38 years old.


Although agencies encourage all types of people to consider adoption, it is important for adopted children to have a stable family life without any preventable disruption, such as an adoptive parent becoming seriously ill due to a long-term health condition. For these reasons all prospective adopters have to have a full medical examination, carried out by their GP, and provide a medical report to their assessing agency.

Being overweight should not affect your chances of being approved as long as it does not cause you to have serious health problems, which could affect your care of a child. Agencies are not keen on placing children with parents who smoke, due to the risks of passive smoking. But if you do smoke, or have any other uncertainties about your suitability to adopt, it is still worth contacting your agency for a discussion.

Home and garden

You do not need to own your home to adopt, but for reasons of stability you should not be on a tenancy or lease that is due to expire. The agency will check that your home and garden are safe and suitable for children. Make sure your home is child-friendly by, for example, fitting covers over plug sockets , and covering over or filling in garden ponds. The agency will also ask you about any pets you have, and will pay particular attention to any dogs, as some are not safe to be left with children.

Criminal record

People who have a criminal conviction, or have been cautioned for specified criminal offences against children, or some sexual offences against adults, are not able to adopt. It is important to be honest about a criminal record, including offences or cautions that happened many years ago. If you are not honest from the beginning, this will be taken very seriously by the agency, and may affect their decision to assess or approve you.

Financial support

You do not have to be wealthy to adopt a child, but the agency will need to know about your family’s finances, and how you plan to support an adopted child as they grow up. Many local authorities will pay a settling-in grant to ease the initial costs of caring for a child, and longer-term payments may be available to support adopters involved in caring for children with more complex needs, including disabled children, older children and sibling groups. All financial support payments are means-tested.

Culture, religion, ethnic origin

Studies show that it is in the child’s best interests to be placed with an adoptive family who shares as many aspects of their culture, religion and ethnic origin as possible. This can help the child to have a positive sense of their own identity and to feel connected to their heritage and their ‘roots’.

Fertility issues

If you have recently discovered that you are not able to have your own birth children, it is best to wait at least 6–12 months before considering adoption, including if you have had fertility treatment. This is to give you time to mourn the birth children you are not going to have. You and your partner, if you have one, may also decide to have some form of therapy or counselling.

What next?

Adopting a child is a life-long commitment that needs a great deal of serious consideration. Almost every adopted child will have particular emotional needs as a result of having to leave their birth family. Even if you decide adoption is not right for you at this time in your life, you can consider it at another time.