It usually takes about eight months for a family to go through the adoption process of being assessed and approved, but sometimes it can take longer.
Assessment and approval
After you have met with an adoption agency and attended a series of information sessions and/or preparation groups, you will usually be invited to formally apply to be assessed for adoption. Once your application has been accepted, your assessment or home study begins and you will be allocated your own social worker.
It takes several months to be assessed and approved. The recommended maximum time length from your formal application is eight months (seven months in Scotland), which means that for most people it should not take any longer than this. However, in some cases it may take longer. If things are being held up, your agency should keep you informed every step of the way.
Understandably, this can be a difficult and emotional time, so make sure you have support from your friends, family and colleagues.
If you are not accepted to be assessed, you are entitled to find out why your application is not being taken forward. If you do not agree with the reasons given by the agency, you can ask to be considered again or approach another agency, who may consider you.
Adoption agencies are required to provide preparation for adoption for all prospective adopters. Preparation groups are usually held after you have made a formal application to be assessed by an adoption agency. However, some agencies hold the sessions before this so you can use what you learn to help you make your decision.
Preparation groups provide you with an opportunity to meet experienced adopters and foster carers with experience of helping children move to adoptive families. You will also have the chance to meet some adopted adults, and often a birth parent. You will learn about the challenges you may face during the process of adopting a child, and as your child grows up.
Preparation groups usually consist of 6–8 sessions and cover a wide range of issues including:
- why children come into care and need to be adopted
- understanding the legal processes involved in adoption
- managing behaviour with children who have experienced neglect or abuse
- child development
- understanding attachment; how children become attached to their carers and the effects of poor attachments
- meeting an adopted child’s needs
- understanding a child’s past
- separation, loss and trauma
- helping children to settle in their new families
- contact with birth families
- adoption support.
Adoption is a major decision with lifelong implications for you, the child, and your family. Because of this, there are a number of key factors an agency must consider before approving your suitability to adopt, and your adoption assessment or home study needs to be really thorough. During the assessment you will be asked lots of personal questions which may feel at times intrusive. Remember that the aim is to find the right family for a child or group of children, so it is important to be as open and honest as possible.
If you are adopting a child in the UK, there is no charge for the preparation, assessment or home study.
Some people raise the point that birth parents do not need any assessment before having a child. The reason the adoption assessment process is so thorough is because adopted children have particular needs, often relating to experiences of loss and difficulties in their early lives that must be met within their new family in order for them to grow and thrive successfully.
During your assessment, your allocated social worker’s task is to consider whether you are suitable to adopt, and what type of child or children you would best be able to care for. They will take into account your circumstances and your ability to meet a child’s needs in terms of the child’s age, gender, health, emotional, physical, and educational development, culture, language, religion and ethnicity. They will look at whether you would be suitable to adopt more than one child. They will ask if you would consider adopting a disabled child a child with a health condition.
Your social worker will ask you about your feelings towards a future adopted child, and the experiences he or she may have had. You will also need to think about your feelings towards a future adopted child’s birth family, the reasons the child needs a new family, and how you would feel about maintaining some level of contact between the child and their birth family.
The agency will be interested in your reasons for wanting to adopt. They will want to know about any experience you have with children and childcare (for example you may have nieces and nephews or you may volunteer at your local school or nursery) and will ask if you are planning to return to work or, for example, reduce your working hours to care for your child.
As part of your assessment, your social worker will make a number of visits to your home – approximately 6–8 visits over a period of several months. They will meet with everyone in your immediate family, talk to you in detail, and look at your living arrangements. They will also need to know about your family structure and support network (such as relatives, friends and neighbours). It is important that your family structure is stable and secure and there are no major changes or upheavals expected. They will explore aspects of your childhood, employment, and relationships past and present, including any past break-up or divorce. They will look at your strengths and limitations, and identify any possible areas needing development.
Your social worker will also ask about any children you already have, and how they feel about you adopting a child.
Checks and personal references
Adoption agencies have to carry out a series of checks on all prospective adopters. This includes checks with your local authority, employer, and Criminal Records Bureau or Scotland Disclosure. You will also need to see your GP for a medical examination, as adoption agencies have to make sure adopters are healthy enough to care for a child until adulthood. The agency will also ask for the details of three personal referees (two in Scotland) who must be happy to meet with the social worker and speak honestly about you. Only one referee may be related to you, and each should have known you well for at least two years.
In consultation with their manager, your social worker will write a report about you called a Prospective Adopter’s Report (in England only), or home study or Form F. It will be based on your assessment, personal references, checks and medical report, and will include recommendations on the kind of child or children that you would best be able to care for. You should be invited to write some parts of the report yourself. Finally, you will be asked to read and sign the report and will have ten working days to make comments before it goes to the adoption panel.
By this stage, you will usually have worked through all the points in the report with your social worker. However, if there are any aspects you do not agree with, it is very important to raise this and comment in writing, before signing. The report should go to the adoption panel no later than six weeks after it is completed. You should also be invited to attend panel.
The adoption panel of your local authority or voluntary adoption agency usually meets at least once a month and is made up of approximately ten people, including social work professionals, a medical advisor, a legal advisor, councillor, management representative of a voluntary agency, and several independent members such as adoptive parents or adopted adults. The panel will make a recommendation as to whether or not you should be approved as an adoptive parent, It may also make a recommendation as to the type of child or children you may be most suited to, for example a child between the ages of two and five, although there is some flexibility, and this is not a condition of your approval. The agency’s decision-maker will make the final decision to approve you as an adoptive parent based on the panel’s recommendations.
The good news is that practically everyone who goes to panel is approved to adopt; approximately 94 per cent.
After you have been approved as an adopter, your adoption agency will need to review your approval annually (every two years in Scotland) until a child is placed with you. In order to do this, your agency needs to be aware of any changes in your circumstances such as a separation, pregnancy, or developing a medical condition. This is to ensure that you remain suitable to adopt.
Your agency should keep you informed throughout the entire assessment process. They should tell you if they have any doubts or reservations about you being approved, and whether there is anything you can do to improve your chances.
The Independent Review Mechanism (IRM) is an independent review process that covers England only. It applies to cases where an adoption agency is proposing not to approve prospective adopters. You need to apply for a review within 40 days of being informed that the agency is not intending to approve you. You can only appeal to the IRM or to your adoption agency, not to both.
The IRM will organise an independent review panel to examine the information that was put before the original adoption panel and, if necessary, seek further information from the adoption agency. Once the panel has considered all the information it will make its recommendation on your suitability to adopt. The adoption agency must take this recommendation into consideration when making its final decision.
The Independent Review of Determinations Panel (IRDP) is an equivalent review process that covers Wales. Currently, you need to apply to the Welsh National Assembly for a review within 20 days of being informed that you are not going to be approved.
In Scotland, agencies generally have procedures to review such decisions if you are not happy with them.
One of the recommendations of the report ‘Adopting the future’ in Northern Ireland was that a similar service to the Independent Review Mechanism for England should be planned for Northern Ireland.
Throughout the UK, if you wish, you can approach other agencies and start again. Sometimes people not approved by one agency go on to be approved by another. If you apply to another agency, it is best to be honest about being turned down from the start. The circumstances of your previous application will be taken into consideration by the new agency.
Also, if you are unhappy with the decision, or the service you have received, you can make a complaint through the agency’s complaints procedures. Your agency should provide you with details.