Assessment and approval
It usually takes around six to eight months for a family to go through the adoption process of being assessed and approved.
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 – usually around six to eight months. If things are being held up, your agency should keep you informed every step of the way. Like at other life-changing times, support from your friends, family and colleagues can be invaluable throughout the adoption process.
If you are adopting a child in the UK, there is no charge for the preparation, assessment or home study.
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.
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 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. 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.
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.
Your social worker will ask you about your feelings towards a future adopted child, and the experiences they 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, and will ask if you are planning to return to work or reduce your working hours to care for your child.
Along each step of the process, your adoption agency is required to respond to you promptly and keep you fully informed. If you are not happy with any aspect of the process, speak to your social worker first and, following that, the social worker’s manager, or the director of the agency if you are still not satisfied. Every agency is required to have a complaints procedure, which you can use if you feel unhappy with the service you have received. If you do not feel that adoption is right for you, you can stop at any stage during the process.
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 checks by the Disclosure and Barring Service in England and Wales (previously known as Criminal Records Bureau), Scotland Disclosure and Access Northern Ireland Disclosure Checks. 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 personal referees who are happy to meet with the social worker and speak honestly about you.
At the end of the assessment, your social worker will prepare a written report which you can see and comment on. The report then goes to the agency’s adoption panel who will consider the report and recommend whether or not you should be approved as adopters. The panel is made up of approximately ten people, including social work professionals, a medical advisor, a legal advisor, councillor, and several independent members with knowledge of and an interest in adoption such as adoptive parents or adopted adults. You should also be invited to attend panel.
The panel will make a recommendation as to whether or not you should be approved as an adoptive parent. It may also give advice about 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.
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.
If you are aware that your agency is planning on not approving you, you can generally ask them to review their decision. In England and Wales, as an alternative to this, you can apply to the Independent Review Mechanism (in England) or the IRM Cymru (in Wales) for an independent review of your case.
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.
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.
Please also refer to our answer to the question, 'What happens if I am not approved?'.
You can also:
- Look at the rest of our general information on adoption
- Read our real-life stories and features about families who have adopted
Last updated: 17 March 14