Adoption - what you need to know

There are more than 4,000 children currently waiting for a permanent family in the UK, according to the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF). If you are unable to have children of your own, or feel you could offer a child a loving home, it is worth looking into adoption.

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However, you should be aware that the adoption process can be a lenghthy one. According to
recent figures the average child needing adoption waited two years and seven months to find a new home, while the average age at the time of adoption was three years and 10 months.

Am I eligible?
All too many people start investigating adoption but do not follow through believing themselves to be too old. In fact, there is no upper age limit - as long as you are over 21, can provide a caring, stable home and have the energy and commitment needed to bring up a child, you will not be ruled out.

The BAAF advises that people from all ethnic origins and religions are encouraged to apply as are disabled people, and the process is also open to single people, unmarried couples (in England and Wales they may put in a joint application while in Scotland only one partner may apply) and those in civil partnerships.

You do not necessarily need to own your own home but you must be able to demonstrate that you can support the child financially, though outside help is available in some instances.

Where do I start?
Your first port of call is an adoption agency. Most agencies are part of the local authority children's services though some are voluntary organisations. The majority work with local families, though you are not limited to the immediate locality. At this early stage of the process, you may contact several agencies - visit for a list of those in your local area.

What next?
Anyone wishing to adopt will undergo a variety of assessments beginning with a series of information sessions or preparation groups prior to making a formal application - this allows the adoption agency to get to know you, and gives the adopter a chance to find out more. Experienced adopters are often on hand to answer questions and discuss some of the challenges involved with adopting a child - this way, potential parents can be sure adoption is the right choice for them.

Applicants will then be invited to formally apply, at which point a social worker from the agency will make a series of home visits (approximately six to eight) to assess their suitability. There is no charge for the assessment or home study sessions, it is merely a way for the agency to ensure that you are fully able to cope with an adopted child - many come from troubled backgrounds, while the agency may also look at whether you are willing and able to consider more than one child, or a child with a disability or serious health condition.

You will also be required to undergo a full medical check-up and other background checks (from your local authority, employer and the Criminal Records Bureau) will be made. Having a criminal record does not necessarily rule you out of the adoption process unless the offence was related to children or serious violence.

Patience is needed at this stage - the assessment process often takes at least six months and it can be an emotional experience so be sure you have plenty of support from family and friends.

The adoption panel
With the home assessment and personal checks complete, your social worker will write a report - he or she will go through each point with you prior to passing it on to an adoption panel. This consists of some 10 people, including social work professionals, a medical advisor, a legal advisor, councillor, a representative from a voluntary adoption agency and a number of independent members (often adoptive parents).

The panel will assess your suitability and recommend whether or not you should be approved - they may also make suggestions as to the type of child you are most suited to adopting.

According to the family-finding service Be My Parent, approximately 94 per cent of applicants who go to panel are approved. If, however, this is not the case, you are well within your rights to apply for a review.

Matching you with a child
The adoption process is in depth because it is essential to match the right parents with the right child or children. The average age for adoption is four but there are many children of school age and groups of siblings who may need to be placed together. If you are desperate to adopt a baby the process can be a lengthy one so be prepared to wait.

Once a match is found, it will be presented to a panel who will decide whether the adoption should proceed.

When the match has been approved, parents and child will enjoy a number of planned introductions and, provided all goes well, will be free to move. Social workers will continue to be involved initially, offering support to both parents and child until a legal adoption is made.

Any or how much contact the child has with his or her birth parents will be agreed at this stage.

The adoption process is long and involved but ultimately very rewarding for both parents and children - if you are considering the idea, the BAAF and your adoption agency have plenty of information about how to cope, from making the application right through to discussing the adoption with the child as they grow up.