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Adopting a child: everything you need to know

Adopting a child is one of the biggest decisions you can make in life – one of the most challenging and also the most rewarding. There are many reasons why you might want to adopt – age, fertility issues, the type of relationship you’re in, or perhaps experience of fostering has encouraged you to take the next step. But whatever your personal motivation, your own experience will be unique.

There are a great many things to consider before beginning the adoption process, and you’ll also need considerable patience and emotional resilience. But if you’re ready to start thinking about it, here’s a brief introduction.

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What’s the difference between fostering and adoption?

Fostering is the temporary care of a child who can’t be looked after by his or her biological parents. Fostering is considered a profession and typically pays £450 per week per child (tax free). Fostering is usually a step on the road to the child being legally adopted.

Adoption, on the other hand, means you legally become the child’s parent(s). Adopting a child is a voluntary act, so you don’t get paid for it (though you may receive some financial support). You do, on the other hand, get a child of your own to love and care for.

Am I ready to adopt a child?

There are thousands of children waiting for a permanent home and family to support them. Often these children come from troubled backgrounds or are unable to stay with their birth parents for health, safety or financial reasons.

You should be emotionally prepared to raise a child of your own. Also, bear in mind that children raised in an unsafe or unstable environment may have behavioural or emotional issues, so you will need to be ready for that (especially with older children).

Although not everyone will be accepted as an adoptive parent, the guidelines for eligbility are very broad. You can be married or single, with or without children of your own, of virtually any income level (low-income families may qualify for benefits), gay or straight. You don’t even have to own your own home.

The only rigid criteria are that you must be over 21 and you must have lived in the British Isles for at least a year. There is nevertheless a rigorous selection process to ensure that you will be suitable parents and that you are matched with the right child(ren), so be prepared for this.

I want to adopt. What should I do first?

You can choose to adopt through a local authority or a voluntary organisation. For a comprehensive list of agencies, visit the government-run First4Adoption,which acts as a central source for up-to-date information, or the Adoption UK website.

There are a number of trusted adoption information lines that can provide support. You can also subscribe to First4Adoption to receive the latest adoption news and information. 

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How does the adoption process work?

The adoption process in England and Wales consists of two stages, which usually take at least six months to complete. In Scotland and Northern Ireland the process isn’t divided into stages, but takes about the same length of time.

The first stage (approx. two months) begins with exploration, initial checks and registration. Once you’ve found an agency, the formal evaluation process begins. This includes gathering references and background checks.

Stage two (four months) involves training and assessment. A social worker will assess your strengths and requirements before creating a case to present to the adoption panel.

Stage three is the matching process. Your agency will work alongside local authorities to find a suitable child for you – this works both ways, as you need to be just as suited to them. Any proposed matches will be presented to an adoption panel, which will assess the suitability and practicalities.

If a suitable match is made, then the child will move in to your home (stage four). You’ll spend time getting to know the child with support from your social worker. Eventually, you can apply to court to become the legal parent(s).

Is there financial support for adopting parents?

If your match has been approved and you’re about to become an adoptive parent, you’re entitled to receive financial support. Various entitlements are available to help meet the specific needs of your family and child. These include the Adoption Support Fund, Early Years Pupil Premium and Discretionary Housing Payments.

For a full list of your entitlements and financial support, please visit: www.first4adoption.org.uk.

What can I expect as an adoptive parent?

Being an adoptive parent is a huge step to take – as big a decision as starting a family of your own, and potentially every bit as challenging and rewarding.

Fortunately, there are plenty of resources to help you and your new family settle down together. In particular, your social worker will be able to assist with any issues when it comes to managing difficult behaviour, building trust and maintaining a healthy relationship.

It can also be very useful to connect with other adoptive parents through meet-up groups and forums, as there is a wealth of support and experience out there.

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About the author
Nick Green is a financial journalist writing for Unbiased.co.uk, the site that has helped over 10 million people find financial, business and legal advice. Nick has been writing professionally on money and business topics for over 15 years, and has previously written for leading accountancy firms PKF and BDO.