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Hack your Family: Adopt a child (UK version)

Mike Ratcliffe's avatarMike Ratcliffe | May 06, 2014

A lot of people would like to adopt but do not know what to do or what is involved. They are often scared of the process or have heard horror stories. Being at the end of the process and having met our kids we can say that you should be completely open and honest with your social worker... even things that many would expect to be negatives are very strong positives when viewing you from a social worker's perspective.

e.g. If you were once a drug addict then you may have insights into the birth parent's life if they suffered from the same issue. You would also be more capable of helping the child if they fall foul to drugs in their teenage years. Being honest will help the local authority match the correct child or children with your family.

The process is difficult, partly because you will need to jump through all of the hoops that the adoption people ask you to jump through. Also, say you are adopting three kids around two years old... that means that you will need to buy everything that a birth parent would have bought over the first couple of years of each child's life. This is different from giving birth where you tend to buy things as you need them but as an adoptive parent you will need to hit the ground running.

Here are some of our preparations (by the letter we didn't "need" all of these things but we are adopting three):

  • Changed car to a model that supports three childseats across a single row (we need the boot / trunk for the buggy).
  • Childseats for car.
  • Changed downstairs carpet to laminate.
  • Put toddler swing, slide and roundabout in back garden.
  • Put childlocks on everything.
  • Put safety gates everywhere.
  • Redecorate two rooms as nurseries.
  • Buy cot beds.
  • Buy high chairs.
  • Buy new fridge freezer.
  • Buy baby monitor capable of monitoring two rooms.
  • At least a million other things.

Here is an outline of the process in the UK although it can vary slightly from county to county. The process is now supposed to be completed within six months due to the government making changes so if you really want kids you could have them within six months.

Initial Enquiry

You as a prospective adopter call your county council's adoption team who talk to you about your motives and the adoption process itself. A social worker will visit you in an attempt to find any issues that would prevent adoption. Try not to take this visit too personally as they need to ensure that you really are serious about adopting.

Registration & Checks

The adoption department will send an official application form that you will need to fill out.

Another social worker will visit you lots of times asking probing questions. Do not underestimate how many visits there will be as the social worker will need to prepare a report about you that is so thick they often call it "The Book." Some of the things they will ask about:

  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • People living in the home
  • Income
  • Occupation
  • Health
  • Why do you want to adopt?
  • Chronology (everywhere they have ever lived and worked including dates).
  • Preferably every boss you have ever had will need to send a written reference about you to your social worker.
  • Details of three referees who will need to complete a written reference. Two of these referees will need to be interviewed by your social worker.
  • The type of child you want to adopt e.g. would you accept a child with schizophrenia, AIDS, ADHD etc.
  • Medical background check.
  • Criminal background check for every country you have lived in.
  • Local authority checks for everywhere that you have lived.

Preparation groups

There are many classes designed to train you for special situations that may arise with adopted children. Some examples are:

  • Adoption Triangle: Learn about the child's place in the adoption triangle (birth parents, adoptive parents and child).
  • Can't do, Won't do – Attachment Difficulties for Children who have Experienced Early Trauma, Neglect and Abuse.
  • Life Story Book (a kind of life journal that the child can use to find out about life before they were adopted and which will be updated regularly).
  • 'Letterbox' – Information Sharing between Adoptive Families and Birth Families.
  • Emergency first aid and basic life support.
  • Managing Behaviour for Under 10s.
  • Separation and Loss.

This is a small sample of available classes... there are many available. Some of these classes are core classes and must be attended. The rest are voluntary although some may be very suited to your adoptive child so you would be expected to attend them.

Pre-Assessment Decision

The social worker will meet with you. They will discuss the information gathered and confirm that you wish to proceed.

Adoption Panel

Prospective adopters are sent the report that has been put together about them so far in the process. They are free to clarify any issues about the report with the social worker. This report is very detailed (about 60 - 70 A4 pages).

Prospective adopters attend a panel (similar to a small court) where a group of experts ask questions to ensure that nothing has been missed in the process. This panel can give the adoption team advice on which children could be placed with the prospective adopters.

After the panel the prospective adopters are told whether the panel accept their request to adopt (this is just an informal approval as the agency decision maker has the last say).

Within two weeks the agency decision maker will review the panels decision and will send out a letter either approving or rejecting the prospective adopter's adoption application.

Being matched with a child

It is not usually as simple as a prospective adopter saying that they would like a particular child. Throughout the process the social workers will be discussing your case and looking out for children that would be a good match with your family.

If no match is made at this point then prospective adopters first need to find out about available children and make a decision from there. There are a number of platforms available:

  • Parents for children evenings: On these evenings prospective adopters are shown videos of children that are up for adoption. They are also shown booklets containing basic information about the children available including medical and behavioral difficulties etc.
  • Activity days: Prospective adopters are given the opportunity to see a selection of available children. Many people do not like these activities, comparing them to cattle markets, but they are a great way to see the children in real life and get to know their personalities.

Once you have found the child or children of your dreams you will be provided with a Child Permanency Report (CPR) which gives details about the child's history and the events leading to them becoming available for adoption.This report may include information about medical issues, psychological issues and learning difficulties that the child may have.

If no match has been made within three months prospective adopters can also be referred you to the National Register which maintains a list of approved adopters and children waiting for adoption placements to enable matches to be made nationally.

Matching Panel

A panel of experts will review your report and reports written about the children and discuss any concerns with you. This panel is like a small court.

Adoption placement planning meetings

Once matched with children a plan needs to be drawn up in order to make a gradual transition from the foster home to the home of the prospective adopters. This transition usually lasts between one and two weeks.


This is where the plan from the previous section is put in place and you will spend time gradually getting to know the children and their routines at the foster parent's home. This may require a lot of travel and takes a good couple of weeks.

A good foster parent will gradually give you control of the children's routines. In time the foster parents wil bring the children to visit you in your home where you will carry on with those routines. Eventually, they will go home and leave the children with you.

This is a very emotionally exhausting time so both you and your partner will need to take some time off work.

Placement for adoption & adoption order

The child remains a 'Looked After' child until an Adoption Order is made. So until then the Local Authority shares Parental Responsibility with you, and will continue to hold reviews to discuss with you and the social workers how things are going and what support you and / or the children may need.

After the child has lived with the prospective adopters for ten weeks, the law allows them to apply to the court for an Adoption Order.

After the court makes the Adoption Order they will plan a "Celebration Hearing" where they meet the children and their new parents.

Post Adoption & Support

  • Adoption support groups.
  • Training events and workshops.
  • Support and advice on contact with birth family including providing a "letterbox service" where indirect contact has been agreed with you regarding birth relatives.

Mike Ratcliffe

Written by Mike Ratcliffe who lives and works in England building useful things.