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Adoption

Adoption is the legal process of a child becoming a permanent member of a new family. When an adoption order is made, this ends a child’s legal tie with their birth family. The advice on this page is aimed at parents whose children may be adopted outside of their family.

A child may come to be adopted outside their family following care proceedings.

Or it may be because a parent has made the difficult decision that adoption will be best for the child. Whatever the circumstances, adoption can only happen if the Family Court orders it.

What the law says about adoption

Where is the law about adoption found?

The Adoption and Children Act 2002 (ACA 2002) and Children Act 1989 are the key sources of law about adoption in England. Together they:

  • Set out the strict legal processes children’s services must follow if a plan of adoption is being considered
  • Explain the powers the Family Court has to allow a child to be ‘placed’ in the care of someone who could adopt them
  • Explain what the court must look at when deciding whether to make an adoption order.

Government statutory guidance and regulations give further detail about exactly how children’s services and the Family Court should approach cases where adoption is being looked at for a child.

The two highest courts in England (and Wales) are the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. They have explained the right legal tests for deciding whether adoption is the best option for a child. They have done this in different cases. But each case has been looking at whether a child should be adopted. Or whether a child can be safely cared for by wider family or friends. These cases are:

What exactly have the appeal court cases made clear about adoption?

  • Orders contemplating adoption where parents do not agree to it are a ‘last resort’
  • Adoption orders should only be made against parents’ wishes ‘where nothing else will do’ (a phrase used by a judge in the case of Re B (A Child) [2013] UKSC 33)
  • A Family Court can only conclude ‘nothing else will do’ if it has looked at all of the options that are realistically possible for a child
  • Nothing else will do means being sure all of the possible realistic options for the child to be cared for within their family and friends’ network have been looked at first
  • That both options on the mothers and family sides of the family should have been looked at
  • The court must analyse the arguments for and against each of the possible realistic options
  • An option will not be realistically possible if the court is ‘in a position of some confidence and clarity that the option is plainly not one that would have any real prospect of being chosen if a full welfare evaluation of all the pros and cons were undertaken’ (see paragraph 54 in the case of Re S (A Child) [2015] EWCA Civ 325).

See our Care proceedings page for further information and advice about the legal process that must be followed before a plan for adoption against a parent’s wishes can be considered.

Foster for adoption

Foster for adoption is a type of foster care used when adoption is being considered for a child. It:

  • Involves babies and younger children who are looked after in the care system, living with foster carers who may go on to adopt them
  • Is allowed even though adoption is not yet the formal plan for the child
  • Can happen even when the Family Court is not involved and has not agreed.

The idea is that the child is able to form a strong, early relationship with the people who may go on to adopt them. Children’s services and the Family Court have to follow strict legal procedures before a child can live with a family who wants to adopt them. But the law and process is different if children’s services want to place a child in a foster for adoption placement.

It is very important that any parent who thinks children’s services are proposing their child is cared for in a foster for adoption placement urgently:

When children’s services may consider a plan for adoption

Click on the FAQs below to find out more about when children’s services might look at a plan of adoption for a child:

Placing a child for adoption

A child is only legally adopted once an adoption order is made. Before an adoption order can be made, an adoption agency need to formally arrange for the child to live with people approved as prospective adopters. This called placing a child for adoption. Or placement for adoption. And it should only happen if the child cannot be safely raised by their birth parent(s) or within their wider family and friends’ network.

What is a prospective adopter?

Prospective adopters are people who have been approved by an adoption agency as suitable to adopt children. It sometimes is also used to mean people who would like to adopt but have not yet been approved. Prospective adopters may go on to adopt a child if the Family Court decides adoption is the best plan for the child.

What is an adoption agency?

An adoption agency will either be within a local authority (which will have children in its care). Or they might be an independent organisation, called a voluntary adoption agency.

When can a child be placed for adoption?

A child can only be placed for adoption if:

The FAQs below explain the steps that children’s services and the Family Court need to take before a child can be placed for adoption with people who may go on to adopt them:

Adoption orders

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