My husband and I spent three years living in England. During that time we lived in the English countryside. It was our first home as a married couple; thus we call it our second home. We attended the church in the village and continue to have friends who are like our family. Being an advocate of adoption, it was my natural curiosity to learn how adoption worked in the UK. It was there that we met and interacted with child and adult adoptees. When hearing their stories, I heard the same heart for adoption; to help a child who needs a home. At the time that we lived there, there was not much education on preparing parents for adoption. Over ten years later, adoption requirements and standards for being adoptive parents are different. Also, the agencies changed. Adoptive parents and birth parents have more resources to be supported through the adoption journey. In researching adoption in the United Kingdom, there are some similarities and some differences. Overall, the heart of adoption is still the same: place children who need homes with loving and prepared people that are equipped to adopt children.

The United Kingdom is comprised of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. While there are different countries with different cultures and in some cases different languages, their policies on adoption are the same and derive from the same government. 

Adoption Requirements in the United Kingdom

Ben Carpenter was recently celebrated by the adoption community. Carpenter is a single adoptive parent to four children: all with significant special needs. Two of his children are siblings. With Ben applying to adopt 11 years ago, he was the youngest person to contact his local authority in Yorkshire. He was voted as “Adopter Champion of the Year” during National Adoption Week. Ben said, “I was 21 when I started the process of adoption. I’d never sought a relationship but I’d always wanted to be a father. The legal age for adoption is 21 so I thought ‘surely l stand a chance?”According to the government in the UK, Ben did have a chance to adopt because of his age and his personal background credentials.

Who can adopt a child?

You may be able to adopt a child if you’re aged 21 or over (there’s no upper age limit) and either single, married, in a civil partnership, an unmarried couple, or the partner of the child’s parent.

Living in the UK

You do not have to be a British citizen to adopt a child, but you (or your partner, if you’re a couple) must have a fixed and permanent home in the UK, the Channel Islands, or the Isle of Man. You (and your partner, if you’re a couple) must also have lived in the UK for at least one year before you begin the application process.

Ben said while it was fine for him to adopt at a young age, there were myths when he originally applied in Yorkshire. Many people told my husband and me that we needed to be rich to adopt a child as well. I’m glad that we (my husband, Ben, nor I) listened to the myths. Carpenter said, 

“when I applied there (Yorkshire) was a misconception amongst a lot of people that to adopt you have to be someone with money or a profession—not ‘little Ben from Yorkshire, working in a care home’. I’d worked with children and adults with complex needs so I knew adopting children with additional needs was my niche. I rang up and spoke to my local agency who advised me that a social worker would ring me and talk me through the stages. I was invited to an ‘initial stages meeting’. I was given lots of positives and I thought ‘my goodness, I’m going to get to become a parent!’ I passed various stages but there were some concerns about my age.”

With having four children from different backgrounds, Ben’s relationship with the birth parents are different. His son Jack came to him with an adoption plan. Jack’s birth parent created an adoption plan and is still in the life of the child. Ben believes that the relationship with the birth parent is vital to his success. Ben tells AdoptionUK: “I have a great rapport with Jack’s birth mother which is quite unusual. Jack’s birth parents are schizophrenic so they can’t look after him. His birth mother adores me and me her. After a right good chat and hug, she said “he’s so lucky to have you,” and I replied, “I’m so lucky to have him.” They are my children so they act like me. They do my quirky things as they’ve adapted through my lifestyle.” While Ben has a wonderful relationship with Jack’s mother, he has a different type of relationship with the birth parents of his other children: the one child’s birth parent’s rights were relinquished and the sibling set’s relationship with the parents is unknown to the public. The government of the UK states that this can happen legally in the United Kingdom. 

The child’s birth parents:

Both birth parents normally have to agree (consent) to the adoption, unless they cannot be found, they’re incapable of giving consent (e.g. in cases of mental disability), or the child would be put at risk if he or she were not adopted.

Carpenter’s children were minors when they were adopted. They fit the criteria of the UK government being under 18 and not married. Any child is capable of being adopted, despite their social, emotional, and medical needs. Carpenter says, 

“My message to prospective adopters when they’re coming to being matched is to think outside the box. Don’t think you only want a ‘perfect child’…I’m sorry, but no child is perfect, and that applies to all children, not just those who’ve been adopted. Incidents of children being born with fetal alcohol syndrome are on the rise, as are problems related to the birth mother’s drug use during pregnancy.”

To be adopted, a child must…

  • be under the age of 18 when the adoption application is made.
  • not be (or have never been) married or in a civil partnership.

Private vs. Public Adoption

Just like in the United States, there are different types of adoption. First of all, there is private and public adoption. There are different rules for private adoptions and adoptions in children who are looked after in foster care. As in American adoptions, there are different types of private adoptions: kinship care, international adoption, and domestic adoption through a voluntary adoption agency. According to the UK government, these are their requirements and advice. 

To adopt a child you can go through either an adoption agency that’s part of your local council or a voluntary adoption agency (international and domestic).

The adoption process:

  • Contact an adoption agency. They’ll send you information about the adoption process.
  • The agency will arrange to meet you. You may also be invited to a meeting with other people wanting to adopt a child.
  • If you and the agency agree to carry on, the agency will give you an application form.
  • The adoption approval process normally takes around 6 months. You will then be matched with a child for adoption.

The Paperwork Process

Once you meet the criteria for adoption, you have to fill out the paperwork. When going through the adoption process, there are different things that you need to do to adopt a child. The first thing you need to do is to decide if you are going to pursue private or public adoption. Next, you follow the instructions that are on the government website.

Adoption assessment

  1. Fill out your application and submit it to an agency.
  2. There will be a series of preparation classes to complete. These classes are held locally to give you accessibility to the classes. They are there to support and give much-needed advice to the hopeful adoptive parents. 
  3. Nex,t a social worker will need to come and visit you to carry out an assessment. This is similar for the United States when a social worker comes to visit you to check on your home and to ask background questions about your family and friends.
  4. After the meeting with the social worker, arrange for a background check with the police department. As with the United States, if you have been convicted of a serious offense, you will not be able to adopt a child. Especially if you’ve committed a serious offense against a child.
  5. Provide three references to the agency that can write up a recommendation for you to adopt. One of the people can be a relative.
  6. Complete a medical physical.

Work With An Agency

The social worker will take the entire report and send it to an “independent adoption panel”. The panel will then approve or disapprove your assessment for adoption. This is a panel that you have to attend physically, which is different from the US. In the US you do not attend the adoption panel. The adoption panel will inform the agency of their decision for you to adopt a child.

If you can adopt a child

Once your agency decides you can adopt, they’ll begin the process of finding a child. The agency will explain how the process works and how you can be involved. If you live in Wales, your agency can refer you to the National Adoption Service for Wales. This holds details of children across Wales who need adopting.

If an adoption agency says you cannot adopt

If you disagree with an adoption agency’s decision, you can either challenge their decision by writing to them or apply to the Independent Review Mechanism, which will look into your case. You can also contact other adoption agencies, but you’ll have to start the process again.

Additional Recommendations for Adopting in the UK:

Consider kinship Adoption or stepfather Adoption: Kinship adoption is possible in the United Kingdom. There are many cases of stepfathers adopting their child as well. Information for this is provided on the government website.

Look into International Adoption in the UK. There is the possibility to adopt overseas. You will find there is a lot of similar information between adopting in the US overseas.

Read the stories from people in the adoption triad. While the adoption process is mainly centered around the adoptee. I strongly recommend reading stories of the adoptees versus the other members of the adoption triad. One adoptee story that captured my attention was from Polly. 

Polly’s Story

Polly said: “I was born in 1982 and adopted when I was just three months old. I always knew I was adopted–we used to celebrate the day my parents brought me home, so I used to tell my friends I had two birthdays! This meant being adopted was very normal for me–it wasn’t something we sat down and had a difficult conversation about.

I had a very happy childhood in the north of England and later in Guernsey and it never occurred to me that I should feel anything other than fully a part of my family. I was similar to them in many ways–in looks, habits, and interests. As an adult, I am closer to my parents than almost anyone I know, especially my dad, as we are so much alike. My mum is my confidante, my dad my best friend. I speak to my parents most days and still go to the football with my dad whenever I can. I am very happily married, have a job I love, live in London and do a lot of traveling. I would describe myself as a poster child for adoption.”

At the end of the day, adoption is about the adoptee. I love these words from Polly that show that her family did the right thing by being supportive of her. This is what happens when adoption is done properly with placing children who need homes with loving people who are equipped to adopt children.

Deirdre Parker is an early childhood educator in Washington DC. She proudly hails from Baltimore, MD where she received her BA in liberal studies from Notre Dame of Maryland University. She continued afterward to receive her BS in Music Therapy from Texas Woman’s University and MS in Early Childhood Education from Boston University Wheelock College of Education and Human Development. She entered the adoption community with the adoption of her son from South Africa. When she is not at school teaching her “babies” and mentoring new early childhood educators; she is traveling, reading, writing, playing music, following politics, hiking, attending church, and cheering on the Ravens with her intelligent husband and her extremely bright 4-year-old little boy.