How to start the legal process of adopting a child

Choosing to adopt a child changes the life of more than one person.

Given the importance of all the factors involved in the adoption process, it can feel complicated and emotionally stressful.

Whether you’re hoping to adopt a child to bring into your family, or you want to legally adopt your partner’s child, this guide will help to break down how to start the legal process.

To adopt a child, you must:

  1. Contact your local council or a voluntary adoption agency.
  2. Attend meetings and interviews to assess your suitability.
  3. Attend preparation classes and training
  4. Have a full medical examination and police checks
  5. Fill out a prospective adopter’s report.
  6. Attend an adoption panel assessment.
  7. Be added to the national adoption register.
  8. Apply for an adoption court order.

Given the complexity of the situation, getting expert legal advice can help to ensure the entire process runs as smoothly as possible. Contacting the family law specialists at First4Lawyers will give you the guidance you need to help prepare you for the transition of expanding your family.

Who can adopt a child?

Anyone aged 21 or older can adopt a child in the UK.

You can be single, in a partnership (married, civil partnership, unmarried), and you can be a partner of the child’s parent.

You (or your partner) should also have a permanent home in the UK and have lived in the UK for more than one year before the application.

How to start the adoption process

You can start the process of adoption by contacting your local council or a voluntary adoption agency.

Local council adoption agencies

To find your local adoption agency, you can either use a postcode tool on the government website, or go to your local council’s website to find how the process works in your area, and how to contact them.

Voluntary adoption agencies

The Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies (CVAA) website lists agencies across the UK.

Using the search tool, you’ll be able to find the contact information for the agencies that serve your area.

To start the process, you’ll need to express your interest in adoption with each of the agencies that serve your local area.

Whether you choose to adopt through your local council or with a voluntary agency, you’ll be sent information through the post about the adoption process. You may also be sent a Registration of Interest form, which officially states your intention to adopt.

Meeting the agency

Once you’ve been given time to process the information about adoption – and you’re sure you want to proceed – you’ll be invited to several meetings, along with a number of one-to-one interviews to assess your suitability.

You’ll often be invited to group meetings that give people interested in adoption a chance to meet each other and the social workers. These meetings will provide you with support and advice, and give you the opportunity to ask questions about adoption and the assessment process.

You’ll also need to meet with your assigned adoption worker a number of times. They will usually visit you at your house, and they will write an assessment report about your suitability.

Factors they will look at include your lifestyle, your reasons for wanting to adopt and anything else that might come into play.

They will help you fill out the prospective adopter’s report, which is essentially an application for adoption.

You’ll also have to undergo several checks, such as a police check and health assessment. Finally, you’ll need to provide three independent personal references, one of which can be from a relative.

Being assessed

Once you’ve filled out the forms and your adoption worker has assessed you, it will all be sent to an independent adoption panel. Their role is to review all the information to see if you are a good candidate.

You should be invited to speak to the panel. If they have any questions or concerns, answering these directly can improve your chances.

The panel will then give their assessment of your application to the adoption agency, who will make the final decision about your suitability.

If you are found unsuitable for adoption

If you are found to be unsuitable, you can argue the decision.

To do so, you can either write to the adoption agency stating your case, or apply to the Independent Review Mechanism. The IRM will then look into your application and provide another assessment.

You also have the option of applying to another adoption agency. You will, however, have to start the process from scratch, completing new forms and attending meetings and interviews.

If you are found suitable for adoption

If the agency approves your application, they will start to match you with a suitable child or young person.

Given how important the decision is, this process can take several months and there's no set timeline.

Your details will be added to an adoption register, which allows social workers to find the best match for both you and the child or children.  This might be local, or elsewhere in the country. 

When a social worker believes they have made a suitable match, the adoption panel will once again have to provide their approval. If they think the match can work, you will begin the process of meeting the child.

This, again, takes time, and there’s no strict timeline in place. There is also no limit to the number of meetings between you and the child or children – the match needs to be very carefully assessed before official adoption can occur.

If everyone involves feels the match is a good one, you’ll be given the chance to have the child live with you for a certain number of weeks, with plenty of visits and assessments by a social worker.

How to legally adopt a child

Once the child has lived with you for more than 10 weeks, you can legally adopt them and gain parental rights.

To do this, you'll need to apply for an adoption order using form A58 – which is typically submitted to a Family Court.

You can get help with the form from your social worker, or a family law solicitor. It is highly recommended that you have expert advice and guidance with this form, as it is often the final assessment needed for you to officially adopt a child.

Once the order has been approved, you will have all of the parental rights and responsibilities of being a parent. You’ll receive an adoption certificate, which replaces the child’s original birth certificate, and the child will have the rights of any birth child.

How to adopt a step-child

If you want to officially adopt your partner’s child, the process is very similar to a standard adoption.

You need to notify your local council’s adoption services, who will in turn assess you according to a number of the standard adoption reviews.

Your assigned social worker will need to provide a review of you and the child in question, your partner, and the other birth parent of the child.

After three months from the start date of your assessment you’ll be able to apply for an adoption order from the Family Court.

The court will then assess your suitability based on the social workers report, as well as your own applications and testimonial.

Looking to learn more about adoption?

The CVAA website, and your local council website, will be able to provide you with extra information about adoption.

For personalised, professional advice at whatever stage of the adoption process you’re at, consider talking to one of our family law solicitors for a no-obligation phone call about your current situation.


Note: First4Lawyers offers this information as guidance, not advice. Before taking any action, you should seek professional assistance tailored to your personal circumstances.

Get in touch today to discuss your requirements 08005677866

It seems you are using an outdated browser.

This will impair your browsing experience around the web. Please visit one of the links below to update to a modern browser then re-open the site with the new browser.

Thank you


Can't find what you are looking for?

We are open as normal during the Coronavirus lockdown and are able to help with all your legal needs.

Call us free of charge

0800 567 7866

Request a Callback

Continue browsing