Adopting in the United Kingdom: – How Does it Work?

By Babygest Staff
Last Update: 04/02/2019

Adoption is a child protection measure regulated by law that enables a family to be formed with helpless children who cannot be with their biological parents for various reasons.

Adopting a child, whether through international or national adoption, is an option for many heterosexual or gay couples, as well as single people, who cannot have a child naturally, either because of fertility problems or because of their personal situation.


In the UK, there are different types of adoption:

  • Agency adoption
  • Private, Non agency adoption and adoption of looked-after child

Who may adopt?

Here are the conditions to adopt a child in UK:

Age eligibility
under 21 years old (there is no upper age limit).
Family situation
there is no eligibility on family situation: single, married, in a civil partnership, unmarried couple (same sex or opposite sex), the partner of the child's parent).
Residency situation
it is not necessary to be British but it is necessary to have a fixed and permanent home in the UK and to have lived in the UK for at least one year before the process beginning.
The rules are different for private adoptions and adoptions of looked-after children.

Who may be adopted?

To be adopted, a child must:

  • be under 18 years old
  • not be married or in a civil partnership

Respect to her/his birth parents, they must consent to the adoption unless:

  • they cannot be found
  • they are not able to give their consent (for example due to mental disability)
  • there are risks for the child

Adoption process step by step

National Adoption

These are the different steps to adopt a child from the UK:

  1. Contact an adoption agency: the adoption agency will send information about the adoption process. If the prospective adopters want to follow the process, they decide it with their social worker.
  2. Training and assessment process: a social worker will be allocated, criminal backgrounds checks carried out. It is also necessary to attend preparation classes. Through home visits, the social worker check if the propective adopters are ready to adopt.
  3. Assessment and decision time: The prospective adopter's assessment plan is presented to an independent panel that will decide if they are suitable adopters.
  4. Match: if the panel decides the prospective adopters can adopt, they have to wait for a match with a child.
  5. Adoption court order: to make an adoption legal, a the adoption court order is necessary. It gives the parental rights and responsibilities. It is necessary to wait at least 10 weeks after the child arrives at home.
  6. Adoption certificate: once the order has been granted, it is possible to buy an adoption certificate created by the General Register Office. It replaces the original birth certificate and shows the child's new name.
If a foster family wants to adopt the child that they have fostered, it is necessary to be reassessed and approved.

Adopting a stepchild

These are the steps for adopting the spouse's or partner's child:

  1. Tell the local council at least 3 months before applying to a court for adoption order. The child must have lived with both parent and prospective adopter for at least 6 months.
  2. Follow the assessment step: it is the same process than the agency adoption.
  3. If granted, the adoption court gives the same parental responsibility than the spouse or partner. It also takes away the child's other birth parent.

International Adoption

It is possible to adopt children from overseas if:

  • they cannot be adopted or cared of in their own country
  • the adoption es considered as their best interests
  • the prospective adopters are considered as the best solutions for them

It is necessary to contact the local council or a voluntary agency that deals with overseas adoption.

Adopting a child from overseas is quite similar to adopt a child in the UK. The adoption process will be carry out by a UK adoption agency that may charge a fee.

There are several other steps as for example:

  • the assessment is sent to the overseas adoption authority
  • it is necessary to travel in the child's own country
  • the application is sent to the child's country.

The DfE (Department for Education) charges a fee of £1,975 for processing the application.This fee includes case management but does not include legalisation costs.

It is important to know that the UK has restricted adoption from some countries as: Cambodia, Guatemala, Nepal, Haiti and Ethiopia.

Situation of Adoption in UK

According to the statistics of Department for Education, adoption for care in UK continues to fall since 2011 when there were 3.100 children adopted. In 2015, it felt to 5.300 and in 2018, there were 3.820 children adopted from care.

Respect to the waiting time, the average time between placement order and match for children who were adopted during 2017/18 was 6 months.

FAQs from users

How much does adopting from the U.K cost?

By Natalia Álvarez (project manager).

To adopt in the UK costs nearly nothing except a court fee for the adoption application.

What is the difference between adopting and fostering?

By Natalia Álvarez (project manager).

Adoption is a permanent process that legally transfers the parental responsibility from the birth family to the adopter(s).

Fostering is considered as a temporary arrangement where the child's birth parents still have part of the parental responsibility.

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Legislation about adoption in the U.K : Adoption and Children Act 2002

Official website page explaining the different steps: [here]

Official website page for overseas adoptions: [here]

Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies about steps for adoption.

Statistics by the Department for Education year ending 31 March 2018: [here]

Statistics about waiting time by Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies: [here]

FAQs from users: 'How much does adopting from the U.K cost?' and 'What is the difference between adopting and fostering?'.

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