Adoption is where a child legally becomes a member of a new family and has one or two new parents. If you are at least 21 years old and can provide a permanent, stable and caring home, your application to adopt will be welcomed. There is no upper age limit.
Technically there are several circumstances where adoption may be a suitable option, but this can be narrowed to two different circumstances, as described below;-
Firstly, where the child is living with a family member or other person; an example of this is a family member other than a parent who has taken on care of the child or a step parent who wants to make the living arrangements more permanent.
Secondly, where a child is currently in Local Authority care and is ‘Looked After’. This can be with a foster carer, in a children’s home or other placement arranged by the Local Authority.
You should seek legal advice from a specialist Family & Child Law Solicitor about such matters and at Paul J Watson Solicitor, you can be sure that we take parents’ rights very seriously. We will advise you every step of the way, whether mediation or court proceedings should be your chosen route. Whether your problem involves contact, residence, or other child arrangements issues, our Child Law Solicitors can advise and assist you.
Why choose Paul J Watson Solicitor?
· Our experienced and dedicated team will fight your case, helping you to negotiate and mediate where possible;
· We have two fully qualified solicitors, who have in excess of 7 years’ experience each;
· Free initial telephone consultation with our solicitor to assess your case;
· We are very proactive in progressing cases as quickly as possible and undertake most of our correspondence by email, considerably speeding up the process;
· Legal Aid is still available in some Child cases and we undertake Legal Aid work;
· Competitive rates and fixed fees are available if you cannot apply for Legal Aid.
Paul J Watson Solicitor can offer you sympathetic, constructive advice at this difficult time. Our Specialist Child Law Solicitors have extensive experience in dealing with cases of this type, so you can be sure that we can provide you with the knowledge and support that you need to resolve your case.
Our Family Team are all members of Resolution, and we therefore encourage settlement of cases in a non-confrontational way where at all possible. That does not mean that we will not fight your case in court if this is needed.
Following the Government’s cuts to Legal Aid, we also offer competitive fees in Child Law Applications. We charge an hourly rate of £175 plus VAT for the work of a fully qualified Solicitor with 7 years’ experience. Free initial consultations over the telephone are offered by our Solicitor, who will be able to assess your case and provide a fee estimate. We also offer fixed fees for attending court with you.
Once you are ready to discuss your problem, either call our Family Team on 01642 293427 or alternatively complete our Contact Form and request a call back. We will not use your number to pressure you into instructing our firm.
Adopting a child of the family
Only a court can make an adoption order. The effect of the adoption order is that the birth parents no longer have any parental rights and responsibilities for their child. Those rights and responsibilities are instead given to the adoptive parents.
Once the court has made an adoption order the child becomes a full member of the adoptive family. They take the surname of their adoptive parents and have the same rights and privileges as if they had been born to them. This includes the right of inheritance.
How does the Court decide whether I can adopt?
Before the court can make an adoption order, the court has to be satisfied of all of the following:
· The child was under the age of 18 when the adoption application was made;
· The child is not – or has never been – married or in a civil partnership;
· Both birth parents have given their consent to the adoption.
In some cases, it is not necessary to get consent from the birth parent or guardian. This happens when:
· The birth parent or guardian cannot be found or is incapable of giving consent;
· The child’s welfare would be at risk if the adoption order was delayed.
Is there any criteria that I have to meet before I adopt?
The following are eligible to apply to adopt:
· Single people (irrespective of their sexual orientation)
· A partner of a parent of the child to be adopted
· Married couples
· Civil partners
· Unmarried couples (same sex and different sex) living as partners in a stable family relationship
Your application will be considered on the basis of whether you can meet the adopted child’s needs. It does not matter whether you own your own home or are in or out of work.
You and all adult members of your household will be required to have a police check.
How do I apply to the Court to adopt?
The court will need:
1. Your completed Form A58 (Application for an Adoption Order);
2. A certified copy of the full birth certificate for the child or, if the child has previously been adopted, a certified copy of the entry in the Adopted Children Register.
You may also have to provide any of the following, depending on your circumstances:
• If the child has been placed for adoption or freed for adoption by a court, a certified copy of the placement order or freeing order;
• If you are asking the court to dispense with the consent of any parent or guardian to the adoption, a brief statement of the facts you are relying on in support of your request (known as a ‘Statement of Facts’), and two copies of the statement;
• If you are submitting evidence of your marriage or civil partnership, a certified copy of your marriage certificate or certificate of civil partnership;
• If your husband, wife or civil partner has died, a certified copy of the death certificate;
• If you are divorced or your civil partnership has been dissolved, a copy of any decree absolute or decree of nullity of your marriage, or a copy of any dissolution order or nullity order of your civil partnership;
• Separate medical reports on your health, the health of the child and other applicant made during the period of three months before the date of your application (but you will not have to supply medical reports if the child was placed with you by an adoption agency, or if he or she is your child or the child of the other applicant, or you are applying alone as the partner (including husband, wife or civil partner) of the child’s mother or father).
This is not an exhaustive list of the documents the court may need. You will find a list of the documents to be attached on the application form A58. If you are not sure whether any item on the list applies to you, the court staff will be able to advise you.
You will be sent a form telling you that your application has been issued and a receipt for your fee (if you have paid one). Every case is different and the court’s decision about the next steps will depend on the details of your application, but it is likely that some or all of the following will happen:
• The court may ask for an Officer from the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (CAFCASS) or a Welsh family proceedings officer to be appointed to act as a children’s guardian, a children and family reporter or a reporting officer. The same officer may act as all three;
• The adoption agency or local authority will be asked to prepare a report for the court giving details about the child, you and your family, any parent or guardian of the child and other background information that may help the court;
• The court will arrange a hearing (called a ‘first directions hearing’). This will usually take place about 4 weeks after your application has been received. Details of the hearing will be sent to you or your solicitor, the child’s parents, any other person with parental responsibility for the child and any person preparing a report for the court or acting on behalf of the local authority, adoption agency or the child.
The case will then be timetabled, for reports or any other requirements of the court. The court will monitor the progress of the case until a decision is made.
Adopting a Looked-After child; what does this mean?
A looked-after child is one who is in public care. This means they are looked after by a local authority (LA). To adopt a looked-after child you will need to submit an application to an adoption agency, which will assess your suitability. Then the court will decide whether to make an adoption order in your favour.
Initial application for adoption
The first thing you must do is contact your local adoption agency. They will:
· Send you general written information about the adoption process, like how long each part will take and the agency’s expectation of adopters;
· Invite you to a group information meeting, where you can hear about adoption and talk to adopters about their experiences;
· Give you counselling to help you understand the needs of the children, who may have experienced neglect or abuse in their early childhood.
The agency will also help you decide if adoption is right for you and your family. If you and the agency agree to proceed, the agency will issue you with an application form.
Preparation, assessment and training
When the adoption agency accepts your written application, it will:
· Invite you to preparation classes – these are normally held locally and offer parenting advice and information on issues like the skills required for adoption, the needs of adopted children and the effect adoption can have on all the people involved.
· Carry out police checks to be sure that you or an adult member of your family have not committed an offence that would make you ineligible to adopt.
· Interview referees who know you and your family.
· Organise for you to have a full medical examination.
· Arrange for a social worker to visit you and carry out a detailed assessment of your suitability to become an adoptive parent – including your strengths and weaknesses, areas you might need support in, and the stability of your relationship if you are adopting as a couple.
Because of these processes the assessment is demanding, lengthy, in-depth and can feel intrusive. This is so the agency can be sure you’re able to meet the needs of the child and can make a success of the adoption.
When your social worker has finished your assessment, they will send your papers to the adoption panel. This is a group of people who are experienced in adoption. You will be able to attend the adoption panel meeting to ask and answer questions. The adoption panel will make a recommendation to the agency, which will then make the decision whether or not you are suitable to adopt a child.
How long does it take to adopt?
The time it takes to adopt will vary. It will take just over eight months for the adoption agency to complete its assessment of your suitability to adopt. It could then just take a matter of weeks for the agency to match you with a child.
Once the child goes to live with you, it is for you to decide when to apply to the court for an adoption order. However, the child must have lived with you for at least ten weeks. An adoption order means that parental rights and responsibilities for the child are given to the adoptive parents.
How do children become matched with adopters?
Once your agency considers you are suitable to adopt, it will begin the process of finding a child whose needs you can meet. If a match doesn’t take place after three months, you can be referred to the Adoption Register for England and Wales.
The Register holds details of children across England and Wales who need a family. The Register will be searched to identify a child whose needs you can meet. Once a link has been made, your details will be passed on to the child’s social worker.
If an adoption agency does not consider you suitable
You have two options if you disagree with an adoption agency’s decision. You can either:
· Challenge the agency’s decision and explain why you disagree, OR;
· Apply to the Independent Review Mechanism to look into the agency’s decision-making process.
Support for adoptive parents
You and your adopted child may need support and you are entitled to have an assessment of your family’s needs. LAs must have the following range of adoption support services available:
· Advice, information and counselling;
· Financial support;
· Support groups for adopted children and adoptive parents;
· Therapeutic services for adopted children, like re-introducing children with a history of abuse and neglect to sensations of touch, smell, taste and sight through therapeutic games and exercises;
· Support for contact arrangements between an adopted child and their birth family;
· Services to support the relationship between the adopted child and their adoptive parents.
ADVICE FOR BIRTH PARENTS, CHALLENGING THE ADOPTION;
If your child is in the process of being adopted and you don’t want this to happen, you should get legal advice immediately. The adoption agency can also provide you with the services of an independent support worker to advise you on your rights and responsibilities.
Trying to stop my child from being adopted
You may be able to get publicly funded legal advice and representation (legal aid) in court. A solicitor will be able to assess and advise you.
You can try to stop the adoption up to the point where the prospective adopters apply for an adoption order. If you do this the adoption agency will have to apply to the court for a placement order. This grants permission to place your child for adoption with a new family.
Retaining your parental rights
Before a court can decide your child could be adopted by another family, one of the following must happen:
· You agree for the adoption to go ahead;
· The court decides to go ahead without your agreement (where the parent or guardian can’t be found or is incapable of giving consent, or the welfare of the child requires the consent to be dispensed with).
The court will only go ahead with an adoption order without your agreement if they feel it is necessary, for example, if the court has concerns for the safety and well-being of your child. The court will send you the evidence they have been given and you should discuss it with your solicitor as soon as you can.
How the court will consider your views;-
The court will also ask an independent social worker agency (also known as a children’s guardian) to visit you. Their job is to:
· Safeguard your child’s interests on behalf of the court – they will want to know why you do not want your child to be adopted;
· Report your views to the court – it is important for the court to know how you feel about your child’s future.
You can go to the court yourself if you want to explain why you are not willing to agree to your child’s adoption. An adoption order can’t be made unless the court is sure that being adopted would be in your child’s best interests. They will have to take account of your views in deciding this.
Can I still have contact with my child after adoption?
The adoption agency will be able to advise you about contact with your child. Ideally contact arrangements – letters, cards and in some cases, meetings – can be agreed between all parties. However, these may need to change if the child’s circumstances and needs change. Where appropriate the child will be able to pass letters or cards back to you via the agency to keep you informed of their progress and development.
Adoption by a birth parent’s partner, foster carer or relative
If you have parental responsibility for your child, you will be asked to give your consent to the adoption. If you do not wish to consent to the child’s adoption you should see your solicitor.
Fathers who were neither married to the child’s mother nor named on the birth certificate when the child’s birth was registered can apply to the court for a Parental Responsibility Order. This makes them legally recognised as the child’s father and gives them parental responsibility.