Guide to adoption

A birth parent's guide to the adoption process

At Adopt South West we have a birth parent support service. This is a free service and it’s an opportunity for you to talk through the adoption process and get support for yourself. Please call 0345 155 1076.

As a birth parent of an adopted child, you are entitled to support from a different social worker to the one of your child.

This information is for you if your child is going to be adopted. This may be a very difficult time for you and you may be worried about what adoption means for you and for your child. Please talk to your social worker if there is anything that you don’t understand.

What is adoption?

Adoption is a way of providing a new family for a child when living with their birth family is not possible.

Only a court can make an Adoption Order, and it can only do so if it has the evidence to prove that this is in the child’s best interests.

Adoption ends the child’s legal relationship with its birth family and gives parental responsibility to its adopters.

The court will want to know from you, as the birth parent, what your wishes and feelings are.

If your local authority believes that your family cannot care safely for your child, it will have a ‘permanency planning meeting’, where it will recommend that your child is placed for adoption. Unless there are particular reasons why you shouldn’t be there, you will be invited to this meeting.

Helping your child

Before your local authority can arrange an adoption, it is required by law to ask you for a lot of information. You can help by telling us about yourself, your child’s other birth parent and your family background.

It is important for us to know about any health issues in your family as this may have implications for your child’s future health.

This information will help your local authority, and us at Adopt South West, to find a family for your child which will meet his or her needs. The information you give will contribute to your child’s understanding of their birth family history.

This information is personal, so the law says we must treat it as confidential. However, there are some circumstances where we need to pass some of it on to other people, such as prospective adopters. You will be able to see the information that we have gathered about you and will have an opportunity to comment on it.

The information you provide is used to create a child permanence report. The report is presented to the local authority’s Agency Decision Maker.

What will the local authority’s Agency Decision Maker do?

The local authority’s Agency Decision Maker (ADM) will look at all the information and will decide if adoption is the right plan for your child. It will also consider the proposed plan for contact with your child.

The ADM will make a decision about whether or not they think your child is suitable for adoption.

What happens after the Agency Decision Maker ratifies the adoption plan?

The case will be taken to a court, as only a magistrate or judge can make the legal decision that your child cannot live with you.

The magistrate or judge will look at a care plan for your child, which has been prepared by your social worker, and will talk to you, your solicitor, the child’s guardian and the local authority before making a decision.

If the magistrate or judge thinks that the birth parents should not have parental responsibility, they will grant a Care Order. This means that the local authority holds parental responsibility for the child and will make all the important decisions about the child, for example, where they live, and who they live with.

The judge may also make a ‘placement order’ at the same time, or at a later court hearing. This means that the judge has enough evidence to show that the child will need a new permanent family, and that the child will not be returning to live with the birth family.

When this order is made, we can look for a new family for a child.

Fostering for adoption

Fostering for adoption is the process which allows those who want to adopt children to foster them while they are waiting for the court to decide if adoption is the right plan for the child.

This would provide continuity of care for the child, as they could be placed with their potential adoptive parents rather than temporary foster carers at a much earlier stage in the process. If the court later decides that the child should be adopted and the adoption agency approves the ‘match’ between these carers as adopters and the child, the placement becomes an adoption placement.

Your social worker will explain this process, if it is appropriate for you, and what it means for you.

Choosing the right adoptive family

Your social worker can explain the details of how we decide to match the right adoptive family with your child. Your views and involvement can be really important for your child and for you in this process.

Adopt South West is required by law to make very thorough enquiries about any prospective adopters. We ask them for a lot of information about themselves and their background, and we try to make sure we understand what kind of upbringing they would offer your child.

Please tell your social worker if there is anything special you would like us to consider when choosing a family for your child.

You might, for example, want your child to have a particular religious or cultural upbringing. Or that there should be other children in the new family. Or that your child has the opportunity to develop any special interests or talents.

Older children will be given help to understand how adoption affects them in relation to you and your family and will be asked their views about the type of adoptive family they wish to live with.

Once the right adoptive family has been chosen, a lot of thought and consideration is given as to how they will meet your child’s needs now and as he or she grows up. This information is presented to the adoption panel who will make a recommendation about the family. The Agency Decision Maker will consider the panel’s recommendation and, if they agree, your child will go to live with the new adoptive family.

The local authority is responsible for monitoring and reviewing the quality of care and for your child’s welfare up until an adoption order is granted. The earliest that the new adoptive family can apply for this is ten weeks after your child has been placed with them.

We try to arrange for all birth parents to meet the prospective adopters of their child if this is appropriate, as it helps both sets of parents to know a little more about each other.

It will also be helpful for your child’s adoptive parents to know as much as possible about your family background. Information about origins and birth family will be important as your child grows up. The information about your family’s health will be important.

This can be an emotional meeting and the support Adopt South West gives you can help you get ready for this, and talk through it afterwards.

Adoption by foster carers

Perhaps your child has been looked after for a while by foster carers who would now like to adopt him or her. Your local authority and Adopt South West still have to make the same thorough enquiries about the foster carers as we would about any other prospective adopters.

We also have to be certain that it would be best for your child to be adopted by that family before we can support the idea.

Support and advice for you

If you are unhappy about the idea of your child being adopted, it is important for you to have legal advice about what you can do as soon as possible. Do please consult a solicitor; your local Citizens Advice may know the names of solicitors who specialise in childcare cases.

You may be able to get free legal advice and representation in court (this used to be called legal aid). A solicitor will be able to advise you about this.

When adoption is identified as the plan for your child, you are entitled to an independent worker, who is separate to the child’s social worker. This support can be provided by Adopt South West.

What happens after the adoption order is made?

When a child is adopted, this ends all legal ties with the birth family. He or she will usually keep their first name and take the adoptive family’s surname.

When the court makes an adoption order, the adopters get an adoption certificate from the general register at the Office of National Statistics. This will show the child’s new name and list the adopters and the child’s parents and will replace the child’s original birth certificate for all legal purposes.

When the child goes to live with the adoptive parents, a copy of the child’s original birth certificate will be given to them.

Adoptive parents are encouraged to bring the child up knowing they are adopted and knowing about their origins.

It is understandable that adopted people will want to know something about their birth family when they are old enough to do so (18 years of age). This is why it is important that your local authority knows as much about you as possible and why you may be asked to provide photographs or other information.

When your child begins living with the adoptive family, the adoptive parents will already have received a lot of information that will be important to your child growing up.

Your child will also understand as fully as possible what is happening and will have a Life Story Book explaining their life in words, pictures and photos. We hope that this book will have been made with your help, as your child may want to know about you as they’re growing up.

Can I keep in contact with my child after adoption?

Please see Contact with a birth child for more information.

Will my child be able to find me after adoption?

From the age of 18 onwards, your child, like any other adopted adult, has the right to have a copy of their original birth certificate if they choose. This will show their original name, the name of their birth mother and possibly the name of their birth father, as well as the address where they were living when their birth was registered.

There is a national adoption contact register, which helps put adopted people and their birth family in contact with each other if this is what they both want.

You can record your name and contact address on this register. Then, if your adopted adult child chooses to trace you, they can get information about you from the register. It is up to your child to decide whether or not to contact you.

You can also use the register to record that you do not want to be contacted.

If you have a letterbox agreement, the Letterbox Service will have details of both birth and adoptive families, which will make it easier for an adopted person to establish a more direct link with their birth family, if they want to.

For this reason, it’s important that you keep the letterbox service up-to-date with your contact details.

Since the 2002 Adoption Act, a birth relative may also make an approach to an adopted adult through an intermediary agency usually called an adoption support agency, and it is allowed to charge a fee for its services.

Adopt South West does not offer this service.

In order to protect an adopted person against an unwelcome approach from a birth relative, they may now place a veto on their adoption file, which means that they may only be approached under certain circumstances.

An absolute veto means that the adopted person shouldn’t be approached for any reason.  A qualified veto is a request that no contact be made by a particular (named) member/s of the birth family.

A qualified veto allows contact from other members of the birth family and/or contact to be made in particular circumstances.

For example, an adopted adult may wish for contact from his/her birth siblings, but not from his/her birth parent, or may want contact only in exceptional circumstances, such as medical reasons.  Any adoption support agency making an enquiry on behalf of a birth relative would be informed if a veto had been placed on file.

Post-adoption support services

Adopt South West offers a range of adoption support services both to birth and adoptive families. For birth mothers, we offer an opportunity for them to meet with others who have shared the experience of adoption, in a relaxed and informal way at one of our support groups.

In addition, we offer one to one support from a family practitioner for all birth parents. The family practitioner can support you with indirect and direct contact, writing your letters for letterbox contact, support in processing loss and signposting to alternative supportive services.

If you have been affected by your child/ren being adopted and live within the region of Adopt South West, please give us a call on 0345 155 1076 or email

Our adoption support team members understand the emotions involved (you may be feeling confusion, grief, loss and anger). It may not be easy for you to discuss these feelings with family or friends so we are able to listen to you and offer support with understanding, and together we can look at what support may be helpful to you.

We continue to develop support for birth relatives affected by adoption across the region and would welcome any ideas regarding this, so please do email