How to apply for an adoption order in England

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Once a child has lived with their adoptive parents for at least ten weeks, an application can be made to the family court for the adoption order. The granting of the order marks the end of social services intervention in the child’s life although support is available via post-adoption support.

This article looks at how to apply for an adoption order, some things to consider before applying, and how the court procedure works. The procedure in this article relates to adoption applications after a placement order has been made. If you want to know how to apply in other circumstances, such as a step-parent adoption, the GOV.UK website provides information about what you need to do.

Before applying for the order

Most adopters will be counting down the weeks until they can apply for the adoption order. The granting of the order signifies the end of formal involvement with the child’s local authority as they are no longer classed as a looked-after child. So, the end of statutory visits and checks.

However, for some families, it won’t be appropriate for them to apply for the order straight away. Whilst a child is classed as being in the care of the local authority, they may be entitled to access services quicker and for it them be funded by the authority.

So, before you apply for the order, make sure an appropriate support plan is in place. This can cover a range of things from paying for private nursery fees to theraplay, treatment and respite support.

You will still be able to access this type of support after the order is granted, but your child is not classed as looked after therefore they are likely to be subject to the usual waiting lists, and funding may not be as easy to access.

Get it in writing

Make sure any support plan is in writing and sets out what it includes. For example, if the local authority has agreed to pay for a child’s nursery fees until they qualify for the 2-year-old funding, make sure that is confirmed in writing. This needs to include when it starts, when it will end and how it is paid i.e. directly to the nursery provider or to the adopters who are then responsible for paying the fees.

Putting off applying for the order until this is done may seem like yet another delay. But it’s worth it to make sure that everything is in place so that you know exactly what support has been agreed and how to access it.

Scrabble tiles spelling the word "support" lying on a bed of blank tiles to show what's need before applying for an adoption order.
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How to apply for an adoption order

As with all things relating to adoption, the mechanics of how to apply for an adoption order will vary depending on your agency. Some agencies will complete the court paperwork, submit the application and pay the fee. Others will expect you to complete the application and pay the court fee which you can claim back from them. Some agencies will expect you to pay the fee and you won’t be entitled to claim it back from them.

If your social worker hasn’t already explained how it works in your agency by the time you are matched, it’s worth asking so that you know how it works.

The application can be submitted online or via post and the fee is currently £201. So, it’s important to find out whether your agency pays this or not as it is a lot of money to find if you aren’t expecting it.

It is usually made to the court that made the care and placement orders.

Supporting documents

Once the application is received, it’s checked by court staff to make sure all of the sections are completed. As well as the application form, the court requires other documents such as certified copies of the child’s birth certificate, your marriage certificate if you’re married, an updated Annex A report and copies of any medical reports and a statement of facts if birth parents are not expected to agree to the application.

If your child’s local authority believes birth parents are unlikely to agree to the order, they will prepare the statement of facts, even if you have to complete the application form. This document sets out why the welfare of the child requires the court to make the adoption order even though birth parents do not agree to it.

This issue will have been addressed during the care and placement proceedings so it’s unlikely to be anything new.

Serving birth parents

Once the court office is satisfied all of the documents are in order and the fee has been paid, a notice of the application and the statement of facts are sent to the birth parents. They don’t receive anything that contains the adopter’s information.

Don’t be surprised if this stage of the proceedings takes a bit of time. The court has to be satisfied that birth parents have been served with the notice. However, they often aren’t the best at telling the local authority when they’ve moved so it can take some time for enquiries to be made to locate them and the court informed of the new address.

If the local authority is unable to locate a new address, there are certain steps the court has to take before it can move on to the next stage. Again, this is likely to take some time. The court office won’t always advise applicants of this issue so it’s worth contacting them or asking your social worker to, if you don’t hear anything for several weeks after the application is issued.

A male lawyer's hands completing paperwork involved in applying for an adoption order
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Applying for an adoption order: The next steps

Once the court is satisfied that birth parents have been served, or that they cannot be located, the court will move the case towards a final hearing. How this is done will differ between courts. Generally, an initial hearing will be set where birth parents have the opportunity to attend. Adopters don’t attend this hearing.

If birth parents attend, they are given the opportunity to say whether they agree to the order. If they do, it will be made at that hearing (providing the court is satisfied all of the paperwork is in order).

Some birth parents won’t ask to be allowed permission to oppose the order, but don’t feel they can agree to it. In those circumstances, the court has to proceed as if they were opposing. The next stage will be another hearing and a timetable for the parents to file a statement.

If the birth parents don’t do that and don’t attend the next hearing, the adoption order will likely be made then.

Another hearing will also be required if birth parents ask for permission to oppose the order. They will have to file a statement setting out how their circumstances have changed sufficiently for the court to think about letting them oppose the order. If you’d like to find out more about this, read this post about court proceedings.

Once the adoption order is granted, the adopters and the child may get invited to attend a celebration hearing.

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