The adoption process in the UK involves a number of court hearings, starting with the care proceedings and ending with the adoption celebration hearing. The name of the final hearing suggests that it is just about celebration. It is, to an extent. But adoption is complex. And whilst becoming a family should be celebrated, for many, the final hearing isn’t as straight-forward as just being a celebration.
The court proceedings part of adoption is often the one that adopters know nothing about. It has the potential to be the most stressful part though. The stress comes from two things. Firstly, the lack of control and information about the process. The second is because of the way adoption hearings have to take place.
In the early 2000s, the Government brought in The Children and Adoption Act 2002 which changed the way adoption hearings were conducted. Previously, if the court made a care order where the plan was for adoption, it also made a freeing order which meant the child could be placed for adoption and once the appeals process had been exhausted, birth parents didn’t get notified about any other hearings. That meant the adoption hearing was just for the adopters and the child and the order was made at that hearing.
Adoption and Children Act 2002
The new legislation changed things massively and meant birth parents had to receive notice of the adoption hearing. This led to a major change in the way hearings were conducted because of the risk of everyone being at the same place at the same time.
Effectively, they are now dealt with in two parts. The first part is the hearing that birth parents are given notice of. They can attend and if they do, they can ask for permission to oppose the adoption order. I think this process is unfair to everyone, but particularly birth parents.
It gives them false hope that they have a realistic chance of opposing the order and bringing their child home. The sad reality in the majority of cases is that they don’t and so old wounds and trauma are brought to the surface again. And their hopes of having their child home crushed.
If they are allowed to file a statement, the bar is extremely high in terms of what they have to prove to show their circumstances have changed sufficiently. Even then, the court can say it’s in the child’s best interests to stay where they are.
The procedure can also cause a lot of stress and anxiety for adopters and depending on their age, the child too. It creates uncertainty because, in theory, the court could refuse to make the order and the child could be removed from the adopters. I don’t need to explain the impact of that on the child and adopters if that happens.
Court proceedings delays
The court proceedings can take months if leave is granted, which is an extremely unsettling time for adopters, but more importantly, for the child. By the time the adoption order is applied for, most will have a basic understanding of adoption. Some may have to be involved if the court thinks it is appropriate for them to be spoken to as part of the application for leave to oppose.
Unfortunately, unless the legislation is changed again, that’s the way that it works. There is absolutely nothing adopters can do, other than wait. Keep in regular contact with your social worker during this time so that you know what stage everything is at. Although it is your application to adopt, you won’t necessarily get notifications of what is happening, so regular check-ins with your social worker are a good idea.
Once the adoption order is made, the court fixes a second hearing where the adopters and child attend. Birth parents are not informed of this hearing as it is only fixed after the appeal period has ended. This has become known as the celebration hearing which isn’t really an appropriate reflection of why children need to be adopted.
Our children deserve to be celebrated. Being welcomed into a new family is a momentous time. But I’m not sure many would agree that celebration is the right word to use.
Adoption celebration hearing
It’s proper name is an adoption visit and is part of the process because, technically, the child has to appear before the court for the order to be granted. This can’t happen at the hearings where birth parents attend.
The adoption visit is very informal. The Magistrates or Judge who made the order at the first hearing, will be there, as will yours and your child’s social worker. Some court houses allow family members such as grandparents, aunts and uncles to attend. Depending on who is conducting the hearing, the Magistrates or Judge may still sit at their bench, or they may come down into the main part of the court.
There may be some questions, but these are more to find out about you and your child than anything else because the order has already been made. Most courts will give a certificate and sometimes a card and there may be opportunity for you to have a photograph with the Magistrates or Judge. This is an important photo for life story work so if you get the opportunity to take one, make sure that you do.
It isn’t compulsory for an adoption visit to take place. In some courthouses, you are given the option. Others no longer offer them as a result of Covid and the pressure placed on court hearing times so other types of hearings are given priority.
Location of the adoption celebration hearing
If you have the opportunity to attend the adoption visit, it is worth going. It doesn’t have to take place at the courthouse where the adoption order was granted. So, if your child was placed from outside of your area, you can ask for the adoption visit to take place at your local courthouse.
How you mark the day will depend on your family’s circumstances. Some treat it as a family celebration. Others don’t because of the level of ongoing trauma experienced by their child.
We don’t celebrate the dates the adoption orders were made or the adoption visits. We brought our youngest daughter home on the same date, four years after we met her big sister. That’s the date that we call our family day because it has far more significance to us than the date things became official.
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