Adoption Glossary

Adoption is a legal procedure in which the parental responsibility for a child is transferred from their birth parent or other person with parental responsibility to their adopter. An adopted child loses all the legal ties with their original parents. When an adoption order is made in respect of a child, the child becomes a full member of their new family, usually takes the family name, and assumes the same rights and privileges as if they had been born to the adoptive family including the right of inheritance. Adoption is a significant legal order and is not usually reversible.

Adoption Activity Days are events that give approved adopters, or prospective adopters at an advanced stage in their adoption assessment, the opportunity to meet a range of children who need adoptive families. Adults and children meet in a fun environment with themes, games and dressing up, and are able to play together as a way of making a personal and emotional connection. Prospective adopters and social workers can then work together to develop potential matches.

Adoption Agency Adoption agencies are organisations that work with prospective parents and children to assess, match, arrange and support adoptive placements. There are two kinds of adoption agency in England – local authority adoption agencies and independent/voluntary adoption agencies. The main difference between the two is that local authorities have children in their care, whereas independent/voluntary agencies do not. The local authority children’s services team has responsibility for finding homes for children in care but both local authority and independent/voluntary adoption agencies assess prospective adopters and match children with them. Adoption agencies do not charge for their services to prospective parents adopting children from care in the UK, and no profit is legally permitted in adoption though some charges are made for those who wish to adopt children from abroad. All adoption agencies are subject to strict regulatory control and regular Ofsted inspections.

Adoption assessment is the process by which adoption agencies assess potential parents in preparation for adoption. An adoption assessment should take no longer than six months, unless for exceptional reasons, and happens in two stages. Stage 1 includes initial interviews, identity and background checks and references and preparation. This should take no longer than two months. Stage 2, sometimes called a ‘home study’ takes four months, during which a social worker will work in depth with potential adopters to assess their strengths and suitably to become an adoptive parent. In the case of domestic adoption (ie of a child in care in the UK), the cost of assessment is covered by adoption agencies, not by prospective parents.

Adoption Contact Register this is run by the adoptions section of HM Passport Office. Adopted adults aged 18 or over and birth relatives can add their names to the Adoption Contact Register in order to find a birth relative or to say they don’t want to be contacted. There is a small charge for this.

Adoption Exchange Days are events, organised by Be My Family, where approved adopters who are not yet matched with a child or children, are invited to attend and have an opportunity to see profiles of children who are waiting for adoptive families nationally. Adoption agencies bring profiles and information about a range of children waiting for families, to a regional venue, giving adopters the opportunity to meet social workers from a number of different local authorities and to discuss the children they have waiting. Exchange days are organised on a regular basis.

Adoption order The adoption order is the final court order which gives approved adopters full and permanent parental responsibility for a child. It is issued by the Family Court, on the application of the prospective adopter/s. The adopter/s will then be provided with an adoption certificate bearing the child’s new surname (if changed) which becomes the child’s formal identifying document. An adoption order can only be made with the consent of the birth parents or if the court has dispensed with the birth parents’ consent.

Adoption Panel Each adoption agency has an adoption panel, made up of social workers alongside independent members including those with personal experience of adoption. At the end of stage 2 of an adoption assessment, panel members are provided with a copy of the Prospective Adopter Report (PAR), and meet to consider the content and to make a recommendation about the prospective adopter’s suitability to become an adopter. Prospective adopters are invited to attend the panel if they wish, and will have seen their PAR in good time before the panel meeting. At the end of the meeting the panel will make a recommendation which will be passed to the adoption Agency Decision Maker for their decision, which should be made within 4 months of the start of stage 2 of the adoption assessment.

Adoption and Special Guardianship Support Fund (ASGSF) was launched by the Government in England in 2015 to provide financial support for a range of therapies that are identified to help achieve improved emotional regulation and behaviour, improved engagement with learning, confidence and ability to enjoy positive family life and social relationships. The Fund is available for children living in England up to and including the age of 21 (or 25 with a Statement of Special Educational Needs or Education Health & Care Plan) who are adopted and were previously in local authority care in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, or left care under a Special Guardianship Order, or were adopted from overseas.

Assessment see Adoption assessment

Attachment is the emotional bond between two individuals, specifically in the case of adoption between the child and adoptive parent. Children who come into the care of local authorities may suffer from disrupted attachments due to their early life experiences, and may find it difficult to form secure attachments with adoptive parents, families and friends.

Birth parents are the child’s biological mother and father, who may or may not have been involved in the child’s early care. Birth families include by extension the grandparents, uncles, aunts and siblings who may or may not have played a part in the child’s life. Birth parents will always be the child’s biological parents, and their history will be important for a child to understand as he/she grows up. After an adoption order is made, birth parents are no longer the child’s legal parents.

CAMHS is the NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services specialising in behavioural, emotional and mental health difficulties in children and young people and can be accessed through referral by GP, social worker or school.

Care Orders under the Children Act 1989, section 31, if a local authority believes a child is at risk of or suffering from significant harm it can apply to court for a care order. If the court decides that a child may be at risk if returned to his/her parents’ care they may make a care order. This means that the local authority shares parental responsibility with the child’s parents and the child becomes ‘looked after’ by the local authority and ‘in care’. The local authority can then make most of the important decisions for a child, such as where and with whom he/she will live.

Care proceedings are the legal processes whereby courts decide the permanence plan for children temporarily in care. Some may return to birth parents, or to birth relatives perhaps with a Special Guardianship Order, or remain in care and be fostered long-term, or be placed for adoption.  Care proceedings my result in a care order and a placement order if the court decides that adoption is the best plan for the child.

Celebration days take place after the court hearing that has granted an adoption order, and are a chance for adoptive families to celebrate the making of an adoption order. Adoptive families visit the court and meet the judge, who will give a certificate and usually invite families and friends to take photos. Celebration days have no legal standing, and are not part of the adoption process.

Child Permanence Report (CPR) is an important document, and an essential tool to enable the adoption agency to plan for the future life of a child. It is completed by a child’s social worker and contains comprehensive information about the child’s family background, life experiences, health and the circumstances that led to the child being in care. CPRs are sent to prospective adopters who have expressed serious interest in a child during family finding and matching. It is a source of information to help prospective adopters decide whether to proceed, as it provides essential information about the child’s background and heritage which is used in the matching process. Adopted adults can also request a copy of their CPR, and it contains important information about their life history.

Concurrent Planning is for babies and young children under 2 in care who are likely to need adoption, but where attempts to reunite the child with their birth family are also being made.  It is a form of fostering for adoption. Children are placed with concurrent carers, who are dually approved as foster carers and adoptive parents. They initially foster the child and will adopt the child if the courts decide that the birth family is unable to meet the child’s needs. This scheme asks a lot of the concurrent carers who know that the child they are fostering may return to the care of their birth parent or relative at the end of court proceedings. However, it is a scheme which ensures that the babies have the best possible start in life, given that they have been born into a very vulnerable and high risk situation. If they return home, they will have had a secure and loving early period in foster care, whilst maintaining a relationship with their birth relatives through regular supervised contact centre visits. If they are adopted they will have been with their permanent family from the earliest possible time, and will have developed a secure and trusting relationship with their adopters, perhaps from the time they were born or soon after. Children placed with concurrent planning carers are considered unlikely to be able to return to the care of their birth families, but until all the court assessments are complete, this is not a certainty, and a small proportion of these children do return to their parents or other relatives. See also Fostering for Adoption.

Contact between a child and their birth family (and others who have been important in their lives) must always be considered when a child is placed for adoption. The child’s needs are central to any plan which must also take account of the adopters’ views. Direct (face to face) contact between a child and their birth parent/s is rare. If contact is agreed, this is most likely to be indirect, confidential ‘letterbox’ contact, where an exchange of written information between the adoptive parent and birth family, perhaps once a year,  is handled through a central point (usually the adoption service acting as the letterbox exchange) to keep addresses and sensitive information confidential. Direct contact may take place between an adopted child and their siblings, who may be living in other adoptive or foster families. Contact arrangements, along with life story work and other ways of providing information, are part of a process to help children develop their sense of identity, make sense of their past and integrate it with their present.

CPR – see Child Permanence Report

Early Permanence plan or Early Permanence Placement (EPP) refers to the situation where children may be placed in their home at the earliest opportunity by being placed with adopters who are also approved as foster carers, who initially foster the child and may become their adopters once the court proceedings have been concluded. There are currently two early permanence plans – see Concurrent planning and see Fostering for adoption.

Family Finding is the process by which local authorities find the most suitable permanent family for a child. Adoption agencies will work with approved adopters to help make links with a child or children for whom they may be a good match. Profiles of children are made available to approved adopters either by their own adoption agency or via Adoption Match and other family finding and matching agencies.

Fast Track Assessment is an accelerated adoption assessment for those who have previously adopted a child, or who are currently approved and experienced foster carers.

Foster Carer see Fostering

Fostering places a child with an approved foster carer who can provide a stable and safe family environment and care for children who are unable to live at home. Fostering may be a permanent arrangement, or temporary until a permanence plan such as a return to birth family or adoption is made. Foster carers are paid allowances by the local authority and do not have legal or parental responsibility for the children in their care. Parental responsibility remains with the local authority and the child’s parent/s. When adoption is the approved plan for a child in care, foster carers have a vital role to play in preparing the child to meet his or her new family, and facilitating introductions and final placement.

Fostering for Adoption places a child with approved adopters who are also approved foster carers. A fostering for adoption placement will only be made where there is clear evidence to the Local Authority that there is little likelihood that the birth parents can resolve their problems or that other family members can care for the child. During the fostering stage of the placement the court will weigh up what is in the child’s best interests in the longer term. The carers need to be able to deal with the uncertainty of the period before the court’s final decision. If the court agrees that the child should be adopted and the adoption agency approves the ‘match’ between the carers and the child, then the placement becomes an adoption placement. Fostering for adoption, along with concurrent planning, is a form of early permanence, and is greatly in the child’s interests as it reduces the number of placements and promotes early attachment. See also Concurrent Planning

Home Study see Adoption assessment

Independent Adoption Agency see Adoption Agency

Information events are organised by adoption agencies to provide general information to members of the public interested becoming adopters. Social workers generally give a presentation about the children that need families, the assessment process for prospective adopters, how children join families and the kind of support they may need after placement. Information events are a great way for prospective adopters to get a feel for how different agencies work and to hear from adopters who often share their experiences at these events. These meetings are very helpful in enabling people to decide whether adoption is right for them  and in choosing an adoption agency.

Intercountry Adoption is the process of adopting a child from overseas. Prospective adopters have to be assessed and approved by an adoption agency in the UK that specifically carries out assessments for intercountry adoption. Once prospective adopters are approved for intercountry adoption there are different legal pathways depending on the child’s country of origin. There are also financial considerations, as intercountry adoption assessments have to be paid for by the prospective adopters.

Introductions take place after the match between child and prospective adopters has been decided after matching panel. Introductions are a carefully managed way of supporting the child’s move from his or her foster carers to adopters, agreed during a placement planning meeting. Typically, they take place at the foster carer’s home, and are supervised by the child’s social worker. During a period of one or two weeks, adopters will spend more and more time with the child until they are doing all the care from getting up in the morning until going to bed at night. After the agreed introductions period, the child will move to the adopters’ home, sometimes with support of the foster carer who may stay nearby for a few days until the child is settled.

Later-Life Letters are written by a child’s social worker, explaining why the child was taken into care and adopted. It is given to adopters on placement, and is designed to be read with the child at a time when he or she can better understand the actions and circumstances leading up to the adoption decision.

Life Appreciation Days may take place during matching, and give adopters a chance to meet key individuals such as social workers, foster carers, teachers and medical advisors who have been involved with the child during their time in the local authority’s care.

Life Story Books are often put together by a child’s social worker, but may also be prepared and developed by adopters, to record the child’s history up to and beyond the point of being placed for adoption. Usually they contain baby photos, pictures of birth parents, foster carers and any significant other people, with simple text helping children to understand their early history and the reasons why the child could not remain with their birth family.

Life Story Work is an ongoing process whereby parents help adopted children to feel more secure in their adoptive family. Adopted children are helped to understand their personal history and develop their sense of identity, including who they are, their biological parents and family, their early life experiences and why they were taken into care, and how they came to be adopted into their families. An understanding of the past can enable a child to feel more settled with their adoptive family and deepen bonds within the family.

Local Authority Adoption Agency see Adoption Agency

Looked After Children (LAC) are children in the care of a local authority. A child may be looked after by a local authority on a voluntary basis with the agreement of the child’s parent/s, or because the courts have issued a court order placing the child in the local authority’s care. Children adopted from care continue to be considered previously looked after children, particularly with respect to education funding.

Mailbox/Letterbox see Contact

Matching is the process of identifying a suitable adoptive family for a specific child (see also family finding). It may involve the child’s local authority considering a number of potentially suitable adoptive families, in order to identify one that is the best match for the child or children. This one prospective adoptive family will then proceed to matching panel

Matching Panel is the formal meeting that recommends a match between approved adopters and a specific child or children. The adoption panel of the child’s local authority will read through all the information in the adoption placement report, prepared by the prospective adopter’s agency to consider the match. Within this report is the Adoption Support Plan, which outlines support to be provided for the adopter and child. If the panel approves the match, the child’s local authority Agency Decision Maker then makes the final decision about whether the match should go ahead.

PAR – see Prospective Adopter Report

Placement Order This court order may be made by a court at the end of care proceedings and gives permission for the local authority to place a child with prospective adopters. If a child, subject to a placement order, is placed with a prospective adopter the local authority and the prospective adopter share parental responsibility for the child. A placement order ends when an adoption order is made.

Placement planning meeting (PPM) see Introductions

Post-Adoption Support refers to a range of services that can be accessed by adoptive parents. These include counselling, therapies, legal and medical advice and assessments. Some specified therapies can be paid for by the Adoption Support Fund, after an assessment is carried out by the local authority post adoption team.

Preparation Groups take place during the prospective adopter assessment, often starting in stage 1, and are designed to give prospective adopters the opportunity to understand and prepare for the realities of adoptive parenting. Prospective adopters meet as a group with others going through the same process. They learn together, and explore the benefits and challenges of adoption and key parenting skills needed to care for children who may have experienced neglect and abuse. The format of the groups varies between adoption agencies and usually includes the valuable opportunity to meet with adoptive parents and hear their stories.

Prospective Adopter Report (PAR) is a report written by the prospective adopters’ social worker which summarises the information collected during the adoption assessment process. The PAR contains a lot of information and provides evidence about why the social worker considers the prospective adopter suitable to be approved as an adopter. Prospective adopters have the opportunity to read the report, to clarify any inaccuracies and add their own comments. The PAR will be presented to the Adoption Panel, and once adopters are approved, the PAR is also used to provide information to social workers who are seeking adoptive parents for children in care.

Pupil Premium is additional funding for publicly funded schools in England aimed at closing the educational gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. Pupil premium for children adopted from care recognises the extra challenges that these children may face in education; it is currently (April 2024) £2570 per child. The pupil premium is used by the school to invest in measures to help the child achieve their educational potential. This does not necessarily mean that the full amount will be spent on each individual child, but rather to provide a range of education support measures that will benefit eligible children, ideally in discussion with parents. The scheme applies to adopted children in English schools who were adopted from care in England or Wales, from Reception class through to Year 11. To qualify for this support, the adoptive parent(s) must inform the school that their child is adopted from care.

Special Guardianship is a court order that was introduced in 2005. It provides for parental responsibility to be shared between the child’s parents and an individual or individuals other than the birth parents. This could be a grandparent, close relative, foster carer or other connected person. The difference between Special Guardianship and adoption is that the birth parents remain the legal parents, and as such share parental responsibility for the child; however, their ability to exercise this responsibility is strictly limited and the Special Guardian is able to make nearly all the decisions in a child’s life without requiring the parent’s consent

Voluntary Adoption Agency see Adoption Agency