An in-depth guide to adoption

Last updated: 18 March 2022 Adoption information pack (pdf, 1.2 MB)
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What to expect in the adoption assessment

Find out what adoption involves

This is your opportunity to learn more about adoption and what it involves.

Book onto an adoption information event.

Contact us so that we answer any questions or concerns you may have.

Take a look at the reading list at the end of this guide.

Make enquiries and register your interest

Arrange to come and meet with one of our social workers.

Call 01494 586 349 (9am to 5pm, Monday to Thursday and 9am to 4:30pm Friday)

Collect and complete your registration of interest (application) form

Assessment: Stage 1

A social worker is allocated to work alongside you. You will have a working agreement called the stage one agreement. Homework tasks and forms are sent out. These include blank eco-maps, genograms, table for finances, a health and safety checklist and a self-assessment tool as well as resources for reading and further research.

Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) Checks (also known as ‘police’ checks) and statutory checks with other agencies are completed. If you are considering engaging in voluntary work, it is worth considering whether to enlist on the DBS update service to assist with this process. This will allow you to use the same DBS for other agencies for example if volunteering. SSAFA checks are completed for people who are currently or were previously employed in the armed forces.

If you have lived abroad for any period (excluding short term work assignments or holidays) in the last 10 years, you will also need to obtain a certificate of good conduct from that country’s relevant embassy.

Applicants are asked to arrange and attend medicals with GPs. Once the medicals are completed advice is gained from the Agency Medical Advisor.

Personal and employment references are taken up. Most adopters find it helpful to carry out research on adoption. The resource list provided should help with this but please contact your social worker if you need more help. Information can also be found on the CoramBAAF, Adoption UK and First4Adoption websites.

We would encourage you to make contact with other adopters to find out more and we can assist you if you don’t know any yourself.

You will also be encouraged to take part in activities that build up your experiences working with or caring for children, as mentioned previously. It is essential that you share with us any significant changes in your life, and information about you – or members of your family with whom the child would have contact – which could impact on or cause concern regarding your capacity to provide safe care for a vulnerable child. Any failure to do this could impact on the outcome of the adoption application. Please ask us about this if you have any doubts.

Following successful completion of stage one, including checks and references received, a decision made by the manager whether you can proceed to stage two. This decision is made within ten days of all checks and references being received.

Stage one should normally take no longer than 2 months. If there are any delays to checks and references being received or if you feel you need longer to explore whether adoption is right for you then stage one can be extended.

Preparation modules

Preparation Modules take place 3 to 4 times per year and comprise of 4 whole days.

They are led by 2 experienced social workers who are also joined by an adoptive parent. The views of current birth parents are also represented, as are those of foster carers. There are usually between 8 and 16 participants in the course, all being at a similar stage in the adoption process.

The purpose of the Preparation modules is to provide information about:

  • the range of needs of children to be placed for adoption
  • the significance of adoption for a child and their family
  • skills needed to become an adoptive parent
  • the agency’s procedures regarding assessment and placement
  • contact issues and support to adopters after a child is placed as well as post adoption order

What we ask of you/you both:

  • To attend all of the sessions (if there are exceptional reasons why a session has to be missed, arrangements will need to be made to complete the session in another series), however this may delay your progress.
  • To respect the confidentiality of the group and other 'ground rules' agreed on the first day.
  • To provide some written feedback (reflective logs) about what you have learned during the Preparation Modules and about the presentation and content of the course itself.

Often prospective adopters can be initially apprehensive but this quickly fades and they generally find the course very interesting, informative and enjoyable. You are not expected to share personal information about your own circumstances in the group unless you choose to do so. The nature of some of the accounts of the speakers and topics covered can sometimes heighten participants’ emotions and may even give rise to a tear or two. This is to be expected for some and not a concern in any way. The overall feedback given is that participants value this course very much.

We will write to you at the end of stage one to confirm whether or not we will be able to accept you on to stage two of the adoption assessment. If there are any issues which arise during stage one your social worker will discuss these with you. On the rare occasions where you wish to proceed but we feel adoption would not be suitable for you, we will write to you and explain the reasons why. You would be able to access the Buckinghamshire Council’s complaints procedure if you did not agree with the decision, and in any event are free to approach other agencies.

Sometimes prospective adopters decide they wish to take a break of up to six months between stage one and stage two of the adoption process. You can do so without your assessment being halted. All records and documentation submitted will be retained for future use, if you decide to take this route, or to stop your assessment at this point.

Assessment: Stage 2

When you wish to proceed to stage two of the adoption process you will need to write confirming you wish to proceed. Stage two should normally take no longer than four months and is completed when the agency decision maker has confirmed that you are approved to adopt.

A social worker is allocated to complete the detailed Prospective Adopters Report through carrying out your Home Study.

Stage two of the adoption assessment stage involves gathering information to complete the Home Study on the Prospective Adopters Report (PAR).

1. Home Study

The home study is where your allocated social worker visits you at home.

The home study aims include:

  • The worker and the prospective adopter coming to a joint understanding of their strengths and capacities to become an adoptive parent.
  • Identifying areas where the prospective adopter may need further development and support.
  • Giving the prospective adopter further information, support and guidance.
  • Enabling the social worker to compile a report about their suitability to become adoptive parents, along with information from the checks and references and the training and preparation.
  • Enabling the worker and his/her manager to make a recommendation to the Adoption Panel based on the evidence gathered.
  • Providing to the worker evidence of your ‘competence’ as an adoptive parent, which will involve you in gathering this together and completing some tasks in between the home visits. The process for this will should be explained to you in the Preparation Modules and as part of the stage two assessment agreement.
  • Building on information from stage one using it to inform discussions, including homework received and information from referees, previous partners and children of applicants (if applicable).

The assessment process is a significant piece of work for those involved. Many find it very interesting – and tell us that they have learnt something about themselves, with some commenting they can see the benefits of all parents going through it. It is important that you proceed to stage two when you have the time available to commit to the home visits. The assessment meetings will last approximately 2-3 hours and will involve discussing personal information and reflecting on your own experiences of being parented. Usually there will be in the region of 6-8 visits depending on circumstances (for example if there are already children in the family they will need to be seen with you as well as separately depending on their ages and understanding.) You will be asked to make yourselves available during the day. Please consider the implications of this if you work during these hours. As this is detailed and concentrated work, there will need to be negotiation about the timing of the visits. It will not be possible for all of these to take place outside usual office hours and occasionally you will be asked to meet at one of our offices.

The following information will additionally be gathered:

  • Report from attendance at Preparation Modules
  • Assessment of potential support needs

Your social worker will agree with you dates and times of visits to your home and make a plan with you about the work you will undertake together. You will be given a copy of the format used for the report to be presented to the Adoption Panel -Prospective Adopters Report (PAR) .

The process can seem complex and daunting but it is important that you and the agency work together in collaboration. It is essential that you are open and honest throughout the process. There may be information that you are concerned about sharing with the assessing social worker but many issues can be resolved if they are discussed openly. Any failure to share information will be taken very seriously and may negatively affect the outcome of the assessment and its progress. In exceptional circumstances we may not be able to progress further. It may be reassuring for you to know that across the country the vast majority of applications presented to Adoption Panels are successful in their outcomes.

2. The Prospective Adopters Report

Regulations require the adoption agency to obtain information about the prospective adopters in the following areas:

  • A chronology of the prospective adopter from birth
  • A family tree with details of the prospective adopter, siblings and any children of the prospective adopter
  • Racial origin, cultural and linguistic background
  • Religious persuasion
  • Description of personality and interests
  • Details of previous family court proceedings in which the prospective adopter has been involved
  • If married, date and place of marriage, if in civil partnership, date and place of that partnership
  • If there is a partner – details of that relationship
  • Details of any previous relationship, marriage or civil partnership
  • Details of education, attainment and employment history and views of prospective adopters about these
  • Confirmation of current employment and views about achieving a balance between employment and child care.
  • Financial information
  • Applicants views on adoption and wishing to adopt a child
  • The observations of the prospective adopter about their own experience of being parented and how this has influenced them
  • Details of any experience the prospective adopter has had of caring for children (including as a parent, step parent, child minder or prospective adopter)
  • An assessment of capacity to provide for an adopted child’s needs particularly emotional and behavioural development needs
  • An assessment of capacity to understand and support a child through feelings of loss and trauma including when it affects their behaviour
  • Information which indicates how the prospective adopter and anybody else living in their household is likely to relate to a child placed for adoption with them.
  • An assessment of capacity to integrate a child into their family while having a spirit of generosity and empathy towards the birth family.
  • A description of the wider family and their role and its importance to the prospective adopter along with their likely role and importance to any child placed for adoption
  • Information about the home and neighbourhood and the degree of the family’s integration with friends and social networks
  • Reasons for wishing to adopt a child
  • The views and feelings of the prospective adopter about:
  • Adoption and its significance
  • Parenting capacity
  • Parental responsibility and what it means
  • Providing a suitable home environment
  • Importance and value of education for a child
  • Importance of a child’s religious and cultural upbringing
  • Contact with birth family

The approval process

The information gathered in the process of assessment is brought together in the Prospective Adopter’s Report. The agency is required to give a copy of the report to the adopter(s) and to invite the adopter(s) to send in their views on the report within 5 days of its receipt.

The Report is confidential and not to be shared with others without the written permission of the agency.

The references and the medical reports are not included in the report sent to the prospective adopters but are presented to the Adoption Panel. These remain confidential to the agency. The adopters are invited to attend the Panel meeting, when their application to be approved as adopters is being discussed. Attendance is not compulsory and does not affect the Panel decision, but most prospective adopters are glad they attended.

The allocated social worker will help the prospective adopters prepare for the Panel and also ensure written information is provided to them about the Panel and its members. There are specific regulations on those who have to be represented on the Adoption Panel. A leaflet about Panel and its membership is made available to all applicants. The role of the Panel is to consider the suitability of adopters to adopt and to consider whether a child should be placed with particular prospective adopters. They will make a recommendation on these matters to the Agency Decision-Maker (ADM) who is a senior manager in Children’s Services. Panel members may also provide advice to applicants and Social workers.

The agency decision-maker will decide whether or not to accept the recommendation and can also express a view on advice given by the Panel. The decision is made within 7 working days of the ADM receiving the panel minutes and the agency must inform the adopters of the decision orally within 2 days and in writing within 5 days.

Stage two should take no longer than 4 months.

When things do not got smoothly

It may be that before the full assessment is completed in stage 2, information is received that leads the social worker or the agency to conclude that the prospective adopter may not be suitable to adopt. In such situations, a 'brief report' is written which the prospective adopter sees and comments on before it is presented to Panel.

The Panel may recommend that the assessment continues or that the adopter is not suitable to adopt. The recommendation is considered by the Agency Decision-Maker. If the recommendation is that the prospective adopter is not suitable to adopt then the process is the same as if a full assessment had been completed (see below).

When a full assessment is completed and presented to Adoption Panel, if the Agency Decision-Maker is minded (considering) not to approve, the adopter will be notified. This is called the 'qualifying determination'. The notification will also include the reasons for this. The prospective adopter will also be advised that they have 40 working days to decide whether or not they wish to ask for their case to be considered by the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM – explained below) or make representations to the agency and how to make such representations. The prospective adopters can also decide to accept the decision.

The Independent Review Panel is not an appeal system. The Independent Review Panel cannot overturn the agency’s decision, but the agency must consider the view of the IRM Panel before making their final decision.

The Independent Review Mechanism (IRM)

The Government has set up the IRM, which prospective adopters can choose to use if their brief or full assessment report is subject to a 'qualifying determination' by the Agency Decision Maker.

The IRM Panel considers the assessment reports and may seek additional information. It then provides advice to the agency, which it must consider before reaching a decision.

There is a charge for this service and the cost is met by the adoption agency. Information about the IRM is available on the GOV.UK website.

After Approval

The next stage concentrates on your continuing preparation to have a child(ren) placed with you and providing ongoing support to you.


By the time you are approved adopters we will have been working with you for a long time and dealing with a lot of material. We seek feedback from you at different stages along the process by written questionnaire, and discussion with staff.