An in-depth guide to adoption

Last updated: 18 March 2022 Adoption information pack (pdf, 1.2 MB)
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Who can adopt and what factors are taken into account


Legally you have to be over 21 to adopt. There is no upper age limit but you will have to demonstrate that you have the necessary health and energy to be able to parent a child through childhood and into adulthood.

Health issues

You need to be able to demonstrate that you have the health necessary to parent a vulnerable child needing adoption throughout their childhood and into adulthood. Separate guidance is provided about health and lifestyle issues in the Appendices.

Being married or in a partnership, or single

If you are in a partnership, either through marriage, civil partnership or a stable living arrangement, you can both legally adopt a child. Sexuality is not a barrier to adoption. You will need to demonstrate that your partnership is stable, permanent and will be able to withstand the challenges that adoption can bring. We would usually expect couples to have been together for at least 3 years.

Single people can also adopt. This arrangement can be seen as a positive choice for some children. As with people in partnerships, applicants will need to show that they have strong and supportive network of family and friends to call on when they need to. They will also need to consider arrangements in the event that single applicants become ill or unable to look after the child after adopting a child.


For those who do not have European passports, this can raise some complex issues and legal advice can sometimes be advised to confirm that they can adopt. Legal requirements for domicile and habitual residence are met and this is their accepted legal home. Applicants must live in the United Kingdom, see this as their home and be able to demonstrate that they have permanent residence. You do not have to live in the county of Buckinghamshire but we usually say we will generally carry out assessments within an hour’s travelling distance of our offices in High Wycombe or Aylesbury. This helps facilitate any future support arrangements. However, in some situation we may be able to accommodate particular placements where we feel the needs of the child will be met.


You will need to be in settled accommodation which can provide a safe environment for a child to live in. You may own or rent the accommodation. If you are planning building work or changes to your home inform us to enable us to advise and assess any impact on the process.

The child will need their own bed and space for study, recreational and leisure interests. Most social workers would also consider it important for the child to have their own room, unless sharing with their own siblings. It would not be accepted for adopted children to share with birth children or previously adopted children that they are not related to by birth.

Birth children

A number of people who have birth children wish to pursue adoption. This can be for a variety of reasons including secondary infertility. Experienced parents often have parenting skills and knowledge which can be extremely valuable. However, there is research which indicates that birth children should be at least 2 years older than any adopted child to maximise the likelihood that the adoption will be successful.

Those who have previously parented by this route also need to bear in mind that adopted children often require different parenting styles and methods to those in a family through birth. You do however need to be aware that some social workers prefer to match children with families without other young children, due to the research evidence that this can have a negative impact on placement longevity. Each family’s circumstances are different so do discuss this with the social worker.

Fertility treatment

A number of prospective adopters have been unable to have children themselves and may have been through fertility treatment. Fertility treatment can be very demanding, physically, emotionally and financially.

It is important that once you apply to adopt, you focus on the process of adoption. We understand that people sometimes find it helpful to explore information about adoption and fertility at the same time, but be aware that it is not possible to start the adoption application process while undergoing fertility treatment.

Experience has shown us that when fertility treatment proves unsuccessful, a period of adjustment is needed to come to terms with this loss and disappointment. This is necessary before applicants are able to move on to the different but equally demanding process of adoption. It is therefore important to allow some time to elapse after stopping fertility treatment where this has been unsuccessful, generally at least six months before the start of the adoption process. Many people take up counselling after ending unsuccessful fertility treatment, and this is something we advise. Counselling may also be suggested to you after initial discussions have been held about your individual circumstances, as it is critical that all affected applicants have processed their feelings about treatment.

We would also ask for a period of 6 months to have passed if you had a miscarriage to come to terms with this loss.

Previous partnerships

If you have children with a previous partner, all your children (or adult children if they are grown up) will need to be interviewed as part of the adoption assessment process and there will be a discussion with you about your ongoing involvement in their lives.

It is our practice to make contact with all relevant previous partners whenever applicants have parented together, or:

  • if you have been involved in a previous partnership regarded as of significance, i.e. which lasted for over a year and/or was a live-in arrangement, whether the care of children was included or not
  • if you have children with a previous partner or have cared for children within a previous partnership

The previous partner will be asked if they are aware of any cause for concern, about each applicant caring for a child or whether they have known them to be violent, abusive or negative. It is appreciated that this is a sensitive matter which may raise issues of concern, but we are interested in establishing applicants’ ability to parent. We understand that some relationships do not end amicably and will take this into consideration.

An applicant’s outright refusal for us to contact ex-partners may have an impact on whether we can progress or not with your application. Discuss concerns with us as early as possible if this affects you or causes you anxiety, however in all but the most unusual circumstances we will expect to speak to ex-partners.

Statutory checks and references

It is very important that you are honest and transparent with us from the start of your interest in adoption, and discuss any issues which might affect the outcome of your assessment.

Disclosure and Barring Service (Police checks)

As adoption involves the direct care of children you will be subject to an enhanced DBS check. This will show any previous convictions, including cautions as a juvenile, this is because no offence is deemed 'spent' for this purpose, and will therefore show on any DBS It is very important that you share with us at an early stage if you have a criminal record, or have been cautioned or arrested.

The safety and welfare of children is paramount and checks must be made in respect of applicants and anyone else over 16 living in the household. A person cannot be considered suitable to adopt if they have been convicted or cautioned for a 'specified offence'. A 'specified offence' is an offence against a child, or an offence concerning rape and other matters relating to sexual activity or an offence concerning pornography. (These are specified in the Adoption Agencies Regulations Part 1 Schedule 3) and detailed information is available if required.

Staff will exercise discretion in relation to other offences.

Failure to disclose previous cautions, concerns or convictions will likely result in the Adoption Service declining to progress your application any further. We are only permitted to disclose any specific reasons for this decision to the person who has the conviction or caution. If you have lived abroad for any period (excluding short term work assignments or holidays) in the last 10 years, Police or good conduct checks may be required from the Country of Residence. Raise any questions you may have about these requirements.

Medical report (Adult Health Check)

A full medical assessment from your general practitioner is required. The medical report is sent to our medical adviser who provides written advice to us. A summary of the advice is available to the GP, prospective adopters and additional information may be sought or advice about health issues provided. (See more detail in the appendix giving guidance on health issues). The medical report is produced at the applicants’ expense, but can be means tested and financial circumstances can be considered if this is likely to cause hardship.

Personal references

Three personal references are required from each applicant – one must be a family member and the others should be from someone who is not related to you. At least one of them should have known you for 5 years, and all more than 2 years. It is useful for your assessment to provide referees who have known you across different stages in your lives and where possible to include those who are within easy travelling distance of where you live. This is because the information they give will be reviewed and analysed with the additional information we receive and to enable us to consider what potential support may be available to you in the future. Also, in partnerships, couples will not be asked to provide a separate reference each.

Referees will be sent a questionnaire and then the assessing social worker will choose which three or more referees to visit and to produce a further written report. The referees need to know you and your home environment well and be able to comment on how you might care for a child through adoption. We reserve the right to request references from other individuals in your support network/families where the information gathered could assist in compiling a full picture of your circumstances.

Employment references

These will be sought to verify information provided and views will be asked for if your work or voluntary work involves children or vulnerable adults. This also includes previous employment in these fields. These references are taken up at the beginning of stage 1 of the adoption assessment process. You should inform us if you have not yet informed your employer. We appreciate this may be a sensitive area for you but we do need to gather this information to assist the assessment process.

Local authority checks

These will be made in respect of the local authority in whose area you live or have lived in the last 10 years.

Health visitor/nursery/school

If there are already children in your family then checks will be made with the relevant services concerning their Education and Health. If you already have a child in your family the school, nursery or health visitor will be contacted to assist in gaining a picture of them and your family.

Armed forces

SSAFA (the Armed Forces Support Charity) will be contacted regarding applicants who are serving or who have served in the Armed Forces. Information will also be requested on the permanent nature of your postings, employment or home circumstances if you are a member of the armed forces, in order to assist us in planning for children.

Experience caring for or working with children

In the adoption assessment, evidence is sought about the skills and experience that applicants have and this includes their contact with and experience of children. This experience can assist discussions during the assessment as well as providing important supporting evidence. Our view is that good child care experience is vital to a good adoption and we will expect you to engage in some child care experience outside of your employment.

If you have little experience of children outside of your family, you are recommended at the earliest opportunity to increase your skills through some voluntary work examples include: in a playgroup, nursery or school or in organised activities for children during school holidays. It is also expected that you make efforts to gain experience of caring for other people’s children ideally in your own home (for example volunteering or friend’s or family’s children), to assist you in thinking through the changes you may have to make in the future. If we deem there is a lack of experience to evidence in your assessment in stage 2 of the process, this may cause a delay in progressing.

Individual circumstances

During the assessment there may be circumstances specific to you as individual applicants that, when considered, lead to us advising you if this is not the right time for the assessment to proceed. For example, an individual may have recently experienced a significant loss or change in their lives and it may be thought the assessment would be better pursued after a time of adjustment.

As previously stated, we do recognise how difficult the assessment process may feel and expect any dilemmas to be raised when they have been identified and open discussions. We will endeavour to be transparent in our communication with applicants, within the bounds of other people’s confidentiality.