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Adoption means giving a child an opportunity to be part of a family, when living with his own family is not possible and may be a child's only chance at experiencing family life. Adopting a child can be a very rewarding experience - careful consideration should be made before undertaking responsibility for an adoptive child.

In 1999 local authorities in England looked after more than 55,000 children. Last year, 2,200 children in care were adopted. At the moment, about 1,300 approved adopters in the UK are seeking a suitable child.

An Adoption Order (the contract which makes the adoption legal) severs all ties with the birth family and confers parental rights and responsibilities on the new adoptive family. The birth parents no longer have any legal rights over the child and they are not entitled to claim him back.

The Adoption Process
Once the adoption agency has decided to take forward your application, you will be assigned a social worker to undertake what is called a home study assessment. You will be required to fill in a form, which outlines both factual information (your name and address, date of birth and marital status, religious persuasion and occupation) and your social history (educational qualifications interests, income and previous experience of caring for children and your reasons for wishing to adopt a child).

A police check on you and every adult member of your household will be required and you will be required to have a full medical examination. The agency's medical adviser will approach your GP for a medical report that covers your own and your family's health history.

While the police checks and medical reports are being obtained the social worker will make a number of visits to your home. During these visits the social worker will ask you about yourself, your family as well as your reasons for wanting to adopt. You will also be asked what your extended family thinks of you wanting to adopt and what support you can expect from them and your friends.

You will be asked to supply the names and addresses of two personal referees (they can't be family members) whom your social worker will interview them in order to assess how well they know you.

The agency will also obtain a written report on your home, which covers the accommodation, living conditions and home environment, and also the accessibility of schools, neighbourhood facilities and churches.

When the adoption agency has obtained all the information they need they must assess it and set out its views in a written report. Once you have seen and agreed the content of the home study report, the Adoption Panel will consider your application. Finally, the agency's Decision Maker, who is a senior agency official in the Children Services Department, who may accept or reject the panel's recommendation, will consider it.

How Long Will It Take?
This depends on a number of factors, but the average time from the start of your home study assessment to the adoption order is just over two years.

The National Adoption Register for England and Wales is a pilot project that will be launched in September of this year. It's part of plans to cut the length of time both children and adopters have to wait before they can be together. Currently, local authorities hold records of all adults in their area wanting to adopt and children who need to be adopted. This information will be sent to the central database, to be matched up.

Who Can Adopt?
There is no ideal adopter - each agency looks for a different type of person. People from different backgrounds with a variety of life experience to meet the needs of the children in their care can be chosen.

Adoption agencies choose who can adopt. An adoption agency is your council or a voluntary adoption agency, which has been approved by the Secretary of State for Health. You cannot be assessed or approved to adopt by an independent social worker.

Contacting An Agency
Most people apply to their local adoption agency. Adoption agency is the term given to any organisation charged with finding new permanent homes for children who have been separated from their birth parents and legally freed for adoption.

Mostly these agencies are local social services departments, which employ social workers specifically dealing with adoption and fostering work.

A helpful organisation is the British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF). In partnership with social workers, BAAF supports applicants through the adoption process.

Other Questions
Q. Will we be able to adopt a baby?
A. There are very few babies put up for adoption in the UK. In 1999, only 200 of the 2200 children adopted were babies. Although it is possible to adopt an infant, the criteria are likely to be more strict and you could wait for a long time - up to 10 years!

Q. May I adopt my husband/wife's child?
A. You can apply to the courts to adopt your husband or wife's child. The child's other parent (the one with parental responsibility) must give their consent, but there are exceptional circumstances where the courts may decide consent isn't needed.

Q. I am living with my partner, can we adopt together?
A. No. The law only allows married couples to adopt jointly. As a single parent, your marital status or sexuality will not prevent you from being considered as an adoptive parent.

Alternatives to Adoption
One alternative to adoption is a residence order. This allows you to make an application for an order that a particular child should live with you. If a residence order is granted, you would be granted parental responsibility in respect of the child, but parental responsibility would not necessarily be taken away from another person.

Fostering a child is another option. You may be interested in providing a temporary home to children who the council is looking after because they are unable to go home for a period of time. The council will pay, for example, for the children's food and accommodation and you may earn some money too. If you are interested in fostering you should contact your council.

Useful Contacts
Department of Health Adoption Website

General Register Office (GRO)
Tel: 0151 471 4830

England - Department of Health
Public Enquiry Office
Tel: 020 7210 4850
(10-12.30 and 1400-1700 Monday to Friday)

Scotland - The Scottish Executive
Tel: 0131 244 5480
Fax: 0131 244 3547

Wales - The National Assembly for Wales
Tel: 029 2082 3676
Fax: 029 2082 3142

Northern Ireland - Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety
Tel: 028 9052 4762
Fax: 028 9052 4196

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