Step 6: Final Steps
1) Adoption Court Order
Once suitable adoptive parents have been found, they must apply for an Adoption Court Order to make an adoption formal and permanent. After this Order has been made a new birth certificate is issued containing the names of the adopted parents, who assume full parental responsibility for the child, and anyone who previously had parental responsibility for the child (generally his birth parents or the local authority) no longer has such a relationship.
To apply for an Adoption Court Order, you need to complete a Form A58 and submit it to the relevant Family Proceedings Court. Your adoption agency should be able to offer guidance as to the correct Court. This form requests personal information about you and the child, as well as the current arrangements concerning the child and his well-being. In particular, if the child’s birth parents do not consent to the adoption, you must include information relating to this
You may request that your personal information and identity is not released to the child’s birth parents or current guardians. In this situation you will be referred to by the Court using a serial number, rather than your names.
A fee is payable when you submit the Form A58. At the time of writing, the fee was £170. Financial assistance is available in some cases. The Form is confidential and seen only by the Court.
You must submit the completed Form (and three copies) as well as the child’s birth certificate. Supporting documents may also be needed, including medical reports and copies of any relevant marriage or divorce certificates. These are more fully explained on the Form A58 itself. You should take the time to ensure that you are submitting the correct documentation: failure to do so will delay your application.
2) First directions hearing
Following the submission of a Form A58 there will be a Court hearing, known as a First Directions Hearing. You and any agency with responsibility for the child must attend this hearing. The child must also attend unless there are exceptional circumstances.
At this hearing, the Court deals with administrative matters, such as correcting any errors in documentation. Any contested matters are also discussed. In addition, the Court sets the timetable for matters such as receiving reports and when further hearings should happen.
Copies of all the relevant papers will be sent to the child’s birth parents, Children’s Services and the prospective adoptive parents, as well as anyone else with a contact order in relation to the child. Note that relatives who do not have a contact order with the child are not included in this list: if you are such a relative and wish to maintain contact with the child you must apply to the Court for permission to make a request for such contact.
3) Appointment of Court's officers
At the First Directions Hearing, the Court will appoint certain individuals who are responsible for obtaining more information in order to help the Court to reach a fair decision.
If the child is joined as a party to the adoption, the Court may appoint a children’s guardian, whose over-arching role is to safeguard the welfare of the child during the adoption proceedings. The children’s guardian prepares a report recommending what they think would be the best decision for the Court to make. The priorities for the guardian are the child’s best interests and the wishes of the child, and he will consider matters such as contact and what support is required during the adoption process and immediately after. Such a guardian is also responsible for sourcing a solicitor for the child, ensuring that this solicitor is aware of all relevant matters and preparing the child for the Court process.
If the child is not joined as a party to the adoption, the Court may alternatively appoint a children and family reporter. He or she also prepares a report concerning the welfare of the child and may undertake extensive enquiries in order to prepare this. The reporter must note whether any parts of his report should remain confidential in order to safeguard a child.
Finally, a reporting officer may be appointed. If you have parental responsibility for the child and consent to the adoption, this officer will ensure that you understand the consequences of adoption and will be present whilst you sign the relevant forms. Alternatively, should you not give your consent, the officer is responsible for explaining to the Court the reasons for your refusal.
These three roles may all be held by the same person. Reports are usually filed within four weeks of the application for the Adoption Court Order being made.
In addition to the reports prepared by these officers, the local authority will also prepare a report (an Annex A report) discussing the suitability of the prospective adoptive parents and whether adoption is in the best interests of the child. The Court will not award an Adoption Order unless it is satisfied that the local authority has sufficient knowledge of the child’s relationship with the adoptive parents.
4) Final hearing
At this hearing the Court will decide which course of action is in the child’s best interests. The Court will take into account the ‘welfare provisions’ which are found in s(1) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 which focus on the welfare of the child throughout his life.
The Court has a number of options available to it, including granting the adoption. It can, however, decide against adoption in favour of fostering, a Short-Term Order, a Special Guardianship Order, or returning the child to his birth parents (generally with formal support).
Adoption can be granted subject to specific conditions such as allowing contact between the child and his natural parent(s).
If you are granted a Short-Term Order this gives you parental responsibility for the child for up to two years. This Order is given to allow both sides longer to decide whether or not adoption is suitable.
A Special Guardianship Order is a midway point between adoption and a child arrangements order (formerly known as a residence order). It seeks to secure a child’s long-term placement without ending the legal relationship between the child and his birth parents. If you are awarded a Special Guardianship Order you obtain parental responsibility for the child and therefore become responsible for the day-to-day decisions concerning the child’s care. Decisions you make only need be agreed to by any other
Special Guardians: although birth parents retain parental responsibility, your decisions as Special Guardian(s) take precedence.
All adoptions must be registered in the Adopted Children Register.
5) Celebratory hearing
If an adoption is granted the Court will often hold a Celebration Hearing where the adoption certificate is handed over to the adoptive parents. Friends and family are generally able to attend such a hearing to celebrate the adoption.