UK Adoption process: How long does adoption take?

August 19, 2013 6 Comments
adoption process introductions

Image credit: thtstudios – Flickr

The UK adoption process is constantly changing, and has been turned on its head in the last decade. One question that potential adopters often ask is ‘how long does the adoption process take?’

The truth is it varies, wildly. However, exploring the common factors that affect the adoption process will help would-be adopters understand why it can take so long, and potentially anticipate their own process.

Our own experience of the adoption process was littered with proverbial pot holes, and it took us, from enquiry to placement, about 3 years. This is quite rare today, and I would hope that the adoption process is a little slicker now.

Understanding the UK adoption process

To examine how long the process may take requires looking at the elements involved in the adoption process.

To construct this, I asked myself the question – ‘how long should the adoption process take?’

Application/Initial enquiry – 4 weeks

By today’s standards this should take between 2-4 weeks really, and this will involve someone coming out to see the potential adopters, and attending an open day. The length of time here depends on when the open days fall.

Preparation groups – 6 weeks

These may take two weeks, but they may fall a month or two after the application has been completed.

Social worker allocation – 3 weeks

For my money, this shouldn’t take any longer than a few weeks; however our home study didn’t start for several months after prep groups because our social worker was finishing off a case.

Assessment – 26 weeks

This is something the Government are trying to reduce, and if the paperwork was organised more efficiently it should really only take four months. However, local Government are notorious for making folks fill out their name and address at least 18 times, so let’s stick with six months. Ours, incidentally, was nearer nine months.

Adoption Panel – 4 weeks

This should be well within one month of the assessment finishing.

Matching – 26 weeks

This is where ‘waiting’ comes into play. It is a complete lottery in terms of time scales, but six months is a fair expectation on average.

Matching panel – 4 weeks

Once matched, there should not be any huge delay getting to matching panel.

Placement – 6 weeks

The process can build up pace at this point. Once a child is matched, there really is no need to retain them in the care system for any longer than is necessary.

Adding this up, I make the adoption process to last from enquiry to placement about 79 weeks, which is about 18 months. This may seem like a long time, but as you can see above, there are a lot of aspects to think about.

What factors affect the length of the UK adoption process?

There are probably thousands of factors that can affect the length of time it takes to go through the adoption process in the UK. I simply cannot list everything I think of; however there are a few common factors that will affect the timescale.

Social worker workload

The 18 month figure above assumes that social workers are ready, available and able. Such is life, this simply isn’t so. In our experience, they have been bogged down with difficult cases, cover work and massive amounts of red tape. This ultimately makes the process longer at several stages.

Holidays/work hours

Again with our experience, a lot of social workers are part time. This means that arranging meeting dates can be difficult and often get put back to the ‘week after’. Similarly, with council worker’s holiday allocation, (let’s face it, if I did that job, I would need a few holidays) again, it can add time on.

Complex assessment

The assessment may well take longer if there are certain complexities to look into during the assessment. If for example, prospective adopters have a large family who are regularly in and out of the house; it will be talked about by the social workers.  Also if other children are involved, this will be discussed; the more complex, the longer the assessment.

Child criteria and child availability

This is the big one. It could be that adopters are matched within a few days after panel, however if their criteria is very acute then a match will likely take longer. The children coming through the system can have a massive bearing on the timescale; the court system and legislation play a major role in this.

It is very difficult to predict how long the UK adoption process takes, and it will vary from authority to authority and case to case. Hopefully, by knowing what is involved in the process, and where delays can happen, it may help potential adopters accept the amount of time involved. I would love to know what you think – please comment below.

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About the Author:

Andrew is an adoptive father, and stay at home dad. Having adopted his son in January 2013, he is a new adoptive parent, but well versed in the adoption process. He is a married, coffee drinker, Xbox addict, and a Marketing graduate. Andrew McDougall is an alias he uses to protect the identity of his adopted son.

Comments (6)

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  1. Nicky says:

    Thanks, this is really interesting. We went to an open day on 4 May 2013, and were told how much they were trying to speed things up. We had our prep course in June, met our social worker to start home study in July and we now have a panel date in mid October. We also have a potential early match so may be doing adoption panel and matching panel on the same day. Gulp. Things are moving really fast. Which is good, but I think there is also a reason why pregnacy is 9 months long, it gives you just the right amount of time to get your head around the fact that you are becoming a parent.

    Thanks for another great article. I’d be really intrested to hear what happend after matching panel, and how long it took to plan introductions etc and how soon they started after panel… when you have a moment of course!

    Thanks. x

    • Wow that is quick! Great news. Good luck. Our panel was in November, which meant we couldn’t start introductions until after Christmas (another delay!) However, it was kind of nice, as I finished work at Christmas, and we had a wonderful Christmas holiday, knowing that the new year would bring a new chapter – it was a great sign off to the year. Thanks for the comment.
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  2. Jules says:

    From 1st July this year the assessment process from acceptance by an agency to panel is supposed to be 6 months. This seems a big leap from the meandering process experienced by adopters up to this point. Then of course matching could be sooner or later following panel.

  3. H says:

    I can certainly say my experience was one of delays delays and incompetence. I took me and my partner 18months to get our son placed with us. Our social worker was less than competent about filing reports, making appointments and writing our par. I can honestly say yes it was a very stressful process not made easier by our social worker but our son is totally worth it. My advice is hang on in there. Let your social worker know if you are not happy with anything. Be honest there is no option!

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