What does it take to adopt a child in Scotland?

Lauren McDonach, a Senior Solicitor in our Family Law team shares the steps to welcome a child in need of care into your family.

240 children were approved for adoption last year, according to Care Inspectorate. Here’s a look at the adoption process in Scotland so you can give the gift of family to a child in need.

While National Adoption Week celebrates families formed through this unique process, it raises awareness on the process itself to encourage more people to build their families by adopting children in need of care.

Prospective parents will have their own reasons for choosing to adopt. They may be facing fertility issues or they may want to provide a loving home to an abandoned child.

But first, they must be aware of the different steps they have to go through in the adoption process as well as the legal implications of each step.

First steps to adoption process in Scotland

Lauren McDonach, a family law solicitor at Turcan Connell, says there are two ways to adopt a child in Scotland: by taking the agency or non-agency route.

The agency route

This route first requires couples or individuals to be formally approved as prospective adopters. That means the local authority will carry out several assessments like police, medical and financial checks.

Prospective adopters also need to complete a training course to understand the needs of adopted children or to attend participation groups to learn more about the children who are waiting to be adopted.

Lauren explains: “The first stage in an agency adoption is extremely rigorous because many of the children who are looking for permanent homes come from challenging backgrounds. It is important that the care needs of each child are carefully considered and balanced against the capabilities and requirements of the prospective adopters.”

A panel of experts who may have experience working with children or may have been adopted themselves will ultimately match adopters with a suitable child.

The non-agency route

In contrast, Lauren says a non-agency adoption is a private application to adopt a child who is already living with the prospective adopter, like a close relative or step-child.

“While there is no formal approval process for a non-agency adoption, the local authority will still require to be given three months’ notice of the adopters’ wish to adopt. A social worker will then attend the home of the adopter and detail any other relevant information,” Lauren explains.

Court process to adopt a child

The next step is the legal process. Adopters will need a solicitor to apply for an adoption order on their behalf in the Scottish Court.

Lauren stresses: “The child must be living with the adopters for at least 13 weeks and must be at least 19 weeks old before the adoption order is granted.”

The child’s birth certificate, reports from the local authority and any other relevant information will need to be sent.

Once the petition is lodged, the court will appoint an independent officer to prepare a report on the suitability of the adoption order being granted and whether it is in the child’s best interests.

Required consents

The officer will speak to the adopters, social work, the birth parents (if appropriate) and the child, if they are old enough and mature enough to express a view.

If the child is aged 12 or older, their formal consent is required for an adoption order to be granted.

The birth parents are also required to provide their consent to the adoption, unless it can be dispensed with by the court, for example, if the birth parent is dead.

Lauren shares: “A common worry for my clients is their identity being disclosed to the birth parents, particularly if the birth parents have not given their consent to the child being adopted. In those circumstances, a request can be made to the court to grant a serial number to the application, ensuring that the adopters names and addresses remain confidential.”

Being granted an adoption order

A hearing is usually fixed for 6 to 8 weeks after the petition is lodged. At that point, the report prepared by the reporting officer is available.

In the event of any opposition from the birth parents, then a hearing on the evidence will be fixed to determine whether the order should be granted or not.

If no opposition to the petition is lodged, the sheriff may grant the final adoption order at the preliminary hearing.

“The granting of an adoption order has the legal effect of extinguishing the birth parent’s parental rights and responsibilities in relation to a child and, in turn, vesting them in the adopters. It is a life-long commitment and not a decision which should be made on a whim,” says Lauren.

Getting expert help

The journey to adopt a child is an emotionally charged experience. Solicitors help by sharing their expertise and guiding prospective parents on the legal path to welcoming a child into their home.

Lauren shares: “Prospective adopters experience a raft of emotions when they first come in to see me. The joy felt by adopters, many of whom are becoming parents for the first time, is evident yet they are understandably feeling incredibly anxious at the thought of going through an unfamiliar process.

“My goal is to alleviate those anxieties by helping prospective adopters understand the legal requirements of applying for an adoption order and provide comfort and support, making the process less stressful for them.”

The article appeared in the Press & Journal.