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Adoption

Adoption is one of the choices a woman can make when she is pregnant and does not want to keep her baby. Adoption provides an opportunity for the child to be looked after by another person or couple, who become the child's legal parents.

Once an adoption order is made, the adopters become the child’s legal parents and the birth parents no longer have any legal rights in relation to the child, although there may be arrangements made for you to have news of your child.  

This is why adoption is a really important and final decision, because once the child is with their new family, you let go of all legal rights to it. 

These days, adoption is the least common choice that people make when they are pregnant, but for some people it is the right one. 

This page answers some questions about adoption and gives an overview of the law. If you want to speak to someone at Brook you can find your nearest service.

Deciding on adoption

There might be lots of reasons why someone chooses to have their child adopted. Some people might not have supportive families to help out with childcare, and know they couldn’t raise a child by themselves. Some families believe it is not right for people who are unmarried to bring up a child. Some people might choose adoption because they are against abortion, but do not wish to become a parent.  

Some people find the decision to place a child for adoption a simple one that is quick to make. Other people find it more difficult, and may wonder if they are doing the right thing. 

There is no shame in deciding to have a child adopted. It’s got to be your decision, but if you know it’s the right one for you, then that is what matters. 

It’s really important to remember that you can always get counselling and support if you’d like to talk it over with someone – see the links below for organisations who can help. Having a person who doesn’t know you well to talk to can make it easier to talk about how you feel and what you really want, without worrying that you’ll be judged. And if there’s someone in your life who you trust, and who you think could help you decide what’s right for you, then you can think about talking to them, too. 

​How adoption works

First, make sure that you’ve thought about all your choices and take as long as you need. Once you have made up your mind that adoption is the right option for you, it is a good idea to talk to an expert who can give you advice as soon as possible. You can get this advice from:

•    Social workers from the social services department (or social work department in Scotland) of your local authority
•    A voluntary adoption agency
•    Hospital social workers who work with maternity clinics.

After you’ve made contact, a social worker will spend some time with you to help you with your decision. The social worker will try to balance your best interests with the best interests of your child. Social workers are there to help, but if for whatever reason you are worried or not sure about any aspect of the adoption process, you can contact one of the organisations listed below to talk through how you are feeling, and decide if you want to continue. 

You will be asked to give a bit of personal information about yourself, your family and your family's health. This is for the adoptive parents to be able to share with the child later on.

However, although preparations for the adoption can begin before your child is born, nothing will be arranged for certain until after the birth. You will be completely free to change your mind, even after the birth.

Telling people about your decision

There’s no doubt that it can be hard to tell people, whether strangers, or people close to you, that you are going to place your child for adoption. It’s up to you to decide how much you want to tell other people. Remember, if anyone says anything that makes you feel bad, that it’s your decision, not theirs. You are doing what you think is right for you and for your baby. 

Most people know someone who has been adopted, so most people will understand that it’s a very personal decision, and that adoption is almost always done for the child’s best interests. Whatever decision you make, it does not make you a bad person, no matter what anyone else might say! 

If you are worried or upset, you can contact any of the groups listed below for advice and help at any time. 

Adoption and the law

Adoptions are arranged by adoption agencies but are made legal by the courts. Once granted, an adoption order is final and cannot be undone. It ends the legal relationship between the child and the birth parents and establishes a new one with the adoptive parents.

An adoption order would mean that you were no longer the legal mother or father of the baby. A new family would become the baby's parents. Your child will take someone else's surname and assume the same rights and privileges as if they had been born to them.

To protect the child, all adoptions must be arranged by an approved adoption agency, which can make full enquiries about the new parents, unless your child is to be adopted by a close relative. All adoptions must be agreed by the courts.

Even if you’re under 18, the final decision is up to you – not your parents. Your social worker should make sure that the decision about adoption really is yours and yours alone. If you feel like you’re being pressured into a decision that you’re not happy with, you can contact any of the organisations listed below.

Does the father of the baby have to give his permission?

If you are not married and the father is not named on the birth certificate, his formal permission isn't necessary. The social worker will want to contact him, if possible, as the adoption agency and the court will want some information on the father and his family health/medical history. This is so they can pass it on to the adopters and the child. However, you won't be forced to reveal the father's identity.

If you are married, or if the father is named on the birth certificate, his agreement to the adoption is necessary.

If the father of the baby doesn’t think that adoption is the right choice, and wants to raise the baby, you might have to go to court to get a decision on what the court thinks will be best for the child’s future. If you have any information about why the father might not be a suitable parent, it’s important to tell your social worker, if you can. 

​What sort of people will adopt my baby?

There are so many people who want to adopt a baby that it should be possible to find an excellent home for your child. The social worker will discuss with you the kind of family you want your child to grow up in.

Everyone who wants to adopt a child has to go through a lot of interviews and checks, to make sure that they will be able to provide a safe and happy home. It’s a long process, and not one that anyone goes through without being really sure they want to be a parent. So you can be sure that whoever your child is placed with will be committed to being the best possible parent and caregiver they can be.

You should talk to the social worker about the possibility of meeting the family (if you want to), or about other sorts of contact such as exchanging letters. The adoption agency should take into account how much contact you’d like when deciding on a placement for your child, and choose adoptive parents who are happy to provide the level of contact you’d like. This can be regular letters and visits, or no contact at all, or anything in between. Depending on your circumstances, a court might have to agree the contact level that will be allowed, to make sure your baby’s best interests are looked after. You can talk to your social worker for more information.

​What happens after my baby is born?

When you leave hospital after the birth your baby may be looked after by a temporary foster carer or may possibly go straight to their adoptive parents.

Your social worker will have discussed this and agreed with you what the best plan is. Your social worker will make regular visits to check everything is going well and offer support.

When the baby has settled down with his or her adoptive parents, they will make an application to the court. The court will then arrange for you to be visited by someone who will make sure that you understand what adoption involves. You will be asked to sign a formal document. You cannot give this formal agreement until the baby is at least six weeks old.

The agency will have to provide a report to the court about how the child is settling in, and if the court is satisfied that all is well then an adoption order will be granted. The baby has to live with the adoptive parents for 10 weeks before the adopters can apply to the court for an adoption order. 

​What if I change my mind?

If you change your mind before your baby is placed with adopters you can ask for his or her immediate return to you.

If you change your mind after your baby has been placed with adopters but before they have made an application to the court the baby would also normally be returned to you, unless there are very good reasons.

Even when the adopters have made an application to the court for an adoption order and you have given your agreement you can still change your mind. However, the court will have to be convinced that it is in the child's best interests to be returned to you. If you want your child back at this stage, you should tell the adoption agency at once and get legal advice.

When the adoption order has been made by the court you will no longer have any legal relationship with, or responsibilities for your child and won't be able to have the child returned

​Will I see my child again?

Adoption can sometimes involve continuing contact between the birth parents and the adoptive family, either face to face or by letter.

The agency will usually try to find a family for your child who are happy with having the sort of contact that you would like, as long as this is also in your child's best interests.

In some situations, people’s children are placed for adoption not because they have chosen it, but because they are not able to care for them – this is different to an adoption which has been arranged, which is the pregnant person’s choice

How you might feel afterwards

After placing a child for adoption, you might feel anything from relief to sadness to guilt, or a mix of lots of different emotions. Try and remember the reasons why you made the decision that you did. 

Immediately after giving birth, it’s quite usual to feel really strong emotions, whether or not you are placing your baby for adoption or not, so give yourself some time to let your feelings settle down. Some people who’ve just given birth also get something called post natal depression. If you think you might be experiencing post natal depression, talk to a midwife, nurse, doctor or counsellor as soon as you can – help is available, and you deserve support just as much as anyone else does. 

Remember that deciding to place a baby for adoption can be a really positive choice, if it’s what’s right for you and what’s right for the baby. It’s not for everyone, but if it’s what you think is right, then there’s no need to feel ashamed or like you’re a failure – you’re really, really not! 

Page last reviewed: September 2015
Next review due: September 2016