Adoption terms explained
If you're looking into adoption, you may be wondering what some of the language means.
Use our handy 'A-to-Z' Adoption Glossary to find out.
This is an order giving full parental responsibility for a child to the approved adopters, made on their application to the court. An adoption order severs the legal ties between a birth parent and the child, so that the adoptive parent(s) become the child’s legal parent(s) throughout life. An adoption order does not end when a child turns 18 – the child/adult remains a legal member of his/her new family permanently.
Birth parents will always remain the child’s biological parents, and their history will be important for the child to understand as they grow up, but after the order is made, they will no longer be the child’s legal parents. An adoption order can only be made either with the consent of the child’s birth parents or if the court has dispensed with the birth parents’ consent by making a placement order.
An adoption panel will help inform the final decision about whether you are approved to become an adopter. Membership of the panel is laid down by statutory regulations. Members include adoption social workers, experienced adopters and others with relevant knowledge of adoption. The chair of the panel is independent of Coram, and the rest of the panel will always include a mixture of those connected to the adoption agency (e.g. members of staff or trustees), the medical advisor, and people who are completely independent of the agency. The panel will consider all the information presented to them and then make a recommendation about your suitability for adoption back to Coram. This recommendation should be made within four months of the receipt of your formal application form. Based on this recommendation, Coram will decide if you are suitable to adopt and if so will begin the task of finding the child or children for your family.
Adoption social worker
If your application to be assessed to adopt a child is successful, you will be allocated a social worker. Your social worker will support you through the assessment process and help you by addressing any questions or concerns you have, so you can understand more what to expect from becoming an adoptive parent. The adoption social worker will help to ensure that you are matched with a suitable child and that you are as well informed as possible about the needs of the child.
Adoption Support Fund
The Adoption Support Fund (ASF) was launched in 2015. It provides financial support for a range of therapeutic services that are identified to help achieve positive outcomes for adoptive parents and their child(ren). This might include cognitive therapy, play and music therapy, and intensive family support – helping children to recover from their previous experiences and bond with their adoptive families. The Fund is available for children up to and including the age of 18 (or 25 with a Statement of Special Educational Needs or Education Health & Care Plan) who have been adopted from local authority care in England or adopted from Wales but living in England. For more information about how to access the Adoption Support Fund, please visit the First4Adoption website.
Care orders and placement orders
Under the Children Act 1989, if a Local Authority (LA) believes that a child is at risk of or suffering from significant harm it can apply to the court for a care order. The court will appoint a children’s guardian (an independent social worker) and a solicitor to represent the child, and the parents will also be entitled to legal aid. Careful assessments of the family circumstances will be made, including the risk to the child, whether the parents are able to make adequate changes, what support could be provided by the LA to enable the parents to cope, and whether there are other family members or friends who could provide support. The judge will consider all the circumstances and evidence and may call for further assessments. If the court decides that the child will be at risk if returned to his/her parents’ care, they may make a care order, which means that the LA shares parental responsibility with the child’s parents. The LA will be responsible for making important decisions about the child, including where they live, where they are educated, and who should be looking after them. A child who is subject to a care order is known as being ‘in care’ or a ‘looked after child’. Whilst a child remains looked after, his/her parents remain the legal parents and will be informed and consulted about plans for the child.
If the Local Authority believes that the child’s needs cannot be met by his/her parents or extended family members within a timescale which is reasonable for the child, and that the child’s long term welfare needs can best be met by adoption, the court will make a placement order. The child’s parents and also members of the extended family are able to contest a placement order application. As is the case for care order applications, the court will appoint a children’s guardian and solicitor to represent the child and the parents will be entitled to legal aid. Placement order applications are frequently heard and decided by the courts at the same time as care order applications. Once a placement order has been made, a parent would need to demonstrate that there had been a significant change of circumstances before being allowed to contest an adoption order application, Although a number of parents do apply for leave to oppose an adoption application, this is very rarely granted although the legal process is likely to cause some delay. Even if leave is granted for a parent to oppose an adoption application, there are only a handful of cases throughout the country where such an application has been successful.
Concurrent carers are people who have been approved as foster carers and as adopters as part of a concurrent planning scheme. Coram runs the longest established concurrent planning scheme in England, but many Local Authorities and some other Independent Adoption Agencies also offer this scheme.
Concurrent planning is an innovative service pioneered by Coram. In it, concurrent carers foster babies under two, whose future is being decided by the family courts. If the courts decide that the birth family is capable of meeting the needs of the child, he or she will be returned to their care. However, if the courts decide that the child cannot go home, the concurrent carers will then go on to adopt the child. This scheme asks a lot of the concurrent carers who know that the child they are fostering may return to the care of their birth parent or relative at the end of court proceedings. However, it is a scheme which ensures that the babies have the best possible start in life (given that they have been born into a very vulnerable and high-risk situation). If they return home, they will have had a secure and loving early period in foster care, whilst maintaining a relationship with their birth relatives. If they are adopted they will have been with their ‘forever family’ from the earliest possible time, and will have developed a secure and trusting relationship with their adopters perhaps from the time they were born, or soon after. Children placed with concurrent planning carers are not considered likely to be able to return to the care of their birth families, but until all the court assessments are complete, this is not a certainty, and a small proportion of these children do return to their parents or other relatives.
When a child or young person cannot be suitably cared for by their birth families, they may instead be cared for by foster carers. Foster carers do not have parental responsibility for the child. This remains with the child’s parents and the child’s LA. Many foster carers will provide a stable home for children who need it until they can be placed with approved adoptive parents who can provide security and stability in the long term. It is possible for a foster carer to go on to adopt their child.
Independent adoption agency (IAA) or Voluntary Adoption Agency (VAA)
All adoption agencies in England fall into two categories; either they are part of a Local Authority (LA) or they are an independent voluntary adoption agency (IAA), formerly known as a voluntary adoption agency (VAA). Coram is an IAA. The main difference between the two is that LAs have children in their care, and IAAs do not have children in their care. IAAs will actively search for an appropriate child from any area in the country to place with approved adopters. IAAs are established under strict statutory regulation to provide adoption services to children, adopters and others involved in adoption. They are funded by a mixture of fees paid by local authorities and voluntary income such as grants and donations. IAAs recruit and assess prospective adopters; they create matches for children who are in the care of a Local Authority and are then paid by the local authority to cover their costs (no profit is permitted). IAAs also usually provide adoption support to adopters, adopted children and their families.
Adoption information events
Coram adoption teams host regular information meetings that are open to all those who are interested in adopting. These events provide general information about adoption services and adopting through Coram. Coram social workers will give a presentation about the children that need permanent and loving families, the assessment process and the preparation process for new adopters, how children join their new families, and the kind of adoption support that Coram offers. The social workers will also try to answer any questions that attendees have. Usually, a Coram adopter will come and talk about their experience of adopting a child through Coram. Irrespective of whether you’re only just beginning to consider adoption, or have been thinking about it for longer, attending an adoption information meeting is a great place to begin your journey and to ask any questions you might have. You can find the next information meeting near you on our adoption information events page.
Kinship care is when a child is cared for by a relative or close family friend rather than their biological parents People who are caring for children in his way often apply for a Special Guardianship Order (SGO), which allows them to share parental responsibility with the child’s parents, and provides some legal security for them and the child. Coram does not arrange kinship care placements.
Life story work
Life story work is the process of helping children separated from their birth families to remember and make sense of their early lives. Children who have been through the care system often experience changes in social workers, carers and home before being placed with an adopted family. This work, which usually includes making a life story book, allows adopted children and young people to access to their heritage and past that may otherwise be missing, lost or forgotten. The life story book will usually include a description of their birth family, birthplace and significant people in their lives. These facts and information help to give them a sense of identity so that they can understand the person they are. It is important that the children receive a message that they are loved, secure and safe in their adoptive family. However, children need to make sense of their story in a way which is appropriate to their age and understanding. Adopters will be supported when thinking about how to help their child make sense of their past and to feel safe and settled in their adoptive family.
Once an adopter is approved, there are a number of ways that a child might be identified who is right for your family. This process is referred to as matching. One of the ways that you might be linked with a child could be through the National Adoption Register (NAR), and Coram will ensure that your details are added to the NAR without delay.
National adoption register
This was an online nationwide database of children waiting for adoption and approved adopters. All adoption agencies were required to refer unmatched children no later than 90 days after their adoption plan was approved with the aim of bringing children and adopters together even if they didn't live in the same local authority. The register was suspended for an indeterminate period from 29 March 2019.
A placement order will usually be made if a child is at significant risk, and if there is no prospect of the child being able to be cared for safely by his/her parents or relatives within a reasonable timescale. This is the legal ruling made by the courts which authorises a Local Authority to place a child with approved prospective adoptive parents. At this stage in the adoption process, the LA and the prospective adoptive parents share parental responsibility for the child. A placement order will last until an adoption order is made, or until the courts decide to end the placement order.
Prospective Adopter's Reports (PAR)
The prospective adopter’s report, referred to as the PAR, is the name of the report written by your social worker which summarises the information collected in Stage 1 and Stage 2 of the adoption assessment process. The report contains a lot of information about why your social worker and the adoption agency believe that you are suitable to be a prospective adopter. The report will be used to provide information to social workers who are seeking adoptive parents for children in care.
You will have the opportunity to read the report, to correct any factual inaccuracies and to add your written comments. The PAR will be presented to an adoption panel.
Pupil Premium Plus
Pupil premium was originally launched in 2011 as a government scheme to provide extra funding to state schools in order to provide additional support for looked after children. From April 2014, funding was increased to £1,900 per pupil, and became known as Pupil Premium Plus. The scheme now includes all children adopted from care. Pupil premium is paid to schools so that they can invest in specific support measures to address the issues that may be preventing a child from reaching their potential. This could include additional support in the classroom for example. The scheme applies to all children who have been adopted from care from Reception class through to Year 11. To qualify for this support, the adoptive parent(s) must inform the school. For more information about access to Pupil Premium Plus, please visit the Department for Education website or the First4Adoption website.
Shared parental leave
Shared Parental Leave is designed to give parents more flexibility in how to share the care of their child in the first year following birth or adoption. It may be taken at any time within the period which begins on the date the child is born or date of the adoption placement and ends 52 weeks after that date. Parents are able to divide up their paid time off work, and can decide to be off work at the same time and/or take it in turns to have periods of leave to look after the child. There are specific criteria which need to be met in order to qualify for shared parental leave. Some of these will depend on your workplace or if you are self-employed. For more information about eligibility, please see the relevant pages from the Advisory, Conciliation, and Arbitration Service (ACAS) website or the First4Adoption website.
Special guardianship is a court order that was introduced in 2005. It provides for parental responsibility to be shared between the child’s parents and an individual or individuals other than the birth parents. This could be a grandparent, close relative or even a family friend. The difference between Special guardianship and adoption is that the birth parents remain the legal parents, and as such share parental responsibility for the child; however, their ability to exercise this responsibility is limited. Coram does not arrange Special Guardianship Orders (SGOs).
Stay and play
Coram’s adoption teams invite new adopters and their children to Stay and play events. These are drop-in groups that offer an opportunity for new adoptive parents and their children to come and play, chat and seek informal support from other new adopters and Coram’s Adoption Support Team. A welcoming, informal atmosphere is created where adopters can meet other mums and dads, and where children can play and explore the environment. The groups are also attended by social workers, a social work assistant, and in London, a child psychotherapist, and any of them are available for a chat or to provide a listening ear. We aim to support new parents who are working hard to create a secure and nurturing environment for their children.
Two-stage adoption assessment process
The government has established a two-stage adoption assessment process with clear guidelines and timescales. This has been done to ensure that prospective adopters have a clear idea of what is involved and what is expected of them at each stage. There are two stages – preparation and assessment. Stage 1 and 2 together are normally completed in about 6 months.
Stage 1 (Preparation) will take approximately two months. It is the formal process whereby necessary statutory references such as medical and background checks are made, prior to you making a formal application to adopt. During this stage, you will also have the opportunity to learn more about what is involved, including some meetings with a social worker or other staff members, eLearning, reading, and possibly attending training groups with other prospective adopters although this may also be done during stage 2
Stage 2 (Assessment) will typically take four months. This part of the adoption process not only confirms that you are a suitable adopter, but also helps to give you the skills required to be an adoptive parent unless you have done so already in Stage 1. In this second stage, your social worker will get to know you, your family and understand what sort of child or children would fit in with you, and what you have to offer a child. To do this you will meet with your allocated social worker around 4 – 6 times and discuss various aspects of your life, including your own experience of family life, the skills and experience that you bring to being an adoptive parent, and the support that you will have around you as an adoptive parent from family and friends. The focus during the assessment process is to find the right home for the child, and so understanding the kind of child you can care for is very important.
Voluntary adoption agency
All adoption agencies in England fall into two categories; either they are part of a Local Authority (LA) or they are an independent voluntary adoption agency (IAA). A voluntary adoption agency is the term previously used to describe an independent adoption agency. Coram is an IAA. The main difference between the two is that LAs have children in their care, and IAAs do not have children in their care. IAAs will actively search for an appropriate child from any area in the country to place with approved adopters. IAAs are established under strict statutory regulation to provide adoption services to children, adopters and others involved in adoption. They are funded by a mixture of fees paid by local authorities and voluntary income such as grants and donations. IAAs recruit and assess prospective adopters; they create matches for children who are in the care of a Local Authority, and are then paid by the local authority to cover their costs (no profit is permitted). IAAs also usually provide adoption support to adopters, adopted children and their families.
Vulnerable child / children at significant risk
A child or young person is considered vulnerable if they are exposed to the possibility of being harmed either physically or emotionally. Someone in need of special care, support or protection because of age, disability, risk of abuse or neglect is considered to be in a vulnerable position. Children who are at significant risk of harm can be made the subject of a care order by the courts to ensure that they are protected and cared for appropriately. Courts will consider all the evidence carefully, including whether the parent/s are able to care for the child or whether there are relatives of other ‘connected persons’ who know the child well, who could provide a safe and nurturing family life. If the child is at significant risk, and if there is no prospect of the child being able to be cared for safely by his/her parents or relatives within the child’s timescale (i.e., if the parents are not likely to be able to make sufficient positive changes in their lives to ensure that they can provide a safe and nurturing home within a reasonable timescale for a child), then a placement order will be made.
If you're still unsure about some of the terms we use, or the adoption process itself, there's lots more information on the First4Adoption website.
Ready to take the next steps?
Why not contact us or come along to our next adoption information meeting.