Frequently asked questions
What is the difference between adoption and foster care?
Fostering is a non-permanent placement. A child may be fostered for a few days, or even for many years. As a foster carer, you take on the role of a parent but ultimately the authorities and child’s birth parents have responsibility for the child, though you may share decision making capabilities.
Adoption is a permanent placement. It is a process which legally removes the rights and responsibilities of the child’s birth parent(s), and transfers them to adoptive parent(s). When you adopt a child, you have full parental responsibility and the child becomes a permanent member of your family for life.
I’m single, can I adopt?
Yes. A single applicant of any gender can adopt.
Am I too old to adopt?
Adopters need to be over 21 but there is no official upper age limit.
Adoption agencies will expect you to have the health and vitality to see your children through to an age of independence.
Consideration will be given to your age comparative to the age of the child you want to adopt ie. younger children are more likely to be placed with younger parents.
Can I adopt if I’m LGBTQIA+?
Yes. We are supporters of the LGBTQIA+ community and gender or sexual spectrum will not impact your application to adopt in any way.
Can I adopt if I work full-time?
Yes. Once a child is placed in your adoptive care you will, however, be required to stay at home for an extended period to help them settle in. This is normally six months to a year and will depend on the child’s age and circumstances.
If you work, you should be entitled to paid statutory adoption leave for up to 52 weeks. If you adopt as a couple, one of you may make use of this leave and the other may take paternity leave or shared paternal leave.
Prospective adopters are also entitled to take time off for adoption appointments (on five occasions for the main adopter and on two occasions for the secondary adopter).
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Can I adopt if I am unemployed?
During the adoption assessment stage, your employment status and financial circumstances will be considered.
Being on low income or unemployed do not automatically rule you out of the process but instead will be considered during your assessment.
Your local adoption team will discuss the support available to you and assist you in considering whether Benefits or Tax Credits might be relevant.
Can I adopt if I have a criminal record?
Any criminal conviction will be considered and discussed with you as part of the application process.
Can I adopt if I already have children?
Yes. Having children of your own (of any age) will not exclude you from adopting, whether they are living at home with you or not. Any previous experience of parenting, or caring regularly for children, will be considered favourably in your application.
The assessment process will take into account the age gap between your own children and the age of the child or children you wish to adopt as well as to the position of each child within the family.
Children over the age of 10 years will be Access NI checked, as will any other adult member of your household.
Can I adopt if I smoke?
The adoption assessment will consider smoking and all health and lifestyle related issues.
Smoking will not rule you out of adopting but will be considered in regards to the health of any child being placed in your care.
According to national medical advice, children under five and those with particular medical conditions should not be placed in smoking households.
Before adoption from these groups can be considered, you would normally be expected to be smoke-free for at least six months.
Can I adopt if I have a disability?
Disability is only one of many issues that will be considered by the adoption team during the assessment process. It does not automatically rule anyone out of the process but will be evaluated alongside all other relevant factors.
During the assessment process, an adoption agency’s medical adviser will evaluate your medical information and your social worker will explore any potential impact this may have on parenting and how this would be managed.
If you believe that you might need some additional assistance to adopt a young person, social services may be able to provide this. The life experiences of disabled individuals can give them a unique insight into the lives of children in care, who often see themselves as ‘different’ or who may also have a disability.
Can I adopt a child from a different religious or ethnic background?
Yes. You can be matched with a child from a different religious or ethnic background provided that you meet the most important of the child’s needs.
It is important that adoptive families aim to support the child or children in understanding and appreciating their birth culture, religion, language, and experiences.
Can I adopt if I have health problems?
Your health will be considered during the assessment process. If you have pre-existing health problems, you should discuss with your GP whether you think your illness may impact your ability to adopt.
The assessment will consider full health information to understand the impact of your illness and the future prognosis. If there is a significant risk to your future, the medical adviser will seek further information and advise the adoption team accordingly.
Can I adopt if I have pets?
In most cases, yes. Children often love animals at home, however all dogs will be subject to a pet assessment to ensure that they pose no risk to the child or children. There are certain breeds of dog that would prevent an adoption application.
Owning pets other than dogs will require you to complete a questionnaire in order that your social worker can asses any potential risks.
How long does it take to be approved as an adopter?
Once you officially begin the adoption assessment stage, the process should take around 9 months.
Each application is unique however, and may take less or more depending on circumstances.
You will be kept informed on the status of your adoption by your assessing social worker.
What happens after you are approved?
Once you have been approved your agency will begin the process of ‘matching’ you to a child or children.
The matching process will take into account your discussions with your social worker about the child or children you hope to care for and will consider your personal strengths, skills, and experience. The process can be quick or may take longer. If you are not matched within three months, your details can be forwarded to the Adoption Regional Information System for Northern Ireland (ARIS) which is a database that holds details of all approved adopters and children requiring adoption in Northern Ireland. The database provides a matching service and arranges Exchange Day events where prospective adopters can find out more about specific children currently in search of their adoptive family.
Once a match has been identified, it will be presented to the child’s adoption panel for approval. Once agreed, a series of introductory meetings will be set up where you and your child or children can get to know one another. These meetings are built up over time at a pace to suit the child.
What support is available for children and families after adoption?
Adoption is a life-changing commitment and we are here to offer advice and support at all stages of your adoption process.
There are a wide range of universal, targeted, and specialist post-adoption services that you can access from the moment your child is placed, until they reach adulthood.
These include the support of an allocated social worker, peer-to-peer support groups, post-adoption training, therapeutic parenting programmes, and direct work with children and families.
Depending on circumstances there may also be financial support available.
How much information about the child will I receive?
Please be assured that adopters will be given as much information about their child and their birth family as is available.
This may include information about background, birth parents, family circumstances, and any relevant health needs.
We understand that information is essential for you to best understand the child and their experiences, and to be in the position to offer support and help to them when they are at the stage to question and understand their adoption.
Should children be told they are adopted?
Yes. All children should be told about their adoption but the timing of this will depend on the child’s age and level of understanding.
It is generally agreed that the earlier the information is shared and discussed, the better. Your social worker will be available to give you all the information you’ll need in order to talk to your child or children about their adoptive history.
Every child will have their own ‘Life Story Book’ which will detail their milestones, experiences, and history. It is hoped that this information can help a child to better understand their younger years and to grasp the reasons behind their adoption.
Will my adopted child continue to see their birth family?
Maintaining relationships with birth family members can be very important to a child to offer them a better understanding of their personal history. It can also be foundational in their emotional wellbeing.
In many cases, adopted children do have some direct contact with their birth family (parents, siblings or grandparents). This direct contact normally involves a social worker and a neutral venue and the level of contact will depend on the individual circumstances of the child or children.
An adopted child or children may also receive ‘indirect’ or ‘letterbox’ contact. This type of contact involves communication through letters or cards and can also be important to a child as they try to understand their history in more detail. These levels of indirect contact will also be agreed prior to you adopting the child.