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Tuesday, 25 April, 2000, 13:52 GMT 14:52 UK
The long road to adoption
Line of babies
More than 5,000 children are waiting to be adopted
Statistically at least, the adoption question is an easy one to solve.

On one side, more than 5,000 children are waiting to be adopted while on the other, thousands of childless couples are queuing up for help.

The villain of the piece is the notoriously long and complicated vetting process, according to the government. Health minister John Hutton says the procedure, which varies across the country, needs to be regularised and streamlined.

"People fear the vetting procedure," said the minister. "We have to have a system that encourages people to come forward and not one that deters them."
Filing cabinet
One man's bureaucracy is another's thorough filing system

So exactly how does a couple set about adopting a child?

Local variances mean that currently no procedure is set in stone. But all local authorities and registered adoption agencies adhere to a general system, says Mo O'Reilly, who runs Barnardo's Jigsaw Project in north London.

1) Initial interview. Couples are asked some fundamental questions and learn key facts about the adoption process.

They learn the difference between adoption and fostering, are asked whether they are prepared to take on more than one child - usually siblings - and face questions about why they are not having their own children.

Couples are also sounded out on adopting older children, rather than babies.

2) Application form. This puts many of the issues into writing, asks for references and, most crucially, authorises statutory checks.

3) Checks process. The main checks are with GPs, the police , local authorities and the Department of Health.
Kids in the park
Bringing up adopted children is seldom straightfoward

Prospective parents must agree to a health check-up and examination of their medical history. Local authorities are called on to uncover any problems they might have had with previous children.

It is the police check, which is designed to highlight an applicant's criminal past, which slows this process down. It can take six months or more.

4) Referee interviews. At least two, sometimes three, friends of the applicants are interviewed face-to-face by the adoption agency.

5) Familiarisation. Couples are invited for group workshops to learn about parenting and the additional problems associated with bringing up an adopted child. They can also expect about six home visits, of up to two hours each, from a social worker.

6) Assessment report. Everything learned so far is pulled together in an assessment report known as a "Form F". The couple can read this, correct factual inaccuracies and register comments.
Parents and children
A nuclear family, but one couple in six have problems conceiving

7) Adoption panel. An adoption panel, of between six and 10 members and typically comprising a doctor, teacher, social worker and psychologist, discuss the report and settle on a recommendation. This goes to the agency to be accepted or rejected. There is an appeal process for rejected applicants.

8) Matching process. Accepted adopters are then matched to available children. The process is not computerised and so can typically take six to nine months. Any match must initially be agreed by the adoption panel.

9) Child introduction. Generally, the younger the child the better able it is to adjust and so the shorter the introduction period. For a baby it is about two weeks. For an older child it may be a month.

10) Legal recognition. A child will move in with its parents and receive regular visits from a social worker. After six to nine months an application is made to the court for legal adoption. The wait for a hearing typically takes three months, after which an adoption order can be granted. The adopters are then the child's legal parents.

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25 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Adoption summit at No 10
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