Adopting a child

This advice applies to Scotland. See advice for See advice for England, See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Wales

What is adoption

Adoption is a formal legal process in which all the rights and responsibilities relating to a child are transferred to the adoptive parents. If an adoption order is granted by a court, it makes you, the adopter, the child's legal parent.

  • the child's birth parents will no longer have any responsibilities or rights for the child

  • the court order is permanent and cannot be reversed, except in very rare circumstances

  • the child will usually take your surname

  • only a child under 18 who has never been married or in a civil partnership can be adopted.

Adoption is different from fostering, which also places a child somewhere other than with their birth parents. Fostering can be for short or long periods and does not usually involve granting a court order. It is not always intended as a permanent arrangement. Find out more about fostering.

Who can adopt

Age limits

If you want to adopt a child, you must normally be at least 21. If you are part of a couple and one of you is the parent of the child who is to be adopted, the parent must be at least 18, and the step-parent, who will be the adopter, must be at least 21. There is no legal upper age limit. However, agencies do look for adopters who have the physical and mental energy to care for demanding children and who will continue to have this energy once the child is a teenager.


If you are part of a couple, you may apply to adopt a child together. This includes married couples, civil partners and couples (including same sex couples) who are living together in an 'enduring family relationship'. An enduring family relationship means a relationship which is like a marriage or a civil partnership and does not apply, for example, to two platonic friends or two siblings who live together. You do not need to have been in a relationship for a set amount of time to adopt as a couple but the adoption agency will be looking for a couple who can show they have a stable and enduring relationship. In many cases part of the evidence for this may be that you have been together for at least 2 years.

Single people

You can apply to adopt a child if you are single.

Divorced people

You can apply to adopt a child if you are divorced.

If you have other children

You can apply to adopt if you already have a child or children of your own. Agencies may welcome families with parenting experience for older children and for children with emotional or behavioural difficulties.

Past convictions

Having a past criminal conviction will not necessarily prevent you from adopting a child. If you (or a member of your household) has a criminal conviction, this will be investigated carefully by the adoption agency or local authority. You will not be able to adopt if you have been convicted of certain offences involving children.

Employment status

You do not have to be employed or have a certain level of income to adopt a child. However, an adoption agency will want to find out if you will be able to manage on your income. You must have what the agency considers is a sufficient income to provide for the child's requirements, although adoption allowances may be available from local authority adoption agencies. Adoption allowances may affect your entitlement to certain means-tested benefits, and you may find a Benefits Check helpful, such as one offered by a Citizens Advice Bureau.


When you apply to an agency to be assessed as an adopter, a comprehensive medical report will be prepared on your health. You won’t have to pay for this unless you are applying to adopt a child from overseas. If you are hoping to adopt a child from overseas you will have to pay all the costs of health checks and your assessments.

It is unlikely that you will be accepted as a prospective adopter if you have serious ill health. Agencies will want to ensure as far as possible that your health will allow you to care for a child throughout their childhood.

Placement with same race parents

There is no legal requirement for children to be placed with parents of the same race as themselves, although agencies must take into account a child’s racial, cultural and linguistic background in making their decisions. Most agencies have a policy of trying first to place children with families of the same ethnic origin as the child.

Who arranges adoption

Non-agency adoption

If you want to adopt a child who is a close relative or a step-child (for example, the child of your spouse, civil partner or cohabiting partner), you do not need to involve an adoption agency.

You must tell your local authority that you want to adopt the child. The local authority will investigate your situation carefully and will prepare a report for the court, which the court will consider in making its decision about whether or not to grant the adoption.

Adopting through an agency

If you are thinking about adopting a child, you can choose to go through either the adoption agency provided by your local authority or any other registered adoption agency in your area. You should check that the adoption service is registered with the Care Inspectorate, which provides a list of registered agencies on its website. Find out more about the Care Inspectorate

The assessment process for agency adoptions

How to apply to be assessed to adopt a child

Adoption agencies must make sure that people who want to adopt meet certain legal and other requirements. After prospective adopters are approved, the agencies try to match them with children who need adoption.

Adoption agencies must publish details of the criteria that they use to decide if they will accept you for assessment as an adoptive parent. You should find out about their requirements and whether or not they are accepting new applications.

You can make your enquiry by telephone, letter or e-mail and should give your:

  • age

  • ethnic origin

  • occupation

  • religion (if relevant)

  • details of any other children (if relevant)

  • length of relationship (if adopting as a couple).

You should state the kind of child you would like to adopt, for example, a baby or an older child. The broader the range of children you are prepared to consider, the more likely you are to be accepted as a prospective adopter. You can also apply to adopt a particular child, for example, one who has been advertised by an adoption agency. In this case, you would normally only be considered for adoption of that child.

The agency adoption assessment process

Once you have applied to an adoption agency, the agency will assess whether or not you are suitable to be an adoptive parent. When the assessment is complete, your application will be referred to the agency’s adoption panel for a recommendation about whether you should be approved by the agency or not.

The assessment process usually takes around six to eight months to complete. It may take longer, but the agency will keep you informed of any delays in the process.

Your application is rejected

If you are not approved as an adopter, you can:

  • write a letter to the adoption agency asking them to reconsider their decision, clearly stating why you want them to do this

  • use the agency’s complaints procedure

  • complain to the Care Inspectorate.

You could also try applying to another agency but by law you have to tell them about your first application and the second agency will seek information from the first one. 

Your application is approved

Once you have been approved as an adopter, unless you have applied for a particular child, it may take some time before a child is found to match you with. Once you have been approved by an adoption panel, your details will be referred to Scotland's Adoption Register, which contains details of all children waiting to be adopted nationally. The register includes a National Linking Service which can be used by social workers to match children with prospective adopters. There is more information on the Scotland Adoption Register website.

Once the agency has found a possible match, you should meet your social worker to learn about the child. The child’s social worker and the adoption agency will decide whether to match the child with you.

The court process for adoption

In order to obtain an adoption order you have to apply to court. The court process is the same for all types of adoption.

An adoption order cannot be granted until the child has lived with you for at least 13 weeks (and, in some cases, the required period will be longer). The child must be at least 19 weeks old before the order is granted.

The court’s main concern will be ensuring that a child’s welfare is safeguarded and promoted throughout their life. The court must apply a set of principles in making its decision and will consider the various reports provided by the adoption agency, local authority and others. In granting an adoption order, the court must have decided that it is better for the child that an adoption order is made than not made.

An adoption order will not be made unless the birth parents agree or unless the court decides officially that their consent is not needed. If the child is aged 12 or over, the child’s formal consent is also needed. If it is not given, there will be no adoption. If the child is under 12, their views must also be taken into account if they are mature enough to have views on the subject.

When the adoption order is granted, you receive full legal responsibilities and rights for the child and (unless you have applied to adopt a step-child) the legal rights of the birth family end.

Adopting a child from overseas

Adopting a child from overseas can be complicated legally. If you want to adopt a child from another country you have to be assessed and approved as for an agency adoption. You should contact your local authority or other registered adoption service. You should also find out if the country from which you want to adopt allows inter-country adoptions.

You can get more information and advice from the Intercountry Adoption Centre (IAC) website who also run a helpline for prospective adopters. 

The website has useful information about intercountry adoption including a guide to intercountry adoption, links to more information about different countries' procedures and contact details of local adoption agencies in Scotland.

How much does an adoption cost

An agency cannot charge a fee for arranging the adoption of a child. Other costs could include a police check and sometimes court fees.

You can ask the agency about likely costs and if they will help with them when you first contact them.

In intercountry adoptions, many but not all agencies charge for the home study. The home study takes several months and includes a social worker visiting your home, disclosure and medical checks, interviews and preparation classes. The Scottish Government charges an intercountry adoption fee, although the fee is means tested so that families on low incomes can still adopt a child from another country if they wish to do so. You will also have expenses for travelling to the overseas country and for translating documents there. You will have to pay for any health checks too.

Some countries impose restrictions on inter-country adoption. You may wish to check with your adoption agency, the UK Embassy or Consulate of the country you are interested in adopting from, or the Scottish Government Intercountry Adoption Team, if you are uncertain about the requirements of a particular country.

The website has information on it that may be helpful for you if you are hoping to adopt from another country, including more information about the intercountry adoption fee.

Adoption leave and pay

An adoptive parent who is working and who adopts using an agency may be entitled to statutory adoption leave and pay. Statutory adoption leave and pay are not available in non-agency adoption cases. Find out more about parental rights at work.


An adoptive parent is entitled to child benefit. Find out more about child benefit.

An adoptive parent might be eligible for a Best Start Grant payment. This is a Scottish benefit to help parents and carers on low incomes with the costs of having a child in the family. Find out more about the Best Start Grant.

An adoptive parent might be eligible for a Scottish Child Payment. This is a Scottish benefit for parents and carers on low incomes who have a child under 16. Read more about the Scottish Child Payment.

Further information

You can get more information about adoption in tracing your birth parents.

Further help

Adoption UK

Adoption UK is a charity offering advice, support and information to families who want to adopt, or who have already adopted.

Adoption UK Scotland Office

Gf2 Rooms 3 & 4 

Great Michael House

14 Links Place



Helpline: 0300 666 0006 (Monday to Friday from 10am to 2.30pm)

Tel: 0131 202 3670



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