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Adoption - Frequently Asked Questions

What is the effect of an Adoption Order?

The effect of an Adoption Order is that it removes the parental rights and responsibilities of the birth parents and confers them onto the adopter(s).  Only a Court may make the Adoption Order but it is the responsibility of a Health and Social Care Trust or an approved Voluntary Adoption Agency to assess and approve people to become an adoptive parent.  If you wish to adopt a relative or a step-child, the local Health and Social Care Trust or Adoption Agency is not required to decide whether you should be approved to adopt.  The Court will however ask them to provide a report on you, your partner; the child and the birth parents which will assist the Court in making a decision.

What type of children are available for adoption?

The children who need a new family vary in ages; although older children rather than babies constitute the main group of children needing new families.  The children tend to have more complex needs; many have traumatic histories of neglect or mental, sexual and physical abuse; some have complex physical or learning difficulties.  Some children need to be adopted with their brothers and sisters.  What they all have in common is that they need a new family.

Is there any adoption legislation?

Yes.  At present the principal piece of legislation governing adoption is The Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987Link to an external website
New adoption legislation is currently being drafted.  It will be consulted on and is intended to be introduced in the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2014.
Further information on the current legislative framework governing both Domestic Adoption and Inter Country Adoption can be found on this website.

Who approves people to become adopters?

Adoption Agencies make this decision.  An Adoption Agency is your local Health and Social Care Trust or a Voluntary Adoption Agency.  You cannot be assessed or approved to adopt by an independent social worker.

Who can apply to adopt in Northern Ireland?

Eligibility to apply to adopt criteria in Northern Ireland as provided for in Article 14 of The Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987Link to an external website  was impacted by recent (October 2012 and June 2013) High Court and Court of Appeal Judgments, both of which are accessible at: The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission's Application [2012] NIQB77Link to an external website, and The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission's Application [2013]NICA 37Link to an external website
The Court of Appeal judgment [2013] NICA 37 is the final decision in this case.
All Courts have made it clear that no one has “a right to adopt”.  The ultimate decision with regard to any adoption will be that of the Court.  The Court will be governed by what is in the best interests of the child.  This consideration normally follows a rigorous assessment of prospective adopters to ensure that only persons capable of providing a loving, safe and secure adoptive home will be approved.

Who can apply to adopt as an individual?

If you wish to apply to adopt as an individual, in accordance with Article 15 of the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, you cannot be married nor in a civil partnership.

Who can apply to adopt as a couple?

As a consequence of the recent court judgments, if you are applying to adopt as a couple, the term couple extends to unmarried couples (including same sex couples) and those in a civil partnership. The term couple does not extend to two people, one of whom is the other's parent, grandparent, sister, brother, aunt or uncle.

How old do you have to be to adopt?

You must be 21 years of age or over.  There is no upper age limit.  The acceptability of an adopter's age must be considered in the context of the children who need to be adopted.
Fewer babies have been placed for adoption in the last two decades; the focus has shifted to the adoption of older children.  In this respect, older and more experienced people could take on the care of these children, provided that they enjoy sufficient health and vigour to meet their varied demands.  The more mature person may often have a greater experience of life; some may be established in their careers and others may have already brought up children of their own and have developed good parenting skills.  There is no upper age restriction to people applying to become adoptive parents.
Age is one consideration among many taken into account in assessing the suitability of prospective adopters.  Age is also necessarily linked to general health, fitness and emotional well-being.  Adoption agencies are therefore expected to recruit adoptive parents who will have the health and vigour to meet the many and varied demands of children in their growing years and be there for them into adulthood.

I smoke - will I be able to adopt?

There is sufficient evidence for the Department to be concerned about the effects of passive smoking where babies and very young children were being placed for adoption with families who smoke.  
An Adoption Agency may have to restrict smokers in the age and type of child who may be placed with them, especially a baby or very young child or a child who has a heart or chest complaint or a history of asthma.  An Adoption Agency has a duty to consider the effects of smoking on children in their care; therefore agencies should discuss with prospective adopters the issues and implications of smoking such as expecting them to ensure that a child does not spend its time in smoke-filled rooms.
However, the use of criteria whose application is in reality to ban people who smoke from adopting is not appropriate.

I have a health problem - will I be able to adopt?

Adoption Agencies have a duty to satisfy themselves that adopters who are about to have a child placed with them have a reasonable expectation of continuing to enjoy good health.  
The opinion of the adopter's general practitioner and the agency's medical adviser about the health status of prospective adopters needs to be given sufficient weight by adoption panels and agency decision makers.  Mild chronic conditions are unlikely to preclude people from adopting provided that the condition does not place the child at risk through an inability to protect the child from commonplace hazards or limit them in providing children with a range of beneficial experiences and opportunities.  More severe conditions must raise a question about the suitability of an applicant; in such cases the agency will need to give such factors very careful consideration in its decision to accept an application.  
In all these areas - age, health and smoking, including health risks and life-style - the Adoption Agency should expect its medical adviser to investigate and obtain relevant information about an applicant in order to be satisfied that the applicant is able to take on the task of adopting a child and has the expectation of caring for the child through childhood and into adulthood.

I do not earn much - will I be able to adopt?

Yes.  You do not need to have a high income.  In certain circumstances and depending on the needs of the child, the agency may be able to pay you financial support.  You may also be entitled to other benefits available to any other family, dependent on your means and circumstances.
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