Once the match has been approved you will be able to meet the child for the first time.  After a length of time, when you and the social workers agree that the child has become established in your family, you can make the adoption legal and settle down as a family. It’s important to tell your child they’re adopted, and to think about contact with birth parents, both now and in the future.

Getting to know the child

I catch my breath as I glimpse our son standing at the foster carers’ front door, a beaming smile etched upon his face, his hand waving madly…That first meeting is heaven – although no, you do not fall in love instantly, as any truthful adopter will tell you. But we do feel a rush of affection towards this child. We also feel slightly awkward, anxious and anything but natural. We have imagined this moment for years, and suddenly here we are, examining every single inch of our child’s face. We struggle to take it all in. Now we are parents…The moment will stay with me for ever, of that I’m sure. It is one of those landmarks in our lives that we will re-live a thousand times over.

Maria, adoptive parent, An adoption diary

The time when you get to meet the child or children you are about to adopt is called “introductions”. You will be introduced to each other gradually. There are no set patterns or timescales as it will depend on his or her age and needs and your views should be taken into account.

When I arrived at the foster family’s home, I trembled as I knocked on the door. Nanny opened it, we said hello and then suddenly there was little Alan, bright as a button and very excited. ‘Who’s this?’ Nanny asked. ‘It’s Mummy,’ cried Alan…He had something sticky all round his mouth and his nappy, a frankly rather stinky one, was hanging off him. Somehow, although it must have registered somewhere in my memory, I didn’t notice that at the time. Love at first sight? Yes, I think so.

Julia, adoptive parent, Flying solo

This child will then move in with you. Your adoption social worker and the child’s social workers will continue to be on hand to support you and your child, at least until the adoption order is made.

Making adoption legal

In order for the adoption to be formalised, an “adoption order” has to be granted by the court. You will need to apply for this after the child has lived with you for a certain minimum period of time: 10 weeks in England and Wales, 13 weeks in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

At last Sean was adopted and legally ours. We celebrated that day, we cried, we laughed and held him so tight. Sean took it in his stride and went out to play. The difference that piece of paperwork made was great: we all relaxed more.

Sara, adoptive parent, Adopting a child in Scotland

The adoption order gives adopters full parental responsibility for the child, who will then become fully part of their family. Adoption is permanent: once an adoption order has been granted it cannot be reversed except in extremely rare circumstances.

For more information see our advice note Adoption: some questions answered.

Telling a child they’re adopted

It is important to be open with children about the fact that they are adopted. You should give age-appropriate information to your adopted child from the time they are little and as they grow up. This will help them feel positive about themselves and their life story.

We publish a number of books that can guide you through the process of having these conversations:

Contact with birth family

Adopted children will usually have some sort of contact with their birth parents. It normally involves exchanging written information, once or twice a year, via the adoption agency. This is called “indirect” or “letterbox” contact.

Contact arrangements will differ for each child, depending on circumstances. They may involve “direct” contact with their siblings, birth grandparents or sometimes foster carers.

Some children are sensible and realistic about what they can expect from their birth parents. It helps if you have discussed it openly from an early age, so the birth parents are not surrounded by a sense of mystery and your child will not have a fantasy about what life would have been like with the birth parents.

Adoption social worker, Facing up to Facebook

In a smaller number of cases there will also be direct contact with their birth parents, but only if this is considered to be in the best interest of the child.

I feel contact is really important. There’s no point in hiding the fact that you have another mother in the world because some day you’ll meet her again. It’s important to know about her and what she is doing. It’s important not to hide your emotions because if you do some day they will all come out together and you might feel depressed.

Georgie, adopted child, The colours in me

Find out more about contact by reading our advice note Contact: if you are adopting a child.

Tracing birth relatives

Adopted people have the right to see their original birth certificate when they reach the age of 18 in England and Wales, 16 in Scotland. However they will often start asking questions about their adoption and their birth family at an earlier age and this should be dealt with through adoption support services.

For some people, the information about their past is sufficient, while others may want to try to trace their birth parents or other family members. For more information and advice about searching visit the Adoption Search Reunion website.

Social media now makes it much easier for adopted children and young people to search for their birth relatives or to be contacted by them unexpectedly. Our book Facing up to Facebook explores the challenges this can involve and where to get support.

Find out what support is available for adopters.