National Adoption Week 2023

In the UK there are around 2,000 children awaiting adoption and in the US around 113,000 children.

This year’s National Adoption Week in the UK will take place from the 16th to the 22nd of October 2023. And National Adoption Day in the US is on November 18, 2023.

The objective of the week/day is to improve the level of awareness about adoption, with the overall aim of finding homes for these children.


Stats Summary

Online UK stats show:

  • Children with a plan for adoption are now spending longer in care before being placed.
  • The number of children being looked after by local authorities was up by 2% last year, to an all-time high of over 82,000.
  • The average age of a child at adoption in the UK is three years and three months.

Online US stats show:

  • The number of children in foster care appears to be dropping, with 389,000 children in foster care in 2021, the lowest in at least a decade. Also entries into the foster care system in 2021 were the lowest ever recorded at 206,000.
  • The most common age of children at adoption is 2 years.

In the UK there are 82,000 looked after children in a population of 67 million and in the US there are 389,000 children in foster care with a population of 330 million i.e. a very similar 0.12% in both countries.


The state of adoption in the UK

This Adoption UK article from 17 November 2022 states: “Children in England with a plan for adoption are spending longer in the care system before being adopted, according to new government statistics released today. The Department for Education data reveals that these children are spending as long in care as they did in 2015 - two years and three months. The time it takes for a child to be adopted in England has been increasing since 2019, when the amount of time a child spent from entry into care to being adopted was one year and eleven months.” 

There were 2,950 children adopted in the year to 2022, falling from a peak of 5,360 in 2015, since when there has been an overall decline in adoptions. Thissits against a backdrop of a rise in the number of children being placed into thecare oflocalauthorities– up by2%this year,toan all-time high of 82,170.

The average age for a child to be adopted is 3.5 years. Often, that's because social services do everything they can to keep families together, before the courts take the decision that adoption is the best decision for a particular child.”

At the moment there are more families waiting to adopt, than there are children with a plan for adoption. Obviously it’s vital to get the right family for each child, and some groups of children spend much longer in care before being matched with a family. Sibling groups spend around 11 months longer, and children over the age of 5, those with a disability, and black children all spend longer in care than their peers.”

With children with a plan for adoption spending longer in care before being placed, and the rise in the number of children being placed into the care of local authorities up by 2% last year to an all-time high of over 82,000, it’s hard to wrap one’s head around the huge number of looked after children and the relatively low number of children with an adoption plan.

There are regular calls for the system to be reviewed. We thoroughly appreciate the cosmic complexities of tackling this. We feel something needs to radically change. This begs the question, is adoption working effectively in any country?

Is the adoption system working any better in the US?


The state of adoption in the US

The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute states that in 2021, according the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on any given day, over 391,000 children are living in the U.S. foster care system and the number has been rising. Over 113,000 of these children are eligible for adoption and they will wait, on average, almost three years for an adoptive family.

The average age across children adopted in 2021 was 6 years. US statistics show that the most common age for adoption is 2 years (7,622 or 14% of the overall 54,231 children adopted with public agency involvement in the United States in 2021).

Adoption in the UK vs the US

Last year we summarised the main differences between adoption in the UK and the US in this blog. It appears that these significant differences notwithstanding, the proportion of children in care, i.e. not adopted, is similar. In the UK there are 82,000 looked after children in a population of 67 million and in the US there are c.400,000 children in foster care with a population of 330 million (0.12% in both).

The differences in the adoption process in the UK vs the US are highlighted clearly when looking at the most common question prospective parents ask in each country:


What is the Q people ask most about adoption in the US?

According to they are:

  1. What does adoption cost? *
  2. How do I find a birth mother? *
  3. Do I have any control over the birth mother I’m matched with? *
  4. Do I have to have a relationship with the baby’s birth parents? *
  5. What if the birth mom changes her mind? *

In the UK the most asked questions about adoption are:

  1. How long does it take to adopt a child in the UK?
  2. How does the assessment and approval process work? *
  3. How do I find an adoption agency? *
  4. What are the differences between fostering and adoption? *
  5. How much does it cost to adopt a child in the UK? coupled with How much do you get for adopting a child in the UK? *

* These questions are all addressed in our previous blog.


In answer to, how long does it take to adopt a child in the UK?

  • Firstly you need to find, make contact and meet with the right agency which takes around a month. They will ascertain if you meet the requirements for adoption.
  • Then the application forms and background checks (stage one) will take around 2 months.
  • The assessment and training (stage two) will take around 4 months. However, this can all take longer based on your circumstances.
  • Matching you with a child can then take anything from a few months to over a year. Most families are matched within 6-12 months (i.e. 13-19 months in total at this point).
  • Then the moving in stage starts.
  • Finally, when the time feels right, adoptive parents must make an adoption application order. The child or children will need to have lived with you for 10 weeks before this can be granted – after which time the adoption becomes permanent and the child has the same rights as they would if they were your birth child. At this point parental responsibility is removed from their birth parents and anybody else who may have cared for the child.


It seems to us the biggest difference between the two countries is the ability in the US to adopt a newborn baby. Is it ever possible to adopt a newborn in the UK?

According to legal company Crisp & Co there are a few ways you can adopt a newborn baby, including:

  • Adopting directly through a local authority or an adoption agency where a pregnant or new mother has decided to give the child up for adoption.
  • Concurrent planning – where you foster a newborn baby or toddler under 2 years old who will very likely need to be adopted but where the local authority hasn’t decided whether to push forward with care proceedings.
  • Fostering for adoption – where you foster a newborn baby or toddler under 2 years old after the local authority decides adoption is in the child’s best interests. The court will also need to agree that you should adopt the child.



The overarching legislation for Adoption in the UK is set out in the Adoption and Children Act 2002. The Department for Education (DfE) is responsible for child protection in England. So, whose job is it to fix the adoption system in the UK? We asked Google. And the top result is a article dated 2020 where the Education Secretary himself asks for an overhaul of the adoption system. What isn’t clear is who was being tasked with this action. We would love to know . . . Is something being done?, if so by whom?, by when? and how?

And what about the US? Is their adoption system broken? With the number of children awaiting adoption, it certainly can’t be said to be working well.  USA Today News did a review last year, finding breakdowns at every point in the adoption process.

Let’s hope National Adoption Week in the UK and National Adoption Day in the US help to provoke real progress. Is there anything you, or we, could be doing to help?








A note of caution: Our speciality is helping tell children their origin story, we are not and do not pretend to be adoption experts. All information is gleaned from the internet. Please do get in touch with any corrections or suggestions – we will value your input!


By Clare McDougall

© Sali Odendaal and Clare McDougall, 2023. All rights reserved.