Adopting an Adult with Special Needs: is it Possible?

Adopting an adult with special needs is a noble act, whether you’re related to the individual or just want to help out someone who needs it. Discover if it’s possible right here…

In many countries, adopting an adult with special needs is the best way to ensure they’re looked after when you’re alive. It also helps to ensure they have access to your inheritance if something ever happened to you. 

There are many benefits of adult adoption, but it isn’t the only way to make a difference in the life of someone with special needs.

In this post we’re going to discuss whether it’s possible for someone in the UK to adopt an adult, and what the benefits of it are. We’ll then go on to cover some alternatives to adopting an adult with special needs, so you can do your bit for the ones you love.

Is it Possible to Adopt an Adult with Special Needs in the UK?

Unfortunately for those of you reading this article who want to adopt a relative or stranger with special needs, adopting an adult isn’t possible in the UK. 

Adult adoption is legal in many countries including the USA, Canada, Japan and Germany, but in the UK, you can only adopt a child under the age of 18. This is something many people don’t realise until it’s too late because it’s not often talked about. 

It’s kind of an arbitrary system considering a child who is 17 years and 364 days old can be adopted but a child who has just turned 18 cannot. There are a few reasons why you might want to adopt an adult relative with special needs:

  • You might want to, or have already taken, responsibility of another family member’s son or daughter because they can’t look after them.
  • You’ve been the step-parent of a child who’s biological mother or father has died or left the scene.
  • You genuinely care about adults with special needs who have no family and want to adopt them into yours.

No matter the reason, it’s a shame that legally adopting an adult isn’t possible in the UK. That said, there are still things you can do to help someone with special needs which we’ll get into after this next section.

We specialise in autism in mainstream schools, inclusion of students with disabilities, education psychology, autism education, community building and training on inclusion.

What Are the Benefits of Adopting an Adult with Special Needs?

Before we discuss alternatives to adopting an adult with special needs, we’re going to briefly cover the reasons why people would choose legal adoption as their preference.

Formally Recognise Your Relationship

Adopting an adult formally recognises you as their legal parent. This means you get the satisfaction of knowing you are their parent in the eyes of the law. This way, you get ‘parental responsibility’, so you get to make decisions about their care. 

This is especially important for people with special needs as they need someone looking out for them who can make informed, loving decisions about the best care for them. 

Cut Ties with Their Birth Parents

There are instances where the birth parent of the adult with special needs has been abusive in the past or hasn’t acted in the best interests of their child. If you don’t legally adopt the adult the birth parents could invoke their legal ‘parental responsibility’ to keep you from the adult, and choose what care they do or don’t receive.

By adopting the adult, you can prevent the birth parents from taking them away from you and causing more harm to them. There’s also an emotional benefit involved, as adopting them allows you to welcome them into their ‘new family’ where you can make sure they feel loved and supported.

Become Entitled to Inherit

Not all people make a will, especially if they’re not expecting to leave this world anytime soon. In that case, adopting an adult with special needs means they’re entitled to inherit from you regardless of whether you have a will.

If you die without a will, an unadopted adult wouldn’t be entitled to any inheritance from you. This may mean they’d struggle to afford care once you die.

Changing Their Name

Adopting an adult means that they will have an adoption certificate that supersedes their birth certificate. If you change the adult’s surname to your surname on the adoption certificate it is legally accepted as their new name.

In a world where people might ask questions about why your son or daughter’s name doesn’t match yours, it’s nice to not have to explain yourself. This way, everyone can just accept that your child is your child from the get-go.

We specialise in autism in mainstream schools, inclusion of students with disabilities, education psychology, autism education, community building and training on inclusion.

How to Care for an Adult with Special Needs Without Adopting Them

Now, with all the benefits above being taken into account, there’s nothing stopping you from looking after an adult as your child in the same way you would as a legal parent. In fact, you can still legally change the adopted adult’s name, write up a will that passes your inheritance to them, and make the case that their birth parents aren’t fit to take care of them.

The only thing you aren’t able to get without adopting an adult is legally binding ‘parental responsibility’. That said, there are other ways you can be responsible for them. You can:

  • Make decisions about their care by discussing it with them and organising everything they need to live a full and happy life;
  • Invite them to live in your house and be integrated into your family without it being legally recognised;
  • Help them find work if it’s possible for them to do so;
  • Get them involved in local community or leisure activities;
  • Look after them in every way you would look after your own child.

Shared Lives Scheme

For those of you who don’t have a an adult in mind, and just want to adopt an adult with special needs out of the goodness of your heart, you could sign up for a shared lives scheme. These schemes need carers who can welcome an adult with special needs into their home to live, in a similar way to fostering a child. 

The adults you foster would need support to become part of a real family, so they can leave residential care or being cared for by a team of support workers.

Much like fostering a child, the shared lives scheme matches you with an adult based on how comfortable you are with each other and whether you have similar interests. This way, you can start to form a bond from the get-go.

This adult with special needs would usually fit one of the following characteristics or scenarios:

  • Be over 18.
  • Qualify for social care services.
  • Be unable to live with their own family and need to live as part of a family to fit into the community.
  • Want to stay in their own home but need support to help them live normal lives.
  • Have their own family or carer who need a break to recuperate and be able to keep looking after them better afterwards.
  • Have a carer who needs a rest or is ill.

Each person you care for will need a different level of help. Some need advice and guidance, others need help with personal care, laundry, cooking or managing their money. You could also help the adult you foster by:

  • Taking them to appointments.
  • Driving them to any leisure activities or work placements they’re involved in.
  • Taking them on outings and holidays.
  • Getting them involved in their local community.
  • Looking after and making sure they’re on top of their medication.

If the scheme isn’t enticing enough, you actually get paid between £350 and £450 a week to look after them, which can be a big help.

Will the Laws Around Adult Adoption in the UK Ever Change?

In this post, we’ve discussed whether adopting an adult is possible, why someone might want to do it, and how you can look after an adult with special needs without adopting them. 

It’s difficult recognising that once a child turns 18 in the UK, you’re no longer able to adopt them. There are some movements and petitions out there trying to change the laws around adult adoption.

However, because it affects so few people, they haven’t been able to get too far off the ground. Hopefully, more light will be shone on this topic in the future, and the UK government will rethink the law on adopting an adult, but only time will tell.

Thank you for reading, and we wish you good luck on looking after your relative or other adult with special needs.


Contact Us

Colin Newton

0115 955 6045

Doug Newton

(Messages | Accounts | Queries)