Can counsellors offer counselling for adoption issues?

You should be able to walk into your first counselling appointment and be able to discuss whatever is troubling you. However, there are a small number of areas where the law restricts whether a counsellor can offer you their services. One of these is around adoption. So can counsellors in England (where I am based) offer counselling for adoption issues? The answer is: sometimes. To understand this, we need to know about the role of adoption support agencies.

This post offers some thoughts on where people in England who are seeking counselling for adoption issues might start when looking for a counsellor. (Counsellors in England who have similar questions, might start with Ofsted’s guidance, dated February 2019 at the time of writing. However, this post does not address the issues facing counsellors.) People outside England will need to be aware of differences in regulations between countries. Some of the UK-wide charities listed below may be able to assist in this.

What are adoption support agencies?

Adoption support agencies provide assistance to adopted children and adults, such as counselling and finding out the details of their adoption. They can help those who want to know more about their birth relatives, or want to trace them.

If an organisation undertakes work with adopted children or adults, or children who are being ‘prepared for adoption’, it will usually need to register with Ofsted as an adoption support agency. (Ofsted is the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills in England). It must register if it undertakes one or more of the following activities:

  • support and help to adoptive parents to enable them to provide stable and permanent homes for children placed with them
  • assistance to an adoption agency in preparing and training adoptive parents
  • support to any child or adult who has been adopted, or their birth relatives
  • assisting people who have been adopted to trace or have contact with their relatives.

The organisation must also meet a range of legal requirements and take account of the national minimum standards that apply.

The Ofsted guidance makes clear that a counsellor wanting to provide an adoption-related service to anyone needing counselling around adoption issues must register. This applies to both counselling in relation to the client’s own adoption and in relation to their child being adopted. However, there is still some ambiguity in my view.

Can I legally provide you with counselling for adoption issues?

Adoption issues identified in the first counselling session

According to Ofsted guidance, I cannot, as a counsellor, provide counselling on adoption matters without registering or being under contract with an approved service. If it becomes clear during the first counselling session that adoption-related issues are the main focus, I would:

  • let you know that you have the right to access adoption support services
  • consider whether I can legally work with you
  • discuss with you the possibility of referring you to a registered agency.

Anything linked to the adoption process is strictly off-limits. However, being adopted yourself or having adopted a child does not in itself, it seems, stop me being your counsellor. It appears there is some leeway around emotional issues connected to adoption. For example, we could work on processing your feelings about having been adopted or how that affects your view of yourself.

Adoption issues identified later in counselling

If an adoption related issue emerged only after the counselling relationship has been established, I would:

  • consider whether adoption was the primary concern or focus of counselling
  • discuss with you any requirement or possibility of referring you to a registered agency
  • ensure a smooth and safe transition from me to the agency (if we agreed on a move)
  • seek advice within the bounds of our confidentiality agreement, if appropriate.

Who should you contact first?

If your issue may fall under the remit of adoption support agencies, counsellors will probably be wary if not registered. Therefore, I would recommend contacting an agency first. Alternatively, you might like to start with an organisation specialising in adoption. I cannot give formal recommendations but here are a few suggestions in the UK:

Adoption UK (charity)

Coram Adoption (charity)

Family Lives (charity)


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