Whether you are a prospective biological parent, prospective adoptive parent exploring adoption, or an adoption professional, there are many adoption related terms with which to be familiar. We have included below some definitions, as well as some “positive” adoption language. It is important to all the members of the adoption circle to reinforce right from the beginning that adoption is a loving choice for biological parents and an acceptable way for adoptive parent to create their family. We recognize and appreciate that language and terminology preferences vary and change over time.
Adoptee, Adopted Person, or Person who was Adopted - A person who joins a family by adoption. Whenever possible, use "person-first" language.
Adoption - A permanent, legally binding arrangement whereby persons other than the biological parents parent the child.
Adoption Agency - An organization that is licensed by a particular state to educate and prepare families to adopt children and to do all the necessary legal, administrative and social work to ensure that adoptions are in the best interests of the children.
Adoption Order - The document issued by the court upon finalization of an adoption, stating that the adoptee is the legal child of the adoptive parents.
Adoption Plan - The unique, individual plan a particular set of biological parents makes for the adoption of their child.
Adoptive Parent(s) - A person or persons who become the permanent parents with all the social, legal rights and responsibilities incumbent upon any parent.
Birth certificate – When a child is born a certified document indicates the birth information of a person including mother's and father's name and the name given to the child at the time of birth. Once the adoption is finalized, the original birth certificate is amended reflecting the adoptive parents as the child’s parents and the original birth certificate is sealed and in many states remains confidential.
Birth father – The biological father of a child.
Birth grandparents – The biological grandparents of a child.
Birth mother or First mother – The biological mother of a child who made an adoption plan for the child and subsequently relinquished the child for adoption.
Birth parents or First parents - The parents who conceived a child, made an adoption plan for the child and subsequently relinquished their parental rights to the child and created an adoption plan. Also referred to as the biological parents.
Confidential Adoption - An adoption where there is no contact between biological parents and adoptive parents. Sometimes referred to as a closed adoption.
Domestic Adoption - An adoption that involves adoptive parents and a child that are permanent residents of the United States.
Employer Adoption Benefit Package - Adoption benefits provided to employees as part of an employer-sponsored benefit program, which are included within their employment compensation package.
Facilitator - An individual that is not licensed as an adoption agency or licensed as an attorney, and who is engaged in the matching of biological parents with adoptive parents.
Finalization - The court hearing that results in the adoption order. This is the moment when the adoptee becomes the permanent, legally adopted child of the adoptive parents.
Home study - A three-part process required before a child can be placed with a family for foster care or adoption: (1) Written portion includes autobiographies, references, medical reports, financial statements, child abuse and criminal clearances and other written materials; (2) Social work process includes a series of visits in the applicants' home to discuss a variety of issues from the applicants’ backgrounds to their motivations to adopt and their understanding of adoption and parenting; (3) Educational process includes training in adoption and parenting issues. The end result of this process is a written document completed by a licensed agency giving a summary of the applicants’ family life. This document indicates approval of the applicants for adoption. In most states it must be updated annually.
Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children (ICPC) – If a child is born in a state other than where the prospective adoptive parents reside, the Interstate Compact of both the baby’s home state and the prospective adoptive parents’ home state must give their approval before the child travels (for the purpose of adoption) to the state where the prospective adoptive parents reside. In an interstate adoption, the agency with custody of the child is responsible for processing the interstate paperwork.
Match or Matching - The process of bringing together qualified prospective adoptive parents and willing biological parents, who by choice choose to explore the compatibility of each other and who can agree on the terms under which the adoptive parents can adopt the child.
Open Adoption - An open adoption involves the disclosure of identifying information between the biological parents and the adoptive parents. Both the adoptive parents and biological parents agree upon the amount of contact following the placement of the child.
Placement - A term used to describe the point in time when the child comes to live with the adoptive parents in their home.
Revocation of Consent – When a biological parent revokes the consent they had signed to an adoption and requests that the child be returned to his/her custody.
Semi-Open Adoption - A semi-open adoption occurs when the potential biological mother or biological families experience non-identifying interaction with the adoptive family. In most cases, the interaction is facilitated by a third party who is usually an adoption agency or adoption attorney.
Surrender – The legal document signed by the biological parents in which they place their child with an adoption agency who in turn places the child with the adoptive family that the biological parents choose. In some states this may be referred to as "relinquishment" or "consent."
Tax Credit (Adoption) - A tax credit for qualifying expenses paid to adopt an eligible child. The adoption credit is an amount subtracted from the adoptive parents’ tax liability.
Positive Language in Adoption
Birth Mother, First Mother
Born to unmarried parents
Terminate parental rights
Make an adoption plan
Adoption triad or circle
Child placed for adoption
Child with special needs
Negative, Outdated, or Inaccurate Language in Adoption
Adopted child; Own child
An unwanted child