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Understanding the Language of Adoption

Understanding the Language of Adoption

Friends in Adoption (FIA) is committed to empowering individuals and families during all stages of the adoption process and throughout their lives. FIA promotes a compassionate approach to inclusive and open adoptions, and demystifying the language of adoption furthers our mission.

The words we choose shape how we, and those around us, think about situations and concepts we encounter in our everyday lives. Being thoughtful about the language we use when speaking about adoption helps to strengthen positive perceptions of the adoption process and conveys respect for all whose lives have been touched by adoption.

Using the same terminology across settings can also improve and streamline communication around the adoption process. Navigating potentially complex topics can be more manageable when all parties involved share a common frame of reference.

We’re sharing some key words and phrases you’re likely to encounter in conversations about adoption:

● When a child is placed for adoption, it means all parental rights and obligations for them will be assumed by an adoptive parent or adoptive parents, which refers to a parent or parents other than the child’s biological parents.
“Susan’s adoptive parents were overjoyed to bring her home only five days after she was placed for adoption.”

● Referring to the biological parents of a child placed for adoption as birth parents or first parents instead of “real parents” or “natural parents” avoids delegitimizing adoptive parents.
“Naomi has the same eyes as her birth mother, and neither of them can whistle.”

● An adoption plan refers to birth parents’ decision to place a child for adoption and transfer parental rights of the child to another parent or set of parents. Using the phrases “making an adoption plan” or “placing a child for adoption” is preferred over saying “putting up for adoption” or “giving up for adoption”.
“Taylor felt empowered when she made the decision to reach out to Friends in Adoption and make an adoption plan.”

● A waiting family is a prospective adoptive parent or parents who have yet to be matched with a child who is being placed for adoption.
“Mark and Brian, along with their dog Jupiter, are a waiting family from New York.”

● An open adoption means there will be some level of ongoing contact and communication between birth families and adoptive families. The degree to which an adoption is open – including defining the frequency and nature of interactions – can vary widely and is agreed upon by everyone involved.
“Brendan has an open adoption, so his adoptive family keeps in touch on Facebook with his birth parents and twice a year they all get together at the amusement park.”

● Once an adoption is complete, we say the child was adopted as opposed to “is adopted”, and their adoptive parents can be referred to as their parents without “adoptive” being necessary as a descriptor.
Grace was adopted 22 years ago, and her parents are so proud of her today as she graduates from art school.

For more extensive lists of common adoption terms, you may want to take a look at articles like this.

Additionally, checking out the resources FIA offers for prospective adoptive families, those considering placing a child for adoption, and those who were adopted can contribute to becoming more familiar with adoption vocabulary.

Friends in Adoption (FIA) partners with all members of the adoption triad and the professionals who support them. We’re here to be advocates for positive adoption practices and to provide connection to resources and information. Reach out to us today if you have questions about the language of adoption or any aspect of the adoption process! You can call us at 1-800-982-3678 or email
, or send us a message through our website.

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