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Adoption Terms – Vocabulary

Verbiage – Acronyms

Adoption terms and verbiage used by a particular social worker, attorney, or agency, another when used by someone else.
If you don’t know what the verbiage means or the way it is used, look it up, or ask!  You need to educate yourself on adoption terms and what they mean before agreeing to anything.

Adoptee, Adopted Person, or Person who was Adopted

A person who joins a family by adoption. Whenever possible, use “person-first” language


A permanent, legally binding arrangement whereby persons other than the biological parent’s 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 Agreement

The agreement in which the adoptive parent(s) and birth parent(s) put into writing their understanding of the terms of an adoption — including the degree of communication and contact they’ll have with each other and with the adopted child.

Adoption Assistance

Monthly federal or state subsidy payments to help adoptive parents raise children with special needs.

Adoption Attorney

A lawyer who files, processes, and finalizes adoptions in court. In some states attorneys may also arrange adoptive placements.

Adoption Benefits

Compensation to workers through employer-sponsored programs. Some examples of such benefits are financial assistance or monetary reimbursement for the expenses of adopting a child, or provision of “parental” or “family” leave.

Adoption Consultant

An individual who helps would-be adoptive parents decide on an adoption path, and assists in choosing an appropriate agency or attorney.

Adoption Disruption

The interruption of an adoption prior to finalization – sometimes called a “failed adoption” or a “failed placement.”

Adoption Dissolution

The interruption or “failure” of an adoption after finalization that requires court action.

Adoption Exchange

An organization which recruits adoptive families for children with special needs using print, radio, television and Internet recruitment, as well as matching parties (which bring together prospective adoptive parents, waiting children and their social workers in a child-focused setting). Adoption exchanges can be local, state, regional, national or international in scope.

Adoption Facilitator

An individual whose business involves connecting birth parents and prospective adoptive parents for a fee (allowed in only a few states). In international adoption, a facilitator may help adoptive parents complete an adoption in the child’s country of origin.

Adoption Insurance (adoption cancellation insurance)

Insurance which protects against financial loss which can be incurred after a birth mother changes her mind and decides not to place her child for adoption.

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 Petition

The legal document through which prospective parents request the court’s permission to adopt a specific child.  Adoption Placement – The point at which a child begins to live with prospective adoptive parents; the period before the adoption is finalized.

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.

Adoption Placement

The point at which a child begins to live with prospective adoptive parents; the period before the adoption is finalized.

Adoption Plan

A plan created between a birth mother and a social worker specifying all aspects and desires with regards to an adoption.

Adoption Professional

Employee of a licensed adoption agency or a trained and educated adoption authority who has training and experiences in adoption services and authorized by the agency to provide adoption services.

Adoption Reversal

Reclaiming of a child (originally voluntarily placed with adoptive parents) by birth parent(s) who have had a subsequent change of heart. State laws vary in defining time limits and circumstances under which a child may be reclaimed.

Adoption “triangle” (or adoption “triad”).

An expression used to describe the three-sided inter-relationships among adopted children, their birth parents, and their adoptive parents.

Alcohol-Related Birth Defects

Physical or cognitive deficits in a child which result from maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy – includes but is not limited to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and Fetal Alcohol Effect (FAE).

At-risk placement

The placement of a child into the prospective adoptive family before the birth parents’ rights have been legally extinguished.


Refers to a child that has heritage of two races, usually African-American and another race.

Biological Child

The child of parents by birth.

Bipolar Disorder

A category of mental illnesses in which mood and affect are disturbed – characterized by irregular cycles of mania and/or depression. During manic periods, the individual may be in a very elevated mood and exhibit symptoms of hyperactivity, wakefulness and distractibility or irritability. In very severe episodes, psychotic symptoms may also be present. Individuals experiencing depressive periods can exhibit sustained symptoms of depressed mood, diminished pleasure or interest in most activities, fatigue, sleep disturbance (either insomnia or hypersomnia), weight loss or weight gain and slowed thinking.

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 Mom Expenses  or “living expenses,”

are the court-approved moneys provided by adoptive families to birth mothers to help cover their pregnancy-related costs.

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.

Black Market

Adoption performed outside the law, often referred to as the illegal buying and selling of children.

Boarder Babies

Infants abandoned in hospitals because of the parents’ inability to care for them. These babies are usually born HIV-positive or drug addicted.

Certified Copy

A copy of an official document, like a birth certificate, marriage certificate, or divorce decree, that has been certified by an official to be authentic and bears an original seal or embossed design.

Confidential Adoption

An adoption where there is no contact between biological parents and adoptive parents. Sometimes referred to as a closed adoption.

Consent to adopt or consent to adoption.

A birth parent’s legal permission for the adoption to proceed.

Consent Form

The legal document signed by the biological mother and father allowing their child to be placed for adoption. If birth parent is unavailable, the courts can validate the consents without the birth parents’ signature. (A consent is also referred to as a surrender or relinquishment).

Cooperative Adoption

Adoption in which adopted child has access to both adoptive parents and birth parents who participate in decisions affecting their life.


Acronym for Child Protective Services.

Cultural Competence

A set of attitudes, behaviors and policies that integrates knowledge about groups of people into practices and standards to enhance the quality of services to all cultural groups being served.


Authority by a person or guardian embodying all of the rights and responsibilities.

Decree of Adoption

A legal order that finalizes an adoption.


An adoption process that is halted after the prospective adoptive parents have taken custody but before legally finalization.

Designated adoption or identified adoption.

An adoption in which the birth parent(s) choose(s) the adoptive parent(s) for the child.


An adoption in which the parent-child legal relationship is severed after finalization.

Domestic Adoption

An adoption that involves adoptive parents and a child that are permanent residents of the United States.


A collection of required documents that is sent to a foreign country in order to process the adoption of a child in that country’s legal system.

Emergency Placement

An adoption match that is made after the child has already been born. Also referred to as a “baby-born situation,” “hospital match,” or “stork-drop.”

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.

Expectant Mother

A woman who is pregnant and considering adoption for her child after she gives birth.


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.


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.

Foster parents

State- or county-licensed adults who provide a temporary home for children whose birth parents are unable to care for them.

Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption

A multinational agreement designed to promote the uniformity and efficiency of international adoptions.


Children whom agencies consider difficult to place because of emotional or physical disorders, age, race, membership in a sibling group, history of abuse, or other factors.

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.

Independent adoption

An adoption arranged privately between the birth family and the adoptive family, without an adoption agency.

Inter-country or International Adoption

The adoption of a child from a country outside of the United States.

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.

Kinship adoption

Adoption by a biological relative of the child.

Legal Guardian

A person who has legal responsibility for the care and management of a person (such as a minor child) who is incapable of administering his or her own affairs.

Legal Risk Placement

Placement of a child in a prospective adoptive family when the child is not yet legally free for adoption.

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.

Maternity Home

Residences for pregnant women. The number of homes has decreased over the past three decades, and existing homes often have a waiting list of women. The women who live in a maternity home may pay a small fee or no fee to live in the home and they often apply for public assistance and Medicaid payments.


Acronym for Multi-Ethnic Placement Act of 1994.

Minority Children

Children of partial or full non-Caucasian parentage, or mixed Caucasian and non-Caucasian heritage.

Multi-Ethnic Placement Act

A federal law enacted in 1994 and implemented through state policy. The Multi-Ethnic Placement Act of 1994, as amended, P.L. 103-382 [42 USC 622] prohibits the delay or denial of any adoption or placement in foster care due to the race, color or national origin of the child or of the foster or adoptive parents and requires states to provide for diligent recruitment of potential foster and adoptive families who reflect the ethnic and racial diversity of children for whom homes are needed. The 1996 amendment, Section 1808 of P.L. 104-188, Removal of Barriers to Interethnic Adoption, affirms the prohibition against delaying or denying the placement of a child for adoption or foster care on the basis of race, color or national origin of the foster or adoptive parents or of the child involved [42 USC 1996b].


Refers to a child that has heritage of two or more races.

Non-identifying Information

Information that allows the birth and adoptive families to learn pertinent facts about each other without revealing who they are or how they can be contacted.

Non-Recurring Adoption Costs

Onetime adoption expenses, which may be at least partially reimbursed by states up to a maximum amount to families adopting children with special needs. Allowable expenses for this reimbursement benefit can include the cost of a home study, adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees, physical and psychological examinations, travel to visit with the child prior to the placement and other expenses related to the legal adoption of a child with special needs.

Non-Sectarian Agencies

Any agency that does not have any religious requirements for its clients.

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.


Child from another country that has no parents or only one parent that cannot care for them.

Photo Listings

Photos and descriptions of children who are available for adoption


A term used to describe the point in time when the child comes to live with the adoptive parents in their home.

Post-placement Services

A variety of services provided after the adoption is finalized, including counseling, social services, and adoptive family events, and outings.

Private Adoption

Private adoption refers to an adoption in which the adoptive parents adopts a child they already know or adopt through an individual birth mother, and do not have to go through an adoption agency to acquire an adoptive child.

Private Agencies

Nongovernmental adoption agencies licensed by the state.

Public Agencies

Social service agencies run by state or county governments that deal mainly with children in foster care.

Putative Father Registry

a.k.a. Birth Father Registry, state registry where alleged paternity can be listed, and birth fathers have the opportunity to protest the birth mother’s adoption plans. Approximately one-half of the states have a putative registry.


For a child adopted in another country, a second adoption in a U.S. court.


The document that identifies a child available for international adoption.


Voluntary termination of parental rights. Some prefer the phrase “making an adoption plan.”

Residential Care Facility

A structured 24-hour care facility with staff that provide psychological services to help severely troubled children overcome behavioral, emotional, mental or psychological problems that adversely affect family interaction, school achievement and peer relationships.

Residential Treatment

Therapeutic intervention processes for individuals who cannot or do not function satisfactorily in their own homes. For children and adolescents, residential treatment tends to be the last resort when a child is in danger of hurting himself or others.


A meeting between an adopted person and birth parents or other birth relatives.

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.


An attempt to locate and/or make a connection with a birth parent or a biological child.

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.

Social Marketing

The use of marketing principles and techniques to influence a target audience to voluntarily accept, reject, modify or abandon a behavior for the benefit of individuals, groups or society as a whole.

Social Worker

Person who completes home studies, works with birth parents and adoptive families in adoption situations.

Special Needs Child

A child with medical, mental, emotional, behavioral, or educational needs that could require extra on-going attention.


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.

Termination of parental rights. (TPR)

The process by which a parent’s rights to his or her child are legally and permanently terminated, after which the child becomes eligible for adoption.

Transracial Adoption

An adoption in which the child and the adoptive parent(s) are not of the same race.

Traditional Adoption

Most often used to refer to a domestic infant adoption in which confidentiality is preserved. Equivalent to a Closed adoption.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Bureau (USCIS)

An agency of the federal government that approves an adopted child’s immigration into the United States and grants

Voluntary Adoption Registry

A reunion registry system which allows adoptees, birthparents and biological siblings to locate each other if they wish by maintaining a voluntary list of adoptees and birth relatives.

Waiting Child

A child currently available for adoption. Waiting children may be in the U.S. foster care system, might be older, or could be special needs children.

Waiting Period

Typically refers to the time period which must lapse between birth and the time the consent to the adoption can be signed by the birth parents (varies from state to state).


American Academy of Adoption Attorneys

American Adoption Congress

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act

American Association of Open Adoption Agencies

American Academy of Pediatrics

Adopt a Special Kid

Association of California Adoption Lawyers

Administrative Case Review/Revision Administrative de Cases

Administration for Children, Youth, and Families

Americans with Disabilities Act

Attention Deficit Disorder

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Adoptive Families of America

Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System

Aid to Families with Dependent Children

Aid to Families with Dependent Children in Foster Care

American Medical Association

Adoptive Parents Committee

American Public Health Association

American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children

Agency Placement Team

Adoption and Safe Families Act

American Psychoanalytical Association

Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services

Birth Control Pills

Behaviorally Disturbed


Birth Mom, Breast Milk or Bowel Movement (depending on context)

Birth mom

Birth Name, Bastard Nation

Board on Children, Youth, and Families

Coalition for Adoption Registry Ethics

Court Appointed Special Advocate

Child and Adolescent Services System Program

Case Assignment Unit

Communities Against Violence in the Home

China Center for Adoption Affairs

Chinese Children Adoption International

Comprehensive Community-Based Youth Services

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Child Development – Community Policing Program

Council for Equal Rights in Adoption

Child Endangerment and Risk Assessment

Children’s Exposure to Violence Initiative (U.S. Dept. of Justice)

Cervical Fluid

Child and Family Policy Center

Children and Family Services

Cervical Mucus

Center for Medical Health Center

Center for Medical Health Services

Crisis Pregnancy Center

Child Protection Investigator

Child Protective Services

Center for Substance Abuse Prevention

Children’s Safety Network

Client Service Plan

Children’s Social Worker

Center for Women and Families

Child Welfare Institute

Child Welfare Information Gateway

Child Welfare Systems

Child Welfare Services Initiative

Department of Children and Family Services

Division of Child Protection

Developmentally Disabled

Detention Facility/Jail

Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities

Department of Corrections

Department of Justice

Dossier to China

Domestic Violence/Child Protective Services

Domestic Violence & Incest Resource Center

Division of Youth and Community Services

Emotionally or Behaviorally Disturbed

Estimated Due Date/Expected Date of Delivery

Family Assessment Factor Worksheet

Families Adopting in Response

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

Foster Care Initiative

Family Development Plan

Family Development Specialist

Formula Feeding

Foster Family Agency

Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health

Foster Home Adoptive

Foster Home Boarding-Private Agency

Foster Home Specialized

Future of Children

Foster Parent Association

Guardian Ad Litem

Department of Health and Human Services

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996

Health Maintenance Organization

Home of Relative

Heart of Triad

Health Passport

Home Pregnancy Test

Incompetent Cervix

Inter-Country Adoption Registry

Intermediate Care Facility

Inter-Ethnic Adoption Provisions (Small Business Protection Act)

Individualized Education Plan

Individual Family Services Plan

Institutions and Group Homes

Institution for Mental Disease

Independent Search Consultants

Labor and Delivery

Main Adoption Placement Services

MC or M/C

Maternal and Child Health Program

Multi-Ethnic Placement Act

National Adoption Center

National Association of Child Advocates

North American Council on Adoptable Children

National Center for Adoption Law and Policy

National Center for Cultural Competence

National Center for Children Exposed to Violence

National Child Care Information Center

National Commission for Creation of Uniform State Laws

National Center for Education in Maternal and Child Health

National Council for Adoption

National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth

National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges

National Center for Juvenile Justice

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

National Crime Prevention Council

Prospective Adoptive Parent

Pg or PG

Postpartum Depression

Special Needs

Social Worker

Title V
Maternal and Child Health (Section of the Social Security Act)

Title X
Federal Family Planning Program (Section of the Social Security Act)

Title XIX
Medicaid (Section of the Social Security Act)

Medicare (Section of the Social Security Act)

Termination of Parental Rights

Trying to Conceive


Uniform Adoption Act

US or U/S

Violence Against Women and Family Violence

Vaginal Birth After Cesarean Section

(Special supplemental food program for) Women, Infants, and Children