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Glossary of Adoption Terms

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Active Listening:

Paying attention to the patient/client and repeating in your own words what you think she/he has said and/or felt. This lets the client know that you are listening to and understanding what she/he is saying and feeling. Active Listening promotes clarification and further discussion. If you are not correct in your understanding of what she/he said/felt, the patient/client will usually correct you.


A person who joins a family through adoption.



A legal process when a permanent child relationship is formed by the transfer of parental rights from the birth parent(s) to another individual or couple.

Adoption Agency:

An organization that is licensed by the state to prepare families for adopting and parenting adopted children. Adoption agencies are also charged with assessing the family’s emotional, financial, and physical fitness. Adoption agencies are also known as child placing agencies, which mean that the birth parent(s) can relinquish their child to the agency which, in turn, places the child with an adoptive family.

Adoption Attorney:

An attorney who facilitates direct consent adoptions throughout the adoption process through finalization.

Adoption Benefits:

Benefit such as financial assistance or monetary reimbursement for the expenses of adopting a child, available to workers through some employer-sponsored programs.

Adoption Plan:

A plan created by the birth parent(s) planning to place the child with an adoptive family. The plan can be formal or informal and includes: the desired level of the birth parent(s) openness and contact with the adoptive family prior to and after placement, what services and expenses will be provided to the birth parent(s), who will provide these services, and who will pay for them.

Adoption Sensitive Services:

Services which respond to the unique circumstances and needs of those touched by adoption: adopted parents and children, birth parent(s), and extended families.

Adoption Triad Members:

The three groups of individuals involved in any adoption are the birth parent(s): the adoptive parents(s), and the adopted person.

Adoptive Parent(s):

A person or persons who become the permanent parents of a child through adoption with all the social and legal rights as well as the responsibilities of a parent.

Adult Adopted Person (Adoptee):

Individual over the age of 18 years who was adopted as a child or who is adopted as an adult.

Attachment Bonding:

An affectionate bond between two individuals that endures through space and time and serves to join them emotionally. (Klaus, 1976)

Attachment Disorder:

A condition characterized by an inability to develop significant emotional connections with other people. Children, who have been abused and/ or neglected, even when very young, may find it difficult to form significant ties. Signs of attachment disorder may include: difficulty maintaining eye contact, lying, and not responding to affection.


Birth Family:

Individuals who share a child’s genetic heritage, blood relations, extended family members, and/or kinship members.

Birth Father:

Biological father of an adopted child.

Birth Father’s Rights:

Legal rights that a biological father may assert in relation to his child; these tend to vary from state to state and often depend on the extent of the individual’s parental involvement with the child.

Birth Mother:

Biological mother of an adopted child.

Birth Parent:

The parents who make a plan of adoption for a child to which they have given birth.

Birth Parent Counseling:

Services designed to assist birth parent(s) to explore their planning options with regard to the birth of a child, and to prepare them if they choose to relinquish their child for adoption.

Birth Parent Living Expenses:

Allowable expense above and beyond medical care and counseling made to or for the prospective birth mother for the purposes of assuring health and welfare of an unborn child. Regulated by statute in some states.

Child Abuse Clearances:

A process that adoptive parent(s) undergo to show that they have no history of abuse to others. Every state has a different process for obtaining the abuse clearance, which can involve checks with the state abuse and sex offender’s registry, fingerprinting with the state and the FBI, and local criminal background checks. Child abuse clearances are part of the home study process.

Child Placement Agency:

In accordance with Public Act 116, is a governmental organization or agency organized pursuant to the non-profit corporation act, for the purposes of receiving children for their placement in private family homes for foster care or adoption.

Child Placement Agency Adoption:

In child placement adoptions, a parent or parents release their child for adoption to a licensed child placement agency; the court terminates the parental rights of both parents and places the child in custody of the agency. The agency selects the adoptive family and facilitates the adoption to finalization.


The process that enables parents to raise their adoptive child in the same manner as children born to them.

Closed or Confidential Adoption:

An adoption where there is no contact or exchange of identifying information between the birth parent(s) and the adoptive family.


Occurs when: someone with more perceived power or authority forces a decision upon a person; talks them into a decision; provides incomplete or misleading information; and/or offers gifts, bribes, or other incentives for making a particular choice.


The withholding of identifying information.

Consent to Adoption:

The document that is voluntarily signed by the birth parent(s) in an adoption that allows the adoptive parent(s) to adopt their child. In some states it must be signed in front of witnesses and a Notary¸ while in other states, the consent is taken in front of a judge. Every state has different laws regarding when the consent can be signed. State law also varies widely concerning the issue of revocation. In some states, the consent is irrevocable when signed, meaning it cannot later be taken back or voided by a birth parent(s) unless the birth parent(s) can prove coercion, duress, or fraud. In other states, there is a period of time that the birth parent(s) can revoke their consent without having to prove these conditions. Generally, Consent to Adoption is the term used in an independent adoption versus relinquishment which is used in an agency placement. The term consent is also used when an agency consents to an adoption at finalization after the supervisory period has passed.


A process in which a person can receive independent and neutral counsel regarding their options when facing an unintended pregnancy. This counseling includes exploration of options, the pros and cons of each choices, and the short term and long term consequences of each choice. Birth parent(s) counseling should include exploration of all options including parenting the child, kinship adoption, foster care and various types of adoptions.

Criminal Clearances:

Similar to the child abuse clearances, this is part of the home study process. Criminal Clearances can involve local police clearances as well as fingerprint checks with the state and FBI. In adoptions, all adults living in a household must obtain criminal and child abuse clearances prior to a child being placed in that home.

Cultural Competence:

The continuous self-assessment and expansion of a person’s knowledge regarding other cultures, differences, and the ability to adapt and meet the needs of diverse populations.

Cultural Responsiveness:

An active term that requires professionals to treat the patient/client as an individual, recognizing that he/she will not automatically respond in a manner that is consistent with his/her culture, norms, and values. In addition, the professional should understand that his/her judgment/response is not a reflection of all other members of the same culture.



The act of revealing information that may be considered secret or confidential. With respect to adoption, may refer to (1) revealing background information about an adopted child and his or her birth family, including the medical and background history of the child or birth family, or (2) revealing identifying information about the child, birth family, or adoptive family.


Irreconcilable differences in adoptive families that occur after the adoption process is completed and that result in negating the legal relationship and moving the child or children to another setting.



The right to parent a child which includes both legal and emotional components.


Family Integration:

The process by which individuals become full-fledged members.

Fictive Kin:

Individuals not related to the child or family by blood or marriage, but who have a psychological/emotional attachment and are identified as family as a result of their role and/or bond in functioning of nuclear family.


The court hearing which results in the adoption decree. This is the moment when the adoptee becomes the permanent, legally adopted child of the adoptive parent(s). Every state varies in the length of time between placement, filing of the adoption petition, and finalization.

Foster Care:

A temporary arrangement whereby persons other than the birth parent(s) care for a child for a period of time. Foster families are typically approved by the agency involved in the adoption.

Full Disclosure:

Fully sharing information between adoptive family and birth family.


Home Study:

A home study assessment is a process that involves evaluation and education of potential adoptive parent(s). Every state has a different process for home study assessment. The home study is usually conducted by a social worker affiliated with a licensed adoption agency or one who is credentialed by the state to conduct home study assessments. Home study assessments or pre-placement investigations typically involve interviews of the adopting individuals, couples interviews with any adults or children living in the home. Financial statements, medical statements, proof of income, references checks, criminal clearances, child abuse clearances, and a home inspection are typically involved. The home study assessment process leads to a written document either approving or disapproving the individuals or couple as adoptive parent(s).


Identified Adoption (designated adoption/agency-assisted adoption):

When the birth parent(s) select and agree to place their child with specified adoptive parent(s) and the agency provides full assessment, preparation, and counseling to the birth and adoptive families both before and after placement. The agency also ensures that relinquishment and legalization of the adoption are completed in accordance with applicable law.

Identifying Information:

A term used in adoption services in reference to the collection and/or sharing of such information as the full name, address, and telephone number of a member of the adoption triad with another member or the triad.

Identity Formation:

The process through which individuals clarify their values and determine who they are.

Independent or Private Adoption:

An adoption which is arranged without the involvement of an agency. Typically an adoption attorney serves as the intermediary that coordinates the legal processes and refers the adoptive parent(s) and the birth parent(s) to the needed services. Independent adoptions are usually direct placement adoption i.e. the birth parent(s) consents to placement directly to the adoptive parent(s). Adoption agencies or licensed adoption professionals are often involved in an independent adoption since the adoptive family will need a home study assessment and post placement supervision.

Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (P.L. 95-608):

Federal legislation designed to reduce the transracial placement of American Indian and Alaska Native children and to give tribal court jurisdiction over all child custody cases involving such children in an effort to prevent the decimation of American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and families.

Infant Adoption:

Adoption of very young children (generally from newborn up to the age of 2 years).

Informed Consent:

Informed consent requires that the pregnant woman is provided with information about all the options available to her and the consequences of each choice. In addition, it requires that the pregnant woman is competent to make a decision and is not coerced or forced by an external person(s) or situations to make a particular decision. In the adoption and the health care setting, informed consent requires knowledge, voluntariness, and competency.

Inter-Country Adoption:

When a child is from one country and is adopted by an adult from a different country. (Also referred to as International Adoption)


Person who acts as a facilitator between birth parent(s) and prospective adoptive parent(s) in arranging independent adoptions. Also, a person who facilitates post-adoption contact/reunion in adoption searches.

Interstate Adoption:

Adoption of children who are residents of one state by individuals who are residents of another.

Interstate Compact on Adoption of Children:

Is a federal law that ensures that all Title IV-E eligible children continue to receive services when they are adopted across state lines. It also defines universal procedures and responsibilities for sending and receiving states, and requires notification from sending states to receiving states.

Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights:

A legal procedure through which the legal rights of birth parent(s) to a child are terminated by the court without the signed consents of the birth parent(s). Circumstances for such proceedings include may include abandonment, abuse or neglect of the child, failure to support, and lack of participation in the putative father registry.


Kinship Adoption:

An adoption of a child that is closely biologically related i.e. grandchild, sibling, niece or nephew. In kinship adoption, the relatives legally adopt the child. In many states, the adopting parents are not required to have a home study assessment in a kinship adoption.

Kinship Care:

The full-time nurturing and protection of children by relatives, members of their tribes or clans, godparents, stepparents, or other non-related adults who have a kinship bond with a child.

Kinship (Extended Family) Network:

Includes the nuclear family, extended or blended family, and other adults viewed as family who have an active role in the functioning of the child’s family. These adults may or may not reside in the immediate area.


Legal Father:

Man who is married to a woman at time of the conception and/or birth of a child, whether or not he is the biological father of the child. Also referred to as the presumed father.

Legal Risk Adoption:

An adoption in which the child to be adopted is placed with the prospective adoptive parent(s) prior to the termination of the birth parents’ rights.

Loss and Grief Issues:

Unresolved emotional distress that can result from being removed from one’s birth family, experiencing a parent’s death, being abandoned by a parent, being put in foster care, moving from one placement to another, or having one’s parents parental rights terminated. Because children often have difficulty understanding, expressing, and dealing with feelings about painful losses and separations, these issues can cause depression and acting out behaviors.


Multiethnic Placement Act/Interethnic Placement Act of 1994 (MEPA):

A federal law which regulates child placement agencies receiving federal funds cannot delay or deny the placement of a child for adoption solely on the basis of race, color, or national origin. Further, agencies cannot deny an applicant for adoption or fostering on the basis of race, color, or national origin. In addition, in agency adoptions, birth parent(s) cannot require agencies to specify race, color or national origin of adoptive parent(s). However, in direct consent adoptions, birth parents(s) may select the adoptive parent(s) of his/her choice.

Mutual Consent Registry:

Mechanism by which a member of the adoption triad may register with a state social services department or other designated entity to indicate his or her interest in having identifying information shared with other members of the triad. Information is shared only if both parties register and there is a match.



According to the Webster Dictionary, network is an extended group of people with similar interest or concerns who interact for mutual assistance and support.

Non-Directive, Non-Coercive Counseling:

A method in which information and options are presented through the use of open-ended questions designed to help the patient/client identify her/his options and preferences and make an informed decision that satisfies his/her needs and preferences. The nondirective, non-coercive approach is predicated on the patient’s/client’s ability to solve their own problems with adequate access to non-judgmental, supportive resources and supports.

Non-Identifying Information:

Information about a child and his or her health, social, and family background that is provided to prospective adoptive parent(s), adopted person, or others but does not include the identity or whereabouts of the birth parent(s); conversely, information about the prospective adoptive family and their background that is shared with birth parent(s), but does not include the identity or whereabouts of the adoptive parent(s).

Non-Recurring Expenses:

One time expenses incurred in the process of adopting a child with special needs (for example, adoptive home study cost, transportation expenses).


Open or Disclosed Adoption:

An adoption in which there is contact between the members of the adoption triad and the identities to the parties are shared. The contact can be frequent or infrequent. The contact can continue as the child grows or may be limited to pre-placement contact. All open adoptions are very different and depend on the desires of the birth parent(s) and the adoptive parent(s).

Open Records:

Information contained in vital statistics records such as the child’s original birth certificate, and/or in confidential and sealed adoption files, that is made available to the adopted person, adoptive parent(s), or others permitted access to such information under state law.


Broad range of information sharing practices among members of the adoption triad.

Option Counseling:

Information that is shared with a pregnant woman regarding all options including prenatal care, delivery and infant care; foster care and adoption; and pregnancy termination.


Post-Adoption Service Provider:

An individual who intervenes with post-adoptive families and works to keep them together as a family.

Post-Legal Adoption Services:

Community-based interventions provided for adoptive families with the goal of keeping the family together.

Post-Legalization Adoption Service (Post-Adoption Services):

Services provided to the adopted person, and the adoptive parent(s) and/or the birth parent(s) by the agency providing adoption services or other community resources, after an adoption has been legalized.

Post-Placement Services:

A service provided by the agency completing the adoptive placement, either directly or through referral, to the adoptive parent(s), adopted child or the birth parent(s) after a child has been placed for adoption but before the adoption is legalized.

Pre-Adoptive Counseling:

Supportive and information-sharing activities providing by the adoption program to prepare children for adoption and to prepare prospective adoptive parent(s) before a child is placed with them.

Pregnancy Counseling:

Counseling that offers all the options to pregnant women related to the care of a child before and after delivery.

Private or Independent Adoption:

An adoption that is arranged without the involvement of an agency. Typically an adoption attorney serves as the intermediary who coordinates the legal processes and refers the adoptive parent(s) and the birth parent(s) to the needed services. Independent adoptions are direct-placement adoptions, the birth parent(s) consent to placement directly to the adoptive parent(s). Adoption agencies or licensed adoption professionals are often involved in an independent adoption since the adoptive family will need a home study assessment and post placement supervision.

Public Agency Adoption:

Adoption arranged by a state or county social service agency with the legal authority to place children with adoptive families.

Putative Father’s Registry:

A voluntary registry maintained by the state where the father gives notice of his intent to claim paternity.


Receptive Language Skills:

The ability to process and understand spoken or written words.


Large databases that contain both identifying and non-identifying information about birth parent(s), adoptive parent(s), adoptee(s) who wish to learn about each other. Those interested can register their data and request to be notified should the other parties in their adoption also register. These registries can be private or coordinated by a state agency.

Relative Adoption:

Adoption of a child by someone to whom the child is related (most often grandparents.)


The termination of custodial and legal rights to a child by a birth parent(s). This is a legally binding, permanent procedure involving the signing of legal documents and court action. Some states refer to relinquishment as surrender.


In closed adoptions, a meeting between members of the adoption triad, often the final phase of a search by either an adopted adult or birth parent(s).

Revocation of Consent:

Birth parent(s) revokes the consent to adoption that they had signed previously and requests that the child be returned to his/her custody. Every state has a different process of revocation of consent. This is called reversal in some states.


Sealed Records:

Documents related to an adoption such, as the original birth certificate of an adopted person and records of court proceedings that are required by law in most states to be maintained as confidential and inaccessible to all persons.


Activities by a birth parent(s), adopted person, or adoptive parent(s) to learn the identity and location of another member of the adoption triad, often with the intent of initiating some form of contact.

Semi-Open Adoption:

Arrangement between adoptive and birth families to remain in contact with each other through an agency without releasing identifying information.


An emotional or physical break in a relationship.

Separation Anxiety:

Excessive and persistent anxiety about being separated from one’s home or parents that interferes with normal activities.

Sibling Adoption:

Adoption of siblings by the same adoptive family. Designed to keep children together and avoid separation.

Small Business Job Protection Act/Removal of Barriers to Inter-Ethnic Placement (IEP) of 1996:

A federal law that repealed exclusive language of MEPA/IEP that prohibited denying or delaying placement solely on the basis of race, color, national origin and its permissive language to allow assessments of parents of different races as to their ability and willingness to parent a child of different race. IEP clarified national intent that race plays no role in the choice of adoptive parent(s) or the placement of children for adoption. Also, it mandates financial penalties for any state or private agency receiving federal funds that violates the provisions of MEPA or IEP. (See Multiethnic Placement Act/ Interethnic Placement Act (MEPA) of 1994.)

Subsidized Adoption:

Form of adoption in which public financial assistance is provided to a family who adopts a child determined to have special needs.


Grant of money by a government to an entity, enterprise, or individual to benefit the public in some way; in context of adoption, a payment made to an adoptive parent(s) on behalf of a child with special needs.


In adoption, the voluntary act of terminating parental rights. (See voluntary relinquishment.)

Surrender Papers:

Legal documents that a child’s birth parent(s), legal guardian, next of kin, or court-appointed friend can voluntarily sign to give up or relinquish their parental rights to the child.


Termination of Parental Rights:

The process in which a birth parent(s) voluntarily terminates or in which the rights are involuntarily terminated.

Title X:

Title X of the Public Health Service Act authorizes the family planning program which makes available a broad range of family planning services and methods on a confidential and voluntary basis, as well as related preventive health care, to those desiring such services. Consistent with nationally recognized medical standard, family planning projects must offer pregnant women the opportunity to be provided information and counseling regarding prenatal care and delivery, infant care, foster care of adoption, and pregnancy termination. If requested to provide such information, family planning providers are to provide neutral, factual information on each of the options, and referral upon request, except with respect to any option(s) about which the pregnant woman indicates she does not wish to receive such information and counseling.

Transcultural Adoption:

Adoption of a child of one culture by an adoptive family of another culture.

Transracial Adoption:

Adoption of a child of one race by an adoptive family of another race.


A group representing three persons or things. As related to adoption process, the triad includes the birth parent(s), the adoptive parent(s), and the child.


Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights:

The birth parent(s) voluntarily make an adoption plan for the child by legally relinquishing their legal rights to the child.


Wrongful Adoption:

Legal action against adoption agencies in which an adoptive parent(s) seeks a monetary award based on allegations that the agency failed to disclose or misrepresented the health status or background of a child or birth family at the time the child was placed with the individual for adoption.

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