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Positive adoption language promotes a greater understanding of adoption and is respectful.  The following are terms and definitions you will likely hear when discussing adoption.

Adoption Placement – describes the point in time when child lives with the family.

Adoption Plan – Created by the expectant parent and details what will occur for the adoption of the child.  This plan is a spectrum of simple to detailed and comprehensive.  The plan may include: placement of adoption, identification of adoptive family, type of adoption ( closed, semi-open, and open), services for birthparents including counseling services, medical care pre and post delivery, birthparent expenses, legal considerations including relinquishment and finalization.

Adoptive Parents – parents that have adopted a child.

Adoption Triad – describes the relationship between birth parents, adoptive parents, and the child.

Birth Father – biological father of a child.

Birth Mother – biological mother of a child.

Birth Parent – biological parent of a child.

Child – child who is adopted.

Closed Adoption – describes adoption when there is total confidentiality and lack of information except for non-identifying health and other background information about the child and birthfamily before adoption placement. Birthparents may receive non-identifying information about the adoptive parents. Otherwise, there is no shared information including identifying information, communication (either before or after placement. Adoption files are sealed after the adoption.

Expectant Parent – woman or man anticipating the birth of a child.  Expectant parents might be in the process of considering the options for their unborn child, including adoption placement.

Interstate Compact for Placement of Children (ICPC) – Enacted by law for all 50 states in the United States and District of Columbia. Controls the lawful movement of children from one state to another for the purposes of adoption. Both the originating state, where the child is born, and the receiving state where the adoptive parents live and where the adoption of the child will take place, must approve the child’s movement in writing before the child can legally leave the originating state.

Identified Adoptions – Expectant parent selects the family and makes an adoption plan. The family is selected through correspondence with a mutual acquaintance. The expectant parent may or may not meet the parents identified as the parents to adopt the child.

Indian Child Welfare Act 1978 (ICWA) is a Federal law that takes precedence over the local adoption laws of every state and gives Native American Indian Nations and Tribes, the right to control adoptions that involve their tribal members, the children of their tribal members, those individual that could become tribal members, or even individuals that a tribe would otherwise give appropriate recognition to under the terms of ICWA. ICWA applies to cases that involve both voluntary and involuntary terminations of parental rights, as well as to the adoptions of Indian children or their placement in foster care.

Petition to Adopt – legal document filed in court on behalf of families.  This course of action begins the legal process to adopt a child. The court has ultimate jurisdiction granting permission of adoption, qualifications for adoption, and the legal name for the child. Petitions granted for adoption are final.

Post Placement Supervision – an adoption caseworker conducts visits between the time the child is placed in the home of the adoptive parents and adoption finalization in court. Visits are conducted in the home several times during the 6-12 month period depending on the legal requirements of the state. Visits provide the caseworker with information for the court and include the interaction of the parents and child, assistance and education of the adoptive parents and other members of the family, and if needed professional assistance to have a successful placement. Finally the report includes a recommendation of whether or not the Petition to Adopt should be granted.

Open Adoption – the relationship determined by the birth parents and adoptive parents. Identifying and non-identifying information is shared.  Each adoption agreement is unique however in most agreements the birth parent and adoptive family have ongoing communication. Depending on the agreement there is interaction at important events including birth delivery, birthdays, holidays, outings, and other family events.  Neither birthparents nor adoptive parents however are forced to participate in an open adoption.

Putative Father – person who is presumed to be the father of a child, or claims to be the father  of the child. In particular, there may or may not be sufficient evidence or information leading to the identity of the biological father.

Relinquishment – biological parent voluntarily releases his or her parental rights to a child in order for others to adopt the child. In addition, the term refers to the transfer of parental rights to an agency and eventually to the adoptive parents.  The term also refers to the relinquishment documents signed by the birth parents.

Semi-open Adoption – a combination of closed adoption and open adoption where all parties have limited direct communication. Communication takes place through a third party and may include sharing letters and photographs for an agreed upon frequency and duration.

Special Needs Children – in adoption this term refers to children that are more difficult to place for adoption. Children whose emotional or physical disorders, age, race, membership in a sibling group, a history of abuse, or other factors contribute to a lengthy stay in foster care. Guidelines for classifying a child as special needs vary by State. Common special needs conditions and diagnoses include: serious medical conditions; emotional and behavioral disorders; history of abuse or neglect; medical or genetic risk due to familial mental illness or parental substance abuse.

It is important to use appropriate language for adoption. Language is powerful and fosters understanding. When discussing adoption identifying members of the adoption triad is appropriate, however outside the context of adoption, consider language that fosters inclusion rather than alienation.

Don’t Use Use
Putting up for adoption Adoption placement
Given up, given away Joined the family
Adopted child Person who is adopted
Keeping Parenting
Real or natural parent Birth parent
Own child, real child Child
Adoptive parent Parent