Over the years, there has been an increasing sensitivity to the impact of adoption definitions and of negative words surrounding adoption. Often reflecting stereotypes, an adoption definition can be misunderstood and prove to be hurtful. Terms such as impulsive, unthinking and self-centered can lead to birth parents feeling sad, tossed aside and forgotten. Bastard, unwanted, given away and second best can make adoptees feel worthless, shameful and angry while infertile and the second parent can make adoptive parents feel unworthy, sad, angry and frustrated.

Positive Adoption Language is the movement to use words that sensitively recognizes everyone's part in an adoption. It is important to recognize the power of an adoption definition and the following adoption definitions reflect this current trend.

Adoption Definition

The process by which a legal and permanent parent-child relationship is created through a court process.

Domestic Adoption

An adoption completed within the United States that legalizes the relationship between a parent and child. Typically, both parent and child are United States citizens. On occasion, a child may come to the US with guardianship being granted to the intended parent by a foreign adoption body. In these cases, the adoption is finalized in a US court.

International or Intercountry Adoption

An adoption involving 2 countries (the receiving country and the sending country) whereby adults are legally given the right and responsibility to parent a child thru a legal adoption process. The adoption regulations and process of both countries must be followed.

Private Adoption

Also known as an independent adoption – it occurs when adoptive parent(s) are adopting a known child, where the birth parents are consenting to the adoption. Some private adoptions are handled by attorneys, and some by private adoption agencies. The court process for a private adoption varies from state to state.

Agency Adoption

Agencies are state licensed to perform the services necessary to facilitate an adoption in the best interest of the child. Agencies can be not-for-profit or for-profit. It is important to know if your state allows you to work with a for-profit agency prior to starting an adoption. In addition, you should clarify which of the many adoption services are provided directly by the agency, and which you may need to obtain and pay for separately.

Foster Care Adoption

The adoption of children in the custody of a state’s social services.

Kinship Adoption

Adoption of a child by a family member.

Adoption Symbol

Adoption Symbol
The adoption symbol represents the 3 sides of every adoption and the love that binds them together. The Birth Family, the Adoptive Family and the Adoptee each make up one side of the triangle. The heart intertwining each side of the triangle represents the love involved in an adoption.

Adoption Attorney

A person licensed as an attorney, who specializes in the field of adoption. Sub-specialties may include foster care, private adoption or international adoption.

Adoption Social Worker

A person licensed as a social worker who performs counseling, homestudy, post placement and referral services with birth parents, adoptive parents and adoptees. Some social workers also have administrative responsibilities.

Adoption Physician

A medical doctor who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of adoption related medical issues.


An unlicensed person who arranges the match of adoptive and birth parents. State laws regulates where, what services may be performed and what fees may be charged by a facilitator.


The process by which birth parents who are looking for adopting parents and families looking to adopt are introduced for the purpose of adoption. Adoptive parents should be approved to adopt and birth parents should be making the choice to place their child for adoption. During the matching process and subsequent contact, the conditions under which the adoption would take place are discussed and agreed upon with the help of an adoption attorney or adoption agency personnel.

Birth Parent

Referred to as the “natural” parent in court proceedings, and first parent or biological parent by others, the terms refer to the person(s) who conceived the child. The birth parent(s) relinquish their parental rights and consent to the adoption, or their rights will be terminated by a court in the best interest of the child.

Adoptive Parent

The person, who after finalization of the adoption, assumes the responsibilities associated with being a legal parent. This includes providing for a child’s medical, social, recreational, academic and emotional needs.

Adoptee, Adopted Person or Person Who Was Adopted

Anyone who joined a family through a legal adoption process.

Adoption Homestudy

A narrative report written by a social worker or adoption agency. The homestudy process includes interviews with all household members and a home visit. The adoptive parent(s) suitability to adopt includes an assessment of their medical, emotional and financial stability. There are also child abuse and criminal clearances, medical reports and educational training in adoptive parenting. State requirements vary. Federal requirements must be met for an international adoption. Prospective adoptive parent(s) must be approved through the homestudy process prior to taking custody of a child.

Post Placement/Adoption Reporting

Narrative reports written after a child is in the home. Post Placement reports are inducted prior to the finalization of the adoption. Post Adoption Reporting done after the finalization of the adoption, typically in an international adoption. These reports include interviews with all household members and home visits. They assess the child and family’s adjustment. The frequency and duration of visits is dependent upon the type of adoption and who has jurisdiction over the adoption.

Parent Profiles

Also called Birth Parent Profiles or Birth Parent Letters. Written by the adoptive parent(s) this is their opportunity to share who they are and the life they will provide for a child. Photographs of the family, home and community are included. These profiles are shared with Birth Parents who are looking to find a family for their child.

State Requirements

Varying from state to state, the requirements include birth parent rights, who may adopt, who may be adopted, the legal process, allowable expenses, who has access to adoption records and more.

Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC)

There is an ICPC office in each state. For a child to be moved from the state in which they were born (the sending state), into the state in which the adoptive parent(s) reside (the receiving state), the ICPC must give approval. Paper work is submitted by the sending state to the receiving state. Once both approve the placement, the child may return home with the adoptive parent(s).

Intercountry Adoption

An adoption that involves the child immigrating from one country to another. Children must meet the definition of an orphan and adoptive parent(s) must be pre-approved to adopt. In the United States these requirements are set by the Department of Homeland Security – US Citizenship and Immigration Service.

The Hague Treaty

An intercountry agreement including adoption procedures based on the best interest of children. The treaty was created to prevent the abduction, exploitation, sale, or trafficking of children.

The Universal Accreditation Act (UAA)

The Intercountry Adoption Universal Accreditation Act of 2012 (UAA) was signed by President Obama in January 2013 and goes into effect July 14, 2014. Created to safeguard children, birth parents and adoptive parents, the UAA extends the procedures provided by The Hague Adoption Convention and the immigration and Naturalization Act, to adoptions from non-Hague countries. countries. An Adoption Service Provider must oversee every adoption.

Federal Requirements

There are federal laws and regulations which apply to adoptions within the United States, as well as adoptions involving the immigration of a child.

The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 requires child abuse and criminal background checks for all prospective adoptive and foster parents.

The Multiethnic Placement Act of 1994 requires adoption and foster care agencies and practitioners to consider race, color, and national origin when planning for a child’s care and placement.

The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) requires adoption practitioners and courts to consider a child’s heritage in planning placement

The Hague Convention and Universal Accreditation Act (UAA) regulated who may be adopted and requires an accredited or approved provider to oversee the adoption process.

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)/the National Benefits Center (NBC)

Part of the Department of Homeland Security, USCIS/NBC provides regulations and procedures for international adoption. They determine eligibility and suitability of prospective adoptive parents and the eligibility of a child to immigrate to the United States.

Adoption Plan

In every adoption the birth parents, or whoever has custody of the child (an individual or entity) make an individual adoption plan, in the best interest of the child.

Adoption Birth Plan

Birth parents are encouraged to think though labor, delivery and transfer of custody. Working with their legal or social work representative, the plan may include but is not limited to how they will get to the hospital, who they will call, if the prospective adoptive parents will be at the hospital, who will be in the delivery room, and more.

Surrender or Relinquishment

The act of and legal document signed and executed by the birth parent(s) which transfers the custody of the child directly to adoptive parent(s) or an adoption agency who then places the child with an adoptive family.

Post Adoption Contract Agreement

These agreements are between birth parents, birth relatives, adoptive parents and an adoptee if 14 years or older. They outline agreed upon contact for after the adoption has been granted. The agreement can be enforced by the local Family Court.

Revocation of Consent

The act of the birth parents requesting the reversal of the signed consent for the adoption and the return of the child to their custody.


The time of and act of the child being placed into the care of the adoptive parent(s).


A court process, usually requiring the presence of the adoptive parent(s) and child, whereby the adoptee becomes the legal child of the adoptive parent(s).

Gotcha Day

Many adoptive families celebrate "Gotcha Day", which for some commemorates the day the adoptive parents and adopted child first met and for others commemorates the day a child's adoption is finalized. In an effort to introduce more positive adoption language, many families now choose to refer to this day as "Family Day" or "Adoption Day."

Birth Certificate

Issued at the time of birth, this document contains the parent(s) names, child’s name and birth information. Upon the finalization of the adoption, a new birth certificate is issued reflecting the names of the adoptive parent(s) and any change to the child’s name. In many states, the original birth certificate is sealed in the adoption record and remains unavailable to the adoptee.

Adoption Decree or Adoption Order

The legal document issued at the time of finalization stating the legal relationship between the adoptee and adoptive parent(s) is the same as any parent/child relationship.

Open Adoption

There are varying amounts of contact that may take place before, during and after an adoption placement. A fully open adoption will include ongoing contact between birth and adoptive parents, and the child. A semi open adoption includes ongoing contact of the birth and adoptive families, typically through a third party. Where birth and adoptive parents share information during the pregnancy and adoption process, but not after custody, can also be referred to as an open adoption. It is important to clarify with agencies and attorneys if there are state guidelines regarding the degree of openness that can or may be established between birth and adoptive families.

Closed Adoption

Also called a Confidential Adoption, there is no contact between the birth and adoptive parent(s). Information is shared by a third party, often an adoption agency. State regulation details if a facilitator or attorney may act in this capacity.

Adoption Disruption

The stopping of an adoption process after the child has been placed with the adoptive parent(s) but prior to the finalization of the adoption.

Adoption Dissolution

The voiding of an adoption by the court after legal finalization. Most dissolutions are based on the adoptive family feeling they cannot meet the needs of the child.

Sealed and Open Adoption Records

State regulations, determine the status of adoption records. Sealed at the time of the adoption finalization, in the majority of states, information may not be released from the adoption record without a court order.

Adoption Disclosure

Based on state regulations, the sharing of information regarding the adoption and birth family. In some states only non-identifying information may be provided directly to the adoptee.

Adoption Search

Any actions taken by birth parents, adoptees or other family members to locate one another. There are also professionals who can assist with the search.

Adoption Reunion

The reconnection or meeting of adoptive and birth families. It may be just the birth parents and adoptee, or include extended family members on either/both sides.

Wrongful Adoption

The term used when full disclosure of information about a child was not made available to the adoptive parent(s). The deliberate or unintentional actions of another person must have caused medical, emotional or financial damages. Wrongful adoption cases are heard in the civil court because they involve financial compensation. Wrongful adoption cases are usually started by the adoptive parents.

Employee Adoption Benefits

Usually parental time granted to an employee after the arrival of a child and sometimes financial compensation to offset adoption costs that are part of a company’s employee benefit package.

Adoption Tax Credit

For international, domestic private, and public foster care, but not stepparent adoption. Specific expenses may be claimed and there are income limits. For the current status of the tax credit, see here and here.

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