Glossary of Adoption Terms

When beginning the adoption process, it may help to understand some of the terminology that is frequently used. The following list includes definitions for many common words and phrases related to adoption.

Adoption. A legally recognized process that creates a parent-child relationship between individuals who are not biologically related to each other.

Adoption agency. An agency licensed by the state to prepare adoptive parents, counsel birth parents, perform home studies, complete paperwork, place children in homes, and perform other adoption-related functions.

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 will have with each other and with the adopted child.

Adoption plan. The birth parent(s)’s decision to allow a biological child to be adopted into an adoptive family.

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.

Adoptive parent. The mother or father of an adopted child.

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

Birth parent. A mother or father who is genetically related to the child.

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 or closed adoption. An adoption in which the birth parent(s) and the adoptive parent(s) do not meet, do not exchange identifying information, and do not maintain contact with each other.

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

Domestic adoption. The adoption of a child born in the United States.

Dossier. 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.

Facilitator. A person or organization that arranges domestic and/or international adoptions.

Finalization. The legal process by which the adoption becomes permanent and binding.

Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. A multinational agreement designed to promote the uniformity and efficiency of international adoptions.

Home study. A study of the prospective adoptive family and their home, life experiences, health, lifestyle, extended family, attitudes, support system, values, beliefs, and other factors relating to the prospective adoption. This information is summarized in an adoption study or home study report.

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.

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.

Open adoption or cooperative adoption. An adoption in which the birth parents and adoptive parents have contact with each other before and/or after the placement of the adopted child.

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

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

Termination of parental rights. 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.

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 U.S. citizenship to children adopted from other countries.

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.


Adoption Dictionary

Adoption and LegalTerms related to child welfare and the adoption process

Glossary of Terms

A person who joins a family via adoption.

Adoption Agency
An organization that is licensed to prepare families to adopt children and to do all the necessary legal, administrative and social work to insure that adoptions are efficiently handled and are in the best interests of the children.

Adoption Assistance Programs (AAP)
Federally funded state administered subsidy program for special needs children who might otherwise remain in long term foster care.

Adoption Service Provider (ASP)
A licensed agency or individual who is State certified to assist birth parents and adoptive parents with the placement of a child in an Independent Adoption.

Adoptive Parent
A person or persons who become the permanent parents with all the social, legal rights and responsibilities incumbent upon any parent.

Agency Adoption
Adoption that is facilitated by a State Licensed Agency that provides counseling to birthparents, home studies to prospective adoptive parents, relinquishment services and post-placement programs for triad members. These Agencies may also provide Intercountry and Special Needs adoption services.

Birth Parent
The parents who gave birth to a child, made an adoption plan for the child and subsequently relinquished the child for adoption.

Closed Adoption
An adoption where there is no contact between birth parents and adoptive parents. Also called traditional adoption.

Legal process through which a birth parent voluntarily agrees to make an adoption plan for their child with a specific family through an Independent Adoption.

Designated/ldentified Adoptions
Process in which birthparents choose the individual or couple who will adopt their child and designates the placement of the child while still having the benefits of an agency assisted adoption.

Home Study
A process whereby an individual or couple undergo a study by a licensed public or private agency to assure the well-being of the child in the home and the readiness of the family to adopt.

Interstate Compact for Placement of Children which monitors the movement of foster and adoptive children from state to state.

Independent Adoption
An adoption that is arranged by the birth parent with an identified family; frequently facilitated by an attorney.

International Adoption
Any adoption occurring when the child and the adoptive parents are from two different countries. Extra legal work through immigration services must be done to authorize an international adoption.

Open Adoption
An adoption which allows for some form of association between the birth parents, adoptees, and adoptive parents. This can range from picture and letter sharing, to phone calls, to contact through an intermediary, to open contact between the parties themselves. Also known as "cooperative adoption."

Open Records
Accessibility to own adoption records by each member of the triad. This includes access to identifying information.

Private Agency Adoption
An adoption handled by a private, licensed agency. A private agency is not government-sponsored, but must meet state requirements to obtain and keep its licensed status. The agency will provide services to birth families, adoptive families and children.

Legal process by which birth parents voluntarily terminate their parental rights in order to free their child for adoption through a licensed agency.

Special Needs Child
Refers to children who are physically, developmentally or emotional disabled, a sibling group and all others who might remain in foster care should no adoptive family be available.

Surrender of Parental Rights
The birth parents of a child voluntarily (of their own desire and choice) make an adoption plan for a child and relinquish their legal rights to the child.