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Adoption Terms

Adoptee - any person who has been adopted.

Adoption - legal process where parental rights are transferred from birth parents to adoptive parents.

Adoption Agency - organization placing children in homes, under the jurisdiction of state or licensing laws.

Adoption Attorney - lawyers who arrange adoptive placements and specialize in adoption.

Adoption Facilitator - unlicensed organizations or individuals offering adoption services, which is illegal in 20 states.

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 Triad/Triangle - the 3 parties involved in an adoption- adoptee, adoptive parents and birth parents.

Adoptive Parent - person(s) who legally assume parental rights/responsibilities for adopted child.

Agency Placement
- completion of an adoption.

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


Bi-Racial - refers to a child that has heritage of 2 races, usually African-American and another race.

Biological Child - the child of parents by birth.

Birth Certificate - (original) legal document issued at time of birth with the child's biological history including the identity of one or both biological parents.

Birth Certificate - (amended) legal document after the adoption is finalized, replacing the original birth certificate, as indicated by the court in the adoption decree, with the adoptive parents' names replacing the birth parents' names.

Birth Father
- biological father of a child that is adopted or planning to be adopted.

Birth Mother - biological mother of a child that is adopted or planning to be adopted.

Black Market
- adoption performed outside the law, often referred to as the illegal buying and selling of children.


Closed Adoption - adoption in which confidentiality of both adoptive parents and birth parents are protected under the law, the courts seal all records.

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 his adoptive parents and his birth parents who participate in decisions affecting his life.

Custody - authority by a person or guardian embodying all of the rights and responsibilities:

  1. right to have physical possession of a child.
  2. right and duty to protect, train and discipline a child.
  3. responsibility to provide a child with food, shelter, medical care, etc. along with the authority to consent to surgery or other medical care in the event of an emergency.

Developmental Disability - any handicapping condition related to delays in maturation of or difficulties with skills or intellect.

Disruption - an adoption or potential adoption that fails before finalization.

Dossier - the collection of paperwork used in an international adoption that has been properly authenticated and translated.


Final Adoption Decree - legal document issued by the court that completes the adoption

Finalization - court action that grants permanent legal custody of a child to the adoptive parents.

Foster Adoption Placement - foster placement of a child, with adoption being the final goal, once all legal requirements have been met. The couple must be certified as suitable to adopt with their home licensed as a foster home. (there is no assurance that placement will evolve into adoption)

Foster Care
- substitute parental care for a short, extended or permanent period of time for a child whose biological parents cannot provide proper care.

Foster Child - child who is placed with a state-licensed family or in a group-care facility because their biological parents cannot provide proper care.

Foster Parent - state-licensed adult who is paid or volunteers to take care of children, but is not related by blood, marriage or adoption.


Home Study - a study of the home of prospective adoptive parents, normally completed prior to placement of a child in their home. It validates suitability to adopt for the courts. (a negative home study evaluation, while rare, usually means the adoption will not be authorized)


Independent Adoption - an adoption arranged privately by a non-licensed third party (i.e., doctor or lawyer) or between the birth family and adoptive parents. There are 3 basic types:

  1. Intermediary Placement - adoption arranged by an intermediary. (i.e., doctor or lawyer)
  2. Direct Placement - adoption arranged between birth parents and known adoptive parents.
  3. Relative Placement - adoption by someone related to the child by birth or marriage (most commonly involves a stepparent who legally adopts spouse's child)

Indian Child Welfare Act - Federal Act designed to protect the interest of Indian children and tribes.

Infertility - the inability to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term.

International Adoption - adoption of a child born outside of the United States.

Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children - the legal compact between states that allows for the placement of children for adoption across state lines.


Legal Guardian - any person who can make legal decisions for a minor child.

Legal Risk Adoption - an adoption proceeding that is started even though the prospective adoptive family cannot be guaranteed that the child is eligible for adoption because:

  1. biological parents' desire to continue to parent, or
  2. pending legal action contesting the validity of a surrender or the legal authority of a court order involuntarily terminating parental rights.

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

Multi-Racial - refers to a child that has heritage of 2 or more races.



Non-Identifying Information - the medical and social history along with other information exchanged between birth parents and adoptive parents without using names, addresses or other identifying information of both parties.

Non-Sectarian Agencies - any agency that does not have any religious requirements for its clients.

Open Adoption - usually, an adoption where birth parents and adoptive parents meet, names and addresses may be exchanged and communication may continue indefinitely.

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


Petition - written request to the court for legal custody, guardianship and/or adoption of a child.

Post-Placement Visits - investigation and interviews with an adoptive family once a child has been placed with them.

Private Adoption Agencies
- non-governmental agencies licensed by the state to provide adoption services, primarily dealing with infant adoptions.

Public Adoption Agencies
- governmental adoption agency or social services department providing adoption services, primarily dealing with older 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.


Re-Adoption - process by where international adoptive parents adopt their children for a second time in front of a U.S. judge.

Relinquishment - legal act by which birth parents consent to an adoption and give up all legal rights to a child so an adoption can take place.

Revoke - take back consent to an adoption. Some states offer no time for revocation while other states place a time limit.


Semi-Open (Closed) Adoption - adoption where adoptive family and birth parents may talk, meet, and have correspondence after the adoption, but no identifying information is exchanged.

Social Worker - person who completes home studies, works with birth parents and adoptive families in adoption situations.

Special Needs - a child with a physical handicap, mental handicap, or illness often times considered hard-to-place.


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).