Glossary of Adoption Terms

When embarking on the adoption process, it may help to understand the terminology that is used. The following list includes definitions for many of the commonly used adoption words and phrases.
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 in the state in which it operates that prepares adoptive parents, counsels birth parents, performs home studies, completes paperwork, places children in homes, and performs other adoption-related functions.
Adoption agreement. The agreement in which the adoptive parent(s) and birth parent(s) set forth their understanding as to the degree of communication and contact they will have.
Adoption plan. The birth parents’ decision to allow their biological child to be adopted into and grow up in an adoptive family.
Adoption attorney. A lawyer experienced in working with birth parents and adoptive parents to match them, counsel them, prepare all necessary legal documents, represent them in court, and perform other adoption-related functions.
Adoption triangle or adoption triad. An expression for the three-sided inter-relationships among adoptees, their birth parents, and their adoptive parents.
Adoptive parent. The mother or father of an adopted child.
Apostille. A certification from the Secretary of State’s office verifying the authenticity of a document’s notarization.
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, exchange identifying information, or 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 in that country’s legal system.
Facilitator. A person, such as a lawyer, or an 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. The United States is moving toward ratifying the Convention.
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, all of which is summarized in an adoption study or home study report.
Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). 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.
Independent adoption. An adoption arranged privately, without an adoption agency, between the birth family and the adoptive family, often with the assistance of a lawyer.
Intercountry 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.
Waiting child. A child currently available for adoption. Waiting children may be in the U.S. foster care system, be older, or be special needs children.
This publication and the information included in it are not intended to serve as a substitute for consultation with an attorney. Specific legal issues, concerns and conditions always require the advice of appropriate legal professionals.