This glossary covers common terms used in domestic and international adoption, with the exception of those referring to the various special needs, disabilities and disorders.
Included are usage notes and commentaries from the Canadian perspective. The usage notes are intended as a guide to the correct use of adoption language, while recognizing that usage does change over time.
- Person who was adopted. Frequently refers to an adopted person
who is now an adult.
- Legal transfer of parental rights and obligations from birth
parent(s) to adoptive parent(s). The adoptive
the legal parents of the child. It's a permanent, legally-binding arrangement
which a child or teenager becomes a member of a new family. In Canada adoption
falls under provincial jurisdiction. Usage: You can join a family
through birth or adoption. Adoption is a way of arriving in a family, not
condition or a disability. Say "Maria was adopted", not "Maria is adopted." Journalists should refer to the fact of having been adopted only when relevant to the story.
- Person who legally assumes the rights and obligations
of parenting an adopted child. The adoptive parent becomes the permanent parent
through adoption, with all the social and legal rights and responsibilities
of any parent. Usage: It is preferable to use "adoptive" parent only when
needed to distinguish between birth parent and adoptive parents. A standalone
reference, for example in a news story ("Sean's adoptive father ... "), should
not refer to "adoptive parent" or "adopted child" unless relevant to the
story, to distinguish between two sets of parents.
- Approved adoption practitioner.
- See Practitioner
- Assistance, adoption.
- See Subsidy.
- Authority, adoption.
- See Hague Convention.
- (1) A government benefit to help people to adopt
children or to raise them. The benefit may take the form of paid leave from
work, payment (see Subsidy), medical help and post-adoption
(2) A company benefit, such as a payment made to an employee through an employer-sponsored
program to help pay for adoption expenses. The company may also grant paid
or unpaid leave.
- Birth family.
- The birth family is composed of those sharing a child's
genetic heritage. See also birth mother.
Birth mother / father / parent.
- The birth (or biological) mother is
the woman giving birth to a child who is subsequently placed for adoption.
Usage (1): Avoid the terms "real" or "natural" mother; these
imply the existence of an "unreal" or "unnatural" mother. Similarly, prefer "birth
father" and "birth parents", not "natural father" or "natural parents".
However, some advocates promote the terms "natural mother" (Canadian Council
of Natural Mothers) or "first mother".
Usage (2): Writers need to be careful when referring
to a pregnant woman or a mother as a "birth mother". Strictly speaking,
she becomes a birth mother only after her child is placed for adoption.
Certificate / decree / order (adoption) .
- At the end of the finalization process,
the court issues a document stating the adoptee is the legal
child of the adoptive parents.
- Child profile.
- Document written by a child's caseworker to provide
a prospective adoptive family with comprehensive information about the child,
family history; medical, psychological and educational assessments; history
of previous placements; and daily routines.
- Children's aid society (CAS).
- In Ontario, a public child welfare agency
funded by government and responsible for protecting Ontario children, finding foster homes,
and finding permanent families for children in its care who are available for
adoption. There are 52 in Ontario, licensed and funded by the Ministry
of Children and Youth Services. Also called Family and Children's Services
- Circle / constellation.
- See Triad.
- See Openness.
- Concurrent planning.
- In social work, making plans to reunify a child
with the birth family, while at the same time making a back-up plan for permanency.
One back-up plan would be to place the child in the home of a foster family
or family member who could become the child's adoptive family if the birth
fail to regain custody. Another is to start recruiting for an adoptive family
before the child is legally free. The aim is to reduce the time
a child spends in foster care before being placed with a permanent family.
- Custom adoption.
- Form of adoption specific to aboriginal peoples, taking
place within the aboriginal community and recognizing traditional customs.
adoption". Commentary: In Alberta (e.g. Yellowhead Tribal Services),
bands place native children with families on the reserve, using custom adoption
which recognize traditional practices, while also conforming with provincial
law. In the Canadian north, strong traditions of custom adoption have helped
Inuit keep their children in their communities. Aboriginal custom adoption
has been recognized in the Northwest Territories since 1995. NWT uses the
Adoption is a privately arranged adoption between two aboriginal families. There
are no social workers or lawyers involved in a custom adoption." Such an
adoption is legal if an Adoption Commissioner, chosen by the community, says
done in the traditional way, following aboriginal custom. In Nunavut, the
Department of Health and Social Services oversees custom adoptions.
- Custom care.
- Form of kinship care specific to aboriginal
communities. In custom (or customary) care, native children are cared for by
relatives, members of their tribe or clan, stepparents, godparents or any adult
with a kinship bond. The child maintains a connection with extended family
and community, when not able to live at home.
- In the field of adoption search and reunion, the release
from government files of previously confidential or unshared information, such
as identifying information. A disclosure veto is a notice
held on file which blocks release of identifying information.
In some jurisdictions, adult adoptees and birth parents who want to preserve
privacy can file a disclosure veto with a reunion
- Failure of an adoption before finalization, through
a decision of the birth parents, adoptive parents or agency. The child
leaves the prospective adoptive home and returns to foster care or goes to
adoptive parent. Also, "failed placement". In foster care, a change in foster
home. "Provincially, Crown Wards in foster care experienced a placement disruption
on average once every 23.4 months." --OACAS Journal, Spring 2004.
- Failure of an adoption after finalization, through
a decision of the adoptive parents or the courts. The child leaves the
adoptive home and returns to foster care or goes to another adoptive parent.
- Domestic adoption.
- Adoption of a child living in the same country
as the adoptive parent(s).
- (1) An event bringing together public adoption
agencies and people seeking to adopt, e.g. Ontario's twice-yearly Adoption
Resource Exchange. Prospective parents can meet adoption workers and learn
about children waiting to be adopted.
(2) In the U.S., an organization recruiting families to adopt children.
Exchanges are usually state or regional, and supply information (by web,
print, radio and TV) to help match people wishing to adopt with children
adoption within a state or region.
Failed adoption / failed placement.
- See Disruption and Dissolution.
The final legal step in the adoption process: at
a court hearing an adoptive parent(s) becomes a child's legal parent(s).
- Financial aid.
See Benefit and Subsidy.
- Follow-up report.
- See Report.
- Temporary parental care by non-relatives. The
arrangement could be informal but is usually formalized through a public child
welfare agency. The agency takes legal custody of children who are unable to
live at home because their parents were deemed abusive, neglectful or otherwise
unable to care for them. (Some foster children are voluntarily placed in agency
care while others are in foster care by court order.) The agency screens, trains,
licenses and pays foster parents who will provide a caring temporary home.
The agency usually aims to reunify the child with her family, but otherwise
consider adoption for her. Commentary: Care by foster parents is not
supposed to be permanent (unlike adoption), but children can end up spending
the foster care system. A young person reaching 18 (and so no longer eligible
for adoption) is said to "age out" of the system. In Ontario, foster care
is the responsibility of children's aid societies.
Foster-adoption / fost-adopt / fostering with a view to adoption.
foster placement intended
to result in adoption. The child welfare agency places a child in a foster home,
expecting that the foster parents will adopt the child if and when she becomes legally
free for adoption (when parental rights are terminated). Commentary: One
advantage of such a placement is that it spares the child a move to another
foster family or to an adoptive family.
- A guardian is a person who is legally responsible for
a child. In kinship care, guardianship may serve as an alternative
to adoption, when the child's relative assumes a parental role but prefers
not to adopt. Guardianship is subject to ongoing supervision by the court and
by court order or when the child reaches the age of majority.
- The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption,
inaugurated in 1993, is an international treaty setting the framework for
the adoption of children between countries. The aim is to protect the best
of adopted children and prevent abuses such as trafficking in children. The
Convention standardizes procedures between the adoption authority in the
child's country of origin and the corresponding authority in the receiving
Each country which has ratified the Convention designates a central authority
to regulate requests for intercountry adoption and accredit adoption agencies.
In Canada each province has its own central authority: the provincial ministry
responsible for adoption.
- Hard-to-place children.
- Some children are harder to place for adoption,
for reasons such as special needs, age, race and being in a sibling
- Home study.
- Professional assessment of a prospective parent's
suitability to adopt. A social worker conducts interviews to assess reasons
for wanting to adopt, preferences in types of children, and strengths and
skills in parenting. The process includes education about adoption and parenting
The home study document summarizes the applicant's family life, education,
employment, personality, marital history and medical history. The social
worker states what type of child the applicant is approved to adopt. The home
must be updated annually. Public agencies provide home studies
at no cost.
- Information which reveals a person's identity,
such as last name, address, phone number and detailed family history. In the
field of adoption search and reunion, information allowing a triad member
to be identified and located. Commentary: When families are recruited
for a child available for adoption, identifying information about the child
is typically kept private. Families initially get non-identifying information
a general nature which does not reveal identity, such as physical descriptions
and medical history.
- International (intercountry) adoption.
- Adoption of a child living
in a different country from the adoptive parent(s).
- Adoption of a child by a grandparent, aunt,
uncle, other member of the extended family, godparent or someone considered
kin. In kinship adoption, as opposed to kinship care, the child is adopted
legally. See also custom adoption and relative
of providing children with care by
relatives or extended
family. Also called relative placement.
The arrangement may be informal; a formal foster care placement;
or a pre-adoption placement. The court may award relatives custody,
In a formal foster care placement, the relative may receive the same benefits and
supports as other foster care parents. See also custom
- Government benefit by which workers get paid leave
from work when adopting. Under Canada's Employment Insurance program, women
birth are due 15 weeks of maternity leave and 35 weeks of parental leave. Adoptive
parents get only 35 weeks of parental leave.
- A child is legally free for adoption when the birthparents'
parental rights have been terminated in a court of law. See Relinquishment.
agency to whom the provincial adoption ministry has granted a licence
to place children for adoption in the province, and to manage the adoption
process during the probation period. Commentary:
The process of licensing is governed by provincial regulations. Ontario
is the only province
allowing individuals to be licensed, and uses the term "licensee" to
mean either a licensed person or a licensed agency. See also Practitioner
- Life book.
- Scrapbook, journal or photo album chronicling a child's
life story, created by social workers, birth, foster or adoptive parents, or
when she is older. It may contain pictures, writing and souvenirs. Commentary: A
life book helps a child make sense of her unique history. It also provides
a way to share parts of a child's life not spent with the current family. It
serve as a therapeutic tool to help in identity formation and the understanding
- Process of finding a prospective family suited to the needs
of a waiting child. Usage: A match may refer to a family
that a child's worker is strongly considering, or to a family that the family's
worker is suggesting to the child's worker. Not to be confused with placement. Commentary: In
international adoption, the method of matching varies by country. Some countries
select a child for you and send your agency a proposal. Some
have a central registry you choose from.
- Maternity leave.
- See Leave.
- See Identifying information.
Open adoption agreement.
- See Openness.
- In the field of adoption search and reunion, records
in government files, such as an original birth certificate and adoption papers,
which are open for the inspection of triad members. Conversely,
sealed records deny adoptees access to their adoption files (which would identify
birth family members). Commentary: Information in open records cannot
be kept private by a disclosure veto. The trend in progressive
jurisdictions is to give triad members the right to access adoption records.
- Openness in adoption.
- Birth parents and adoptive parents often
agree to have an open adoption, with ongoing contact between their families.
Their open adoption agreement may be verbal or written, but it is not legally
binding. It spells out how much contact, perhaps specifying the frequency
and manner of contact between adoptive and birth families, or between siblings
placed separately. The families could exchange letters and photos, either
or through an agency, or schedule phone calls and visits.
(1) In an open adoption, the families exchange names and addresses,
have a full and ongoing relationship.
(2) In a semi-open adoption, the families exchange non-identifying information,
such as messages and photos, through an intermediary. They don't know each
other's last names or addresses.
(3) In a closed adoption, confidentiality is the rule. The families
do not share identifying information and have no contact. The
adoptive family usually receives non-identifying information about the child
and the birth family before placement. After finalization, records
are sealed and unavailable to the adoptee. Commentary: The
legacy of closed adoptions, which were common in the past, is that adoptees
and birth parents are unable to locate each other later in life, to exchange
information or to renew connections. See Search and
- See Leave.
- See Relinquishment.
- Arrangement which assures lasting care and parenting
of a child and eliminates the need for further moves. In permanency planning,
systematic efforts are made to find a child a safe and nurturing family
setting expected to last a lifetime. Some options are: adoption,
reunification with the birth family and guardianship.
- List of children available for adoption, usually
through public child welfare agencies, including photos and descriptions.
It may be printed in a book or newspaper, shown on TV or posted at a web
site. Commentary: Photolistings
are used to recruit adoptive parents for specific children. Photolistings
respect the privacy of the child by not using last names, restricting the
the descriptions and arranging contact through an intermediary -- the social
worker handling the child's file. Web sites may also require visitors to
register for a password before viewing the list. Some Canadian provinces,
and most U.S.
states, have photolisting services online. The Adoption Council of Canada's
photolistings are at www.canadaswaitingkids.ca.
- Act of physically placing a child in a foster or
prospective adoptive home.
Usage: "Placement" also covers the state of being placed in a home,
e.g. "The social worker supervised the placement." In adoption, "post-placement" usually
refers to the period after placement and before finalization.
- Plan, adoption.
- (1) The birth parents' plan to allow their
child to be placed for adoption. Usage: "Birthparents make an adoption plan
for a child and subsequently place the child for adoption." Avoid the negative
phrases "give up a baby" and "put up for adoption."
(2) The plan or agreement which birth parents and adoptive parents make together
regarding contact between their families, e.g. semi-open or open adoption. See Openness.
- Post-adoption report.
- See Report.
- Post-adoption services.
- Services provided after adoption finalization.
Service may be provided to both birth and adoptive families, and adoptees,
by a public agency, private therapist or community organization. Services may
of providing subsidies, respite care, counselling,
day care, medical equipment, support groups and peer support programs such
as an adopted teens group.
- Practitioner, approved adoption.
- In Ontario, a professional,
usually a social worker, with experience in adoption or child welfare, whom
the provincial ministry responsible for adoption has approved to conduct home
studies and supervise placements in prospective adoptive
- Private adoption.
An adoption arranged by a privately-funded, licensed adoption agency.
See also Private agency. Commentary:
Most provinces allow private adoption. All private adoption is regulated
by the provincial ministry responsible
for adoptions. Ministries license individuals and agencies to place
children privately, approve the social workers to conduct homestudies
and monitor the performance of licensees and social workers. In some
provinces, such as British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario, agencies
are licensed to place children not only in the province (domestic adoption),
but also into the province from abroad (international adoption)
In the U.S., private adoptions, also called independent adoptions, are
arranged through a facilitator such as a lawyer, rather than through
a licensed adoption agency. In contrast, an agency adoption is arranged
through a public or private adoption agency.
- Private agency.
- Non-government adoption agency licensed by the
province the agency operates in. Private agencies charge fees for their services.
- Probation period.
- Time between placement of
a child with the adoptive family and finalization, when the
adoption is legalized in court. It varies by province but is at least six
applies to both domestic adoptions and international adoptions not finalized
abroad. During the probation (or probationary) period, the licensee monitors
the adoptive family and adopted child. See Supervision.
- See Report.
- Document giving you information on a specific child you might
adopt, such as background, family history and any special needs. Commentary: In
international adoption, the foreign authority sends your adoption agency a
file on the child matched to you. This proposal may contain a
child's description, photograph or video, medical history and information about
needs, social environment and family history. You accept or reject the proposal.
- (1) An adoption arranged through a provincial ministry
or agency funded by government. See also Public
(2) In the U.S., public adoptions are arranged through a public child welfare
agency, such as the Department of Social Services, or a private child welfare
agency, such as Lutheran Children's Services.
- Public agency.
- Government-funded adoption agency, usually providing
services at no cost, e.g. Children's aid society. Public agencies
are responsible for placing with adoptive families the waiting children in
- Legal adoption of a child by a biological relative,
such as a grandparent, uncle or cousin.
- Relative placement.
- See Kinship care.
- Voluntary surrender by a birthparent of legal
rights to parent a child. It's a legally binding process involving the signing
of documents and court action. If birth parents don't voluntarily surrender
their rights, the court may act to terminate those rights. Usage: "Relinquish" is
not a preferred term for placing a child for adoption. Better is "birthparents
choose adoption" or "make an adoption plan" for their child.
- Report, follow-up / post-adoption / progress.
- A follow-up or
post-adoption report details how an adopted child is doing in her new home
in the period after finalization. A progress report tells how
a child is adjusting in an adoptive home in the period before finalization.
In international adoption, some countries require one or more follow-up reports
after you return home. Countries want to know that their children are doing
well with their new families. Your adoption agency submits the post-adoption
reports to the adoption authority abroad.
care provided for a child in order
to give birth,
foster or adoptive parents
- Reunion registry.
- In the field of adoption search
and reunion, a service allowing adult members of the adoption triad wishing
to learn about birth relatives to register personal data and ask to be notified
if other parties in that adoption also register.
- See Search and reunion.
- See Open records.
- Search and reunion.
- "Search" is a process whereby either a birth
parent or an adoptee seeks information about, or contact
with, the other. The search process may also involve adoptive parents, volunteers
and paid consultants. One result of a search is a "reunion", when adoptee
and birth parent (or other birth relatives) meet. Commentary: When adoptions
are closed (see Openness), adoptees and birth parents
cannot find each other later in life. It's not unusual for an adopted child
for his birth parents when he becomes an older adolescent or adult.
- Semi-open adoption.
- See Openness.
Service provider, adoption.
- In Ontario, any of the entities which
the ministry approves or licenses to provide adoption services, such as approved
adoption practitioners, licensees and children's
- Sibling adoption.
- Adopting two or more brothers and sisters at the
same time. Commentary: Many adoption professionals believe that, whenever
possible, siblings should be placed together, or stay in touch through open adoption arrangements.
- Special needs.
- Conditions in a child which are particularly challenging
to adoptive parents, such as physical, emotional and behavioural disorders,
and a history of abuse or neglect. Common disorders and disabilities include
attachment disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, developmental
disabilities, fetal alcohol syndrome, learning disabilities and oppositional
defiant disorder. Adopting a child with special needs generally means a more
extensive training process. When fees are charged, these may be lowered or
waived for a special needs adoption. In the U.S., a special needs adoption
qualifies for a state subsidy. The definition of "special
needs" varies by state.
- Step adoption / step-parent adoption.
- Adoption of a child by
the parent's new spouse.
- Subsidy, adoption.
- Government benefit to offset the costs of
adopting and raising a special needs child. The benefit may
take the form of one-time and monthly payments, medical aid and post-adoption
services. Commentary: In Canada, parents adopting children
with special needs may get a payment to defray unusual expenses, such as
and dental expenses, counselling services and therapy not covered by health
insurance, availability of social workers for advice and respite
and types of subsidies vary by province. In the U.S., a one-time payment
can cover homestudy fees, court costs and attorney fees. Monthly payments
on a child's needs or eligibility (not family income) and continue until
the child is 19 (sometimes 21).
- Process whereby the licensee visits the
adoptive home during the probation period, to see if the child
is adjusting well and to give advice and support.
- Group of people sharing a common concern or experience
who provide support for each other. Adoptive parents use adoption support
groups for information, educational activities and seasonal events.
Transracial adoption / Transcultural adoption.
- Adoption of a child of one race by a
family of a different race. In the converse, "same-race adoption", child and parent
are the same race. A related term is "transcultural adoption", in which
child and family differ in culture or ethnic group. Most transracial adoptions
are also transcultural. Commentary: The adoptive family needs to be
sensitive to racism and to respect their child's ethnicity and culture of
in a diverse community helps build a child's positive attitude toward her
birth culture and racial background. In Canada aboriginal communities encourage
adoption of native children by native families, so that the children continue
to grow within native culture and retain their connections to family and
- Triad, adoption.
- In the field of adoption search and reunion,
the three parties involved in an adoption: birth
parent, adoptive parent and adoptee. Some
use the term "adoption circle" or "adoption constellation", to include
other parties such as adoption professionals.
- See Disclosure.
- Children who are waiting to be adopted, that
is, children who are legally free for adoption. They are in
the care of the public child welfare system, cannot return to their birth
and need permanent families. (Waiting parents are those seeking to adopt.) Commentary: According
to the May 2002 "Report Card on Adoption" by the Adoption Council of Canada,
there are over 66,000 Canadian children in foster
22,000 are permanent wards of the provincial governments and await adoption,
but fewer than 1,700 of them are adopted annually across the country.
- Ward / Crown ward / Permanent ward.
of a child declared by the court to be in care of the state. Commentary:
If parents are unable to care for a child, she may be admitted into
the care of a child welfare agency. If efforts to reunite child with
family fail, the court may make the child a ward of the province, giving
parental rights to the state. Then the agency develops a permanency plan. Because the parents have lost their parental rights, a ward is
eligible to be adopted. The term is "crown ward" in Ontario, "permanent
Based on the glossary of the Adoption Council of Canada,
www.adoption.ca, compiled by ACC's content specialist, Robin Hilborn