Adoption Terms Glossary

Following is a list of terms that are commonly used throughout the adoption process:

Adoption: The official transfer through the court system of all of the parental rights to a child to the adoptive parents.

Abandonment: When used in the context of adoption, this term refers to the most common involuntary reason that the parental rights of an absent parent can be terminated by a court. Although the laws of each state will define this term differently for residents of that state, these definitions almost unanimously include some combination of an unjustified failure to provide adequately for the financial support for the child and an unjustified failure to maintain, or attempt to maintain, contact or a parental relationship with the child for a certain period of time. The required time period and the precise definition of this term can vary significantly from state to state, but generally, the continuous period that is required for a legal abandonment is somewhere between 6 months and one year.

Adoptee: Although this term refers to a person who has been adopted, there are many adopted individuals who do not like to be referred to in this way, because they consider themselves to be every bit as much a full member of their adopted family as any other child would be, and therefore consider themselves to be just a regular "child," rather than an "adoptee" or an "adopted child."

Adoption Agencies: An organization that is licensed in the state or states where it transacts its business, which is to assist in placing children needing parents with adoptive parents that are looking for children. Agencies exist in a wide variety of organizational forms, including non-profit, for-profit, and governmental agencies. Certificate of Adoption is the official document that is signed by the Judge at the time of the finalization of the adoption, which triggers a new birth certificate to be issued for the adopted child by the Department of Vital Records, showing the adoptive parents as though they were the original biological parents of the child

Decree of Adoption: The document that a judge signs to finalize an adoption. It formally creates the parent-child relationship between the adoptive parents and the adopted child. It places full responsibility for the child on the new parents, changes the name of the child to the name selected by its new parents, and orders a new birth certificate to be prepared and issued for the child.

Petition to Adopt: The document that is filed with the court on your behalf to commence your adoption action. It states the legal basis on which you think you should be able to adopt this child, why the court has jurisdiction to grant the adoption, your qualifications to adopt this child and the name that you want to be given to your child when the requested adoption becomes final.

Adoption Plan: A formal plan (usually in writing) that is created by one or both of the biological parents of a child who will be placed for adoption. The plan can be simple, or detailed and comprehensive.

Adoptive Placement: This term is used to describe the point in time when your child comes to live with you in your home.

Adoption Triad: A term used to describe the relationship that exists in an adoption between birth parents, adoptive parents and the adoptee, each of which is interrelated and inter-dependent on the others.

Adoptive Parents: This term is used to refer to both parents that are seeking to adopt, and parents that already have adopted

Affidavit: A formal legal document containing written statements of legal significance that are being sworn to under oath by the author of the document, who is known as the "Affiant." The act of signing the Affidavit, and of swearing under oath that the statements it contains are true and correct to the best of the knowledge of the Affiant, is done in the presence of a Notary Public.

Agency Adoptions: Adoption placements that are made by state licensed adoption agencies that screen prospective adoptive parents and supervise the placement of children in adoptive homes until the adoption is finalized. Most agency adoptions will also include some form of counseling and/or support services for the adoptive parents and the birth parents that are involved in the placement

Amended Birth Certificate: A term used to refer to the new birth certificate that is issued for an adopted child after an adoption becomes final, which shows the new name of the adopted child and the adoptive parents as the parents of the child, as though they are its biological parents. This new birth certificate is placed in the public records in place of the child's original birth certificate. The original birth certificate is then stored in a separate secure location that is not accessible to the public, and may be viewed only by court order.

Apostille: A simplified and standardized form that is used for the purpose of providing a certification of certain public documents relating to adoption, including notarized documents, that is used in countries that are in compliance with the provisions of the Hague Convention. Documents needed for inter-country adoptions require the attachment of an apostille, rather than authentication forms, if the foreign country is a participant in the Hague Convention.

Attachment: The formation of significant and stable emotional connections between a child and the significant people in his life. This process begins in early infancy as the child bonds with one or more primary caregivers. Failure to establish these types of important connections before the age of about five years may result in the child experiencing difficulties with a wide variety of social relationships for significant periods of time in its life. Biracial Adoptions: A term used to refer to the adoption of children who have biological parents that are of different races.

Birth Father: The biological father of a child.

Birth Mother: The biological mother of a child.

Birth Parent: This is another term used to refer to the "biological parents" of a child, whether male or female, and regardless of whether the parents of the child are married to each other, or are shown as the parents of the child on its birth certificate.

Bonding: The process that children and caregivers go through in developing lasting emotional ties, which is seen as the first and most significant developmental task of a human being, and is central to that person's ability to relate properly to others throughout its life.

Caseworker: Also sometimes referred to as "Adoption Worker" or "Adoption Caseworker" or "Social Worker." These are the individuals that prepare adoption home studies for prospective adoptive parents, assist in providing post-placement supervision of adoptive families once they have received their child, and counsel with adoptive families to help them adapt to the changes in their lives as the result of adoption.

Closed Adoptions: In these adoptions, the birth family and the adoptive family do not share any identifying information about them, and do not communicate with each other, either before or after the placement of the child except by photos and letters sent through the agency. The adoptive family will, however, receive non-identifying health and other background information about the child and the birth family before the placement takes place. The birth parents may also receive non-identifying information about the adoptive parents.

Disclosure: The release or transmittal of confidential information.

Disruption: This term generally refers to an adoption that for some reason does not become final. This term may also be used to refer to any failed adoption attempt.

Dissolution: A reversal or voiding of an adoption after its legal finalization. This can occur for a variety of reasons, the most common of which are: 1) That there was not a good match of the needs of the child with the talents and capabilities of the adoptive family, and 2) That the circumstances of the child or the adoptive family have changed substantially since the finalization, which would make a continuation of the relationship impractical or impossible.

Domestic Adoption: An adoption that involves adoptive parents and a child that are citizens and residents of the United States.

Dossier: A set of appropriately authenticated and translated legal documents used in international adoption cases to process the adoption of a child in its own country by the adoptive parents, or for the adoptive parents to obtain the legal custody or guardianship of the child in the foreign court, so the child can be brought to the United States for adoption.

Finalization: The point when the court grants the Petition to Adopt of the adoptive parents and takes the necessary action to formally make the child a legal member of their family.

Form I-600 and Form I-600A Visa Petitions: A set of forms used to officially request permission from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to classify a child in a foreign country, who fits the definition of an "orphan," as an immediate relative of its intended adoptive parents, so that there can be an expedited processing and issuance of a visa to that child, allowing it to be brought into the United States, either after having been adopted abroad, or in order for it to be adopted in the United States.

Foster/Adopt Placements: A child is placed with the foster/adopt family before the parental rights of the birth parents have been legally terminated, so there is still a possibility that the child may eventually be reunited with his or her birth family. If the parental rights of the child's birth parents are terminated, the foster/adopt family will be given preference to adopt the child.

Home Study: A home study is sometimes called an "adoption study," and is a written report containing the findings of the social worker who has met on several occasions with the prospective adoptive parents, has visited their home, and who has investigated the health, medical, criminal, family and home background of the adoptive parents. The purpose of the home study is to help the court determine whether the adoptive parents are qualified to adopt a child, based on the criteria that have been established by state law.

Independent Adoptions: These adoptions are arranged by an intermediary other than an adoption agency, such as a lawyer or a physician. The intermediary may find the birth mother for the adoptive parents, or may help the birth mother locate adoptive parents that would be interested in adopting her child. Independent adoptions are not legally permitted in Colorado.

Institutionalization: The short-term or long-term placement of children in institutions, such as hospitals, group homes or orphanages. Placement in institutions during early critical developmental periods, and for lengthy periods of time, is often associated with developmental delays due to environmental deprivation, poor staff to child ratios, or lack of early childhood stimulation.

International Adoptions: These adoptions involve children who were born in a country other than where the adoptive parents reside or are citizens, or who are citizens of a country other than where they live. These adoptions not only involve the normal state and federal laws that apply to all domestic adoptions, but they also are impacted by the laws of foreign countries and international treaties, but also require immigration approvals from the USCIS.

Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC): An interstate agreement that has been enacted into law by all 50 states and the District of Columbia which controls the lawful movement of children from one state to another for the purposes of adoption. The originating state, where the child is born, and the receiving state, where the adoptive parents live and where the adoption of the child will take place, must approve the child's movement in writing before the child can legally leave the originating state.

Legal Risk Adoptions: This term refers to an adoption program that is only available in some states, where prospective adoptive parents are allowed to become foster parents to children before they become legally available for adoption. If the parental rights of the biological parents of these foster children are able to be terminated, then the foster parents are allowed to adopt the children. If the parental rights of the biological parents of the child are not terminated, then the foster parents are not allowed to adopt the child. This is the "legal risk" that the foster parents know about in advance, and which they are willing to assume in exchange for the possibility that they may ultimately be able to adopt the child.

Life Book: A pictorial and written representation of the life of a child, designed to help the child better understand make sense of her unique background and history. Although there is no required content for a life book, some information that it might include would be information about birth parents, other members of the extended birth family, birthplace and date.

Open Adoption: Both identifying and non-identifying information about the adoptive parents and the birth parents is shared with each other, which can include last names, addresses, and telephone numbers. In some open adoptions, the birth parent and the adoptive family know each other and have ongoing communication about the child. If the parents on both sides agree, the adoptive parents may even be allowed to be present for the delivery of the child. Neither the birth parents nor the adoptive parents are forced to participate in an open adoption if that is not what they are comfortable with. Although there is some disagreement on the subject, it is suggested that the child, and thus the adoptive parents that will be raising the child, are the primary beneficiaries of some of the most significant benefits that can result from an open adoption.

Orphan: Although this term has essentially been eliminated from normal use in our modern society, with reference to adoptions, it is still used with a very specific definition in the regulations of the USCIS, with reference to the legal status of foreign children that adoptive parents who are U.S. citizens are seeking to adopt and bring into the United States to live. In that context, this term refers to a child in a foreign country who has no living parents, or whose parents have disappeared or have abandoned the child, or a child who has only one living parent who is not able to adequately provide for the proper care and support of the child. In order for a child to be able to be brought into the United States for the purpose of adoption, it must fit this definition of being an "orphan."

Orphanage: Institution that houses children who are orphaned, abandoned, or whose parents are unable to care for them.

Post-Institutionalized Child: Children adopted from institutional, hospital, or orphanage settings. The term is used to describe an array of emotional and psychological disturbances, developmental delays, learning disabilities, and/or medical problems resulting, in part, from their stay in institutions.

Post-Adoption Period: This is a period of time of an unspecified length after an adoption is finalized during which the members of this new group of legally related individuals learn together to become a real family unit, with all the joys, challenges, accommodations and wonderful experiences that go with it.

Post-Placement Report: A written report that is prepared for the court in an adoption case by an adoption caseworker that makes a series of personal visits to the home of the adoptive parents. The purpose of these post-placement visits is to observe how well the child and the prospective adoptive parents are bonding to each other and how the child is fitting into the family.

Re-Adoption or Validation of foreign adoption: A term that is used to describe the legal process of validating a foreign adoption decree. The most common reason for a re-adoption is to allow the child to obtain a United States birth certificate, written in English, showing the adoptive parents as though they were the biological parents of the child.

Relinquishment: This term generally refers to a birth parent voluntarily giving up his or her parental rights to a child, so that someone else can adopt it. In practice it generally refers to these parental rights being transferred to an agency, so that the agency can maintain the level of confidentiality or privacy that the parties desire and have agreed to in the adoption The term "Relinquishment" is also commonly used to refer to the actual legal documents that are signed by the birth parents as part of the relinquishment process.

Trans-Racial Adoptions: An adoption in which a family of one race adopts a child of another race.

U S Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS): This Federal agency is now referred to as United States Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS). USCIS is operated under the United States Department of Homeland Security, and has the responsibility of overseeing the immigration of all foreign-born individuals into the United States, whether they are adults or children. Before a foreign adoption can take place, permission must first be obtained from USCIS for the foreign child to be able to lawfully enter the United States for the purpose of being adopted. After this approval has been given and the child has been adopted and brought to the United States under a visa and/or a green card issued by the INS, the adoptive parents can then apply to the USCIS for the child to become a United States Citizen, just as if the child had been born to the adoptive parents as their biological child.

Waiting Children: This term generally refers to children over the age of one year who have become legally available for adoption. They are under the legal jurisdiction and care of public foster care agencies, and will have come into the foster care system for a variety of reasons, which could include neglect, abandonment, abuse and/or some other dysfunction within their family environment. Many waiting children will have siblings who are also available for adoption, and who would prefer to stay together as a family unit.