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For ease of use, the Adoption Glossary is arranged in alphabetical groups of several terms to a linked section. Click on a section link to view the term contents within each alphabetical group. Still have questions? Give us a call!

Desertion of a child by a parent or adult primary care giver with no provisions for continued childcare nor with any apparent intention to return to resume caregiving.

Abuse and Neglect
Physical, sexual and/or emotional maltreatment. Child abuse and neglect is defined as any recent act or failure to act resulting in imminent risk of serious harm, death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation of a child (a person under the age of 18, unless the child protection law of the State in which the child resides specifies a younger age for cases not involving sexual abuse) by a parent or caretaker (including any employee of a residential facility or any staff person providing out-of-home care) who is responsible for the child's welfare. Abuse and neglect are defined in both Federal and State legislation. The Federal CAPTA legislation provides a foundation for States by identifying a minimum set of acts or behaviors that characterize maltreatment. This legislation also defines what acts are considered physical abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse (maltreatment).

An adopted person. Some adopted persons object to being called an "adoptee" because: (1) It distinguishes an adopted child from a birth child in the same family. (One does not say, "This is my birth son, Johnny.") (2) It implies adoption is the central fact of that person's life (which, of course, it may be).

A court action in which an adult assumes legal and other responsibilities for another, usually a minor.
Adoption Agency-Adoption Disruption
Adoption Agency
An organization, usually licensed by the State, that provides services to birth parents, adoptive parents, and children who need families. Agencies may be public or private, secular or religious, for profit or nonprofit.

Adoption Attorney
A legal professional who has experience with filing, processing, and finalizing adoptions in a court having jurisdiction.

Adoption Benefits
Compensation to workers through employer-sponsored programs. Some examples of such benefits are financial assistance or monetary reimbursement for the expenses of adopting a child, or provision of "parental" or "family" leave.

Adoption Disruption
The interruption of an adoption prior to finalization--sometimes called a "failed adoption" or a "failed placement".
Adoption Dissolution-Adoption Petition
Adoption Dissolution
The interruption or "failure" of an adoption after finalization that requires court action.

Adoption Facilitator
Individual whose business involves connecting birth parents and prospective adoptive parents for a fee (only allowed in a few States).

Adoption Insurance (adoption cancellation insurance)
Insurance which protects against financial loss which can be incurred after a birthmother changes her mind and decides not to place her child for adoption.

Adoption Petition
The legal document through which prospective parents request the court's permission to adopt a specific child.
Adoption Placement-Adoption Triad
Adoption Placement
The point at which a child begins to live with prospective adoptive parents; the period before the adoption is finalized.

Adoption Plan
Birth parents' decision to allow their child to be placed for adoption.

Adoption Tax Credits Non-refundable credit which reduces taxes owed by adoptive parents who claim adoption expense reimbursement under P.L. 104-188; may be claimed on Federal taxes (and in some States with similar legislation, on State taxes). Through the Federal Internal Revenue Service program, which took effect in tax year 1997, adoptive parents whose annual adjusted gross income is $115,000 or less, can take advantage of up to $5,000 ($6,000 for special needs adoption) in tax credits to offset qualifying adoption expenses. After 2001, the adoption credit applies only to an adoption of a child with special needs and does not apply to an adoption of a foreign child. The credit calculation can include adoption fees, court fees, attorney fees, and travel expenses, incurred during or after 1997.

Adoption Triad
The three major parties in an adoption: birth parents, adoptive parents, and adopted child. Also called "adoption triangle" or "adoption circle."
Agency Adoption-Attachment
Agency Adoption
Adoptive placements made by licensed organizations that screen prospective adoptive parents and supervise the placement of children in adoptive homes until the adoption is finalized.

A simplified certification of public (including notarized) documents used in countries that participate in a Hague Convention. This simplified form contains numbered fields (which allow the data to be understood by all participating countries regardless of the official language of the issuing country). The completed apostille form certifies the authenticity of the document's signature, the capacity in which the person signing the document has acted, and identifies the seal/stamp which the document bears. Documents needed for intercountry adoptions require the attachment of an apostille (rather than authentication forms) if the foreign country participates in the convention.

The ability of a child to form significant and stable emotional connections with other people, beginning in early infancy with one or more primary caretakers. Failure to establish such connections before the age of five may result in difficulties with social relationships as severe as reactive attachment disorder.
Decree of Adoption-Dossier
Decree of Adoption
A legal order that finalizes an adoption.

Dependent Child
A child who is in the custody of the county or State child welfare system.

The release or transmittal of previously hidden or unknown information.

The term disruption is used to describe an adoption that ends before it is legally finalized, resulting in the child's legal custody reverting back to the agency or court that made the original placement and the child returning to foster care and/or to other adoptive parent(s).

The term dissolution is used to describe an adoption that fails after finalization, resulting in the child's legal custody reverting back to the agency or court that made the original placement and the child returning to foster care and/or to other adoptive parent(s).

A set of legal documents which are used in an international adoption to process a child's adoption or assignment of guardianship in the foreign court.
Expectant Parent-Custody
Expectant/Birth Parent
A child's biological parent.

The process of developing lasting emotional ties with one's immediate caregivers; seen as the first and primary developmental task of a human being and central to the person's ability to relate to others throughout life.

The approval process (detailed in State laws or regulations) that takes place to ensure, insofar as possible, that adoptive or foster parents are suitable, dependable, and responsible. "Certification" of documents involves a seal or apostille required by law or regulation affixed to a public document (such as a birth or marriage certificate or court record) to attest to its authenticity or to a general document to attest that the document. Has been notarized by an authorized official.

Closed Adoption
An adoption that involves total confidentiality and sealed records.

The legally required process of keeping identifying or other significant information secret; the principle of ethical practice which requires social workers and other professional not to disclose information about a client without the client's consent.

Consent to Adopt or Consent to Adoption
Legal permission for the adoption to proceed.

The care, control, and maintenance of a child which can be legally awarded by the court to an agency (in abuse and neglect cases) or to parents (in divorce, separation, or adoption proceedings). Child welfare departments retain legal custody and control of major decisions for a child in foster care; foster parents do not have legal custody.
Family Preservation-Finalization
Family Preservation
A program of supportive social services designed to keep families together by providing services to children and families in their home. It is based on the premise that birth families are the preferred means of providing family life for children.

Fetal Alcohol Effect (FAE)
A disorder associated with cognitive and behavioral difficulties in children whose birth mothers drank alcohol while pregnant. Symptoms are similar to fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) but less severe or comprehensive.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)
Birth defects, and serious life-long mental and emotional impairments that may result from heavy maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Symptoms of mental and emotional deficits may include significant learning and behavioral disorders (including attention deficits and hyperactivity), diminished cause-and-effect thinking, poor social judgment, and impulsive behaviors.

The final legal step in the adoption process; involves a court hearing during which the judge orders that the adoptive parents become the child's legal parents.
Foster Adoption-Foster Parents
A child placement in which expectant parents' rights have not yet been severed by the court or in which expectant parents are appealing the court's decision but foster parents agree to adopt the child if/when parental rights are terminated. Social workers place the child with specially-trained foster-adopt parents who will work with the child during family reunification efforts but who will adopt the child if the child becomes available for adoption. The main reason for making such a placement, also called legal-risk adoption, is to spare the child another move.

Foster Children Children who have been placed in the State's or county's legal custody because their birth parents were deemed abusive, neglectful, or otherwise unable to care for them.

Foster Parents
State- or county-licensed adults who provide a temporary home for children whose expectant parents are unable to care for them.
A feeling of emotional deprivation or loss. Grief may be experienced by each member of the adoption triad at some point.

Person who fulfills some of the responsibilities of the legal parent role, although the courts or birth parents may continue to hold some jurisdiction of the child. Guardians do not have the same reciprocal rights of inheritance as expectant or adoptive parents. Guardianship is subject to ongoing supervision by the court and ends at the child's majority or by order of the court.

A process through which prospective adoptive parents are educated about adoption and evaluated to determine their suitability to adopt.
I-600 and I-600A Visa Petition
An official request to the US Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS) to classify an orphan as an immediate relative - providing expedited processing and issuance of a visa to allow the child to enter the United States after having been adopted abroad or in order to be adopted in the United States.

Independent Adoption
An adoption facilitated by those other than caseworkers associated with an agency. Facilitators may be attorneys, physicians, or other intermediaries. In some States independent adoptions are illegal.

Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) A federal law (Public Law 95-608) regarding the placement of Native-American children which establishes the tribe's sovereignty as a separate nation over the welfare of children who are tribal members of who are eligible for tribal membership.

The inability to conceive or bear biological children.
Institutionalization-Interstate Compact
The placement of children in hospitals, institutions, or orphanages. Placement in institutions during early critical developmental periods and for lengthy periods is often associated with developmental delays due to environmental deprivation, poor staff-child ratios, or lack of early stimulation.

Intercountry or International Adoption
The adoption of a child who is a citizen of one country by adoptive parents who are citizens of a different country.

Interstate Compact
A voluntary agreement between two or more States designed to address common problems of the States concerned.

Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC)
An agreement regulating the placement of children across state lines. All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have independently adopted the ICPC as statutory law in their respective jurisdictions.
Kinship Care-Life Book
Kinship Care
The full-time nurturing of a child by someone related to the child by family ties or by prior relationship connection (fictive kin).

Legal Guardian
A person who has legal responsibility for the care and management of a person who is incapable of administering his own affairs. In the case of a minor child, the guardian is charged with the legal responsibility for the care and management of the child and of the minor child's estate.

Legal Risk Placement
Placement of a child in a prospective adoptive family when a child is not yet legally free for adoption. Before a child can be legally adopted by another family, parental rights of his or her birth parents must be terminated. In a "legal risk" adoptive placement either this termination of parental rights has not yet occurred, or it is being contested. In some cases, termination of parental rights is delayed until a specific adoptive family has been identified.

Life Book
A pictorial and written representation of the child's life designed to help the child make sense of his unique background and history. The life book includes expectant parents, other relatives, birth place and date, etc and can be put together by social workers, foster and/or adoptive parents working with the child.
Maltreatment-Non-Recurring Adoption Costs
Physical abuse, child neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse. Federal CAPTA legislation (P.L. 104-235) provides definitions that identify a minimum set of acts or behaviors that characterize maltreatment. Each State is responsible for providing its own definitions of child abuse and neglect within the State's civil and criminal context.

Maternity Home
Residences for pregnant women. The number of homes has decreased over the past three decades, and existing homes often have a waiting list of women. The women who live in a maternity home may pay a small fee or no fee to live in the home and they often apply for public assistance and Medicaid payments.

Non-Identifying Information
Facts about the expectant/birth parents or adoptive parents that would not lead to their discovery by another person.

Non-Recurring Adoption Costs
One-time adoption expenses, which, through the provisions of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, may be at least partially reimbursed by States up to a maximum limit of $2,000 to families adopting children with special needs. Allowable expenses for this reimbursement benefit can include the cost of a home study, adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees, physical and psychological examinations, travel to visit with the child prior to the placement, and other expenses related to the legal adoption of a child with special needs.
Open Adoption-Orphanage
Open Adoption
An adoption that involves some amount of initial and/or ongoing contact between birth and adoptive families, ranging from sending letters through the agency, to exchanging names, and/or scheduling visits.

Orphan A minor child whose parents have died, have relinquished their parental rights, or whose parental rights have been terminated by a court of jurisdiction.

Orphan (international adoption definition)
For immigration purposes, a child under the age of sixteen years:
  • whose parents have died or disappeared or
  • who has been abandoned or otherwise separated from both parents or
  • whose sole surviving parent is impoverished by local standards and incapable of providing that child with proper care and who has, in writing, irrevocably released the child for emigration and adoption.
To enter the United States, an orphan must have been adopted abroad by a U.S. citizen or be admitted to the to the United States for the purpose of adoption by a U.S. citizen.

Institution that houses children who are orphaned, abandoned, or whose parents are unable to care for them. Orphanages are rarely used in the United States, although they are more frequently used abroad.
Paternity Testing-Post Institutionalized Child
Paternity Testing
Genetic testing that can determine the identity of the biological father. Paternity testing can be done with or without access to the biological mother.

Permanency Planning
The systematic process of carrying out (within a brief, time-limited period) a set of goal-directed activities designed to help children live in permanent families. This process has the goal of providing the child continuity of relationships with nurturing parents or caretakers and the opportunity to establish lifetime family relationships.

Placement Date
The time at which the child comes to live with the adopting parents.

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 Placement-Putative Father Registries
Post-Placement Supervision
The range of counseling and agency services provided to the adopted parents and adopted child subsequent to the child's adoptive placement and before the adoption is legally finalized in court. Social worker reports of this required supervisory period are forwarded to the court.

Putative Father
Legal term for the alleged or supposed father of a child.

Putative Father Registries
Registry system that serves to ensure that a expectant/birth fathers' rights are protected. Some states require that expectant fathers register at these facilities, while other states presume that he does not wish to pursue paternity rights if he doesn't initiate any legal action.
Reactive Attachment Disorder-Reunion
Reactive Attachment Disorder
A condition with onset before age five, resulting from an early lack of consistent care, characterized by a child's or infant's inability to make appropriate social contact with others. Symptoms may include failure to thrive, developmental delays, failure to make eye contact, feeding disturbances, hyper-sensitivity to touch and sound, failure to initiate or respond to social interaction, indiscriminate sociability, self-stimulation, and susceptibility to infection.

Referral of a Child
Referral of a Child - the medical and social information available on a specific child that is presented to the family for purposes of adoption. Usually pictures or video of the child is sent with the child referral. Information available and procedures for offering child referrals differ among countries and adoption agencies.

Voluntary termination of parental rights; sometimes referred to as a surrender or as making an adoption plan for one's child.

The returning of foster children to the custody of their parent(s) after placement outside the home.

A meeting between birth parent(s) and an adopted adult or between an adopted adult and other birth relatives. The adopted adult may have been placed as an infant and thus has no memory of the birth parent(s).
Search-Stepparent Adoption
An attempt, usually by birth parent, adopted person, or adoptive parent (but sometimes by volunteers or paid consultants) to make a connection between the birth parent and the biological child.

Semi-Open Adoption
An adoption in which a child's expectant/birth parents and pre-adoptive parents may exchange primarily non-identifying information. After the child is placed in the adoptive home, contact with the birth family may involve letters or pictures or other communications sent through the intermediary of the adoption agency or the attorney who assisted in the placement.

Special Needs Children
Children whose emotional or physical disorders, age, race, membership in a sibling group, a history of abuse, or other factors contribute to a lengthy stay in foster care. Guidelines for classifying a child as special needs vary by State. Common special needs conditions and diagnoses include: serious medical conditions; emotional and behavioral disorders; history of abuse or neglect; medical or genetic risk due to familial mental illness or parental substance abuse.

Stepparent Adoption
The adoption of a child by the new spouse of the birth parent.
Termination of Parental Rights-Waiting Children
Termination of Parental Rights (TPR)
The legal process which involuntarily severs a parent's rights to a child.

Therapeutic (or Treatment) Foster Home
A foster home in which the foster parents have received special training to care for a wide variety of children and adolescents, usually those with significant emotional or behavioral problems. Parents in therapeutic foster homes are more closely supervised and assisted more than parents in regular foster homes.

Waiting Children
Children in the public child welfare system who cannot return to their birth homes and need permanent, loving families to help them grow up safe and secure.

This material may be reproduced and distributed without permission; however, appropriate citation must be given to the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse.

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