Words have power. We use them to get through our daily lives and communicate with one another. That’s also why we need to be intentional with the language that we use and aware of how it impacts others. Such is the case for adoption, which comes with its own set of lingo.
When it comes to adoption, the language around it is always changing, as it often does for any subject. What was once an acceptable phrase may no longer be acceptable. Terms become outdated, so it’s important to keep up. In other cases, some terms stay in vogue, but they can still be confusing.
That’s why we’ve put together this guide of 10 adoption terms everyone should know. If you’re considering adoption, or if you know someone who is, then this list could be helpful. Or, you could be an adoptive parent who wants your friends to better understand your life. Whatever the scenario may be, here are 10 adoption terms that you need to know.
1. Adoption Agency
When someone decides they want to pursue adoption, they contact an adoption agency. Someone who wants to adopt a child can reach out to them, as can someone placing their child for adoption. Think of an adoption agency as the mediator between the two main parties in adoption: birth parents and adoptive parents. Agencies arrange meetings, provide financial assistance, explain the adoption process and more.
2. Birth Parent
A birth parent is someone who has placed their child for adoption. But, there is also the term “prospective birth mother,” which means something different. Before the adoption is complete, someone choosing adoption is a prospective birth parent. This is because it isn’t quite official yet. Once the adoption is finished, those prospective birth parents are now, simply, birth parents.
3. Closed Adoption
Pop culture tends to portray adoption inaccurately. For instance, when you think of adoption, you may imagine a child who doesn’t know who their birth parents are or why they were placed for adoption. This is known as a closed adoption. It’s when birth parents and adoptive parents know nothing about one another, and the child usually has no knowledge of their birth family. The vast majority of adoptions today are open (which we will get to later), and closed adoptions are now extremely rare.
4. Expectant Parent
An expectant parent is someone who’s pregnant. They could be considering parenting or adoption, and in both cases, they’d be a parent! To be more specific, they become a prospective birth parent if they are considering adoption.
This is the last step in anyone’s adoption process. Typically, the hopeful adoptive parents go to a local court where the judge signs the final decree of adoption. Once this is complete, the prospective birth mother officially becomes a birth mother. In turn, the hopeful adoptive parents officially become adoptive parents.
6. Home Study
Only hopeful adoptive parents complete this step of the adoption process. A home study is when a social worker visits their home, interviews the couple and checks the home to make sure it’s safe for a child. Usually, hopeful adoptive parents are intimidated at the mere thought of this, but this is a great opportunity for them to learn more about adoption and how they can care for their child.
7. Open Adoption
Open adoption is today’s standard for adoption. Usually, prospective birth parents and adoptive parents meet through an adoption agency and develop a relationship. Throughout the adoption process, they begin to know one another, and they typically stay in touch after the adoption. Also, the birth parent decides on forms of contact they’re comfortable with (phone calls, video chats, in-person visits, etc.). With open adoption, it is never “goodbye” for anyone. It is “see you later.”
Placement refers to the moment when a child is placed into the arms of their adoptive parents. When most people talk about adoption, they use the phrase “give a baby up for adoption.” Although their hearts may be in the right place, this phrase completely misses the point. No one “gives up” when they choose adoption. Instead, they are giving their child a life of love and opportunity. That’s why “place a child for adoption” is the preferred term. The adoption community prefers positive adoption language, such as this, because “give up” suggests that adoption is a negative choice.
9. Semi-Open Adoption
When prospective birth parents and hopeful adoptive parents meet for the first time, it’s usually mediated through an adoption agency. But, they may then decide to exchange contact information so that they can directly communicate, now and throughout the years to come. In the case of semi-open adoption, an adoption agency mediates all contact between the two parties. This is for people who don’t want to share any identifying information but would still like to exchange indirect updates.
10. Transracial Adoption
Transracial adoption is when the child and the adoptive parents aren’t of the same race. For example, Black adoptive parents could adopt a Latinx child, or white parents could adopt an Asian baby. Transracial adoption is more common than ever, but adoptive parents must be ready to acknowledge and uplift their child’s racial and cultural identity.