Adoption Glossary and Definitions of Common Terms

At Adoptive Families for Children, we understand that the adoption process can be complicated and even confusing. As a result, we have put together a list of some of the most common terms you are likely to encounter on your journey and defined them on this page. Should you still have questions involving one of these terms or how the term may be applicable in your adoption experience, please contact us via e-mail or by calling (603) 228-6712 or toll-free at (800) 940-4456.
Abandonment - When used in the context of adoption, this term refers to an involuntary reason that a court can terminate the parental rights of an absent parent. This normally includes a combination of a failure to adequately provide financially and a failure to maintain, or attempt to maintain, a parental relationship with the child over a predefined time period.
Adoption Agency - An organization, usually licensed by a state or states, providing services to the birth parent(s) and the adoptive parent(s) in order to facilitate adoption. Agencies may be public, private, or religious, and may also be for-profit, non-profit, or governmental.
Adoption Assistance/Subsidy - Federal funds regulated by each state as a benefit and assistance in the adoption of a special needs child. Payment is generally active until the child is 18 years of age. There are restrictions and qualifications that must be met for eligibility. Assistance is based on the child's needs and not the economic status of the adoptive parent(s). Benefits can include medical assistance, social service assistance, and reimbursement for non-recurring costs.
Adoption Attorney - A legal professional that has experience in adoption petition filing, processing, and final adoption proceedings in a court of jurisdiction.
Adoption Certificate - Sometimes referred to as the Certificate of Adoption, this is the official document issued by the court at the finalization of the adoption.
Adoption Tax Credit - A non-refundable credit that reduces taxes owed by the adoptive parent(s) that claim adoption expenses. Tax credits are offered by the federal government and also by several individual states.
Amended Birth Certificate - This refers to the new birth certificate that is issued for an adopted child after an adoption becomes final, showing the new name of the adopted child and the adoptive parent(s) as the parent(s) of the child. This new birth certificate is placed in public records and the original birth certificate is stored separately and may only be viewed by court order.
Attachment - The formation of a child by a significant emotional connection with the most prominent people in its life. This process begins in early infancy and a failure by a child to establish this important connection may result in the child experiencing difficulties with a variety of social relationships. Severe cases can even result in more permanent conditions.
Closed Adoption - An adoption in which the law protects the confidentiality of both the adoptive parent(s) and the birth parents, as the court seals all records. This information can only be viewed by court order.
Finalization - The last step in the adoption process. It may involve a court hearing in which a judge orders that the adoptive parent(s) become the child's full legal parents.
Home Study/Pre-Placement Assessment - A written report containing the findings of the caseworker that, on various occasions, has met with the prospective adoptive parent(s) and investigated their medical, family, and criminal history. The purpose of a home study is to assist in the matching process and to help the court determine whether the prospective parent(s) is/are fit to adopt.
Independent Adoption - An adoption that is arranged by the birth parent(s) with an identified family. This is usually facilitated with the help of an adoption attorney.
Living Expenses - Expenses in adoption that helps the birth parent(s) with items such as rent, food, clothing, and utilities during the pregnancy and adoption process. Living expenses are provided by the prospective adoptive parent(s) and are provided based on the birth parent's/parents' needs and applicable state laws.
Match - When a birth mother or birth parents and an adoptive parent or family are connected in anticipation that the birth mother will place her baby with that adoptive parent or family.
Open Adoption - An adoption in which the birth parent(s) and adoptive parent(s) meet, exchange information, and where information and communication may continue indefinitely. Terms of open adoptions vary greatly depending on the needs and comfort levels of everyone involved.
Placement - The point in time when the adoptive child comes to live with the adoptive parent(s) in their home.
Post-Placement Assessment - Caseworkers are required to submit a report detailing the parents' adjustment to the adoption, normally within a specific time period. These reports are submitted to the court where the adoption occurred and are typically performed by the professional who completed the home study.
Profile - A compilation of the prospective adoptive parent's/parents' photos, family history, etc., in a scrapbook form for the birth parent(s) to see in order to aid in choosing an adoptive family for the child.
Semi-Open/Semi-Closed Adoption - An adoption in which the birth parent(s) and adoptive parent(s) may talk, meet, and have correspondence after the adoption, but little or no identifying information is exchanged.
Special Needs Child - A child whose emotional, physical, or physiological difficulties, age, race, sibling group, history of abuse, or other factors contribute to a placement outside of the biological home.
Surrender - Legal documents surrendering all parental rights to a child (also referred to as a "consent" or "relinquishment").
Transracial Adoption - The adoption of a child of one race by an adoptive parent or parents of another race.