Adoption Terms

Terms related to child welfare and the adoption process

Adoptee: A person who has been adopted.

Adoption services: Any activity/procedure designed to facilitate the entire legal process of adoption including intake, pre-placement activities and planning, adoptive placement of the child, post-placement activities, and post-legalization (or post-finalization) services.

Adoption subsidy: Financial or medical assistance given on a one-time or on-going basis to an adoptive parent on behalf of an adopted child. This subsidy may be provided through federal, state, county and/or local resources. (See Title IV-E.)

Adoption exchange: Organizations designed to help facilitate adoptive placements by sharing information about children for whom an adoptive family is needed. Exchanges also provide advocacy, training, information, and referrals for adoption agencies and adoptive families. Information about potential adoptive families may also be shared.

Adoptive/Foster (legal risk or foster-to-adopt): Adoptive/foster placement involves foster children who are not legally free for adoption but who may become available for adoption pending a legal termination of birth parents' rights. If it is unlikely that efforts to reunite the family will be successful, the child will be placed in a family that is licensed for both foster care and adoption.

Adoptive/foster placement may reduce the number of homes the child will have before he/she becomes available for adoption. There is not guarantee, however, that the child will eventually be free for adoption. Technically, this is a foster placement until the child becomes free for adoption. Most of the placements of young children (under the age of 5) made by the Division of Children & Family Services are adoptive/foster placement.

Birth parents: Also called biological parents. This is the preferred term for the parents who gave birth to a child. Real or natural parents are not considered positive adoption terms.

Caseworker (Social Worker): The representative who works primarily with a child who is in state's custody. This person facilitates services that are needed by the child such as therapy, court appearances, etc., and advocates for the child.

Closed adoption: An adoption in which identifying information about the birth parents and adoptive parents is considered confidential and is not made available. Records containing this confidential information are usually sealed as a result of state law and/or court order.

Custody: The legal responsibility for the care and supervision of a child.

Designated adoption: The birth family selects a specific family to adopt their child, either directly or with the aid of a liaison or adoption facilitator. In some states, birth parent counseling is required. In all cases, the adopting family must complete an adoptive family assessment.

Disruption: When a child placed for adoption is removed from the prospective adoptive home and returned to foster care before the adoption is finalized. Reasons for disruptions vary but are generally the result of some incompatibility between the child and the family. In most cases, the child is eventually placed with another adoptive family. The family who could not keep that child may consider other children.

Family assessment: Also referred to as home study or adoption study. The process of educating prospective adoptive families about adoption, ensuring that their home would be a safe and appropriate place for a child, and determining what kind of child would best fit into that family. Family assessments are usually done by licensed social workers affiliated with a public or private adoption agency. Independent social workers, adoption attorneys, and other adoption facilitators may also do family assessments. An approved assessment is required before a child can be placed for adoption.

Finalization: The action taken by the court to legally make an adopted child a member of his/her adoptive family. Finalization of infants usually takes place about 6 months after the child is placed in the adoptive home. In Utah, finalization for children with special needs may not occur until the child has been in the home for at least 6 months.

Foster-Adopt: (See Adoptive/Foster.)

Foster parents: People licensed by the state to provide a temporary home for children who cannot safely live with their birth parents.

Guardian Ad-Litem (GAL): A person appointed by the court to represent a child in all court hearings that concern him/her. A child's GAL is usually an attorney.

Group home: A large foster home licensed to provide care for several children (perhaps up to 10). Some group homes function as family homes with parents who are always available; others have staff members who work at different times along with the group home parents.

Hold: Term used to let families who are inquiring about children waiting to be adopted know that the child's agency is not interested in receiving inquiries about the child at this time. Reasons for the "Hold" vary. The term is also used in reference to prospective families who may be listed with an adoption exchange.

Home study: (See Family assessment.)

ICPC - Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children: This is an agreement between states to coordinate the placement of children for adoption across state lines. The compact guarantees that each state's adoption laws and procedures are met and the child's placement is properly managed and finalized.

Independent adoption: An adoption that takes place without the involvement of established public or private agencies. This may also be called a private adoption and is generally facilitated by an attorney.

Legal risk placement: (See Adoptive/Foster Placement.)

Life book: A collection of pictures, stories, and drawings that tell about the life of a child. This book is particularly important for children in foster care who have moved from place to place and have lost significant people in their everyday lives. A child's life book is an excellent therapeutic tool in addition to being a treasured keepsake.

Open adoption: An adoption where there is some interaction between the birth family, adoptive family, and the adopted child. Generally the adoptive family and the birth family agree to a level and style of communication that is comfortable for both parties and in the best interests of the child. Communication may be by phone, correspondence or personal contacts. In a semi-open adoption, contact may be maintained through an intermediary, usually the adoption agency.

Orientation meeting: An initial group meeting for prospective adoptive parents where information about the agency's procedures and policies are explained and questions about adoption may be answered.

Paternity Registry: Registration with the Utah Bureau of Vital Records by which a person claiming to be a birth father of a child may claim paternal rights regarding the child and state his willingness and intent to support the child.

Photolisting book (Exchange book): A photo book of children and families listed with an adoption exchange. It will usually include a brief description of the child's background and what type of family is being sought, as well as a brief description of the family and the type of child being sought.

Placement: A child may have had numerous out-of-home placements after a social services agency has determined that a child is not safe in his/her current home. The agency may place a child with relatives, in an emergency shelter, foster home, group home, residential treatment center or psychiatric hospital. This term is also used to refer to the day when a child moves into an adoptive home.

Plans: Term used when an adoptive family has been selected for a waiting child. In most cases, the family is getting to know more about the child, but the child has not yet moved into the adoptive home. May also be used in reference to prospective adoptive families who are seriously considering a specific child for adoption. Some agencies and exchanges use "Hold" rather than "Plans".

Post-legal adoption services: Services provided by an adoption agency or other community resource to the adopted person, the adoptive parents and/or birth parents after an adoption has been legally finalized. These services may include counseling, support groups, and respite care.

Post-placement: The period between the time when a child moves into the adoptive family home and the finalization of adoption. A variety of post-placement activities may be offered by an adoption agency to an adoptive family, such as counseling, referrals, support, and visits by a social worker.

Purchase of service: A contract between two agencies whereby the agency having custody of the child pays the agency working on behalf of the adoptive family for recruitment, placement and/or post-placement services.

RTC - Residential Treatment Center: A place that provides care for more than 10 children. May also be referred to as a residential childcare facility where housing, meals, schooling, medical care, and recreation are provided. Therapists, counselors, and teachers are trained to meet the needs of children with emotional and behavioral problems.

Relinquishment: The voluntary act of transferring legal rights to the care, custody, and control of a child and to any benefits which, by law, would flow to or from the child, such as inheritance, to another family. An adoption agency or lawyer must work with the court system to make a relinquishment legal. (See Termination of Parental Rights.)

Respite care: The assumption of daily caregiving responsibilities on a temporary basis. Usually designed as a 24-hour-a-day option to provide parents or other caregivers temporary relief from the responsibilities of caring for a child.

Shelter home: A licensed foster home that is prepared to take children immediately after they have been removed from their birth home. Shelter homes keep children for a short period of time, generally no more than 90 days. If a child cannot return home, he/she will be moved to a regular or specialized foster home that is prepared to meet the child's needs.

Special needs: (See Waiting child.)

Subsidy: (See Adoption subsidy.)

Termination of Parental Rights (TPR): Legal action taken by a judge to terminate the parent-child relationship. This action ends the rights of a parent to the care, custody, and control of a child and to any benefits which, by law, would flow to or from the child, such as inheritance. When the parental rights of both birth parents have been legally relinquished or terminated, the child is considered legally free for adoption.

Title IV-E: The Title IV-E Adoption Assistance Program is a federal program that provides assistance to families adopting qualifying children from foster care. Money through this program is distributed to adoptive families by each state.

Waiting child: Term used to identify a child, usually in the foster care system, who is waiting for adoption. These children generally are of school age; members of a sibling group; belong to a minority culture; and have physical, mental/cognitive, and emotional problems that may be genetic or the result of experiences of abuse and neglect.