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Adoption Glossary

Adoptee: A person who was adopted. Some people prefer the terms “adopted child” or “adopted person.

Adoption: A legally recognized process that creates a parent-child relationship between individuals who are not biologically related to each other.

Adoption agency: An agency licensed by the state to prepare adoptive parents, counsel birth parents, perform home studies, complete paperwork, place children in homes, and perform other adoption-related functions.

Adoption agreement: The agreement in which the adoptive parent(s) and birth parent(s) put into writing their understanding of the terms of an adoption -- including the degree of communication and contact they will have with each other and with the adopted child.

Adoption assistance: Monthly federal or state subsidy payments to help adoptive parents raise children with special needs.

Adoption attorney: A lawyer who files, processes, and finalizes adoptions in court. In some states attorneys may also arrange adoptive placements.

Adoption consultant: An individual who helps would-be adoptive parents decide on an adoption path, and assists in choosing an appropriate agency or attorney.

Adoption facilitator: An individual whose business involves connecting birth parents and prospective adoptive parents for a fee (allowed in only a few states). In international adoption, a facilitator may help adoptive parents complete an adoption in the child’s country of origin.

Adoption plan: The birth parent(s)'s decision to allow a biological child to be adopted into an adoptive family.

Adoptive parent: The mother or father of an adopted child.

Adoption tax credit: Nonrefundable credit that reduces taxes owed by adoptive parents who claim adoption expense reimbursement on federal taxes (and, in some states with similar legislation, on state taxes). The credit calculation can include adoption expenses, court fees, attorney fees, and travel expenses.

At-risk placement: The placement of a child into the prospective adoptive family before the birth parents' rights have been legally extinguished.

Birth parent: A mother or father who is genetically related to the child.

Certified copy: A copy of an official document, like a birth certificate, marriage certificate, or divorce decree, that has been certified by an official to be authentic and bears an original seal or embossed design.

Confidential adoption or closed adoption: An adoption in which the birth parent(s) and the adoptive parent(s) do not meet, do not exchange identifying information, and do not maintain contact with each other.

Consent to adopt or consent to adoption: A birth parent’s or adoptee’s legal permission for the adoption to proceed.

Decree of adoption: A legal order that finalizes an adoption.

Designated adoption or identified adoption: An adoption in which the birth parent(s) choose(s) the adoptive parent(s) for the child.

Dossier: A set of legal documents used in international adoption to process a child’s adoption or assignment of guardianship in a foreign court.

Domestic adoption: The adoption of a child born in the United States.

Finalization: The legal process by which the adoption becomes permanent and binding.

Foster parents: State or county-licensed adults who provide a temporary home for children whose birth parents are unable to care for them

Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption: A multinational agreement designed to promote the uniformity and efficiency of international adoptions.

Home study: A study of the prospective adoptive family and their home, life experiences, health, lifestyle, extended family, attitudes, support system, values, beliefs, and other factors relating to the prospective adoption. This information is summarized in an adoption study or home study report.

Independent/Identified adoption: An adoption arranged privately between the birth family and the adoptive family, without an adoption agency.

Inter-country or international adoption: The adoption of a child from a country outside of the United States.

Kinship adoption: Adoption by a biological relative of the child.

Non-identifying information: Information that allows the birth and adoptive families to learn pertinent facts about each other without revealing who they are or how they can be contacted.

Open adoption or cooperative adoption: An adoption in which the birth parents and adoptive parents have contact with each other before and/or after the placement of the adopted child.

Placement: The point at which a child begins to live with prospective adoptive parents; the period before the adoption is finalized.

Post-placement supervision: The range of counseling and agency services provided to the adoptive family after the child’s placement and before the adoption is finalized in court.

Post-adoption services: A variety of services provided after the adoption is finalized, including counseling, social services, and adoptive family events, and outings.

Putative Father: A man whose legal relationship to a child has not been established, but who is alleged to be or claims that he may be the biological father of a child who is born to a woman to whom he is not married at the time of the child's birth.

Putative Father Registry: A public registry, usually administered by the state's Department of Vital Records, where an unmarried man who believes that he is the father of a child, may register and claim to be the father of this child. To register in the Registry, an alleged father must also agree to become financially responsible for the care of the child. A putative father that has properly registered in the registry can usually object to the placement of his child for adoption, if he meets certain requirements that are also imposed on him by state law.

Relative: Any individual having the following relationship to the minor by marriage, blood, or adoption: brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister, uncle, aunt, or grandparent.

Relinquishment: Voluntary termination of parental rights. Some prefer the phrase “making an adoption plan.

Special needs child: A child with medical, mental, emotional, behavioral, or educational needs that could require extra on-going attention.

Stepparent: An individual who is married to a parent of a child who has not adopted the child.

Termination of parental rights: The process by which a parent's rights to his or her child are legally and permanently terminated, after which the child becomes eligible for adoption.


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