Glossary of Adoption Terms

(Original thanks to the National Adoption Information Center)

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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).

Access veto systems
Type of reunion registry system. The veto is a document filed by one party to the adoption which registers that person's refusal to be contacted or denial of release of identifying information. In an access veto or nondisclosure request system, an adopted adult may receive identifying information about another party if no veto is on file. Some States may have provisions for a contact veto, permitting a party seeking information access to identifying information, including an original birth certificate, but prohibiting contact between the parties.

Active registries
Reunion registries which do not require that both parties register their consent. Once one party is registered, a designated individual (often an agency or court representative) is assigned to contact those persons being sought and determine their wishes for the release of information.

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
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 assistance
Monthly subsidy payments to help adoptive parents raise children with special needs. These payments were initially made possible by the enactment of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 (P.L. 96-272) which provided Federal funding for children eligible under title IV-E of the Social Security Act; States also fund monthly payments for children with special needs who are not eligible for federally-funded subsidy payments. "Adoption assistance" can also refer to any help given to adoptive parents.

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 consultant
Anyone who helps with the placement of a child, but specifically someone who makes it his or her private business to facilitate adoptions.

Adoption disruption
The interruption of an adoption prior to finalization--sometimes called a "failed adoption" or a "failed placement".

Adoption dissolution
The interruption or "failure" of an adoption after finalization that requires court action.

Adoption exchange
An organization which recruits adoptive families for children with special needs using print, radio, television and Internet recruitment, as well as matching parties (which bring together prospective adoptive parents, waiting children and their social workers in a child-focused setting). Adoption exchanges can be local, state, regional, national or international in scope.

Adoption facilitator
Individual whose business involves connecting birth parents and prospective adoptive parents for a fee (illegal in most 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
The point at which a child begins to live with prospective adoptive parents; the period before the adoption is finalized.

Adoption plan
Birth parents' decisions to allow their child to be placed for adoption.

Adoption reversal
Reclaiming of a child (originally voluntarily placed with adoptive parents) by birth parent(s) who have had a subsequent change of heart. State laws vary in defining time limits and circumstances under which a child may be reclaimed.

Adoption subsidies
Federal or State adoption benefits (also known as adoption assistance) designed to help offset the short- and long-term costs associated with adopting children who need special services. To be eligible for the Federal IV-E subsidy program, children must meet each of the following characteristics:
  • a court has ordered that the child cannot or should not be returned to the birth family
  • the child has special needs, as determined by the state's definition of special needs
  • a "reasonable effort" has been made to place the child without a subsidy
  • the child must have been eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) at the time of the adoption, or the child's birth family must have been receiving - or eligible to receive - Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC).

Benefits available through subsidy programs vary by State, but commonly include:
  • monthly cash payments - up to an amount that is $1 less than the foster care payment the state would have made if the child were still in basic family foster care
  • medical assistance - through the federal program (and some state programs), Medicaid benefits
  • social services - post-adoption services such as respite care, counseling, day care, etc.
  • nonrecurring adoption expenses - a one-time reimbursement (depending upon the state, between $400 and $2,000) for costs such as adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees, physical and psychological examinations, and other expenses related to the legal adoption of a child with special needs.

Before adopting a child with special needs, ask your agency about the availability of federal and state subsidies. To request more information about federal and state subsidy programs, call the National Adoption Assistance Training, Resource, and Information Network (NAATRIN) at (800) 470-6665.

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 tax exclusions
IRS provisions in the Federal tax code which allow adoptive parents to exclude cash or other adoption benefits for qualifying adoption expenses received from a private-sector employer when computing the family's adjusted gross income for tax purposes.

Adoption triad
The three major parties in an adoption: birth parents, adoptive parents, and adopted child. Also called "adoption triangle" or "adoption circle."

Adult adoption
The adoption of a person over the age of majority (as defined in State law).

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.

Alcohol-related birth defects
Physical or cognitive deficits in a child which result from maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy--includes but is not limited to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and Fetal Alcohol Effect (FAE).

Anti-social behavior
Actions deviating sharply from the social norm. Children with such behaviors commonly skip school, get into fights, run away from home, persistently lie, use drugs or alcohol, steal, vandalize property, and violate school and home rules.

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.

Artificial insemination
Impregnation of a woman by one of many possible artificial reproductive technologies (ARTs).

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.

Attention deficit disorder (ADD)
A lifelong developmental disability (with onset in infancy, childhood or adolescence) that affects a child's ability to concentrate and control impulses. A child who has ADD is not hyperactive, but often has problems sustaining attention in task or play activities, difficulty in persisting with tasks to completion, and concentrating for longer periods of time.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
A lifelong developmental disability (with onset in infancy, childhood or adolescence) that involves problems with attention span, impulse control, and activity level at home, at school or at work. Typical behaviors include: fidgeting with hands or squirming in seat; difficulty remaining seated when required; distractibility; difficulty waiting for turns in groups; difficulty staying on task with chores or play activities; difficulty playing quietly; excessive talking; inattention; restlessness; and engaging in physically dangerous activities without considering consequences.

Autistic disorder
A pervasive developmental disturbance with onset before age three, characterized by markedly abnormal or impaired development in social interaction and communication and a markedly restricted array of activity and interests. Manifestations of the disorder vary greatly depending on the developmental level and age of the individual. Autistic children can be withdrawn and show little interest in others or in typical childhood activities and instead exhibit repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests and activities.

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Bipolar disorder
A category of mental illnesses in which mood and affect are disturbed--characterized by irregular cycles of mania and/or depression. During manic periods, the individual may be in a very elevated mood and exhibit symptoms of hyperactivity, wakefulness, and distractibility or irritability. In very severe episodes, psychotic symptoms may also be present. Individuals experiencing depressive periods can exhibit sustained symptoms of depressed mood, diminished pleasure or interest in most activities, fatigue, sleep disturbance (either insomnia or hypersomnia), weight loss or weight gain, and slowed thinking.

Birth parent
A child's biological parent.

Black market adoption
An adoption in which one or more parties make a profit from a child placement, as opposed to receiving payment for providing counseling, location, or other services.

Boarder babies
Infants abandoned in hospitals because of the parents' inability to care for them. These babies are usually born HIV-positive or drug addicted.

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.

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Central auditory processing disorder
A condition in which an individual has difficulty comprehending and integrating information that is heard, although hearing is normal. Central auditory processing disorder occurs when the ear and the brain do not coordinate fully. The causes of this disorder are varied and can include head trauma, lead poisoning, possibly chronic ear infections and other unknown reasons. Because there are many different possibilities or even combinations of causes each child must be individually assessed.

Cerebral palsy
A non-hereditary condition which results from brain damage before, during, or after birth. Children with cerebral palsy lack muscle control in one or more parts of their bodies or may experience speech and language difficulties, depending on the area of the brain damaged. Individuals with cerebral palsy can possess very normal mental functions.

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.

Concurrent planning
A process used in foster care case management by which child welfare staff work toward family reunification and, at the same time, develop an alternative permanency plan for the child (such as permanent placement with a relative, or adoption) should family reunification efforts fail. Concurrent planning is intended to reduce the time a child spends in foster care before a child is placed with a permanent family.

Conduct disorder
A condition characterized by a repetitive and persistent pattern of behavior which violates the basic rights of others or major age-appropriate societal norms or rules. A child or teen with conduct disorder may:
  • display aggressive conduct (bully or threaten others; initiate fights; use weapons that could cause serious harm; force someone into sexual activity; be physically aggressive or cruel to people or animals);
  • engage in nonaggressive behaviors that result in property loss or damage;
  • engage in deceitfulness or theft (steal; or lie or break promises to obtain goods or to avoid debts or obligations)
  • persistently engage in serious violations of rules that lead to confrontations with parents, school suspensions or expulsion, problems in the workplace, or legal difficulties (staying out after dark without permission; running away from home; truancy; etc.).

Conduct disorder may lead to the development of Antisocial Personality Disorder during adulthood.

Confidential Intermediary
State employee or trained volunteer sanctioned by the courts, who is given access to sealed adoption files for the purpose of conducting a search. A confidential intermediary may be hired by the inquiring party to conduct a searches for an adopted adult or birth parent or other birth relatives (depending on State laws), make contact with each party, and obtain each person's consent or denial for the release of information. Depending on the particular laws of the State, contact may be attempted once, after a specific time period, or the file may be closed permanently if the party being sought cannot be found.

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.

A long-term (formal or informal) agreement to support the needs of children with developmental disabilities by which extra caregivers support parents by providing ongoing respite parenting when needed.

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 of the children they care for.

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De facto
A term meaning "in actual fact", "in deed" or "actually", regardless of legal or normative standards. In a legal context, the phrase refers to an action or a state of affairs which must be accepted for all practical purposes, but which has no legal basis. A "de facto family" is a "psychological family" in which members have ties to each other even though they are relatives by birth or marriage and do not have a legal document recognizing their relationship.

De facto adoption
A legal agreement to adopt a child according to the laws of a particular State which will result in a legal adoption process once the adoption petition is filed with the appropriate court; an equitable adoption.

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.

Developmental disability
A severe, chronic impairment (with onset before age 22 and which is likely to continue indefinitely) which creates substantial functional limitations in three or more of the following areas of major life activity: self care, language, learning, mobility, self-direction, potential for independent living and potential for economic self-sufficiency as an adult. The condition can be attributed to one or more mental or physical impairments which require specific and lifelong or extended care that is individually planned and coordinated.

The release or transmittal of previously hidden or unknown information.

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.

Down syndrome
A genetic disorder (caused by the presence of an extra chromosome), which results in physical and mental abnormalities. Physical characteristics include a flattened face, widely spaced and slanted eyes, smaller head size and lax joints. Mental retardation is also typical, though there are wide variations in mental ability, behavior, and developmental progress. Possible related health problems include poor resistance to infection, hearing loss, gastrointestinal problems, and heart defects.

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Emotional disturbance
Severe, pervasive or chronic emotional/affective condition which prevents a child from performing everyday tasks. This condition is characterized by an inability to build or maintain relationships, inappropriate behaviors or feelings under normal circumstances, a pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression, or a tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears related to personal or school problems. Children may require special classrooms and teachers trained to help children with these special needs. School systems may have varying "levels" and processes for educational planning.

Equitable adoption
The legal process used in some States to establish inheritance rights of a child, when the prospective adoptive parent had entered into an oral contract to adopt the child and the child was placed with the parent but the adoption was not finalized before the parent died.

Employer Assistance
Adoption benefits provided to employees by employers which may include direct cash assistance for adoption expenses, reimbursement of approved adoption expenses, paid or unpaid leave (beyond federal leave requirements established through the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993), and resource and referral services. For a list of employers who provide benefits, call the National Adoption Center at (800)-TO-ADOPT.

Extended family
A child's relatives (other than parents) such as aunts, uncles, grandparents, and sometimes even close friends.

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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.

Fictive kin
People not related by birth or marriage who have an emotionally-significant relationship with an individual.

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.

A child placement in which birth parents' rights have not yet been severed by the court or in which birth 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 birth parents are unable to care for them.

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A family's genetic "line", family tree, or a record of such ancestry.

A feeling of emotional deprivation or loss. Grief may be experienced by each member of the adoption triad at some point.

Group home
A homelike setting in which a number of unrelated children live for varying time periods. Group homes may have one set of house parents or may have a rotating staff and some therapeutic or treatment group homes have specially-trained staff to assist children with emotional and behavioral difficulties.

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 birth 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.

Guardian ad litem (GAL)
A person, often an attorney, appointed by the court to represent the interests of a child, a ward, or an unborn infant in a particular court case. The status of guardian ad litem exists only within the confines of the particular court case in which the appointment occurs.

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A process through which prospective adoptive parents are educated about adoption and evaluated to determine their suitability to adopt.

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I-600 and I-600A visa petition
An official request to the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) 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.

Identifying information
Information on birthparents which discloses their identities.

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.

Independent living
A type of placement that provides life-skills training to youth to assist them to acquire the skills they will need to live independently as adults. The program is designed for children who are "aging out" of foster care and for whom there is no other permanency plan.

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 bear children.

Abbreviation for Individualized Educational Plan, a plan for educational support services and outcomes developed for students enrolled in special education programs.

Acronym for Interethnic Placement provisions; refers to Section 1808 of P.L. 104-188, Removal of Barriers to Interethnic Adoption, which affirms the prohibition contained in the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act of 1994 against delaying or denying the placement of a child for adoption or foster care on the basis of race, color or national origin of the foster or adoptive parents or of the child involved [42 USC 1996b].

Acronym for U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, a Federal agency under the Justice Department that oversees all visas issued to allow entry into the United States.

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 Adoption and Medical Assistance (ICAMA)
An agreement between member states that governs the interstate delivery of and payment for medical services and adoption assistance payments/subsidies for adopted children with special needs. The agreements are established by the laws of the States which are parties to the Compact.

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.

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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).

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Learning disabilities (LD)
One or more impairments in reading, mathematics and/or written expression skills which interfere with academic performance in school or in activities of daily living requiring those skills. Performance on standardized tests below that expected for age, schooling and level of intelligence are used as preliminary diagnostic tools to identify areas where children are experiencing problems. Children with learning disabilities may be of average or above average intelligence, but have difficulty learning, sorting, and storing information. Some children find learning in a regular classroom difficult and LD classes may be recommended to help them achieve their potential in school.

Legal custody
Restraint of or responsibility for a person according to law, such as a guardian's authority (conferred by the court) over the person or property (or both) of his ward.

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.

Legally free
A child whose birth parents' rights have been legally terminated so that the child is "free" to be adopted by another family.

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 birthparents, other relatives, birthplace and date, etc and can be put together by social workers, foster and/or adoptive parents working with the child.

Long-term foster care
The intentional and planned placement of a child in foster care for an extended period of time. After the goal of adoption has been explored and not selected, and relative options are not feasible, a goal of planned long-term foster care may be seen as a viable goal. Increasingly some States child welfare systems no longer view long-term foster care as a placement alternative.

A feeling of emotional deprivation that is experienced at some point in time. For a birth parent the initial loss will usually be felt at or subsequent to the placement of the child. Adoptive parents who are infertile feel a loss in their inability to bear a child. An adopted child may feel a sense of loss at various points in time; the first time the child realizes he is adopted may invoke a strong sense of loss for his birth family.

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In education, a term that typically refers to the planned and sustained placement of a child with special educational needs into a regular education classroom for part or all of the school day.

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.

Child Abuse and Neglect, according to the Federal legislation, is at a minimum:
  • Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation
  • An act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm
  • Child abuse and neglect typically includes physical as well as emotional abuse (which causes psychological or mental injury), in addition to various types of neglect.

Sexual Abuse is defined in the Federal definition as:
  • The employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit conduct or simulation on such conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct
  • The rape, and in cases of caretaker or inter-familial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children.

The process of finding prospective families specifically suited to meet the needs of a waiting child, not to be confused with "placement".

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.

Mental retardation
Impaired or incomplete mental development characterized by an IQ of 70 or below and characterized by significant functional limitations in at least two of the following skills: communication, self-care, home living, social/interpersonal skills, use of community resources, self-direction, functional academic skills, work, leisure, health, and safety. Onset usually occurs before age 18. More than 200 specific causes of mental retardation have been identified. Degrees of severity reflect the level of intellectual impairment:
  • Mild Mental Retardation - IQ level 50-55 to approximately 70
  • Moderate Retardation - IQ level 35-40 to 50-55
  • Severe Mental Retardation - IQ level 20-25 to 35-40
  • Profound Mental Retardation - IQ level below 20-25

Acronym for Multi-Ethnic Placement Act of 1994.

Multi-Ethnic Placement Act
A federal law enacted in 1994 and implemented through State policy. The Multi-Ethnic Placement Act of 1994 , as amended, P.L. 103-382 [42 USC 622] prohibits the delay or denial of any adoption or placement in foster care due to the race, color, or national origin of the child or of the foster or adoptive parents and requires States to provide for diligent recruitment of potential foster and adoptive families who reflect the ethnic and racial diversity of children for whom homes are needed. The 1996 amendment, Section 1808 of P.L. 104-188, Removal of Barriers to Interethnic Adoption, affirms the prohibition against delaying or denying the placement of a child for adoption or foster care on the basis of race, color or national origin of the foster or adoptive parents or of the child involved [42 USC 1996b].

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Non-identifying information
Facts about the 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.

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Occupational therapy
The science of using everyday activities with specific goals, to help people of all ages prevent, lessen, or overcome physical disabilities.

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.

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
A recurrent pattern of negativitistic, defiant, disobedient, and hostile behavior toward authority figures that persists for at least six months. This disorder is characterized by frequent occurrence of at least four of the following behaviors: frequent loss of temper, tendency to argue with adults, refusal to obey adult rules or requests, deliberate behaviors to annoy others, spiteful and vindictive behavior, being touchy or easily annoyed by others, being angry and resentful, use of obscene language, and a tendency to blame others for mistakes or misbehaviors. Symptoms are less severe than those associated with Conduct Disorder but sometimes indicate the early stages of Conduct Disorder (CD) and may sometimes lead to the development of Antisocial Personality Disorder during adulthood.

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.

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Parens patriae
Legal term that defines the State's legal role as the guardian to protect the interests of children who cannot take care of themselves. For example, in an abuse or neglect case, this concept is used to explain the State's duty to protect minor children who lack proper care and custody from their parents.

Passive registries
Type of reunion registry system. Passive reunion registries require both parties to register their consent for release of information before a match can be made. Once a match occurs, both parties are notified. These systems depend on both parties registering, a match being found, and the follow-up notification by a registry administrator.

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.

Photolisting book
A publication that contains photos and descriptions of children who are available for adoption.

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-legal adoption services
Services provided subsequent to legal finalization of the adoption. There are primarily four types of post-legal service providers: social service agencies, private therapists, mental health clinics and self-help groups.

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.

Post-reunion issues
A range of feelings from euphoria to despair possible after the reunion of birth relatives. Family members in reunion may feel a "let down" or a range of feelings including guilt, anger, jealousy, confusion or happiness that may be related to completion of the reunion process and the beginning of a process whereby family members do or do not negotiate an ongoing relationship.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
A condition in which victims of overwhelming and uncontrollable experiences are subsequently psychologically affected by feelings of intense fear, loss of safety, loss of control, helplessness, and extreme vulnerability and in children the disorder involves disorganized or agitated behavior.

Prenatal substance exposure
Fetal exposure to maternal drug and alcohol use which can significantly increase the risk for developmental and neurological disabilities. The effects can range from severe (neurological damage and growth retardation) to minor (resulting in normal outcomes). Infant and child long-term development depends not only on the prenatal exposure (type of drug, amount, length of time of use), but on factors related to the child's own biological vulnerability and environmental conditions.

Psychological parent
A person, though perhaps not biologically related to a child, whom the child considers as his parent; sometimes called a "de facto" parent.

Generally regarded to be true.

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

Putative father registries
Registry system that serves to ensure that a birthfathers' rights are protected. Some states require that birthfathers 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.

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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.

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

Residential care facility
A structured 24-hour care facility with staff that provide psychological services to help severely troubled children overcome behavioral, emotional, mental, or psychological problems that adversely affect family interaction, school achievement, and peer relationships.

Residential treatment
Therapeutic intervention processes for individuals who cannot or do not function satisfactorily in their own homes. For children and adolescents, residential treatment tends to be the last resort when a child is in danger of hurting himself or others.

Respite care
Temporary or short-term home care of a child provided for pay or on a voluntary basis by adults other than the parents (birth, foster, or adoptive parents).

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

Reunification services
Interventions by social worker and other professionals to help children and their birth parents develop mutually reciprocal relationships that will help them to live together again as a family.

A meeting between birthparent(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 birthparent(s).

A commonly prescribed drug that can help to control some of the symptoms of attention deficit disorder. It may have a calming effect and help to improve concentration.

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An attempt, usually by birthparent, adopted person, or adoptive parent (but sometimes by volunteers or paid consultants) to make a connection between the birthparent and the biological child.

Search and consent procedures
Procedures, sanctioned in State law, that authorize a public or private agency to assist a searching party to locate another party to the adoption to determine if the second party agrees to the release of identifying information or to meeting with the requesting party. If consent is given, the disclosure of information may then be authorized by the court. In some states counseling is required before information is received.

Semi-open adoption
An adoption in which a child's 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.

Sexual abuse
The employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit conduct or any simulation of such conduct for the purpose of producing any visual depiction of such conduct; or rape, and in cases of caretaker or inter-familial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children.

Sexual abuse symptomology
Indicators and behaviors which suggest that a child may have been sexually abused, including: excessive masturbation, sexual interaction with peers, sexual aggression towards younger and more naive children, seductive behavior, and promiscuity.

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.

Speech and language disorders
Impairments of speech or receptive language. Speech disorders usually involved difficulties with articulation which can generally be improved or resolved with speech therapy, usually requiring treatment over months or years. Language disorders, on the other hand, often result in substantial learning problems, involving difficulty with language comprehension, expression, word-finding and/or speech discrimination. Treatment by a language therapist generally leads to improvement in functional communication skills, although treatment cannot be generally expected to eradicate the problem.

Stepparent adoption
The adoption of a child by the new spouse of the birthparent.

Substitute care
Any kind of care sanctioned by the court of jurisdiction in which the child does not live with the birth parent.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
A Federally-funded needs-based disability program for adults and children which provides monthly cash benefits and, in most states, automatic Medicaid eligibility.

Voluntary termination of parental rights. An action taken by birth parents to voluntarily "make an adoption plan" for a child or "relinquish" a child for adoption.

Surrender papers
Legal document attesting to the signator's voluntary relinquishment of parental rights to a child.

Surrogate mother
A woman who carries another woman's child by pre-arrangement or by legal contract.

Often referred to as "the public child welfare system." Refers to the network of governmental organizations providing a range of child welfare services.

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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.

Tourette's syndrome
A treatable neurological disorder that consists of involuntary "tic" movements or vocalizations that become more apparent under stress. Common manifestations include shoulder-shrugging, neck-jerking, facial twitches, coughing, grunting, throat clearing, sniffing, snorting, and barking. Children with Tourette's often have problems with hyperactivity as well.

Traditional adoption
Most often used to refer to a domestic infant adoption in which confidentiality is preserved. Equivalent to a closed adoption.

Treatment Foster Home
A foster home in which the foster parents are trained to offer treatment to children with moderate to severe emotional problems; also known as therapeutic foster home.

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Voluntary adoption registry
A reunion registry system which allows adoptees, birthparents, and biological siblings to locate each other if they wish by maintaining a voluntary list of adoptees and birth relatives.

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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.

Important Legal Information