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Using accurate adoption language can stop the spread of adoption-related misconceptions and educate others about adoption. For instance, the phrase “deciding to parent” has a much more positive connotation than “keeping your baby.” “Deciding to parent” focuses on the fact that parents considered all options and chose the option they felt was best for the child.  It is important to use appropriate terms so that accurate language will someday be the norm in our society. 

Accurate Language

Birth parent/first parent

My child

Choosing an adoption plan

Finding a family to parent your child

Deciding to parent the child

Was adopted

To parent

Child in need of a family


International adoption

Child with special needs

Child from another country

Birth father

Inaccurate Language

Real parent/natural parent

Adopted child/own child

Giving away/giving up your child

Putting your child up for adoption

Keeping your baby

Is adopted

To keep

Adoptable child/available child

Adoptive parent

Foreign adoption

Handicapped child

Foreign child

Sperm donor


In the United States, statistics for the total number of all types of adoptions are not compiled on a regular basis. Therefore, some of the following statistics are estimates based on U.S. Census data and other sources. Overall, it is estimated that approximately 2-4% of all Americans are adopted.

Adoption Triad: Birth parents, adoptive parents and the adopted child(ren).

Disrupted Adoption: An adoption agreement that ends before finalization.

Dissolution of Adoption: An adoption that ends after finalization.

Identifying Information: Information about members of the adoption triad, such as full names, addresses and other contact information.

Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children: A law that requires written notice and prior approval of the placement of a child for adoption or foster care from one state with a family in another state.

Non-Identifying Information: Information that allows members of the adoption triad to know about each other, but without identifying information. First names, physical descriptions, occupation, education, personality characteristics, hobbies, interests, religious affiliation and medical information are examples of non-identifying information.

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.

Closed Adoption: An adoption that involves total confidentiality and sealed records.

Identifying Information: Information on birth parents which discloses their identities.

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).

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.

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

Relinquishment/Termination of Parental Rights: The legal step necessary for parents to voluntarily or involuntarily have their parental rights terminated to allow their child to be adopted by adoptive parents; sometimes referred to as a surrender or as making an adoption plan for one’s child.

Infant/Newborn/Domestic: A child who is born in the U.S. and who is adopted shortly after birth (within the U.S.). In the United States, approximately 13,000 domestic adoptions are finalized each year.

Transnational/Intercountry/International: A child who is born in one country and is adopted by a family who lives in another country. Often, the child is orphaned. In the United States, approximately 9,300 children are adopted each year from countries born outside of the United States (

Kin: Children adopted by a relative such as an aunt, uncle, sister, brother, grandparent or other relative.

Foster Care: Children who are no longer able to be cared for by their primary caregiver(s) and are assigned to another family or group home by the state. In the United States, approximately 52,800 children are adopted from foster care and approximately 102,000 children are waiting to be adopted from foster care.(

Stepparent: Children adopted by an individual who agrees to take full responsibility for the child of his or her spouse.

Embryo: Families can adopt an embryo produced from the sperm and egg of one couple. Typically, the embryos are adopted by an infertile woman or a couple. Clinics and agencies help match donating families and recipient/adopting families.

Special Needs: Children with physical, behavioral or mental impairments, children with siblings in need of adoption and at-risk children.

Surrogacy: A surrogate mother carries a fertilized egg in utero. After the birth of the child, the intended parent(s) adopt(s) the child in her utero.

Sperm Donor: If a woman is capable of conceiving and carrying a child to full term, she may use a sperm donor to become pregnant. After the child is born, the woman’s spouse or significant other may adopt the child to become the child’s legal parent.

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