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Adoption Terms You Should Know

What is a home study? What does the phrase ‘adoption triad’ mean? Not sure? Below you will find a listing of common adoption terms and definitions.


A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

– A –

Adoptee – a person who was adopted.

Adoption – the legal process involving the transfer of parental rights and obligations from birth parents to adoptive parents. Adoption is a permanent, legally-binding arrangement by which a child or teenager becomes a member of a new family.

Adoption agency -an organization that is provincially licensed and responsible for placing children with adoptive families. There are private and public adoption agencies.

Adoption Assistance -refers to a government benefit granted to families that adopt children with special needs. This assistance or ‘subsidy’ may be a one time payment or monthly payment to help offset the costs of medical and dental expenses, counseling services and therapy not covered by health insurance. The amount and types of subsidies vary by province and case.

Adoption Order -a document issued by the court once an adoption is finalized that states the adoptee is the legal child of the adoptive parents.

Adoption Licensee -an individual or agency that arranges placement of children in adoptive homes.

Adoptive parent – a person who becomes a child’s permanent parent through adoption. The adoptive parents have all of the social and legal rights and responsibilities of any parent. Note: This term should only be used when distinguishing between birth parents and adoptive parents.

Adoption Practitioner – this refers to a provincially-licensed professional who counsels both birth parents and prospective adoptive parents about adoption. Adoption practitioners are also known as social workers.

Adoption Records – refers to the documents regarding an adoption.

Adoption Resource Exchange – an event or ‘conference’ that facilitates the matching of children with adoptive families.

Adoption Triad – refers to the three parties involved in adoption: adoptees, birth parents and adoptive parents.

Attachment – the process by which a child will bond and form stable emotional relationships with his/her primary caregivers. This process begins in early infancy when the child’s caregiver(s) continuously meet his/her needs and comfort. Children that have been abandoned and neglected or moved between several foster homes often fail to establish these important connections. If a child fails to establish attachment, he/she may experience difficulties with a wide variety of social relationships; severe cases of attachment problems result in a permanent condition called ‘reactive attachment disorder’ (RAD).

– B –

Birth family – refers to people who share a child’s genetic heritage.

Birth mother – A term used to describe a biological mother who subsequently places her child for adoption. Note: Avoid the terms ‘real mother’ or ‘natural mother’ when referring to a birth mother. Also, a woman should not be referred to as a birth mother until she places her child for adoption.

Birth father – A term used to describe a biological father.

– C –

Child Profile – A document written and prepared for prospective adoptive parents about a child being considered for adoption. The child’s profile contains information about the child’s medical and social history as well as any information available about the child’s biological family.

Children’s Aid Society – a public child welfare agency funded by the government and responsible for protecting Ontario children, finding foster homes and permanent families for children in its care who are legally free for adoption. There are 53 Children’s Aid Societies in Ontario which are licensed by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services.

Closed adoption – refers to an adoption where there is no contact or identifying information shared between families. Adoptive parents are given non-identifying information about the child’s biological family and once the adoption has been finalized, the adoption records are sealed.

Consent form – a legal document signed by the biological parent(s) to voluntarily relinquish their legal guardianship and parental responsibilities.

Criminal check – a process used by local police and/or the RCMP to determine whether someone has a criminal record.

Custom adoption – A privately arranged adoption between two Aboriginal families. There are no lawyers or social workers involved; a custom adoption is considered legal if an Adoption Commissioner, chosen by the community, says it was done in the traditional way, following aboriginal custom. Custom adoptions exist so that Aboriginal children stay in their communities and retain their cultural identities and traditions.

Custom care – A form of kinship care specific to aboriginal communities. In custom care, native children are cared for by relatives, members of their band or any adult that shares a kinship bond with the child. Custom care is ideal because the child maintains a connection with his/her extended family and community.

– D –

Department adoption – a term used in some provinces/territories for government adoptions (a.k.a. public adoptions).

Disclosure – when used in the context of adoption search and reunion, disclosure means the release from government files of previously confidential information. Such information would include identifying information of biological parents.

Disruption – this occurs when adoptive parents, birth parents or the agency involved decides that the adoption placement is not working out. Disrupted adoptions occur before finalization and the child will be removed from the adoptive home and placed in foster care or another adoptive home.

Dissolution -this occurs after an adoption has been finalized and the decision for an adoption dissolution is made by either the adoptive parents or the courts. The child leaves the adoptive home and returns to foster care or is placed with another adoptive family.

Domestic adoption – refers to the adoption of a child within one’s country.

Dossier – when used in the context of adoption, the term ‘dossier’ refers to a collection of legal documents that have been authenticated and translated for use in an international adoption.

– F –

Family profile – a family profile in the adoption world refers to a type of presentation created by, and about, the prospective adoptive family. These family profiles typically consist of a "Dear Expectant Parent" letter as well as several photographs of the prospective adoptive parents and their home.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder(FASD) – is a condition in children that is caused by the consumption of alcohol by the mother during pregnancy. Children that have FASD may be born with physical, mental and behavioural disabilities that will become more and more evident with time. FASD is 100% preventable and is permanent brain damage.

Finalization, adoption – the legal process in court where a Judge signs an adoption order that declares the adoptive parents as the permanent, legal parents of a child. Finalization is the last step in the adoption process.

Foster to adopt / foster with a view – a child is placed with foster parents who have agreed to adopt the child if/when the birth parents’ right are terminated by the court. At the time of placement, the birth parents still have parental rights and may be appealing the court’s decision. Foster to adopt placements benefit children as they are spared additional
moves and can bond/attach with the foster/adopt parents. Foster adopt placements are arranged by public adoption agencies and most workers will only place children in foster/adopt homes if there is a very high chance of them being adopted.

Foster care – a temporary home for children in care.

Foster parents – refers to adults who have been trained and licensed by their province to provide a temporary home for children whose birth parents are unable to care for them. In Canada, foster parents are paid a daily rate for the child’s room/board, allowances for clothing, gifts, food, travel and other expenses. Foster care rates depend on the age of the child, how many children are in the home and a number of other factors. Foster parents may care for particular children for several days, months and/or years depending on the situation.

– H –

Home study – An adoption home study is conducted by a licensed social worker and its purpose is to assess and prepare a family that is
hoping to adopt. During the home study, the social worker meets with the prospective parents at their home on numerous occasions to discuss such topics as each person’s childhood, relationships, health and lifestyle, views on parenting and adoption and other issues that may arise. At the end of the home study process, the social worker gathers all of the information and prepares a report with recommendations on whether or not prospective parents should adopt and if so, the type of child that would best match the family.

– I –

Identifying information – information made available to the birth parents, the adoptive parents and the adoptee about each other. i.e. full names and address.

International or ‘intercountry’ adoption – a type of adoption that involves adopting a child from outside of one’s own country. International adoptions are the most complex type of adoptions since the laws of the adoptive parents’ province, federal immigration laws and the laws of the child’s country must all be followed and met.

Infertility – the inability to conceive a biological child.

– K –

Kinship care -occurs when a child is removed from the care of his/her biological parents but is placed with a relative or someone who has a significant relationship with the child.

– L –

Legal custody – means a legal status created by the court that vests in a person, department or agency the responsibility and authority to make decisions for a child relating to their health, education and welfare.

Legal Guardian – A person who has the legal responsibility for providing the care and management of a person who is incapable of administering his or her own affairs. This may be because the person is too young or old or has a physical, emotional or mental impairment.

Legal risk adoption – also known as ‘foster to adopt’ or ‘foster with a view to adopt’. This type of adoption occurs when a child is placed in a home as a foster child and is later adopted by his/her foster parents. This type of adoption is a ‘legal risk adoption’ because the courts have not yet made the child legally free to be adopted and there is still a chance that he/she may be returned to his/her biological family.

Licensed adoption agency – an agency that has been licensed by the province to facilitate adoption placements and monitor such placements until the adoptions are finalized.

Life book – A scrapbook or journal created and/or maintained by foster parents, social workers and/or adoptive parents that chronicles a child’s life before and after he/she was adopted. These life books contain photos, writings about the child and mementos of the child’s life so that they have memories in print. Life books are instrumental in helping children form a healthy sense of identity and to understand their unique history and adoption.

– M –

Matching – this refers to the process by which social workers and adoption agencies match an approved prospective adoptive family with a waiting child.

Mixed Bank adoption – a type of adoption in Quebec that is comparable to the ‘foster with a view to adopt’ programs in provinces like Ontario. Social workers match children with families from the Mixed Bank of approved waiting parents who agree to foster the children until they are legally free to be adopted. Children are considered a legal risk but only a small percentage of children placed through the Mixed Bank program are returned to their biological families.

– N –

Networking – in the adoption world, ‘networking’ is the process many prospective adoptive parents pursue in the hopes of finding potential adoption situations on their own. Networking for adoption is often done online, through classified advertising in newspapers, e-mails to various organizations, print flyers distributed at various places (i.e. university/college campuses) and of course, word of mouth. Not all provinces and territories allow adoption networking.

Non-identifying information -information that does not reveal names or anything that will help identify birth parents, adoptive parents and/or the adoptee. Social workers provide each party (if requested) a profile of the other parties that contains information about each individual’s social and medical histories.

– O –

Open adoption – an adoption where the birth parent(s) and adoptive parents know each other, exchange information and agree to have an ongoing contact between families. This
type of contact may be through photos and letters with occasional or numerous visits. Many families create an open adoption agreement which details what type of contact they will share over the years. Some families choose a semi-open adoption where the parties involved only know each other’s first names and exchange photos and letters through a third-party like their adoption agency. Semi-adoption arrangements may also include visits but again, these are often arranged and held at the adoption agency or at a location like a restaurant.

Open adoption agreement – an open adoption agreement is a verbal or written agreement between birth parents and adoptive parents that outlines the type and amount of contact they agree to maintain in the future. An open adoption agreement is not legally enforceable but rather, a sign of good faith and trust that they will stay in touch for the benefit of the child.

Open records – the ability to access previously closed adoption records.

– P –

Permanency plan – a plan for a permanent arrangement for a child in care that will result in a permanent and loving home. When a child comes into care, efforts are made to find the child a forever home whether it’s with his/her biological parents, extended family or in an adoptive home.

Photo listing – created by public adoption agencies and contains profiles of children waiting to be adopted. These photo listings often contain photos and a description of the child and may come in print or digital (online).

Placement (adoption) – the act of physically transferring a child to a foster or prospective adoptive home.

Practitioner (adoption) – a professional (most often social worker) licensed in Ontario to perform home studies and supervise adoption placements.

Private adoption – an adoption arranged by a privately funded, licensed adoption agency. Most private adoptions cost prospective adoptive families anywhere from $7,000 to $15,000 and most of the children adopted are newborns or very young infants.

Private adoption agency – a privately funded, non-government adoption agency that has been licensed by its province and charges fees for its services.

Probation period – a set amount of time following an adoption placement where the family’s social worker or agency monitors the adoption to ensure the child and parents are adjusting and bonding with each other.

Public adoption -a type of adoption arranged by the province or territory’s government agency. Most children adopted through the public system are older (3+) and have special needs, although there are some infants available for adoption.

Public adoption agency – a government agency that is publicly funded and has several roles such as child protection and the placement of waiting children in adoptive homes.

– R –

Relative adoption – a legal adoption of a child by a relative of his/her extended family (i.e. grandparent).

Relinquishment – The birth parent(s) consent to terminating their parental rights and make an adoption plan for their child.

Respite care – the temporary care provided for a child so that birth, foster or adoptive parents have relief from parenting.

Reunion registry -a database and service offered by an agency or the government for adult adoptees and birth families to register personal data and ask to be notified if other parties in that particular adoption register. Through reunion registries, many matches are made and often result in adoptees and birth families being able to meet face-to-face or at the very least, exchange important information.

Reunion – in the adoption world, a ‘reunion’ occurs when the birth parent(s) and adoptee agree to make contact and have a face-to-face meeting. Many, but not all, adoptees search for and later reunite with birth families so that they can learn more about why they were adopted and gather familial social and medical histories.

– S –

Semi-open adoptions – an adoption where birth parents and adoptive parents know each other’s names and have agreed to exchange photos and letters through a third party such as the agency that arranged the adoption.

Sibling adoption -occurs when an adoptive family agrees to adopt brothers and/or sisters at the same time.

Special needs adoption – refers to the adoption of a child who has special needs. Children with ‘special needs’ may be older, is part of a sibling group that needs to stay together, have been abused or neglected, have a physical, mental or developmental disability or a child with an unknown future as he/she may have been exposed while in utero to alcohol or drugs. Children with special needs require parents that have specialized parenting skills or those who are willing to pursue assistance for the child.

Subsidy – an adoption subsidy is often granted to families that adopt children who have special needs. These adoption subsidies are given to families for services and equipment that are not covered by provincial health care plans and may be given in a lump sum or in monthly payments.

– T –

Transracial adoption -this refers to the adoption of a child who is racially different than the adoptive family. The adoptive family must be prepared to incorporate the child’s heritage/culture in their lives and to teach the child about his/her heritage so that he/she has a strong sense of identity and self-esteem. Unfortunately, families that adopt transracially or transculturally may face racist attitudes in the community and should prepare themselves for such situations.

Triad – refers to the three groups involved in adoption – birth parents, adoptees and adoptive parents.

– W –

Waiting children – children in foster care that are legally free and waiting to be adopted.

Ward of the Crown (Crown Ward) / Permanent Ward – The legal status of children who are in the care of their province or territory’s child welfare agency. Children who come into care are only made wards when all attempts to reunify them with their biological parents have failed and as a result, the courts have terminated the birth parent’s parental rights. Once a child has been made a ward, the child welfare agency’s social workers will collaborate and set forth a permanency plan for the child which may include adoption.

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