Adoption Terms

Adoption Assistance

Financial or medical assistance can be given on a one-time or ongoing 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 Home 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. Home studies 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 provide this service. A home study is required before a child can be placed for adoption.

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 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. 

Birth Parents

Also called biological parents. This is the preferred term for the parents who gave birth to a 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. 

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 and the adopting family must complete an adoption home study. 


When a child who was 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 action taken by the court to legally make an adopted child a member of his/her adoptive family.


This type of placement is used when the child has a concurrent permanency plan goal of reunification and adoption. The foster parent, who is fully certified as both a foster and adoptive parent, agrees to work with the birth family toward reunification and is committed to adopting the child if reunification efforts fail. 

Foster Parents

Individuals or families licensed by the state to provide a temporary home for children who cannot safely live with their birth parents. 

Group Home

A large foster home licensed to provide care for several children. 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.

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. 


Term used to inform families inquiring about children waiting to be adopted that the child’s agency is no longer 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. 

Independent Adoption

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

Interstate Compact (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. 

Legal Risk Placement

Placement of a child with an approved pre-adoptive foster family who intends to adopt the child if reunification is not possible and adoption becomes necessary for the child. In legal risk placements, the rights of all of the child's birth parents have not yet been voluntarily or involuntarily terminated.


This is the 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. 

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 is in the best interest of the child. Communication may be by phone, written correspondence or personal contacts. In a semi-open adoption, contact may be maintained through an intermediary-usually the adoption agency.

Placement Decisions

Decisions about where to place a child in out-of-home care are made by considering the child's strengths and needs, the skills of the available caretakers or facilities, and the child's prospects for permanency with family placements. Child welfare agencies try to minimize the number of placements a child lives in while in out-of-home care to promote stability

Post-Legal Adoption Services

Services provided by an adoption agency 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. 


The period of time between 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 post-placement services.

Receiving Home

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


The voluntary act of transferring legal rights of the care, custody, and control of a child 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).

Residential Child Care Facility / Residential Treatment Center (RCCF/RTC)

A facility that provides care for more than 10 children. May also be referred to as residential treatment center where housing, meals, schooling, medical care, and recreation are provided onsite. Therapists, counselors, and teachers are trained to meet the needs of children with emotional and behavioral problems who live at the facility. 

Respite Care

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

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.

Therapeutic Foster Home

May also be called a treatment foster home. This is a foster home where the parents have special training to provide caretaking for children with significant emotional and behavioral problems. 

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, children of color, and/or have physical, mental/cognitive, and emotional problems that may be the result of experiences of abuse and neglect.