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Adoption Basics – Learning the Language

All adoption agencies and adoption-related websites use similar adoption language, but not all of it is universal. Here is how our website defines the following terms, broken down by category:

Domestic Adoption

A type of adoption in which a woman voluntarily places her baby for adoption with an adoptive family.

Agency Adoption – A type of domestic adoption in which a woman works with an adoption agency to carryout all of the steps of the adoption process.

Independent Adoption/Private Adoption – A type of domestic adoption in which a pregnant mother does not use an adoption agency to complete her adoption.

Identified Adoption – A type of independent adoption in which a pregnant mother has already identified the adoptive family she wishes to follow the same adoption plan with.

Adoption Professional

Any organization that provides adoption services.

Local Adoption Agency – Provides all adoption services for pregnant mothers and adoptive families in their state or region.

National Adoption Agency – Provides all adoption services for pregnant mothers and adoptive families across the country.

Adoption Attorney – Provides legal work for an adoption, and may refer adoptive families or other services.

Adoption Facilitator – Helps pregnant mothers and adoptive families find one another, but provides no other services.

Adoptive Triad

The birth mother, adoptive parents and adoptee.

Adoptee – A child who is adopted.

Adoptive Family/Adoptive Parents – The couple (or sometimes single parent) who are interested in adopting a child. Pregnant mothers are allowed to select the adoptive family who best match the type of life they envision for their child.

Birth Mothers/Birth Parents/Birth Family – A woman (or couple) who place their child for adoption.

Adoption Relationship

The type and amount of contact a birth mother and adoptive family share with one another before and after the adoption.

Closed Adoption – Includes no contact and no identifying information shared between parties.

Open Adoption/Fully Disclosed Adoption – Includes many types of contact and identifying information is shared. May include phone calls, emails and even personal visits.

Semi-Open Adoption/Mediated Adoption – The most popular type of adoption relationship, a semi-open adoption involves an adoption professional serving as a mediator for contact and to limit identifying information. May include conference calls with the adoptive family through an agency, and picture and letter contact forwarded by an agency after the adoption.


Any interaction between a pregnant mother and adoptive family before or after the adoption.

Conference Call – A phone conversation mediated by a social worker.

Email Exchange – Email interaction between a pregnant mother and adoptive family.

Picture and Letter Updates – Pictures of the adopted child sent to the pregnant mother after the adoption, as well as a letter updating her on what has been going on in the child’s life.

Pre-Placement Visit – A meeting before the adoption to get to know one another better.

Post-Placement Visit – A meeting after the adoption to stay connected with one another.

Legal Process

The legal side of the adoption that must take place in order to complete the adoption under the state’s laws.

Consent – A pregnant mother’s voluntary signature in which she terminates her parental rights in favor of the adoption.

Living Expenses – A state’s court-approved moneys given to a pregnant mother by an adoptive family to help her cover her pregnancy-related expenses.

Medical Expenses – The moneys paid by an adoptive family to cover all of the pregnant mother’s and child’s hospital expenses.

Placement – When an adopted child is physically placed with the adoptive parents.


Other adoption terms you will want to know include:

Adoption Plan – Developed before the adoption, this is a birth mother’s (and birth father’s if applicable) plan to reach their ideal adoption goals. It includes the type of family they are interested in adopting with, the type of adoption relationship they want to share with the adoptive parents, what the hospital stay will look like, and more.

Match – When a pregnant mother selects an adoptive family to follow the same adoption plan.

Social and Medical History Form – A document a pregnant mother completes to inform an adoption agency and adoptive family about her cultural background, medical history and pregnancy.