Our online glossary of adoption terms is provided to help you become familiar with terms that you’ll see, hear, and use throughout your adoption journey. This listing of the most common terms is a great reference point to help you and your family and friends understand the key phrases when you tell them about your process!
Although this term refers to a person who has been adopted, there are many adopted individuals who do not like to be referred to in this way. The reason is because they consider themselves to be as full a member of their adopted family as a biological child would be, and therefore consider themselves to be a “child,” rather than an “adoptee” or an “adopted child.”
The legal transfer of the parental rights and responsibilities for the care and supervision of an adopted child, its nurture and education, physical and emotional health, and financial support.
An organization licensed to assist in placing children available for adoption with adoptive parents who are seeking a child. Agencies exist in a wide variety of organizational forms, including non-profit, not-for-profit, for-profit, and government agencies.
This is sometimes referred to as a Certificate of Adoption, and is the official document finalizing the adoption in China. The Adoption Certificate recognizes the adoptive parent/s as the legal parent/s of the adopted child. Parents who re-adopt in their state of residence must present the Adoption Certificate to the court in order to finalize the re-adoption.
Adoption Expense Tax Exclusion
Part of the same legislation that created the Federal Adoption Expense Tax Credit. The Internal Revenue Code has been amended to allow adoptive parents to exclude adoption benefits provided by their employers from their federal adjusted gross income. These excluded benefit payments can sometimes be in addition to any available Federal Adoption Expense Tax Credit.
Parents who have already adopted, or who are in the process of adopting a child or children.
A simplified and standardized form that is used for the purpose of providing a certification of public documents relating to adoption. This simplified form contains standardized numbered fields of certain common and essential types of information, which allows the data to be understood by all participating countries, regardless of the official language of the issuing country. The completed apostille certifies the authenticity of the signature on the documents, the capacity in which the person signing the documents has acted, and identifies the seal and/or stamp that the document bears. Apostilles are usually used in countries that are in compliance with the provisions of The Hague Convention. However, although China has adopted The Hague Convention, adoption documents for China must be certified by the Secretary of State of the issuing state, and then Authenticated by the Chinese Consulate. At this time, the Chinese Consulate will not authenticate an apostille.
The formation of significant and stable emotional connections between a child and the significant people in the child’s life. This process begins in early infancy as the child bonds with one or more primary caregivers. The failure to establish these types of important connections before the age of approximately five can result in the child experiencing difficulties with a wide variety of social relationships. This may last for significant periods of time in the child’s life. Severe cases can fit within the definition of a more permanent condition known as Reactive Attachment Disorder. Due to China’s low caregiver to child ratio, and the fact that most Chinese nannies become attached to the children in their care, bonding and attachment problems are not typically seen in children adopted from China.
In the context of adoption, this term refers to the process of formally authenticating official government or court documents. All dossier documents required for adoption from China must be authenticated by the Chinese Consulate that serves the state that issued the document. This procedure authenticates the signature on the documents, the capacity in which the person signing the documents has acted, and the seals and/or stamps required for notarization and certification. Dossier documents for China must be notarized by a registered notary, certified by the Secretary of State, and authenticated by the Chinese Consulate.
Black Market Adoptions
This term refers to adoptions that do not conform to state and federal laws regulating adoption, and which usually involve the payment of large sums of money to an adopted child’s birth parents, an adoption attorney, an adoption facilitator, an adoption agency, or another intermediary, in order to avoid provisions of the law. In many cases, all participants in a black market adoption may be subject to criminal prosecution, or the child can be taken away from the adoptive parents and placed for adoption with another set of adoptive parents.
The process that a child experiences in developing lasting emotional ties with its immediate caregivers. Bonding is seen as the first and most significant developmental achievement for a human being, and is central to the individual’s ability to relate properly to others throughout its lifetime. Due to China’s low caregiver to child ratio, most children adopted from China have developed a strong ability to bond with their adoptive parents. Consequently, bonding and attachment problems are not typically seen in children adopted from China.
In the context of adoption, this term refers to the process of formally authenticating official government or court documents. All dossier documents required for adoption from China must be certified by the Secretary of State that issued the document. The certification attests to the authenticity of the signature on the documents, the capacity in which the person signing the documents has acted, and affixes the seal and/or stamp that is required for certification. Dossier documents for China must be notarized by a registered notary, certified by the Secretary of State, and authenticated by the Chinese Consulate.
Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS)
This federal agency operates under the United States Office of Homeland Security. The CIS has the responsibility of overseeing the immigration of all foreign-born individuals into the United States, whether they are adults or children. If a US citizen wants to adopt a child abroad, permission must first be obtained from CIS, for the child to lawfully enter the United States for the purpose of being adopted (Form I-800A). CIS then requires all adoptive parents to be fingerprinted, and those fingerprints are checked against the FBI fingerprint database for criminal history. Once CIS grants approval to adopt internationally (Form I-171H), the adopted child can enter the US on a visa issued by the American Consulate in China. According to the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, the adopted child will automatically become a United States citizen upon entry to the US.
The legally required process of keeping personal information secret; the legally and ethically required principle and practice which compels social workers, employees of adoption agencies, court personnel, and other professionals not to disclose identifying or other significant information about the parties to an adoption, without legal authority and the written consent of the involved parties.
Refers to adoptions in which the race or ethnicity of the adopted child is noticeably different from that of the adoptive parent/s. Most adoptions from China are conspicuous adoptions because most Americans adopting from China are not of Asian descent.
Dossier (pronounced daw-see-ey)
When used in the context of Chinese adoption, this term refers to a set of appropriately notarized, certified, and authenticated legal and identifying documents. These documents are used by the China Center for Children’s Welfare and Adoption (CCCWA) to approve and match adoptive parents with a child that is available for adoption. The dossier contains documents such as birth certificates, marriage license, financial record, medical reports, employment letters, police reports, USCIS Form I-171H, lifestyle photos, and an adoptive home study.
Employer Adoption Benefit Package
Adoption benefits provided to employees as part of an employer-sponsored benefit program. Usually, these benefits are included in an employment compensation package, similar to group medical, dental, and other benefits. Some examples of these benefits are: resource and referral services, direct cash payments to help pay adoption expenses, reimbursement for all or part of the expenses incurred in the process of adopting a child, or provisions for either paid or unpaid “parental” or “family” leave, which may coincide with the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. Depending on the nature and amount of these benefits, they may be partially or totally tax exempt.
The relatives of an individual, other than immediate family members; both members of the originating family and those related by marriage, such as aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins.
The point in time when an adopted child becomes a legal member of the adoptive family. For families adopting from China, the adoption finalization is granted by Chinese adoption officials in China.
Form I-800 and Form I-800A Visa Petitions
Forms used to officially request permission from US Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) to classify a child adopted internationally (who fits the definition of an orphan) as an immediate relative of the adoptive parent/s. This is required to begin the processing and issuance of a visa for the child to enter the US. See also: Citizenship and Immigration Services.
A home study is sometimes called an adoption study, and is a written report containing the findings and recommendations of the adoption social worker. The social worker is required by state, federal, and Chinese officials to meet with and interview prospective adoptive parents on several occasions. The social worker must also visit the home and investigate the health, medical, criminal, family, and living background of the adoptive parents. If other adult individuals are living in the home, they will also be interviewed and investigated by the social worker, and included as part of the home study. The purpose of the home study is to help the state, federal, and Chinese government officials determine whether the adoptive parents are qualified to adopt a child. This determination is based upon criteria established by state, federal, and Chinese laws and regulations.
This refers to the short-term or long-term placement of children in institutions, such as hospitals or orphanages. Placement in institutions during early developmental periods, and for long periods of time, is associated with developmental delays. In terms of Chinese adoption, these are usually minor physical delays that sometimes include delayed gross motor abilities, such as sitting up or walking. This is usually due to environmental deprivation (lack of space inside and outside), poor nutrition, and lack of early developmental stimulation (such as bundling the children in layers of clothing.) Most children adopted from China experience only minor delays, which disappear quickly with individual attention, good nutrition, physical stimulation, and social interaction.
Adoption of a child who was born in a country other than where the adoptive parents reside or are citizens. International adoption is subject to the same state and federal laws that apply to all domestic adoptions, but is also subject to the approval of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the laws and regulations of China.
Interstate Compact on Adoption and Medical Assistance (ICAMA)
A compact that has been adopted by the legislatures of compact member states, which governs the interstate delivery of and payment for medical services, and adoption assistance payments and subsidies for adopted children with special needs.
The process of bringing together qualified prospective adoptive parents and children available for adoption. The China Center for Children’s Welfare and Adoption (CCCWA) matches all children adopted from China.
Non-Recurring Adoption-Related Expenses
This term refers to certain one-time adoption-related expenses, which may be at least partially reimbursed to families adopting children with special needs. Under state-sponsored adoption assistance programs, there is usually a maximum limit of $2,000 through the provisions of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980. Allowable expenses for this reimbursement benefit can include such one-time fees as the fee for the preparation of an adoption home study, adoption fees, and other expenses related to the legal adoption of children with special needs.
Original Birth Certificate
The birth certificate issued at the birth of a child and before an adoption takes place. Children adopted from China have an adoption certificate, which contains relevant information, such as the date and place of the adoption and the names of the child and the parents. See also: Adoption Certificate.
This term is used with a very specific definition in the regulations of US Citizenship and Immigration Services. It is used in reference to the legal status of children born abroad and adopted internationally by parents who are US citizens. In this context, the term refers to a child in another country who has no living parents, has been abandoned by their birth parents, or a child who has only one living relative who is not able to adequately provide for the care and support of the child. In order for a child to be adopted internationally by parents who are US citizens, they must fit this definition of being an orphan.
Orphanage/Social Welfare Institute
An institution that houses children who are orphaned, abandoned, or whose parents are unable to care for them. Children adopted from China are housed in orphanages (called social welfare institutes) or with foster parents.
Petition to Adopt
This is a document filed with a state court on behalf of adoptive parents wishing to re-adopt a child in their state of residence. It states the legal basis on which the parents believe they should be able to adopt the child in their State, why the court has jurisdiction to grant the adoption, their reason for re-adopting the child, and the name they want given to the child when the requested adoption becomes final. Although children adopted from China are US citizens upon entry to the US, some parents choose to re-adopt in their state to protect their child’s inheritance rights with regard to social security benefits, and other state protections. Also see: Re-Adoption.
A written report prepared by an adoption social worker and submitted to the China Center for Children’s Welfare and Adoption (CCCWA). The social worker visits the home to observe how well the child and the parents are bonding to each other, and how the child is adjusting to the family. This report also contains a recommendation by the social worker, based on personal observations, interactions, and interviews with the child and other members of the family. Families with travel approval issued before August 1, 2011 are required to submit two reports: one at 6 months and one at 12 months. Families with travel approval issued on or after August 1, 2011 are required to submit six post adoption reports over the course of five years: 1 month, 6 months, 12 months, 2 years, 3 years, and 5 years.
Refers to re-adopting a child in the United States after they have already been adopted internationally. The most common reason for re-adoption is to obtain a United States birth certificate for the child, written in English, identifying the adoptive parents as the legal parents of the child. The new birth certificate is essentially identical to birth certificates issued to other children in the same geographic area. This procedure enables the adopted child to have a local birth certificate in English that does not identify or set the child apart from other children, as being a child that is as somehow “different” from other children. Also see: Petition to Adopt.
Social Welfare Institute/Orphanage
An institution that houses children who are orphaned, abandoned, or whose parents are unable to care for them. Children adopted from China are housed in social welfare institutes (orphanages) or with foster parents.
The individual that prepares an adoption home study for prospective adoptive parents, assists prospective adoptive parents in obtaining their pre-adoption certification where required, provides post-placement supervision of adoptive families once they have received their child, and counsels adoptive families to help them adapt to changes as the result of adoption. The wide variety of services that are provided by adoption social workers are essential elements in every successful adoption. China requires that adoption social workers be licensed in their state, and have at least a masters degree in social work.
When used in the context of Chinese adoption, the term “special needs” generally refers to children that traditionally have been more difficult to place for adoption because they have some form of physical or medical challenge. These children are part of China’s Waiting Child Program, and typical medical needs include: cleft lip/palate, vision impairment, hearing impairment, missing digits/limbs, hepatitis, or congenital heart conditions.
Tax Exclusion for Adoption Benefits
Provisions contained in the Internal Revenue Code which allows adoptive parents to exclude from their adjusted gross income for federal income tax purposes, cash, or other adoption benefits received from a qualified employee benefit plan provided by their employer.
An adoption in which a family of one race adopts a child of another race, also referred to as conspicuous adoption.
When used in the context of Chinese adoption, the term waiting children generally refers to children that traditionally have been more difficult to place for adoption, because they have some form of physical or medical challenge. These children are part of China’s Waiting Child Program, and typical medical needs include: cleft lip/palate, vision impairment, hearing impairment, missing digits/limbs, hepatitis, or congenital heart conditions.
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