The following alphabetical list of terms and definitions common to the adoption community is here to help you understand some of the words, acronyms, and systems that are frequently part of adoption conversations. Have we missed something? Contact with your suggestions. 


---- A ---- Back to top

Abandonment - A form of neglect where a child is left without the means to sustain himself. The parent may physically leave the child, one parent may leave the child while the other continues to provide care, or the parent may stop providing for the child while still living with him or her. When abandonment occurs and the parents are unable to be located or are unresponsive, the courts may terminate the parents' rights and work to place the child in an adoptive family. In some countries, abandonment is the only way to relinquish a child who will then be placed in an orphanage or foster home and made available for adoption.

Aboriginal - According to the British Columbia Adoption Act, an Aboriginal person is someone:

  • who is registered under the Indian Act (Canada),
  • who has a biological parent who is registered under the Indian Act (Canada),
    • who is a Nisga'a child,
    • who is a treaty first nation child,
  • who is under 12 years of age and has a biological parent who
    • (i)  is of aboriginal ancestry, and
    • (ii)  considers himself or herself to be aboriginal, or
  • who is 12 years of age or older, of aboriginal ancestry and considers himself or herself to be aboriginal.

Abuse - Any physical, sexual, emotional and/or other maltreatment or exploitation of a child.

Adoptee - Someone who has joined their family through adoption.

Adoption – The legal transfer of parental rights and responsibilities from birthparent(s) to adoptive parent(s).

Adoption agency - In BC, an organization licensed by the province to assist prospective adoptive parents through the necessary legal, administrative, and social work that is involved in adopting a child that is not in the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

Adoption benefits - See: Parental leave

Adoption circle – Retired term. See: Adoption constellation

Adoption constellation - Refers to everyone touched by the adoption process: birth parents, adoptee, adoptive parents, adoption professionals, and extended family.

Adoption Day - A day celebrated by families to recognize the day their child(ren) joined their family through adoption. Also called Gotcha Day, Family Day, Anniversary Day.

Adoption dossier – See: Family profile

Adoption mosaic - See: Adoption constellation

Adoption order - An adoption order is a document granted by the courts that gives complete parental rights to the child’s adoptive parent(s). An adoptee is then entitled to the same rights as biological children in their adoptive family. 

Adoption plan - A plan created by biological parent(s) regarding the adoption of their child.

Adoption Readiness for Teens program - A comprehensive, 8-week program developed by AFABC that helps youth aged 12-16 be better prepared to move forward through their adoption journey.

Adoption records - Documents that provide information about an adoptee's adoption, including original birth certificate, court documents, and non-public records relating to the adoption process. 

Adoption Reunion Registry - Run by MCFD, this service provides search, intermediary, and counselling services to those whose lives have been affected by an adoption in BC. See also: Post Adoption Openness Registry

Adoption search - See: Reunion

Approved adoptive parent - Once a family has completed both their mandatory homestudy and mandatory adoption training, they are legally able to have a child placed with them.

Adoption Education Program – A mandatory pre-adoption training course. It can be offered prior to or in conjunction with the homestudy process. The AEP is offered by MCFD, licensed adoption agencies, or online at AFABC. 

Adoption Networking Exchange - A conference hosted by MCFD that facilitates the matching of children and adoptive families through video or picture profiles. (Formerly Adoption Resource Exchange). See also: Matching event

Adoption profile – See: Family profile

Adoption Resource Exchange – Retired term. See: Adoption Networking Exchange

Adoption tax credit – A sum deducted from the amount a taxpayer owes to the state. Adoptive parents may be eligible to claim expenses incurred during the adoption process.

Adoption triad – Retired term. See: Adoption constellation

Adoption triangle – Retired term. See: Adoption constellation

Adoptive parent(s) - A person or persons who are now the legal parents of a child, including all the rights and responsibilities of being a parent. 

Adoptive parent profile – See: Family profile

AEP - See: Adoption Education Program

AEP-Online - See: Adoption Education Program

AFABC - Acronym for the Adoptive Families Association of BC.

Agency - See: Adoption agency

Aging out – This occurs when a youth in foster care reaches the age of 19 and is emancipated from the child welfare system. Youth who age out are at greater risk compared to their adopted peers.

Alcohol exposure - See: Drug and alcohol exposure

ANE – See: Adoption Networking Exchange

Anniversary Day – See: Adoption Day

ARE – Retired acronym. See: Adoption Networking Exchange

ARR - See: Adoption Reunion Registry

ART - See: Adoption Readiness for Teens program

ASD - See: Autism Spectrum Disorder

Assisted reproduction technologies - A general term referring to technology used to assist or partially assist in pregnancy.

Attachment – Infants learn that they are loved and cared for by having their needs met over and over again. They learn to trust, attach and bond to their parent or caregiver automatically, through biological imperative.

Attachment disorder - A treatable condition in which individuals have difficulty trusting anyone or creating loving, lasting intimate relationships due to serious disruptions in forming that bond during early childhood.

Autism Spectrum Disorders - A group of developmental conditions that give children difficulties in communication and interactions with other people.

---- B ---- Back to top

BC's Waiting Children - Children and youth who live with foster families, who will not be returning to their family of birth, and who are available for adoption.

Behaviour/Emotional/Social Issues – These terms are broad terms that describe how an individual cannot or will not respond appropriately to a situation. Socially, emotionally, or behavioural responses vary in severity according to the individual.

Best Interest of the Child – Meant to describe the set of principles that guide a court’s deliberation on adoption issues. The core philosophy is that the needs of the child trump all other concerns.

Biological child – The child of parent by birth.

Birth certificate - An official document issued to record a person's birth.

Birth family – The biological family of a child who is adopted.  

Birth father – The biological father of a child who is adopted.

Birth grandparent(s) – The biological grandparents of a child who is adopted.

Birth mother – The biological mother of a child who is adopted. Also called: birthmom, first mom, mom.

Birth parent(s) – The biological parents of a child who is adopted.

----C---- Back to top

Caregiver - A person who is designated by the government to be responsible for a child in care.

Child - Refers to any person 19 years of age or under, in a general sense. Specifically refers to a person 12 years or younger. For a person aged 13-19, the term youth is used.

Child care experience – Adoption agencies sometimes seek to place a child with a family with prior parenting experience, or experience working with children (ie: as a teacher).

Child in care - See: In care

Child profile – A document that contains information about a child, including social history, medical information, and information on the child’s birth family.

Closed adoption – No transfer of information or contact between the adoptive family and the birth parents.

Closed adoption records – Depending on state or provincial law, a jurisdiction where adoptees and birth parents are not able to access original birth certificates or adoption records. See also: Open adoption records

Confidential adoption - See: Closed adoption

Cross-cultural adoption – The adoption of a child who is from a different culture than their adoptive parents.  See also: Transracial adoptionInternational adoption

Crown ward – Retired term. See: In care

Cultural Matching – Many adoption agencies aim to place children for adoption with families who are of the same cultural background. This provides a cultural connection and consistency for the child. See also: Racial matching

Cultural plan – A plan created by MCFD and the adoptive family to ensure that the child learns about and remains connected to their cultural heritage.

Custom adoption - Custom adoption is the full time care, nurturing and protection of a child by a customary caregiver identified by the child’s Aboriginal community. Caregiver(s) may include relatives, band members, or an adult whom the child has a bond with. This definition is designed to be inclusive and respectful of cultural values and ties to affection.

Custom care - Is temporary or alternate care for Aboriginal children whose parents are not able to care for them and ensures the child maintains their cultural, linguistic, and spiritual identity. See also: Custom adoption

----D---- Back to top

Direct placement adoption – When the birth parents choose to place their child with someone they know that is not a relative. Families must work with a licensed adoption agency to process paperwork and make certain all the requirements are met.

Disruption – The unplanned ending of an adoption before finalization.

Dissolution – The unplanned ending of an adoption after finalization.

Domestic adoption – Any adoption of a British Columbian child by a family in BC. Includes licensed agency, MCFD, and relative adoptions, and is distinct from international adoptions.

----E---- Back to top

Embryo adoption – A form of assisted reproduction technology. Remaining embryos from In vitro fertilization are donated to another couple, where the recipient mother has the embryo placed in her uterus and follows through with pregnancy and childbirth. The baby is legally the child of the recipient, though there may be varying levels of openness with the donor family. Also called "embryo donation". 

Embryo donation - See: Embryo adoption

----F---- Back to top

Failure to thrive - Description applied to children whose current weight or rate of weight gain is significantly below that of other children of similar age and sex.

FASD – Acronym. See: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

Family day – See: Adoption Day

Family profile – A document that provides background information on the prospective adoptive parent(s).

FBCYICN – See: Federation of BC Youth in Care Networks

Federal adoption tax credit – A tax credit given to parents who adopt to assist with some of the costs associated with the adoption process.

Federation of BC Youth in Care Networks - FBCYICN is a youth-driven, provincial, non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of young people in and from care in BC between the ages of 14 and 24.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder - FASD is a medical diagnosis for a birth defect syndrome caused by alcohol use during pregnancy. Alcohol is a “teratogen” that is toxic to the baby’s developing brain. Damage can occur in various regions of the brain, depending on which areas are developing at the time the alcohol is consumed.

Finalization – Adoption finalization is the last part of the adoption process. A judge signs the adoption order and adoptive parents become the legal parents of the child with all the rights and responsibilities of biological parents.

Foreign adoption – Retired term. See: International adoption

Forever family - The people in your life who will love you unconditionally until the end of time.

Foster care -  A temporary living arrangement for a child who cannot live safely with their family of origin.

Foster parent(s) – Someone who act as parent or guardian for a child in place of the child’s biological parents, but without legally adoption the child.

First mother – Retired term. See: Birth mother

---- G ---- Back to top

GLBTQ – An acronym that collectively refers to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer community.

Gotcha Day - See: Adoption Day

Grief and Loss - When a child enters the adoptive home, they come with a tremendous amount of grief and loss. Losses can include birth parents, extended family, home, pets, neighbourhoods, schools, friends, treasured belongings, and in some cases culture. Adults often have the words to describe losses in their lives and can communicate to others. Children don’t have those words so they express loss using behaviours. Part of being an adoptive family is to understand and help the child work through loss issues throughout their lives.

Guardian – Guardians are responsible for the care and upbringing of, and decision making about, a child.

---- H ---- Back to top

Hague Convention - 

Homestudy – A homestudy is a mandatory process by which an adoption social worker assesses a family or individual who is considering adoption. The process involves a series of interviews and helps prepare the family to meet the needs of an adopted child or sibling set.

---- I ---- Back to top

In care - A child or youth who is currently in government care.

Inducement – Inducement is a psychological concept that describes the use of verbal and non-verbal communication to induce one’s own emotional state in another. Older children adopted from care will often exhibit inducement behaviours early on in their adoption that can be stressful for adoptive parents.

Infant adoption – The adoption of a child, usually aged newborn up to two months old.

Infertility – The inability to produce offspring after one-year of unprotected sexual intercourse.

Intercountry adoption – Retired term. See: International adoption

Inter-ethnic adoption - See: Transracial adoption

International adoption – The adoption of a child from a country other than Canada.

---- J ---- Back to top

---- K ---- Back to top

Kinship adoption – The adoption of a child by extended family members or other adults who have a significant prior connection.

Kinship care – When a child is placed in the care of extended family members or other adults who have a significant prior connection.

---- L ---- Back to top

Legal guardian – See: Guardian

Life book - A life book is a record of an adoptee's life (pre and post adoption) that uses words, photos, the child's artwork, computer graphics, and memorabilia in the form of a scrapbook. Life Books help put all the information pieces together in a way that helps the child make sense of, and ultimately feel good about his/her history.

Loss - See: Grief and loss

---- M---- Back to top

Match – See: Matching

Matching – Varies on the type of adoption taking place. For BC’s Waiting Children and international adoption, matching refers to finding compatibility of a family profile with that of a child profile. For local infant, matching refers to the selection process birthparents go through when selecting a family for their child.

Matching event – An event where prospective adoptive parents with completed pre-adoption training and homestudies can view child profiles.

MCFD – Acronym. See: Ministry of Children and Family Development

Ministry of Children and Family Development – A British Columbia government ministry responsible for provincial delivery of services that support positive and healthy outcomes for children, youth, and families. Their purview include child protection, family development, adoption, foster care, early childhood development and child care, child and youth mental health, youth justice and social services, special needs children and youth, and adult community living services.

Multiracial – Having ancestors of different races.

---- N ---- Back to top

Natural father – Retired term. See: Birth father

Natural mother – Retired term. See: Birth mother

Natural parent – Retired term. See: Birth parents

Neglect – An act or failure to act that results in the endangerment or death of a child. The creation of serious physical or emotional harm to a child. See also: Abuse

No contact adoption – See: Closed adoption

---- O ---- Back to top

Older child – See: Teen, Youth

Open adoption - Involves ongoing contact between the adoptive family and the birth parents; often includes other birth family members or foster parents.

Open adoption agreement - See: Openness agreement

Open adoption records – When a child reaches the age of majority, they can receive access to their original birth certificate and adoption records. Birth parents may also receive copies of original birth certificate and their child’s adopted name. Records are currently open in British Columbia, Alberta, Yukon, Ontario, and Newfoundland and Labrador. All other provinces and territories have closed records. See also: Closed adoption records

Openness - See: Open adoption

Openness agreement - A written agreement that defines the context of the openness between the birth family and the adoptive family. In BC, openness agreements are "good faith" or moral agreements. In some jurisdictions, they can be legally binding. 

Orphanage - A public institution established for the care and protection of children without parents.

----P---- Back to top

PAA – Acronym. See: Post Adoption Assistance

Parent Adoption Support Services – An AFABC developed program that utilizes a parent-coaching model that identifies the parent-child relationship as the central, most significant dimension in the family’s life.

Parental benefits – See: Parental leave

Parental leave - Adoptive parents who are eligible for Employment Insurance (EI) can claim parental leave regardless of their minor child's age at date of placement, and receive a maximum of 35 weeks of leave through.

Parenting experience – See: Child care experience

PASS – Acronym. See: Parent Adoption Support Services

Permanence - See: Permanency

Permanency – This is a concept meant to counteract the all too common state of constant uncertainty face by foster children, from the moment they enter the system until the day they age out. Anything that provides a sense of continuity, an anchor, can be of tremendous value. Adoption is the single most potent form of permanency.

Placement – When a child begins to live with adoptive parents.

Post Adoption Assistance – Provides financial support for children adopted through MCFD who are designated as having special needs.

Post Adoption Openness Registry - Enables adoptive parents of a child under 19, and his/her birth parent or other relatives to register their interest in establishing some form of openness agreement.

Pre-placement visits – The period of time between a child being matched with the adoptive family and official placement of the child in the home.

Prior contact check - A prior contact check searches for any history of contact between an applicant and MCFD. Examples of prior contact include past child protection reports or services provided to an applicant by MCFD. 

Private adoption – See: Direct placement

Prospective adoptive parent(s) – Persons over the age of majority considering adopting a child.

---- Q ---- Back to top

---- R ---- Back to top

Racial Matching – Many adoption agencies aim to place children for adoption with families who are of the same race as the child. This is to provide a racial connection and consistency for the child. See also: Cultural matching

RAD – Acronym. See: Attachment disorder

Reactive attachment disorder – See: Attachment disorder

Real parent – All parents - including birth, foster, and adoptive parents are ‘real parents’ to a child. 

Rehoming -  A non-legal term describing the practice of placing an adoptive child in another family’s home without the support of adoption professionals and without the required counseling, background checks and clearances offered through government or licensed adoption agency channels. Often a child is “rehomed” because the adoptive parents are desperate due to family issues or the child’s behaviours or needs. An adoptive family that seeks this informal rehoming could potentially be charged with child abuse or neglect by their local child and family services.

Relative adoption – The adoption of a child who is related.

Respite care – Short-term, temporary care of a child by someone other than the parents in order to provide a break for parents to rest and emotionally recharge from the day-to-day challenges of parenting.

Reunion – Adoptees and birth parents who are seeking to reconnect with one another.

---- S ---- Back to top

Second mother – Retired term, denoting an adoptive mother.

Semi-open adoption - Involves some level of communication between birth and adoptive families, either with or without identifying information.

Single parent – A parent, not living with a partner, who has most of the day-to-day responsibilities in raising a child.

Social worker – Someone whose job involves the assessment, diagnosis, treatment and evaluation of individual, interpersonal and societal issues through the use of social work knowledge, skills, interventions and strategies, to assist individuals, couples, families, groups, organizations and communities to achieve optimum psychological and social functioning

Speak-Out Youth Group – An AFABC created program that gives youth in or from care, or who were adopted, a space to meet once a month to share experiences, concerns, and perspectives on adoption and permanence for teens - and to have fun.

Speak-Out Youth Zone - A website that features stories that encapsulate the experiences of youth in and from foster care.

Special needs - Refers to children with visible or invisible disabilities. These may include ADHD; autism; FASD; vision, hearing, or speech impairment; Down Syndrome; Cerebral Palsy; cognitive disabilities; and many other conditions. 

Special placement needs - Unique factors that must be considered in making a placement. They relate to the child’s experiences, the importance of ‘matching’, and the special skill set required of the parents, among others. These needs include factors such as: siblings to be placed together; special skills to parent children with  attachment challenges or trauma histories; special skills to parent teens; cultural matches; or ability of the parent to embrace openness with birth family or foster families.

Sperm donor – A person who provided sperm for the purpose of inseminating or impregnating someone who is not necessarily his sexual partner.

Stepparent – Someone who is parenting the biological children of their partner.

Stepparent adoption – When a parent adopts the biological children of their partner.

Substance abuse - Overindulgence in or dependence on an addictive substance.

Surrogacy – When a person bears a child on behalf of another individual or couple through artificial insemination or embryo transfer.

SYG – Acronym. See: Speak-Out Youth Group

SYZ – Acronym. See: Speak-Out Youth Zone

---- T ---- Back to top

Tax credit – See: Adoption tax credit

Teen - A person between 13 and 19 years of age. See also: Youth

Teen adoption – The adoption of a youth aged 13 and 19 years of age.

Toddler adoption – The adoption of a child aged 1 to 3 years of age.

Transcultural adoption  - The adoption of a child from a different culture of the adoptive parents. See also: Transracial adoption

Transracial adoption – The adoption of a child of a difference race from that of the adoptive parents. See also: Transcultural adoption

Transitioning – The period of time when a child’s care is slowly transferred from foster parent to adoptive parent. Also refers to the period when a youth in care transitioned from foster care to independent living.

Trauma - An emotional wound or shock that creates substantial, lasting damage to an individual’s psychological development.

Triad - See: Adoption constellation

Tummy mommy – Retired term. See: Birth mom

---- U ---- Back to top

Unknowns – Similar to parenting a biological child, there are unknowns in parenting an adopted child. Usually agencies have extensive medical and social history for the children they are seeking a home for, including genetic risk factors and information about drug or alcohol exposure. Sometimes, however, this information is not available. In order to provide appropriate care, prevention and intervention, it is important for adoptive applicants to have an understanding not only of the known risks their child may face, but also the hidden risks that missing information might represent.

---- V ---- Back to top

---- W ---- Back to top

Waiting children - See: BC's Waiting Children

Waiting parents – Parents who have completed all requirements to be legally ready to adopt, and are waiting to be matched with a child.

Wendy's Wonderful Kids - A signature program of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, the WWK program focuses on finding potential families within a child's immediate network before moving on to consider families outside of the child's circle. There are currently two WWK recruiters based out of the AFABC provincial office.

WWK – Acronym. See: Wendy's Wonderful Kids

---- X ---- Back to top

---- Y ---- Back to top

Youth - A person between 13 and 24 years of age.

Youth in care - See: In care

---- Z ---- Back to top