Adoption language for journalists


Editor, Focus on Adoption magazine
Focus on Adoption magazine
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We encourage you to develop a few simple style guidelines that would foster more accurate, objective, and respectful coverage of adoptive families in the media.

Adoption is a one-time legal event in a person's life, not a lifelong status or personal trait. The fact that a person was (not is) adopted should be mentioned only if it is essential to the story, on the same basis as mentioning a person's race. If relevant, it must be clear in the context of the story.

A daughter who joined her family through adoption should be described as a daughter. The adoptive parents should be referred to as father, mother, or parents. The man and woman who shared in the child's conception can be referred to as the birth, genetic, or biological parents (not "real" or "natural" parents). Referring to birth parents as "real" or "natural" parents portrays adoptive parents as "unreal" or "unnatural."

In most cases, it is inaccurate to refer to children available for adoption as orphans, which means their parents are dead. In most cases, the birth parents of available children are alive. As well, these children should not be referred to as abandoned or unwanted.

Sociological or legal factors force birth parents to relinquish their parental rights and make children available for adoption, which is different from abandoning them or "giving them up." Birth parents correctly can be said to have placed the child for adoption, made an adoption plan, or transferred parental rights. The reason why people adopt is not usually relevant to a story.

Language suggesting that parents "couldn't have a baby of their own" implies that adoption is second best. Adoption may sometimes be second choice, but it's definitely not second best. Furthermore, many adoptive families include birth children. Also, the phrase "a child of their own" is an inappropriate reference to birth children.

Stories should never imply that adoptive parents are unusually selfless or otherwise saintly. We are no more saintly nor selfless than any other parent. In most cases, we adopted for the very selfish reason that we wanted a child.