Adoption Information, Language and Terminology

The following is a helpful dictionary of useful adoption-related terminology.

Adoptive parent

The adopting parent (in contrast to a foster parent or guardian) is the full legal parent of a child. His/her rights and responsibilities are the same as a biological parent’s.


As required by California State law, a birthmother is advised prior to relinquishing her rights or consenting to an adoption. At the advisement session, the caseworker reviews the legal relinquishment paperwork that will be signed by the birthmother after the child's birth. During the advisement, the caseworker provides counseling to the birthmother and answers any questions she may have about adoption.

Alleged Birthfather

In California, an alleged birthfather is a man who has not fully established himself as a legal or presumed birthfather. A man identified by the birthmother as a possible birthfather must have his rights terminated before the baby is free for adoption. An alleged birthfather’s rights can be terminated by denial, waiver, or relinquishment. (Most alleged birthfathers sign a denial or a waiver before the birth of the child.) If a birthfather is unknown or difficult to find, there are different procedures to terminate his rights.


The biological parent of a child.


A professional social worker who completes the adopting parents' homestudy. The caseworker analyzes the issues surrounding adoption with the adopting parents. He or she counsels birthparents, both prior to and after the child's birth, and completes the documents that terminate the birthparent's parental rights. After the child's birth, the caseworker visits with the adoptive parents for post-placement supervision.

Closed Adoption

An adoption is closed when the adoptive and birthparents have not met, do not plan to have any contact after the child is placed, and do not share identifying information. The agency handling the legal paperwork is the intermediary that knows both the adoptive and birthparents. Every state has different laws about the release of identifying information. In California, the adoptee must be at least 18 years old and the birthparents must have signed a release of information at the time of placement.

"Dear Birthmother" Letter

A document (also called a brochure or an adoptive parent profile) created by an adoptive family using text and photographs to introduce the prospective adoptive to a prospective birthmother. When a prospective birthmother is ready to begin choosing a family for her baby, she will be presented these letters from her adoption professional (adoption agency, adoption attorney, or adoption center.)

Domestic Adoption

Refers to an adoption when the adoptive family and the child adopted both reside within the United States

Domestic Partner Adoption

Also known as Stepparent Adoption. See our Stepparent/Domestic Partner Adoption Program page for more information. This process secures a second, legal parent for a child and is used when the parents are legally married, or are registered domestic partners. First, we send the family a few forms to complete (according to the standards of the California county in which they reside), meet with them briefly, and then submit a report to the court. The process provides the adopting parents with an Adoption Order. In most cases, an amended birth certificate can be ordered, listing the partner as the other/second parent.


A collection of required documents presented in support of a petition to adopt a child overseas. It becomes the foreign country's paper representation of the adopting family, and it is used to "approve" the family adopting a child from its country. The specific paperwork may vary from country to country, but many documents are duplicates from the home study or for the CIS.

Entrustment Ceremony

A ceremony or ritual celebrating the transfer of parental rights from one family to another in an open adoption. Most ceremonies will include the presence of the birthmother and selected family members of her choosing, along with the adoptive parent(s) and the baby. Poems or religious passages may be read, and often the birth and adoptive parents speak about their mutual hopes and love for the baby. The ceremony should emphasize that the two families are now creating a new, extended family connection, which will forever honor and respect the birthfamily’s biological bond to the child. Read more about the open adoption the Entrustment Ceremony on our blog.

Facilitator (adoption)

An adoption facilitator can serve as the entity between birthparents and adopting parents in assisting the match. Facilitators do not have specific credentials, but usually have experience or training in working with birthparents. They are not licensed to complete homestudies, legal counseling, post-placment visits, adoption finalization or any other services to make an open adoption a legally binding agreement. Birthparents and adoptive parents engaged with an adoption facilitator will also need to bring in an adoption agency or adoption attorney to complete the adoption.


The court action that legalizes the adoption and forever gives full parentall rights to the adoptive family. In California, this occurs approximately seven to eight months after the child's placement in the adoptive family's home (sooner if it is a second adoption). The post-placement supervision and the birthparent's relinquishment paperwork must be completed before the adoption can be finalized.


A homestudy is a written report required by California State law for individuals and couples who wish to adopt. The homestudy serves as an educational tool for adopting parents, and the information gathered assures that the child will be placed in a qualified home.

Homestudy Autobiography

Written questions that a homestudy provider is required by the state to ask a prospective adoptive family to complete. The autobiographical questions may ask the adoptive parents to discuss: their family of origin, their adoption process, and future parenting plans. The answers help the caseworker become acquainted with the prospective adoptive family. Find out how to get a homestudy for adoption.


The acronym "ICPC" stands for Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children. This is an agreement among all 50 states establishing procedures for interstate adoption placements. ICPC must be completed if the child being placed and the adoptive parents reside in different states. The adoptive parents cannot leave the state where the child was born until an ICPC is filed and the state grants consent for them to go back to their home state.

International Adoption

Refers to an adoption of a child born in a foreign country by adoptive parents living in the United States.


An open adoption match occurs when a birthmother (or birthparents) and an adoptive family make a verbal commitment to work toward an adoption. A match can occur anytime during a birthmother’s pregnancy, or after she has given birth, but typically occurs in her second or third trimester.

Open Adoption

Technically speaking, open adoption means the adoption records are open. The birth and adoptive parents have agreed to allow access to identified information directly, or through their agency or adoption professional. "Open" adoption also may refer to the process of birthparents and adoptive parents creating a relationship together that is ongoing, both before and after the baby is placed in the adoptive home.

Post-Adoption Agreement (Kinship Agreement)

This is a voluntary and legally binding contact agreement between birth and adoptive parents. Both parties discuss what type of contact they envision after the birth, including letters and pictures, emails, telephone contact, and/or in-person visits. The written plan that is created must be completed and filed before the adoption is finalized. Non-compliance with the agreement would not overturn an adoption, and many families choose a verbal or written "good-faith agreement" instead of a legally binding agreement.

Post-Placement Supervision

California law requires that the caseworker meet with the family four times for post-placement supervision. These visits, designed to ensure that the family is adjusting well to the baby's arrival, usually occur within the six months between the child's placement into the adoptive family’s home and the finalization of the adoption.

Presumed Birthfather

In California, a presumed birthfather is married to the birthmother or living with her, supporting her, and "holding the baby out as his own." A presumed birthfather has the same rights as the birthmother, and must sign a relinquishment in the same way after the child's birth. If the birthfather does not fall within this definition, he is considered an alleged birthfather.

Private Adoption Agency

This is an organization licensed by the state to prepare homestudies, complete relinquishment of birthparents' parental rights, conduct post-placement supervision, and finalize adoptions. Services may also include outreach and counseling support to adopting parents and birthparents. Adoption Connection is a private licensed adoption agency in California.


This refers to the legal termination of birthparents' parental rights. At a relinquishment session, the birthmother signs relinquishment papers. This generally occurs within two weeks after the birthmother has been discharged from the hospital. Once the papers are filed with the Department of Social Services (DSS), relinquishment becomes irrevocable. After signing, most birthmothers in agency adoptions request that the documents be filed with DSS at the end of the next business day, but they can be held for longer.

Second Parent Adoption

Occurs when the biological or legal parent of a child or children is in a relationship with another adult wanting to share parental rights and responsibilities. In contrast to stepparent adoption / domestic partner adoption, second parent adoption is used only when the parents cannot marry or become domestic partners. The biological or legal parent consents to relinquish sole custody of the child so that his/her partner can become a second, legal parent. For this to occur, a full homestudy is completed by a public agency, usually the Department of Social Services. The process takes at least six months to complete, and often an attorney is engaged to file the paperwork.

Stepparent Adoption
Transracial Adoption

The adopting and raising of a child of a race or ethnicity that differs from the adoptive parent’s, or parents’, race or ethnicity. Check out our workshop page for upcoming Transracial Adoption Workshops.