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A Guide to Proper Adoption Language

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A Guide to Proper Adoption Language

It is important to remember that the words we say have an impact. On ourselves and on others. More often than not, we say things without thinking and we regret it. Sometimes we say things we don’t mean or the words we say don’t come out quite right or we talk about subjects we as aren’t knowledgeable about. Any time one of these scenarios plays out, our words have an effect.

When it comes to talking about adoption, using the proper language is no less important. Using negative adoption language affects everyone involved: the children, the birth parent(s), the families hoping to make a home for a waiting child, and even the concept of adoption itself. Adoption Choices of Florida has compiled a list of use this instead of that when discussing adoption.

Positive Adoption Language (left) vs. Negative Adoption Language (right)

Birth Parent vs. Real Parent

  • Just because an individual or couple is not a child’s biological parent or parents does not mean they are any less real. A person is still a parent and a couple are still parents regardless of whether that child was born to them or adopted by them.

Biological Parent vs. Natural Parent

  • Using the term ‘natural parent(s)’ to describe the biological parent(s) of a child insinuates the parent(s) who adopted that child are unnatural. There is nothing unnatural about a family who has chosen to adopt a child because they are just as much a family as the child’s biological family.

Birth Child vs. Own Child

  • A child who has been adopted very much becomes a family’s ‘own child’ once the adoption is finalized. Positive adoption language suggests, only when it is appropriate to a conversation may a parent or parents of a child who was adopted distinguish the child adopted by them and the child born to them.

My Child vs. Adopted Child and Own Child

  • Differentiating between a child who was adopted, and a birth child might make the child who was adopted feel alienated or less loved, which might encourage the child to distance himself/herself/themselves from parents, siblings, or other family members.

Child Born to Unmarried Parents vs. Illegitimate Child

  • The term ‘illegitimate’ is outdated and refers to something not aligned with rules, standards and social norms accepted by society. Referring to a child as ‘illegitimate’ implies the child is wrong and allows the negative stigma around unmarried parents to continue.

Terminate Parental Rights vs. Give Up

  • A birth mother does not just ‘give up’ her child. She chooses to do what she feels is in the best interest of the child when she terminates her parental rights.

Make an Adoption Plan vs. Give Away

  • Again, a birth mother does not simply ‘give away’ or ‘give up’ her child. There is a process in place that includes considering what is in the child’s best interest and creating an adoption plan for the child.

To Parent vs. To Keep

  • ‘Parent’ is a verb just as much as it is a noun. ‘Keep’ implies ownership or possession of a thing or object. A child is not property.

Waiting Child vs. Adoptable Child or Available Child

  • When the word ‘available’ is used in reference to a person, it means that person is unoccupied, or not busy. A waiting child is, in fact, busy waiting for a loving, adoptive family.

Making Contact With vs. Reunion

  • The word ‘reunion’ suggests a physical meeting of a child and a birth parent or parents. ‘Making contact with’ is broader, as not every child who has been adopted reconnects with a birth parent or parents in-person. Some children only make contact with birth family via phone, email, letters or some other form of communication not requiring an in-person meeting.

International Adoption vs. Foreign Adoption

  • The word ‘foreign’ has several meanings and is sometimes used to describe an individual or object as unknown or unusual. ‘Foreign adoption’ gives adoption as a whole a negative connotation. ‘International adoption’ a more appropriate language choice.

Adoption Triad vs. Adoption Triangle

  • Though ‘triad’ and ‘triangle’ sound similar, the definition of ‘triad’ is more complex than the definition of ‘triangle.’ We all know what a triangle is, but a triad actually refers to a group of three affiliated or related people or things. The child, the birth parents, and the adoptive family make up the three parts of a triad.

Permission to Sign A Release vs. Disclosure

  • To ‘disclose’ information means to reveal information that was previously unknown or kept secret. The information on a waiting child is not necessarily a secret, but it is private, and it is important for that information to only be released by an authority figure, such as a court judge or the child’s current guardian.

Search vs. Track Down Parent

  • ‘Track down’ makes the process of searching for birth parents sound like an inconvenience. Though the search for a child’s birth parents or parents may take time, it should not be made to sound irksome.

Child Placed for Adoption vs. An Unwanted Child

  • No child is ever unwantedand the likelihood of this terminology negatively impacting a child’s psyche, self-esteem and development is dangerously high. In addition, the birth mother of a child may want very much to raise her child, however she likely has a variety of reasons contributing to her decision to place the child for adoption.

Court Termination vs. Child Taken Away

  • The decision of the courts to terminate parental rights of a child’s birth parent or parents or to terminate the birth parent’s or parents’ custody of a child is more complex than ‘taking the child away.’ It is a decision made after determining what is in the child’s best interest and developing a plan for the child’s future.

Child with Special Needs vs. Handicapped Child

  • A child is so much more than his/her/their special needs or disability. Putting ‘Handicapped,’ disabled,’ or ‘special needs’ before‘child’ focus on the negative and implies that a child is defined by the things that may be difficult for him/her/them to do or the things he/she/they cannot do. It is more important to focus on what a child can do and succeeds at, which is why it is more positive to say, ‘child with special needs’ or ‘child with a disability.’

Was Adopted vs. Is Adopted

  • Remember, the adoption of a child is an EVENT in that child’s life and happens only once. Once the adoption is finalized, the adoption process ends, and since the adoption is now in the past, the positive adoption language would be “he was adopted,” “she was adopted” or “they were adopted.”

Choosing to place a baby for adoption or adopting a child is an emotional process and the language we use needs to reflect sensitivity, as the words we say can have a major impact on all those involved. These are just some of the ways that you can use positive adoption language to share the love and beauty that creating an adoption plan can offer! If you have any questions or need information in beginning your adoption journey, contact Adoption Choices of Florida at 800-985-8108.