Glossary of Terms
Abandonment – when a parent does not physically, emotionally, or financially support his or her child. (A signed relinquishment or surrender of parental rights constitutes legal abandonment.)
Abuse – harm inflicted on a person through physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual means; may cause victim to develop emotional or behavioral problems, some of which may not appear until later in life. Help from an experienced counselor or therapist may be needed to work through abuse issues.
Acting-out behaviors – in abused children, behaviors that reflect abuse they have experienced or witnessed. For instance, physically abused children may be more inclined to hit and hurt other children, and sexually abused children may try to engage other children or adults in sexual activity.
Adoption assistance – federal (Title IV-E) or state payments and other benefits designed to offset the short- and long-term costs of adopting eligible children who have special needs. Learn more…
Adoption benefits – benefits—such as financial assistance or monetary reimbursement for the expenses of adopting a child—available to workers through some employer-sponsored programs.
Adoption exchange – a state, regional, or national organization with information about children who are waiting for adoption within the state, region, or nation.
Adoption petition – the legal document through which prospective parents request the court’s permission to adopt a specific child.
Adoption tax credit – effective tax years 2002 through 2010, a federal tax benefit that allows parents who adopt to subtract up to $10,000 (plus an annual cost-of-living adjustment) from federal taxes owed. Learn more…
Agency adoption – an adoption completed with assistance from an organization of licensed, trained adoption professionals.
Attachment disorder – a condition signaled by an inability to develop significant emotional connections with others. Abused and neglected infants and children may find it difficult to form significant ties. Signs of attachment disorder include difficulty maintaining eye contact, lying, and not responding to affection.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – a lifelong developmental disorder that involves problems with attention span, impulse control, and activity level. Typical behaviors include: fidgeting; difficulty remaining seated; distractibility; difficulty waiting for turns; difficulty staying on task; difficulty playing quietly; excessive talking; inattention; forgetting supplies for tasks or activities; having trouble following directions; and engaging in physically dangerous activities without considering the consequences.
Behavioral disorders – disorders—influenced by heredity, brain disorders, diet, stress, and family functioning—that cause symptoms like hyperactivity, aggression, withdrawal from social interactions, self-injurious behavior, immaturity, learning problems, excessive anxiety, or abnormal mood swings.
Bipolar disorder – a mental illness characterized by cycles of mania and depression. During manic periods, individuals may seem very happy and be hyperactive, wakeful, and distractable. In severe episodes, psychotic symptoms may also be present.
Birth family – those who share a child’s genetic heritage; blood relations; extended family members.
Birth parent – a child’s biological mother or father.
Closed adoption – an adoption in which birth and adoptive families have no contact and know only non-identifying information about each other.
Cocaine-exposed – infants exposed prenatally to cocaine are often premature, have low birth weight, and are at risk for developmental delays. Newborn withdrawal symptoms include unrelieved crying, shaking, body tension, and irritability. Many drug-exposed children have problems with language development and attention deficits.
Cognitive delays – delays in the customary development of a person’s ability to process information or think logically or analytically.
Conduct disorder – a condition signalled by a strong unwillingness to meet societal norms or expectations. A child with conduct disorder may bully or threaten others; initiate fights; stay out late without permission; use weapons that could cause serious harm; be physically aggressive or cruel to animals or humans; force someone into sexual activity; or steal, lie, or break promises to obtain goods or to avoid debts or obligations.
Developmental delays – delays in a child’s developmental progress as measured against other children’s mastery of skills (such as sitting up, walking, toilet training, talking, etc.) at the same age.
Developmental disabilities – any conditions or disorders of the body, mind, or emotions that interfere with a child’s normal development.
Disruption – when an adoption is discontinued or annulled through a decision by the adoptive parents, the child, or a legal authority, before finalization.
Dissociative disorder – a condition—often sparked by trauma—in which people disconnect from a full awareness of self, time, or external circumstances as a defense against unpleasant realities or memories.
Emotional disturbances or disabilities – conditions that are often evidenced by a lack of respect for authority, school problems, an inability to handle changes, and problems with other children. Other characteristics include sleep disturbances, mood swings, and a tendency to act impulsively without considering consequences. Therapy is recommended throughout childhood and adolescence.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) – a range of birth defects and serious lifelong mental and emotional difficulties that result from a child’s prenatal exposure to alcohol. Symptoms may include learning and behavioral disorders (including attention deficits and hyperactivity), poor social judgment, and impulsive behaviors.
Finalization – the last legal step in the adoption process, involving a court hearing where an adoptive parent becomes a child’s legal parent.
Foster children – children placed in the state’s legal custody because their birth parents were deemed abusive, neglectful, or otherwise unable to care for them. While under state care, such children often live with foster parents or in group homes.
Foster parents – state-licensed adults who provide a temporary home for children in state custody whose birth parents are unable to care for them.
Group home – a facility staffed by social workers and counselors that houses groups of children—typically those over the age of five, including teens and sibling groups—who need emergency temporary shelter or a long-term living arrangement.
Home study – a process through which prospective adopters are educated about adoption and evaluated to determine their suitability to adopt.
Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) – a 1978 federal law that protects the rights of Native American children, families, and tribes. ICWA states that when placing a Native American child for adoption, preference should be given to extended family, tribe members, a Native American foster or adoptive family, or a Native American institution. The tribe has the right to make decisions regarding the Native American child’s placement, and non-Native American families are considered for placement as a last resort. ICWA adoption provisions do not, however, apply to every Native American child in foster care—especially in cases where the children’s Native American birth parents are not registered tribe members, or the tribes have given up their claim to the children.
Individualized education plan (IEP) – a plan drawn up by a child’s special education teacher and other concerned parties that outlines specific skills the child needs to develop as well as learning activities that build on the child’s strengths.
Inutero (See also Prenatal exposure) – in the womb; before birth.
Learning disabilities – a condition that makes it hard for a person to take in, sort, and store information; not a sign of below-average intelligence.
Legally free – a child whose birth parents’ rights have been legally terminated or relinquished so that the child is free to be adopted by another family.
Legal-risk adoption – placement of a child in an adoptive home when birth parents’ rights have not yet been voluntarily or involuntarily terminated.
Loss and grief issues – unresolved emotional distress that can result from being removed from one’s family, experiencing a parent’s death, moving from one placement to another, or having one’s parents’ rights terminated. Because children have a hard time expressing and dealing with feelings about loss and separation, these issues can cause depression and acting-out behaviors.
Medicaid – a federally funded program that provides medical care for low-income families and individuals, including some children adopted from foster care.
Methamphetamine – a highly potent and addictive stimulant drug (also known as meth, crank, chalk, speed, crystal, and ice) that, since the late 1990s, has been increasingly associated with child abuse and neglect.
Neurological disorder/problems – emotional or mental disorders or problems that appear in the form of anxieties, obsessions, phobias, etc., but are not typically so severe that the person loses touch with daily realities.
Non-identifying information – information about a person that gives a general sense of what the person is like, but does not reveal specific personal details such as the person’s name, address, phone number, or social security number.
Open adoption – an adoption that involves some amount of direct contact between the birth and adoptive families, ranging from exchanging names to sending letters and scheduling visits.
Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) – a disorder characterized by behavior such as frequent loss of temper, a tendency to argue with adults, refusal to obey adult requests, deliberate behaviors to annoy others, spiteful and vindictive behavior, use of obscene language, and a tendency to blame others for mistakes.
Photolisting book – a publication with photos and descriptions of children who are available for adoption.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – a syndrome, sparked by traumatic events, that causes a person to emotionally re-live past traumas and become withdrawn from current events. Symptoms may include sleeping problems, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, and difficulty with concentration.
Prenatal exposure – exposure to a certain substance or influence while inside the womb.
Psychotherapy – a general term that refers to the treatment of mental disorders by intellectual and verbal means such as suggestion, analysis, and persuasion; often used in conjunction with other treatment courses like medication.
Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) – a condition, resulting from an early lack of consistent care, characterized by a child’s inability to make appropriate social contact with others. Symptoms include developmental delays, lack of eye contact, feeding disturbances, hyper-sensitivity to touch and sound, failure to initiate or respond to social interaction, indiscriminate sociability, self-stimulation, and susceptibility to infection.
Relinquishment (See also Surrender papers) – the legal process by which birth parents voluntarily surrender rights to parent their children. After relinquishment, birth parents have no legal right to further contact with the children.
Residential care/treatment – a structured 24-hour care facility with staff who provide psychological therapy to help severely troubled children overcome behavioral problems that adversely affect family interactions, school achievement, and peer relationships. Residential treatment tends to be the last resort when a child is in danger of hurting himself or others.
Respite care – child care and other services designed to give parents temporary relief from their responsibilities as caregivers.
Ritalin – a commonly prescribed methylphenidate drug that helps to control some symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It has a calming effect on some children and helps them to concentrate.
Semi-open adoption – an adoption in which a child’s birth parents and pre-adoptive parents exchange largely non-identifying information. After the child is placed in the adoptive home, contact with the birth family may involve letters or pictures or other communications sent through an intermediary or the adoption agency.
Separation anxiety – excessive and persistent anxiety about being separated from one’s home or parents that interferes with normal activities.
Sexual abuse symptomology – symptoms which indicate that a child may have been sexually abused, including excessive masturbation, sexual interaction with peers, sexual aggression toward younger and more naive children, seductive behavior, and promiscuity.
Special needs – conditions that make some children harder to place for adoption, including: emotional or physical disorders, age, race, being in a sibling group, a history of abuse, or other factors. Guidelines for classifying a child as having special needs vary by state. Common special needs conditions and diagnoses include attachment disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), developmental delays or disabilities, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), learning disabilities, and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).
Subsidies – See Adoption assistance.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) – a federally funded needs-based disability program for adults and children that provides monthly cash benefits and, in most states, automatic Medicaid eligibility.
Surrender papers – legal documents that a child’s birth parents, legal guardian, next of kin, or court-appointed friend can voluntarily sign to give up or relinquish their parental rights to the child.
Termination of parental rights (TPR) – the court process through which a birth parent’s legal claim to his or her child is permanently removed. TPR actions are brought when birth parents whom the court deems unfit to parent will not voluntarily give up their rights.
Therapeutic foster home – a foster home where the parent or parents have received special training in dealing with a wide variety of children—including those who are retarded, moderately or severely disturbed, delinquent, or medically fragile. Parents in therapeutic homes are also supervised and assisted more than parents in regular foster homes.
Waiting children – children in the public child welfare system (foster children) who cannot return to their birth homes and need permanent, loving families to help them grow up safe and secure. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Children’s Bureau estimates that there are approximately 114,000 waiting children in our country.