Father and son


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.


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/Adoption Subsidy

Federal or state payments in the US/provincial payments in Canada and other benefits designed to offset the short- and long-term costs of adopting eligible children who have been determined by the government to be harder to play for adoption. 

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, provincial, 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 

A federal tax benefit in the US that allows parents who adopt to subtract a credit (plus an annual cost-of-living adjustment) from federal taxes owed. Families who adopt a child with special needs from foster care can claim a federal adoption tax credit even if they had no adoption expenses. Children who receive adoption assistance/subsidy benefits are considered children with special needs. Other adoptive families are also eligible for the credit, but must have (and be able to document, if requested by the IRS) qualified adoption expenses. Some states also have state adoption tax credit. The Canadian federal government also has an adoption credit for finalized adoptions.

Agency Adoption 

An adoption completed with assistance from an organization of licensed, trained adoption professionals.

Attachment Disorder 

A treatable condition in which there is a significant dysfunction in an individual’s ability to trust or engage in reciprocal loving, lasting relationships. An attachment disorder occurs due to traumatic disruption or other interferences with the caregiver-child bond during the first years of life. It can distort future stages of development and impact a person’s cognitive, neurological, social and emotional functioning. It may also increase risk of other serious emotional and behavioral problems.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) 

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a brain disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.

Behavioral Disorders 

A pattern of disruptive behaviors in children that last for at least six months and cause problems in school, at home, and in social situations. Nearly everyone shows some of these behaviors at times, but behavior disorders are more serious and may involve inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity, defiant behavior, drug use, and criminal activity. Diagnosed behavioral disorders include attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and conduct disorder.

Bipolar Disorder 

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.

Birth Family 

Those who share a child’s genetic heritage, blood relations, and 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.

Conduct Disorder 

A repetitive and persistent pattern of behavior in children and adolescents in which the rights of others or basic social rules are violated. The child or adolescent usually exhibits these behavior patterns in a variety of settings—at home, at school, and in social situations—and they cause significant impairment in his or her social, academic, and family functioning. Many factors may contribute to a child developing conduct disorder, including brain damage, child abuse or neglect, genetic vulnerability, school failure, and traumatic life experiences.

Crown Ward 

In Ontario, Canada, children in foster care/children who are the legal responsibility of the government.

Developmental Delay 

When your child does not reach their developmental milestones at the expected times. It is an ongoing major or minor delay in the process of development. If your child is temporarily lagging behind, that is not called developmental delay. Delay can occur in one or many areas—for example, gross or fine motor, language, social, or thinking skills.

Developmental Disabilities 

A group of conditions due to an impairment in physical, learning, language, or behavior areas.

Disclosure Meeting 

A meeting with a child’s adoption worker to learn information regarding the child’s history. By law, the legal custodian of the child (the public agency) must disclose information about the child to families pursuing adoption.


An adoption process that ends after the child is placed in an adoptive home and before the adoption is legally finalized, resulting in the child’s return to (or entry into) foster care or placement with new adoptive parents.

Dissociative Disorder 

An involuntary escape from reality characterized by a disconnection between thoughts, identity, consciousness, and memory. Typically develop as a response to a traumatic event to keep memories under control. With stress, symptoms can get worse and cause problems with functioning in daily activities.


An adoption in which the legal relationship between the adoptive parents and adoptive child is severed, either voluntarily or involuntarily, after the adoption is legally finalized. This results in the child’s return to (or entry into) foster care or placement with new adoptive parents.


A drug exposed child is one whose brain or body has been affected because a birth parents used drugs or alcohol during pregnancy, or who is living in a home where drugs are abused or are illegally made, sold, traded, or given away.

Emotional Disturbance 

A term used in the United State’s special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). It is a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child’s educational performance: (a) An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors. (b) An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers. (c) Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances. (d) A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression. (e) A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) 

An umbrella term describing the range of effects that can occur in an individual who is prenatally exposed to alcohol including physical, mental, behavioral, and/or learning disabilities with possible lifelong implications. Diagnostic terms under the FASD umbrella include fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), partial fetal alcohol syndrome (pFAS), alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND), alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD), and neurobehavioral disorder associated with prenatal alcohol exposure (ND-PAE).


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 temporarily placed in the state’s legal custody due to child abuse or neglect. While under state care, such children often live with foster parents or in group homes. Foster care includes services provided to the children and their families.

Foster Parent 

State-licensed adults who provide a temporary home for children in state custody. While the children and families receive services, foster parents provide care and nurturing for the duration of the child’s stay in foster care.

Group Home 

A residential facility licensed and monitored by states as an alternative to family foster homes. Intended to be a temporary home for children in state custody, homes typically house 4 to 12 children and are staffed by social workers and counselors. Some provide therapeutic and/or community resources including employment, health care, education, and recreational opportunities.

Home Study 

A state required process for parents applying to adopt. Conducted by a licensed social worker or caseworker to educate, prepare, evaluate, and gather information about prospective parents.

Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) 

A US federal law passed in 1978 in response to the alarmingly high number of Indian children being removed from their homes by both public and private agencies. The intent is protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families. ICWA sets federal requirements that apply to state child custody proceedings involving an Indian child who is a member of or eligible for membership in a federally recognized tribe. When ICWA applies to a child’s case, the child’s tribe and family will have an opportunity to be involved in decisions affecting services for the Indian child. A tribe or a parent can also petition to transfer jurisdiction of the case to their own tribal court. ICWA sets out federal requirements regarding removal and placement of Indian children in foster or adoptive homes and allows the child’s tribe to intervene in the case.

Individualized Education Program (IEP) 

A written statement of the educational program designed to meet a child’s individual needs. Every child who receives special education services must have an IEP.

In Utero 

In the womb; before birth.

Learning Disabilities 

A neurological disorder that results in learning challenges that are not cause by low intelligence, problems with hearing or vision or lack of educational opportunity. Children with learning disabilities may have difficulties in particular skill areas, such as reading or math. These children may also have trouble paying attention and getting along with their peers.

Legal-Risk Adoption 

Placement of a child in an adoptive home when birth parents’ rights have not yet been voluntarily or involuntarily terminated. Prospective adoptive parents acknowledge, in writing, that a child can be ordered returned to the state. A final decree of adoption cannot be entered until all required consents or a termination of parental rights are obtained or dispensed with in accordance with applicable law.

Legally Free for Adoption 

A child in state foster care whose birth parents rights have already been terminated by the state or relinquished. The child is a ward of the state and has no legal parents.

Loss and Grief Issues 

Adoption is created through loss. Children who join their families through adoption often experience a tremendous amount of loss and grief. Losses could include birth parents, extended family, home, pets, neighborhoods, schools, friends, treasured belongings, and in some cases culture. Because children don’t always have words to express loss and grief, they may express their feelings through a variety of behaviors.


A federally funded program that provides medical care for low-income families and individuals, including most children adopted from foster care in the US and most children in foster care. Sometimes referred to as medical assistance. Covers some or all of the costs related to a child’s specific medical condition that are not covered by the family’s health insurance, as well as associated therapy, rehabilitation, and special education.

Neurological Disorder 

Any condition that is caused by a dysfunction in part of the brain or nervous system, resulting in physical or psychological symptoms. There are more than 600 neurological disorders and most are commonly present at birth, but some develop after birth.

Non-Identifying Information 

Very basic details about a child’s birth family. Typically 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 

Any adoption relationship between the adoptive family and birth parents. May involve some amount of direct contact ranging from exchanging names to sending letters and scheduling visits.


A variety of drugs, ranging from legal drugs such as fentanyl, codeine, and morphine to illegal drugs such as heroin and opium. Opioids act on the nervous system to relieve pain. Continued use and abuse can lead to physical dependence, withdrawal symptoms, and overdose death.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) 

A persistent behavioral pattern of angry or irritable mood; argumentative, defiant behavior towards authority figures; and vindictiveness. These behaviors may be evident in one setting—usually at home. In more severe cases they occur in multiple settings. The frequency and intensity of behaviors are outside the typical range for a child’s developmental level, gender, and culture.

Permanent Ward 

In Canada, children in foster care—children for whom the government has taken legal responsibility.


A website or publication with photos and descriptions of children who are available for adoption.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) 

A trauma and stress disorder that a child or youth may develop after experiencing or witnessing a threatening event (called a trauma). This event could have led to a serious injury or death and they may have felt overwhelming fear, helplessness, or horror. Some examples are domestic violence, community violence, abuse, natural disasters, accidents, serious injury, major surgery, etc. Children exposed to the same trauma may react very differently, even if they are in the same family. PTSD can develop months after the event, and may seem oddly disconnected from it. Some common patterns of behaviors include dreams about the event, play that reenacts the trauma, difficulty sleeping, irritability, and detachment.

Prenatal Exposure 

Exposure to a certain substance or influence while inside the womb.


A variety of techniques and methods used to help children and youth who are experiencing difficulties with their emotions or behavior. Communication is the basic tool for bringing about change in a person’s feelings and behaviors and may involve an individual child, a group of children, a family, or multiple families. Playing, drawing, building, and pretending, as well as talking, are important ways of sharing feelings and resolving problems.

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) 

A condition that develops when a child’s basic needs for comfort, affection, and nurturing aren’t met and loving, caring, stable attachments with others are not established. Symptoms may include inability to give or receive affection; an inability to empathize with others or feel remorse; destructive behavior; lying, cheating and stealing; attempting to manipulate others; preoccupation with fire, blood and gore; cruelty to animals; and indiscriminate affection toward strangers. Treatments include positive child and caregiver interactions, a stable and nurturing environment, psychological counseling, and parent or caregiver education.


The striking out of specific information from a record usually shown by blacking out or excluding the information in the record. In adoption, states and agencies have procedures by which parties may obtain both non-identifying and identifying information from adoption records while still protecting the interests of all parties.


The legal process by which birth parents voluntarily release all rights and duties with respect to that child, often so the child can be adopted. Consent to adoption is regulated by state statutes and in most states, the consent must be in writing and either witnessed and notarized or executed before a judge or other designated official. After relinquishment, birth parents have no legal right to further contact with the children.

Residential Treatment Center (RTC)

A program designed to provide intensive help for children or youth with serious emotional and behavior problems. While receiving residential treatment, children temporarily live outside of their homes and in a facility where they can be supervised and monitored by trained staff.

Respite Care 

Temporary care that provides a break for families from the daily demands of caring for a high needs child or during times of emergencies.

Semi-Open Adoption 

When the birth family experiences non-identifying interaction with the adoptive family. In most cases, interaction is facilitated by a third party which is usually the adoption agency or attorney.

Sexual Abuse Symptoms 

Children’s sexual interest, curiosity, and behaviors develop gradually over time and may be influenced by many factors. The presence of sexual behavior is not in and of itself a conclusive sign that abuse has occurred. There is no one specific sign or behavior that can be considered proof that sexual abuse has occurred, but children who have been sexually abused may demonstrate behaviors that are unusual, excessive, aggressive, or explicit. Suspected symptoms require an evaluation by a trained professional who specializes in child sexual abuse.

Special Needs 

Refers to children in the US who qualify for adoption assistance because the state has determined that they have specific factors or conditions that may make them harder to place for adoption such as being an older child, having a particular racial or ethnic background, being part of a sibling group needing to be placed together as one unit, medical conditions, and physical, mental, or emotional disabilities. A child with special needs should not be confused with a child who requires special education.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) 

A federally funded needs-based disability program for disabled children and adults 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 relinquish their parental rights to the child.

Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) 

A process where a person’s legal rights as a parent are ended. The person loses the right to visit or talk with the child, and the right to decide how the child is raised and cared for. In a voluntary termination, the person agrees to terminate their rights as a parent. For an involuntary termination, the person doesn’t agree with giving up their rights as a parent and the court decides they should be terminated anyway.

Therapeutic or Treatment Foster Care 

A foster home with parents who have specialized training to care for children and youth with severe mental, emotional, or behavioral health. This includes medically fragile or developmentally delayed youth whose physical and emotional health needs require more intensive clinical and medical intervention than can be accommodated in traditional foster care.

Waiting Children 

Children in the public child welfare system (foster care) who cannot return to their birth parents and need permanent, stable, loving families. They are of all ages and races, and are typically over the age of six. Many have siblings and need to be placed with their sibling group. Some have medical or other special needs. Many reside in foster homes, some in residential treatment centers, and most have been traumatized during their critical developmental years. Many will need additional educational, medical or psychological help as they grow towards maturity.

Our Mission

The North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) supports, educates, inspires, and advocates so adoptive families thrive and every child in foster care has a permanent, safe, loving family.


What We Do
Core Beliefs and Values
Board of Directors
Our Partners
Sponsorship Opportunities


North American Council
on Adoptable Children
970 Raymond Avenue
Suite 205
St. Paul, MN 55114


Staff Contact Info

The North American Council on Adoptable Children