Adoption Language

We often find ourselves explaining what we mean as we talk about adoption with friends and family – and it’s little wonder!  For someone who has had no connection with adoption, some of the phrases and acronyms must seem completely foreign!

But for those of us connected to adoption, using positive adoption language and understanding the importance of words is vital!  It also means the world to us when friends and family recognize that and begin to use positive adoption language as well.

Are you interested in learning more about positive adoption language?  I have included two sections below – one for Common Terms We Use (from our experience with the Ministry) and the other for Positive Adoption Language.  You can also refer to my Adoption-Related Links page for articles related to this topic.

If you have any questions about what is listed below, or feel that there are terms or words that should be here and are not, please feel free to email me at


COMMON TERMS WE USE (Defined using my own words)

Adoption Agency – Each province has different adoption regulations and guidelines.  In BC, adoption agencies assist in a few different situations relating to adoption.  As it relates to us, the MCFD contracts different adoption agencies to do family home studies.  This enables the home studies to be done much more quickly than if they were left to MCFD social workers (their case loads can be quite large).

Adoption Education Program (AEP) – All potential adoptive and foster parents in BC must take the AEP.  This program leads parents through issues relating to kids in care, special considerations, mental health issues, effects of trauma on children, and much more.  It is intensive and emotionally draining – as it should be!  It is led by social workers and community members with training in these specific areas, and includes group work, videos, and a lot of reading.  A perk is that you get to know other families who are at the same place in the process as you are!  When we went through the AEP, it was in a classroom setting.  There are also online options now as well!

Agency / home study social worker (asw/hssw) – The MCFD now contracts out home studies to local adoption agencies.  This ensures that home studies are completed as quickly as possible.  This social worker is assigned to us by the adoption agency, and is responsible for completing the home study as outlined by the agency and the MCFD.

Formal Proposal – Once a match has been explored and “the adults” are in agreement, the child’s team puts together a file that should contain all information there is to know about the child and his/her background.  This file can be huge or thin, depending on circumstances.  When the potential adoptive family and their team receive the formal proposal, it is gone through by everyone involved, and then signed off on by doctors and the family.  Once this has been done, the teams move forward with planning.

Guardianship worker (gw) – These social workers also work for the MCFD, but work with and are responsible for the children in care.  Every single child in care has a guardianship worker.

Home Study – In BC, a Home Study consists of 4-7 (the number varies depending on circumstances) visits to a family home by a social worker.  During these visits, the home itself is looked at in terms of safety, and family members are interviewed at length about everything imaginable (past, present, and future).  This is usually the last step that occurs before matching takes place.

Matching – This is a the process where families that have been approved to adopt and children in care are connected.  It looks different for almost everyone as it is wholly dependent on the circumstances of everyone involved.  It can be very quick, or very slow.  Sometimes many different matches are explored, while for others it’s the first one that is successful.  In addition, matches can happen in different ways – the guardianship worker might hear about a family, or a social worker might hear about a child.  Foster parents and biological family members may or may not be involved in the matching process.

Ministry for Children and Family Development (MCFD) – This is the Ministry responsible for the care of children who have been placed in the custody of the British Columbia government, as well as many other responsibilities relating to Children and Families in BC.  For more information, refer to their website.

Ministry social worker (msw) – As we are adopting through the MCFD, each family is assigned a social worker to assist them through the process and advocate on behalf of the family and incoming children.  Ours is a real gem, we think she’s fantastic!



*The words we choose say a lot about how we really think. Using positive adoption language (PAL) means choosing words that show respect for birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees. When we use PAL, we say that adoption is a valid way to form a family, just as birth is. Both are important, but one is not better than the other.

Birth Parent (not “Real Parent”)

Biological Parent (not “Natural Parent”)

Birth / Biological Child (not “Own Child”)

My Child (not “Adopted Child” or “Own Child”

Born to Unmarried Parents (not “Illegitimate”)

Terminate Parental Rights (not “Give Up”)

Make an Adoption Plan (not “Take Away”)

To Parent (not “To Keep”)

Waiting Child (not “Adoptable Child” or “Available Child”)

Birth Father / Biological Father (not “real father” or “father”)

Birth Mother / Biological Mother (not “real mother” or “mother”)

Making Contact With (not “Reunion”)

Parent (not “Adoptive Parent”)

International Adoption (not “Foreign Adoption”)

Adoption Triad (not “Adoption Triangle”)

Permission to Sign a Release (not “Disclosure”)

Search (not “Track down parents”)

Child Placed for Adoption (not “an unwanted child”)

Court Termination (not “child taken away”)

Child with Special Needs (not “handicapped child”)

Child from Abroad (not “Foreign Child”)

Was Adopted (not “Is Adopted”)

*Borrowed from – this is worded perfectly!