Glossary of common adoption terms


Common adoption terms used in Canada

The Adoption Council of Canada hopes this glossary will clarify the various terms used in our documents, and also offer a helpful guide to usage. The glossary takes the best from existing Canadian and U.S. glossaries and adds usage notes and commentaries from the Canadian perspective. It includes some terms not defined elsewhere, for example, custom adoption. The usage notes are intended as a guide to the correct use of adoption language, while recognizing that usage does change over time.



Person who was adopted. Frequently refers to an adopted person who is now an adult.


Legal transfer of parental rights and obligations from birth parent(s) to adoptive parent(s).

Adoptive parent.

Person who legally assumes the rights and obligations of parenting an adopted child.

Birth family.

The birth family is composed of those sharing a child’s genetic heritage.

Birth mother / father / parent.

The birth (or biological) mother is the woman giving birth to a child who is subsequently placed for adoption.

Certificate / decree / order (adoption).

At the end of the finalization process, the court issues a document stating the adoptee is the legal child of the adoptive parents.

Child profile.

Document written by a child's caseworker to provide a prospective adoptive family with comprehensive information about the child, including family history; medical, psychological and educational assessments; history of previous placements; and daily routines.

Children’s Aid Society (CAS).

In Ontario, a public child welfare agency funded by government and responsible for protecting Ontario children, finding foster homes, and finding permanent families for children in its care who are available for adoption. .

Consent to adoption.

Legal permission by a birth parent for an adoption to proceed.

Custom adoption.

Form of adoption specific to aboriginal peoples, taking place within the aboriginal community and recognizing traditional customs.

Custom care.

Form of kinship care specific to aboriginal communities.


In the field of adoption search and reunion, the release from government files of previously confidential or unshared information, such as identifying information.


Failure of an adoption before finalization through a decision of the birth parents, adoptive parents or agency.


Failure of an adoption after finalization through a decision of the adoptive parents or the courts. 

Domestic adoption.

Adoption of a child living in the same country as the adoptive parent(s).


The final legal step in the adoption process: at a court hearing an adoptive parent(s) becomes a child’s legal parent(s).

Foster care.

Temporary parental care by non-relatives.

Foster-adoption / fost-adopt / fostering with a view to adoption.

A foster placement is intended to result in adoption.


A guardian is a person who is legally responsible for a child.

Hague Convention.

The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, inaugurated in 1993, is an international treaty setting the framework for the adoption of children between countries.

Hard-to-place children.

Some children are harder to place for adoption, for reasons such as special needs, age, race and being in a sibling group.

Home study.

Professional assessment of a prospective parent's suitability to adopt.

International (intercountry) adoption.

Adoption of a child living in a different country from the adoptive parent(s).

Kinship adoption.

Adoption of a child by a grandparent, aunt, uncle, other member of the extended family, godparent or someone considered kin.

Leave, adoption.

Government benefit by which workers get paid leave from work when adopting..

Licensed adoption agency.

An agency to whom the provincial adoption ministry has granted a licence to place children for adoption in the province, and to manage the adoption process during the probation period.

Life book.

Scrapbook, journal or photo album chronicling a child’s life story, created by social workers, birth, foster or adoptive parents, or the child, when she is older.


Process of finding a prospective family suited to the needs of a waiting child. .

Open records.

In the field of adoption search and reunion, records in government files, such as an original birth certificate and adoption papers, which are open for the inspection of triad members.

Openness in adoption.

Birth parents and adoptive parents often agree to have an open adoption, with ongoing contact between their families.


Arrangement which assures lasting care and parenting of a child and eliminates the need for further moves.


List of children available for adoption, usually through public child welfare agencies, including photos and descriptions.


Act of physically placing a child in a foster or prospective adoptive home.

Plan, adoption.

The birth parents' plan to allow their child to be placed for adoption.

Post-adoption services.

Services provided after adoption finalization.

Practitioner, approved adoption.

In Ontario, a professional, usually a social worker, with experience in adoption or child welfare, whom the provincial ministry responsible for adoption has approved to conduct home studies and supervise placements in prospective adoptive homes.

Private adoption.

(1) An adoption arranged by a privately-funded, licensed adoption agency. Private agency.

Non-government adoption agency licensed by the province the agency operates in. Private agencies charge fees for their services.

Probation period.

Time between placement of a child with the adoptive family and finalization, when the adoption is legalized in court.

Public adoption.

An adoption arranged through a provincial ministry or agency funded by government.

Public agency.

Government-funded adoption agency, usually providing services at no cost, e.g. Children’s Aid Society


Voluntary surrender by a birth parent of legal rights to parent a child. It's a legally binding process involving the signing of documents and court action.

Respite care.

Temporary care provided for a child in order to give birth, foster or adoptive parents relief from parenting.

Reunion registry.

In the field of adoption search and reunion, a service allowing adult members of the adoption triad wishing to learn about birth relatives to register personal data and ask to be notified if other parties in that adoption also register.

Search and reunion.

"Search" is a process whereby either a birth parent or an adoptee seeks information about, or contact with, the other.

Sibling adoption.

Adopting two or more brothers and sisters at the same time.

Special needs.

Conditions in a child that  are particularly challenging to adoptive parents, such as physical, emotional and behavioural disorders, and a history of abuse or neglect.

Subsidy, adoption.

Government benefit to offset the costs of adopting and raising a special needs child.


Process whereby the licensee visits the adoptive home during the probation period, to see if the child is adjusting well and to give advice and support.

Support group.

Group of people sharing a common concern or experience who provide support for each other.

Transracial adoption.

Adoption of a child of one race by a family of a different race.

Triad, adoption.

In the field of adoption search and reunion, the three parties involved in an adoption: birth parent, adoptive parent and adoptee. Some use the term "adoption circle" or "adoption constellation", to include other parties such as adoption professionals.

Waiting children.

Children who are waiting to be adopted, that is, children who are legally free for adoption.

Ward / Crown ward / Permanent ward.

Status of a child declared by the court to be in care of the state.