Promoting Positive and Accurate Adoption Language

 The language of adoption has changed as the practice of adoption has evolved.  One rarely hears terms such as illegitimate child anymore.  But it is still common to hear other words and phrases that are no longer accurate or neutral.  Certain terms have the effect of closing doors and serving as barriers to having an open discussion about adoption; such as “give away” one’s baby.  Words can also be hurtful and stigmatizing to the individuals in the adoption circle; namely the parents who make an adoption plan, the parents who adopt and the child. If you are an adoptive parent and someone asks about your child’s “real” parent – that can be hurtful.  Or if you are a parent who made an adoption plan for your child; being asked why you “gave away” your child discredits the thought, time and selflessness it took to make that plan!

There are at least 6 million people in the U.S. who were adopted into their families, and the number of Americans touched by adoption exceeds 100 million.  Therefore when speaking about adoption, it is imperative to use accurate and adoption neutral language. One should consider describing adoption as a process, not a label.  Also one should think about the words he/she uses so as to become more sensitive to underlying prejudices and stereotypes.

Below are some examples of negative words and phrases along with the accurate and appropriate adoption language to use.

Negative                                                           Accurate

Adopt out, give away                                Make an adoption plan

Keep the baby                                         Make a parenting plan

Real parent                                             Biological or birth parent

Own child, Adopted child                          My child

Unwanted child                                        Child released for adoption

Foreign adoption                                       International adoption

Illegitimate child                                       Born to unmarried parents

Adoption Triangle                                     Adoption triad, circle or


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