Glossary of adoption terms

Discover some of the words and terms used in the adoption sector, policy and practice

Terms to know

AdoptionAdoption is a legal procedure that transfers all the parent's responsibilities to the adoptive parents. The adopted child becomes a new member of the adoptive family, and they receive the same rights as if they were born into that family. The birth parents of the child lose all rights or responsibilities for the child. 
Adoption Activity Days

Adoption Activity Days  are also known as play days and are events that give approved adopters, or prospective adopters at an advanced stage in their adoption assessment, the opportunity to meet children who need adoptive families. Children are fully prepared for the day and adults and children meet in a fun environment with themes, games and dressing up, and are able to play together as a way of making a personal and emotional connection. Prospective adopters and social workers can then work together to develop potential matches. 

Adoption AgencyAdoption agencies are regulated by the government through Ofsted. There are two kinds of adoption agency in England – local authorities, mostly working together through regional adoption agencies and voluntary adoption agencies. The main difference between the two is that local authorities (or children’s trusts operating as Voluntary adoption agencies) have children in their care, whereas voluntary agencies do not. The local authority has responsibility for finding homes for children in care but both local authority and independent/voluntary adoption agencies assess prospective adopters and match children with them. Adoption agencies do not charge for their services to prospective parents adopting children from care in the UK, and no profit is legally permitted in adoption though some charges are made for those who wish to adopt children from abroad.  
Adoption AssessmentAdoption agencies assess prospective adopters to preparation for adoption. Stage 1 of the assessment includes initial meetings, identity and background checks and references and preparation. This should take no longer than two months, although due to delays with statutory references this is currently taking longer. Stage 2, sometimes called a ‘home study’ takes four months, during which a social worker will work in depth with prospective adopters to assess their strengths and suitably to become an adoptive parent. In the case of adoption of a child in care in England, the cost of assessment is covered by adoption agencies, not by prospective parents, although in some places the medical health assessment report may need to be paid for but agencies vary in this regard. 
Adoption Contact Register This is run by the adoptions section of HM Passport Office. Adopted adults aged 18 or over and birth relatives can add their names to the Adoption Contact Register in order to find a birth relative or to say they don’t want to be contacted. There is a small charge for this. 
Adoption OrderThis is the final court order which gives approved adopters full and permanent parental responsibility for a child. An adoption order can only be made with the consent of the birth parents or if the court has dispensed with the birth parents’ consent. The order is issued by the Family Court, on the application from the prospective adopter/s. The adopter/s will then be provided with an adoption certificate bearing the child’s new surname (if changed) which becomes the child’s formal identifying document.  
Adopted PeopleAdopted people are children or adults adopted as a child.  Other terms used include adoptees, adopted persons, and adopted adult or adopted children and young people. 
Adoption PanelAdoption Panels make a recommendation on suitability to adopt regarding prospective adopters, the proposed plan for a relinquished child for adoption and makes a recommendation regarding a child to be matched with a specific adopter. 
Adoption SupportThis is a range of support and services that can be accessed by adoptive parents, adoptees and birth relatives. Sometimes this is referred to as post adoption support. These include newsletters, advice, peer support, family support, workshops and training, counselling, therapies, legal and medical advice and assessments.  
Adoption Support Fund (ASF) The ASF, launched by the Government in England in 2015, provides financial support for a range of therapies to help children and young people achieve improved emotional regulation and behaviour, improved engagement with learning, confidence and ability to enjoy positive family life and social relationships. The Fund is available for children living in England up to and including the age of 21 (or 25 with a Statement of Special Educational Needs or Education Health & Care Plan) who are adopted and were previously in local authority care in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, or left care under a Special Guardianship Order, or were adopted from overseas. 
Agency Decision Makers  The Agency Decision Maker makes decisions on specific adoption matters laid out in the regulations (some of which will be made based on a recommendation of the Adoption Panel). 
Attachment  This is the emotional bond between two people, for example between the child and adoptive parent. Children who come into the care of local authorities may find it difficult to form secure attachments with adoptive parents, families and friends. 
Best Interests of the ChildTo do something in a child’s best interests usually refers to deciding according to what will most benefit the child’s general wellbeing.  The guiding principle of the Children Act 1989 is that the child’s best interests are of paramount importance in all decisions made. 
Birth FamilyThe biological family, a child was born into including birth parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. Other terms include first family. 
Birth ParentsA child’s biological parents, to whom they were born. Other terms used include first parents. 
Bump into MeetingBump into meetings happen following the decision to proceed with the adoptive placement and before adoption panel. Prior to the child being given information about their new family, the foster carer and adopters arrange to meet in a park or another location familiar to the child. The child should be prepared for the meeting and be advised of who the adult/s are. The purpose of this meeting is to give the adoptive family the opportunity to see the child in a neutral environment  and to support putting written information into context. This visit is to be child led and is recommended not to be more than 30 -60 minutes.
Care Setting

This is the place where a child in care lives. Children in care may live with foster carers, in a residential children’s home or living in residential settings like schools or secure units.

Child in Care  A child who has been in the care of the local authority for more than 24 hours is known as a looked after child, or referred to as children in care, a term which many children and young people prefer.
Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) CAFCASS is a statutory agency that represents children in family court cases in England and advises the family courts about what is safe for children and in their best interests.

Child Permanence Report (CPR) 

This is an important document and is completed by a child’s social worker  and has detailed information about the child’s life experiences, birth family, health and the circumstances that led to the child being in care. It provides essential information about the child’s background and heritage which is used in the matching process. It helps prospective adopters decide whether they feel they can meet the needs of a child.  

Adopted adults can also request a copy of their CPR, and it contains important information about their life history.

Closed Adoption This refers to adoption in England prior to 1976 and the adoptee's records were sealed. They did not have access to their birth records or birth name. 
ContactContact between a child and their birth family (plus others who have been important in their lives) must always be considered when a child is to be adopted. The child’s needs are central to any plan which must also take account of the adopters’ views.  Contact may be direct (face to face) or indirect (through letterbox /information exchanges). Direct contact will often take place between an adopted child and their siblings, who may be living in other adoptive or foster families. An initial face to face meeting or meetings between adopters and birth parents or relatives is expected to take place, unless there are reasons this is not safe to do so, with consideration given to the best way to stay in touch. Individualised contact arrangements combined  with life story work and diverse information sharing methods, help children in navigating  loss/separation, understanding why they were in care, promotes stability in adoptive placements, facilitates the integration of their past and present to develop a coherent identity and is a potential resource in a child's developmental recovery.  
Early Permanence An Early Permanence Placement (EPP) refers to the situation where children may  be placed in their home at the earliest opportunity by being placed with adopters who are also approved as foster carers, who initially foster the child and may become their adopters if the courts make a decision that a plan for adoption is agreed and make a Placement Order, once the court proceedings have been concluded. EPP is also referred to as concurrent planning and fostering for adoption.
Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) IRO is a registered social worker with an independent role within the Local Authority to monitor care plans to meet the child’s current needs, listen and regular reviews.  

Information Events These are sometimes called information sessions/meetings and are organised by adoption agencies to provide general information to members of the public interested in becoming adopters. They are sometimes in person and sometimes online and are a great way for prospective adopters to get a feel for how different agencies work and to hear from adopters who often share their experiences at these events. These meetings cover a lot of information about the children, the process and support available and are very helpful in enabling people to decide whether adoption is right for them and in choosing an adoption agency.  
Intercountry Adoption This is the process of adopting a child from overseas. Prospective adopters need to be assessed and approved by an adoption agency in the UK that specifically carries out assessments for intercountry adoption. Once prospective adopters are approved for intercountry adoption there are different legal pathways depending on the child’s country of origin. There are also financial considerations, as intercountry adoption assessments have to be paid for by the prospective adopters and are costly. 
IntroductionsThis is a term that applies to the period after the match between child and prospective adopters has been agreed by the Adoption Agency Decision Maker, following matching panel. Introductions are a carefully managed way of supporting the child’s move from their foster carers to adopters, agreed during a placement planning meeting. Typically, they take place at the foster carer’s home initially and adopters will spend more and more time with the child gradually taking over the care of the child. The introductions will then move to the adopters’ home, sometimes with support of the foster carer. The length of introductions is tailored to the individual needs of the child or children. Individual children and children within sibling groups vary considerably in their willingness and time taken to build trust in new people. Much will depend on their background history, emotional and actual age and stage of development, their previous moves, and the length of time living in the current foster family.
Later Life Letter This is written by a child’s social worker, explaining why the child came into care and was adopted. It is given to adopters prior to the formal adoption of a child and is designed to be read with the child at a time when they can better understand the actions and circumstances leading up to the adoption. 
LetterboxSee contact 
Life Appreciation Days These are also called Child Appreciation days and may take place during matching to give adopters a chance to meet key individuals such as foster carers, nursery staff, teachers, extended birth family who have been involved with the child during their time in care. They may have different formats across the country. 
Life Story BooksThese are usually put together by a child’s social worker, but are sometimes prepared and then developed by adopters, to record the child’s history up to and beyond the point of moving in with their adoptive family. They often contain baby photos, pictures of birth parents, foster carers and other significant people, with some writing, helping children to understand their early history and the reasons why they could not remain with their birth family. All children adopted should have a Life Story Book completed prior to their formal adoption order. 
Life Story WorkAdopted children are helped by their adoptive parents or their social workers to understand their personal history and develop their sense of identity, through an ongoing process of life story work. This includes who they are, their birth family, why they were taken into care and their early life experiences, and how they came to be adopted. This can help a child to feel more settled with their adoptive family and deepen bonds within the family. 
Looked After ChildrenThese are children in the care of a local authority. A child may be looked after by a local authority on a voluntary basis with the agreement of the child’s parent/s, or because the courts have issued a court order placing the child in the local authority’s care. Children adopted from care are considered previously looked after children, particularly with respect to education and the Adoption Support Fund (ASF). Matching is the process of finding a suitable adoptive family for a specific child (see also family finding). Once a suitable family has been identified this will then proceed to an adoption matching panel for consideration. 


Matching is the process of finding a suitable adoptive family for a specific child (see also family finding). Once a suitable family has been identified this will then proceed to an adoption matching panel for consideration. 

Matching PanelThis is the formal panel that recommends a match between a specific child/ren and approved adopters. The adoption panel will read all the information in the adoption placement report, prepared by the child’s and prospective adopter’s agencies to consider the match. They will also consider the Adoption Support Plan, which outlines support to be provided for the child and family. If the panel recommends the match, the child’s local authority Agency Decision Maker then makes the final decision about whether the match should proceed. 
Openess in AdoptionOpenness is the spirit in which adoptive parents think and talk about adoption with their children (communicative openness) and could also be related to the contact children are having with their birth family (structural openness) 
Placement OrderThis court order may be made by a family court at the end of care proceedings and gives permission for the local authority to formally place a child for adoption. If a child, subject to a placement order, moves in with a prospective adopter the local authority and the prospective adopter share parental responsibility for the child. A placement order ends when an adoption order is made.
Preparation Groups These start during stage 1 of the adoption process and help adopters prepare for and understand the realities of adoptive parenting. Prospective adopters meet and learn together, exploring the benefits and challenges of adoption and key parenting skills needed to care for children who may have experienced neglect and abuse. All basic preparation groups cover similar topics, but the format may differ across the country. There will some additional preparation provided, dependent upon need and over time. For example, early permanence/ sibling adoptions/transracial adoption/exploring identity needs or specific medical or health conditions.
Profiling Events These are run by regional adoption agencies where approved adopters who are not yet matched with a child or children, are invited to attend and have an opportunity to see profiles of children who are waiting for adoptive families nationally. Sometimes, these are in person or online. When these take place nationally they may be called Exchange days where adoption agencies bring profiles and information about a range of children and adopters waiting for adoption giving adopters the opportunity to meet social workers from a number of different areas to discuss the children and adopters they have waiting.  
Prospective Adopter Report (PAR) This is the report written by a social worker which summarises the information collected during the adoption assessment process regarding prospective adopters. The PAR is presented to the Adoption Panel, and once adopters are approved, the PAR is also used to provide information to social workers, seeking adoptive parents for children. The report contains information and evidence about why the social worker considers the prospective adopter suitable to be approved as an adopter. Prospective adopters have the opportunity to read the report, add their own comments and clarify any inaccuracies. 
Pupil Premium Plus This is additional funding for schools in England (publicly funded) for children adopted from care or have left care and recognises the extra challenges that these children may face in education; it is currently (February 2024) £2,530 per child. The fund is used by the school to invest in measures to help the child achieve their educational potential. This does not necessarily mean that the full amount will be spent on each individual child, but rather to provide a range of education support measures that will benefit eligible children, ideally in discussion with parents. To qualify for this support, the adoptive parent(s) must inform the school that their child is adopted from care. 
Special Guardianship This is a court order, introduced in 2005. It provides for parental responsibility to be shared between the child’s parents and an individual or individuals other than the birth parents. This could be a grandparent, close relative, foster carer or other connected person. The difference between Special Guardianship and adoption is that the birth parents remain the legal parents, and as such share parental responsibility for the child; however, their ability to exercise this responsibility is strictly limited and the Special Guardian is able to make nearly all the decisions in a child’s life without requiring the parent’s consent. The order expires on a child’s 18th birthday.