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What is positive adoption language?

Using accurate terms honors the families and celebrates adoption

Words have the power to convey messages and evoke feelings. Sometimes words go beyond the speaker’s intentions. The way people choose words can indicate their true thoughts and values.

Because many people are not personally connected to the adoption process, they are less familiar with adoption terms. Understanding the need for positive adoption language and using the most accurate terms to describe the adoption process can help dispel common myths and misconceptions.

“For decades, adoption was considered shameful,”  said Dr. Amy Curtis, director of counseling for Buckner International. “There was an underlying belief that children who were adopted were somehow ‘less than,’ ‘unwanted’ or ‘bad.’ Even today, if children hear their parents speak of adoption with hesitation or uncertainty, they learn that something about adoption is not quite right.”

Examples of positive adoption language

Positive Language

Negative Language

Birth parent

Real parent

Birth child

Own child

My child

Adopted child

Waiting child

Adoptable child

Was adopted

Is adopted

Child who has special needs

Handicapped child

Court termination

Child taken away

Terminate parental rights

Give up

Make an adoption plan

Give away; give up

Making contact with


Child placed for adoption

Unwanted child

Positive adoption language honors the families involved

The birth family faces a life-changing decision when their child is placed for adoption, and sometimes, making an adoption plan is the most loving thing parents can do for their child.

Positive adoption language also gives value to the role of the adoptive family in the child’s life. Families can be built in different ways, and adoption is one of those ways. It is not a second choice, but rather a decision thought out in love, just like pregnancy.

Ultimately, children are part of the family because of the love the family has for each member.

Positive adoption language builds self-worth 

The children involved in the adoption process also experience a wide array of emotions. Children waiting to find their forever homes can struggle with doubts about their self-worth or even feeling displaced, even if not true. All children deserve to be in families who love and care for them.

Positive adoption language combats some of those negative feelings by increasing self-esteem and building greater worth. Asking children why they were abandoned can be disheartening and could bring back horrible memories. Remember, children are constantly being shaped and their influencers play a large role in the outcome.

Positive adoption language helps keep information private

The adoption process can have challenging circumstances and decisions. Using accurate language allows the parties involved to have privacy about those situations.

It is a personal decision why a child is placed for adoption or why a family decided to adopt. Some people will freely volunteer this information but using positive adoption language allows individuals to decide what information they want to share.

Changing the way the public refers to adoption can play a big role in helping change any negative stigma surrounding adoption. Even small changes can have a profound effect to help people better understand the process of adoption. 

Learn more about how you can provide a loving home to a vulnerable child for a season through foster care or a forever home through adoption. 


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