Positive adoption language: What is it and why is it important

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

“For decades, adoption was considered shameful,”  says Amy Curtis, Buckner director of counseling. “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.”

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.

Positive adoption language is not only important to educate society, but also for honoring the families and children 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 could 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.

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. This is the furthest thing from the truth. 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.

“Every child was created uniquely by God and needs to know their infinite worth and purpose,” says Amy.

On a logistical note, 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. 

Make the positive adoption language examples below a part of your vocabulary:

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

Written by Kayln Grider, an intern with Buckner Communications.



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