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Positive Adoption Language and Terminology
Through their word choices, even well-meaning journalists can and have inadvertently conveyed the misconception that adoptive families are somehow less genuine and permanent, and that people who were adopted -- and their role in a family -- remain somehow different. The reality is that adoption is as valid a way of joining a family as birth. We urge journalists to use language that conveys the fact that adoptive families are just like any other, both in law and in loving relationships. The following are suggestions for the treatment of adoption in writing and reporting.

Developed by Accurate Adoption Reporting
2115 Ward Court, N.W., Dept. MF, Washington D.C. 20037
Published here with permission

As in the case of race or gender, the fact a person was adopted should be mentioned only if it’s absolutely essential to the story. If it is mentioned, the relevance must be clear in the context of the story. Mentioning adoption when it’s not relevant wrongly implies a separate category of family relationship. A daughter who joined the family through adoption is -- and should be described as -- simply a daughter. If it’s necessary to mention adoption, we suggest phrasing such as: “She was adopted in 1997” rather than “she is adopted.” Adoption is one of many events in a person’s life, not an immutable personal trait.

An adopted person’s parents (those who are raising the child) should be referred to simply as father, mother or parents. The man and woman who shared in the child’s conception can be referred to as the birth, genetic or biological parents (not “real” or “natural” parents, etc.).

Writers should avoid terms such as “abandoned” or “given up,” both for accuracy and sensitivity reasons. It usually is inaccurate to refer to children available for adoption as orphans. Often, the birth parents are alive. These children also shouldn’t be referred to as unwanted. Sociological or legal factors often force birth parents to relinquish their parental rights and make a child available for adoption -- which is very different from abandoning them or “giving them up.” In the interest of accuracy, birth parents can be said to have placed the child for adoption, made an adoption plan, made them available for adoption, or transferred parental rights.
The reason why people adopt is not usually relevant to a story. Infertility often plays a role, but so do other factors, and many adopt simply because this is a joyful way to make a family. Language suggesting parents “couldn’t have a baby of their own” is inaccurate. These children are our own by law and by love. Such language suggests adoption is second best, and that can be hurtful. Also, the phrase “a child of their own” is an inappropriate reference to birth children.

Stories should never imply that adoptive parents are unusually selfless or otherwise saintly. In most cases, we adopted simply because we want to parent children. We are no more saintly or selfless than any other parent.What we say and the words we use, communicate a lot about our values. The conscious and consistent use of positive adoption language affirms that adoption is as valid a way to build a family as birth.

Positive Language Negative Language
Adoption triad Adoption triangle
Biological parent Natural / real parent
Birth child Own child
Birth father / mother Real / Natural father / mother
Birth parent Real parent
Born to unmarried parents Illegitimate
Child from abroad Foreign child
Child placed for adoption Unwanted child
Child with special needs Handicapped child
Court termination Child taken away
Make an adoption plan /
  choose adoption
Give away / give up
Intercountry adoption Foreign adoption
Interracial Mixed race
Making contact with Reunion
My child Adopted child
Parent Adoptive parent
Search Track down parents
To parent To keep
Waiting child Adoptable child; Available child
Sponsor a child
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