You’re new to adoption, maybe just thinking about dipping your feet in. You check out some adoption groups, read an article or two, and find that people are talking in a language all their own! Don’t fret: we’re here to walk you through some of the adoption-related phrases you’re sure to encounter!

1. Expectant mom/Expectant parents

This is a woman or parents who are contemplating adoption for her/their child. They are still called an expectant mom/parent even after the match with a hopeful adoptive couple, right up until placement.

2. Birth Mom/Birth Parent

This is the label for a parent who has placed their child for adoption. They are not a birth parent until after they have signed the relinquishment papers. Up until that point, they are an “expectant parent,” or just “a parent.”

3. HAP

This is an abbreviation for hopeful adoptive parents. A HAP is someone who is waiting to be matched or has matched but the placement has not yet occurred.

4. AP

This is an abbreviation for an adoptive parent, meaning someone who has had a child placed with them.

5. Home study

This is the document you must have before being able to adopt. Every state requires one, whether you are using an agency, adopting privately, fostering, or trying to adopt from foster care. Included in a home study are generally personal references, a physical, your adoption preferences, a fire inspection, a home inspection, and an interview with a social worker.

6. Placement

This is when parents relinquish their rights to their children.

7. Failed match/failed placement

These are controversial terms used to mean situations where the expectant parent changed their minds about the adoption plan they created. These are controversial because they come from the viewpoint of HAPs: it’s only a failed match for them, not the parents or the child. So, not everyone uses these terms.

8. Adoption agreement: This is the plan that birth parents and adoptive parents work out in terms of post-placement contact (or lack thereof, if it’s a closed adoption). It is not usually legally binding.

9. Closed adoption: This is when birth and adoptive parents do not meet or exchange any contact or identifying information.

10. Open adoption: This is a huge spectrum. At one end, it’s where adoptive parents know the birth parent(s)’ names. On the other end, it can involve visits between birth and adoptive families. Sometimes, when letters and pictures are exchanged through the agency, it’s called a semi-open adoption.

11. Post-placement visits: These are required in some states, depending on the type of adoption. A social worker conducts these to check in with the family and make sure everyone is adjusting well and that the child is safe.

12. Finalization: This is when the adoption is official, and the child takes the adoptive parents’ last name and becomes their complete legal responsibility. Depending on the state, this could be a few days to several months after placement.

13. Private adoption: This is an adoption done with just lawyers and no agency involvement.

Are you and your partner ready to start the adoption process? Visit or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to begin your adoption journey. We have 130+ years of adoption experience and would love to help you.

Are you considering placing a child for adoption? Not sure what to do next? First, know that you are not alone. Visit or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to speak to one of our Options Counselors to get compassionate, nonjudgmental support. We are here to assist you in any way we can.