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Positive Adoption Language

Updated: May 1, 2020

Would you believe us if we said that we had been asked if we picked our Little Man from a magazine? How about if someone asked if we could hand them back? Sadly these two instances are true and are real-life questions we have been asked. Shocking, eh?!

Disclaimer: This blog is in no way intended to cause offence or harm, but with a lot of curious folk out there, we are mindful that lots of questions are asked of adopters, however some of which are likely to offend or upset adopters and their children.

We wanted to put a positive spin on Adoption Language and to give a further insight as to what this means. Read on dear reader…

What do you mean by positive adoption language? Well in just the same way most of us think before we speak and would consider appropriate terminology considering the current situation - it is entirely the same for parents who have adopted and those going through the adoption process. This may sound obvious however there are misconceptions and questions asked that can and will offend. Some of which we have experienced first hand.

We wanted to share this blog to create awareness of adoption language and how just a few changes can have a huge positive effect. It is that simple!

We reached out recently to our lovely social media followers and asked adopters about their experience, the results of which were quite shocking! We’ve shared a few of the questions below that others have been asked and we’ve added some context as to why they may offend if asked.

Again, we stress that this is not a name and shame - but an honest account of what we and others have been asked.


Can you get one that doesn’t have anything wrong with it?

This is one of the most shocking questions we encountered. All children that are adopted and are in care have encountered some form of neglect, trauma or abuse. Asking whether somebody can choose a child that doesn’t have anything ‘wrong’ with it is just damn right rude.

Were they given up for adoption?

Surprising to many, children in most cases have been removed by the local authority for a particular reason rather than children being given up for adoption.

Why are they being fostered/adopted?

Humans are curious. We are inquisitive by nature.

We too have been asked this question and can understand why others ask. They want to know why the child is being adopted, however it really isn’t our story to share. Many children are too young to understand what has happened until later life, so it often isn’t down to the parents to share their child's story before their son/daughter knows. A rule of thumb here is don’t expect a detailed response if this is asked - we tend to respond “Their birth parents weren’t able to keep them safe” which is plenty for others to know.

Do you get paid to have them?

No. Just the same way all parents don’t get paid to parent their children - the same applies here. This may be getting confused with fostering whereby the local authority pays foster carers which assist in the daily living expenses when fostering a child/children.

Are they yours to keep?

An interesting questions and one that requires an in-depth answer.

When a child is moved from the birth family and placed in the care of the local authority and subsequently foster care, the birth parents hold less legal responsibility and share this with the local authority.

If a placement order is granted (a judge has agreed the child should be adopted), this allows the local authority and adoption agency to look for appropriate adoptive parents for an adoption placement.

Once a child has been matched with parents and the child moves into their adoptive placement - the local authority and birth parents share legal responsibility. After at least 10 weeks in an adoptive placement the parents (should they feel they are ready to) can apply to the court for an adoption order to be made.

An adoption order means the child/children no longer has any legal connection with their birth family. Their original birth certificate is destroyed and a new certificate issued with the parents noted as having full legal responsibility. This also means the child may now take the surname of their parents, should they wish to.

Once a child has been adopted and an adoption order granted - they are parented for life, just the same as all parents will parent their sons and daughters.

Do they see their real mum/dad?

Firstly, the terminology that should be used here is Birth Parents.

Up until the time a child moves into an adoptive placement, they have contact with their birth parents. The frequency is decided by the LA and is often weekly and reduced to monthly contact. Once adopters have been identified the contact will cease and a final goodbye contact is held.

As part of the adoption, ’letterbox contact’ normally takes place - this being the only form of contact with the birth parents. This will often occur once a year with a letter written by the parents updating the birth parents on progress.

Do they call you Mum / Dad?

In foster care a child should be refrained from referring to foster carers as Mum / Dad, purely because of the relationship they should have with them. As part of the transition / introduction to parents in an adoptive placement, parents are introduced as Mum/Dad and this is built up over a period of time called ‘Introductions’. By the time they come to move into their adoptive placement they will be aware of who Mum and Dad are.

Will they go back to their birth parents at some point?

A child may only go back to their birth parents only whilst in foster care or in the rare event of a breakdown of an adoption. Once an adoption order is granted, the birth parents have no legal responsibility.

There are countless questions we could list here but the bottom line is just to be mindful when speaking and asking potentially sensitive questions about a child and their parents.

We welcome questions so if anyone would like to share their views, please get in touch.

“The way we talk - and the words we choose - say a lot about what we think and value. When we use positive adoption language, we say that adoption is a way to build a family - just as birth is”.
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