Adoption Terms and Definitions
In private or independent adoption the principals (expectant parents and adoptive parents) determine who will have custody of the child and how the process should proceed. Custody of the child is transferred directly from the expectant/birth parents to the adoptive parents rather than passing through an intermediary. Professionals such as attorneys, facilitators, psychotherapists, social workers and others may help make the process easier, but the principals are in charge of the decision-making aspect of the process as well as determining which professionals they wish to work with.
Pact is a full service, licensed adoption agency. In agency adoption, the agency is responsible for the adoption plan and chooses an adoptive family with whom to place the baby. Many agencies allow adoptive and expectant parents to participate in these choices and in some states if the expectant parent chooses an “identified placement,” then legally the agency must inform the birth parent if they for some reason place the child with a family other than the one chosen by the birth parent, but the legal authority and responsibility for oversight of the placement remains with the agency.
An adoption facilitator is an independent business entity that is in the business of matching prospective adoptive parent(s) with expectant parent(s) who are planning to place their child for adoption. An adoption facilitator’s only legitimate service is to arrange contact between the expectant parent and the prospective adoptive parent(s) – they are not licensed to complete any legal services of an adoption which must be completed by either a licensed agency, a licensed social worker or an attorney according to the laws of the states in which both the adopting parents and placing parents reside.
An open adoption means there is direct contact between the adopting family and the birth family. This term includes a wide range of interpretations. The birth and adoptive families may speak only once before the placement of the child and have no further contact or they may engage in extensive contact throughout their lifetimes. Some adoption practitioners prefer particular styles of interaction between families and will only facilitate adoptions that conform to their ideas. Related terms that are sometimes employed include “semi-open adoption,” which usually means that the adoptive and birth parents meet and exchange non-identifying information and maintain contact through an intermediary or “cooperative adoption,” where the birth and adoptive parents agree to remain in close and ongoing contact and where the birth parents agree to play an active role in the child’s life.
A closed adoption is where no identifying information passes between the birth and adoptive family. A closed adoption does not fulfill the legal requirements for independent adoption in many states because the law requires certain minimum standards of identifying information to be exchanged. Agency adoptions can be closed if the agency or principals so desire. Some agencies chose to participate exclusively in open or closed adoptions.
Both terms apply to the transfer of legal custody from a birth parent to an agency or to a family, which assigns legal custody to the adopting family upon approval from the state of residence for the adopting parents. Neither act can be completed until a child is born. Transfer of custody must be completed in front of a licensed social worker or in some cases an attorney or notary who can verify that no form of coercion has been applied. An expectant parent who makes a commitment to place a child for adoption before the birth of the child cannot be held to that commitment after the child is born, i.e., expectant parents’ rights to change their minds after the birth of the child is legally assured by all states
There is no uniform adoption law in the United States but there is provision to move children between states in a secure manner. The Interstate Compact (ICPC) is the legal structure designed to protect the safe transit of children who are born in one state and will be adopted by a family residing in another. A set of steps must be taken by the sending state (where the child is born) to ensure that the receiving state (where the adoptive family resides) is aware of and in agreement with the legal movement of the child. Fulfilling interstate compact requirements is normally the responsibility of the agency or attorney who is handling the legal steps of the adoption and the child cannot return to the state in which the adoptive family resides until approval from both states has been obtained. This usually takes between two days and two weeks after the child is born and at least one birth parent has signed a consent or relinquishment.
When an adoptive parent takes physical custody of a child before the birth parent’s parental rights are legally terminated the placement is called an “at-risk placement.” It is rare that placements of infants are not at-risk since most families prefer that the baby be with the adopting parents as soon as possible and it can take weeks or even months to terminate all parental rights if one or both of the birth parents are not available to sign relinquishments or consents. Once the rights of unfindable or uncooperative birth parent(s) are terminated by a court, the legal termination is just as binding as if they had relinquished or consented.