Honest Adoption Language

Over the last 30 years, adoption industry social workers developed terminology called “Respectful/Positive Adoption Language” (often abbreviated as “RAL”). But this terminology set has inherent problems and limitations, and is only “respectful” of one party in the adoption transaction.

“Respectful Adoption Language” lacks respect for the family members who were separated from
one another by adoption: respect for mothers who lost children; respect for adopted persons who lost their natural families; acknowledgement of their loss and respect for them and for their experiences. 

In post-adoption support groups, members who researched the adoption industry began to become aware of the importance of language, and by consensus decided not to use language that was coined by the adoption industry to define them. This led to the creation of “Honest Adoption Language”.


 A Guide to Using Honest Adoption Language:

Adoption Industry Terminology
“Positive/Respectful Adoption Language”
Honest Adoption Language:
“birthparents” natural parents, mothers, fathers

parents, mothers, fathers
The mother-child relationship does not end at birth. As well, “birth-terms” dehumanize mothers into being walking incubators whose purpose is solely reproductive.
“parents” (when only referring to people who have adopted that child) adoptive parents


people who have adopted
An adoptee has at least 4 parents: two natural parents and 2 adoptive parents, and often step-parents as well.
“placed for adoption”

lost to adoption

taken for adoption
A mother seldom chooses adoption for her child – financial, emotional
and/or social coercion often play a role – as well as professionals intentionally
withholding information from her so she is unable to make an informed decision.
See our articles on Adoption Coercion
“birthson” “birthdaughter” “birthchild” son, daughter, or child

natural son, daughter, or child

lost son, daughter, or child

son, daughter, or child lost to adoption

Children are not “products.”We may refer to our lost children as our sons and daughters, even though others may have taken them and raised them, our spiritual/emotional/psychological bond with them endures past years and even decades of separation.
son/daughter/child (when in reference to only the adoptive family) adopted son/daughter for media and other third-person references. the industry wants all mention of “adopted” removed from newspaper articles. This presents a false picture that the adoptee was born to the adopters.
“was adopted” “is adopted” Unless a person who was adopted as a child has terminated his or her adoption, or has been adopted-back by his or her natural parents, he or she is still legally adopted.  However, the decision on terminology must remain with the adopted person themselves.
“adoption triad””adoption triangle” adoption transaction This term renders invisible the power dynamics involved in adoption and seeks to equalize the parties.
parented raised “parented” implies that the only parents a child has is those who are raising them.
parenting a child raising a child
nurturing a child
caring for a child
“parenting” is much more than raising a child, it is also a emotional/psychological/spiritual bond that comes from pregnancy, birth, genetics, and a clan bond coming from millions of years of evolution.
“meeting””making contact” reunion

Copyright © 2003 Origins Canada Supporting People Separated by Adoption