Jargon Buster


Our jargon buster or glossary contains the definitions of some of the terms commonly used in Adoption.

ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder
ADHD is a condition where you have lots of energy and have difficulty concentrating. You might also find it hard to control what you say and do. For example, you might speak without thinking first, or find that you do things on impulse. Symptoms usually start very early in life, before the age of six. The causes are often unknown but some experts think it might run in families, or it could be to do with the way the chemicals in your brain work. Another condition called ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) has similar symptoms to ADHD, but you don’t feel as hyperactive. For people with ADD, the main problem they have is difficulty concentrating.
The symptoms of ADHD include:
•    feeling restless or fidgety
•    talking a lot and interrupting others
•    becoming easily distracted
•    finding it hard to concentrate
•    saying or doing things without thinking

Adoption is a legal procedure in which the parental responsibility for a child is transferred from their birth parent or other person with parental responsibility to their adopter. An adopted child loses all the legal ties with their original parents. When an adoption order is made in respect of a child, the child becomes a full member of their new family, usually takes the family name, and assumes the same rights and privileges as if they had been born to the adoptive family including the right of inheritance. Adoption is a significant legal order and is not usually reversible.

Adoption Activity or Fun Days are events that give approved adopters, or prospective adopters at an advanced stage of assessment, the opportunity to meet a range of children who need adoptive placements. Adults and children meet in a fun environment with themes, games and dressing up, and are able to play together as a way of making a personal and emotional connection. Prospective adopters and social workers can then work together to develop potential matches.

Adoption agencies are organisations that work with prospective parents and children to assess, match, arrange and support adoptive families. All adoption agencies in England are one of three types of organisation; either they are part of a Local Authority (LA), Regional Adoption Agency (RAA) or they are an independent Voluntary Adoption Agency (VAA).The main difference is that local authorities have children in their care, and VAAs do not. A regional adoption agency is formed from several Local Authorities from a region who have joined forces in a government-led initiative to pool resources and increase efficiency in the adoption process. The local authority children's services team has responsibility for finding homes for children in care but Regional Adoption Agencies and Voluntary Adoption Agencies assess prospective adopters and match children with them, as well as provide ongoing support. Adoption agencies do not charge for their services to prospective parents adopting children from care in the UK, and no profit is legally permitted in adoption, although some charges are made for those who wish to adopt children from abroad. All adoption agencies are subject to strict regulatory control and regular Ofsted inspections.

Adoption assessment is the process by which adoption agencies assess potential parents in preparation for adoption. An adoption assessment should take no longer than six months, unless for exceptional reasons, and happens in two stages. Stage 1 includes initial interviews, identity and background checks and references and preparation. This should take no longer than two months. Stage 2 takes four months, during which a social worker will work in depth with potential adopters to assess their strengths and suitably to become an adoptive parent. In the case of domestic adoption (ie of a child in care in the UK), the cost of assessment is covered by adoption agencies, not by prospective parents.

Adoption Contact Register this is run by the adoptions section of HM Passport Office. Adopted adults aged 18 or over and birth relatives can add their names to the Adoption Contact Register in order to find a birth relative or to say they don't want to be contacted. There is a small charge for this.

The adoption order is the final court order which gives approved adopters full and permanent parental responsibility for a child. It is issued by the Family Court, on the application of the prospective adopter/s. The adopter/s will then be provided an adoption certificate bearing the child's new surname (if changed) which becomes the child's formal identifying document. An adoption order can only be made with the consent of the birth parents or if the court has dispensed with the birth parents' consent.

Each adoption agency has an adoption panel, made up of social workers alongside independent members including those with personal experience of adoption. At the end of stage 2 of an adoption assessment, panel members are provided with a copy of the Prospective Adopter Report (PAR), and meet to consider the content and to make a recommendation about the prospective adopter's suitability to become an adopter. Prospective adopters are invited to attend the panel if they wish, and will have seen their PAR in good time before the panel meeting. At the end of the meeting the panel will make a recommendation which will be passed to the adoption Agency Decision Maker for their decision, which should be made within 4 months of the start of stage 2 of the adoption assessment.

ADOPTION SUPPORT (or Post Adoption Support)
Adoption support is any support provision available to adoptive families and can take many forms. Ranging from newsletters and information and advice available on websites to specialist therapeutic support specific to your child’s and family’s needs. 
The Adoption Support teams will be available to provide further information on services available and how to access them. Adoption support might include, but is not limited to: 
•    Help and advice from social workers over the phone or in person
•    Support groups where you can meet other adopters and your children can play
•    Workshops and training on a range of topics
•    Membership to national support agencies like Adoption UK, New Family Social or the National Association of Therapeutic Parenting. 
•    Peer mentoring 
•    Teenagers support groups 
•    Support with contact and Letterbox exchanges
•    Lifestory Work – helping children with information and support around understanding their birth family history
•    Regular newsletters
•    Information and advice on the adoption agency’s website
•    Therapeutic support
•    Education support and advice on dealing with schools

Some children, who might otherwise not be adopted due to the extra costs associated with looking after them, might receive an ongoing allowance to support adoptive parents with meeting their needs. The amount payable is determined and paid by the local authority looking after the child before adoption (the placing authority), and is means-tested. 

ASF was launched by the Government in England in 2015 to provide financial support for a range of therapies that are identified to help achieve improved emotional regulation and behaviour, improved engagement with learning, confidence and ability to enjoy positive family life and social relationships. The Fund is available for children living in England up to and including the age of 21 (or 25 with a Statement of Special Educational Needs or Education Health & Care Plan) who are adopted and were previously in local authority care in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, or adopted from overseas, or left care under a Special Guardianship Order.


Attachment is the emotional bond between two individuals, specifically in the case of adoption between the child and parent. Children who come into the care of local authorities may suffer from disrupted attachment due to their early life experiences, and may find it difficult to form secure attachments with parents, families and friends.

Birth parents are the child's biological mother and father, who may or may not have been involved in the child's early care. Birth families include by extension the grandparents, uncles, aunts and siblings who may or may not have played a part in the child's life. Birth parents will always be the child's biological parents, and their history will be important for the child to understand as it grows up. After an adoption order is made, birth parents are no longer the child's legal parents.

CAMHS is the NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services specialising in behavioural, emotional and mental health difficulties in children and young people and can be accessed through referral by GP, social worker or school.

Care Orders under the Children Act 1989, section 31, if a local authority believes a child is at risk of or suffering from significant harm it can apply to court for a care order. If the court decides that a child may be at risk if returned to his/her parents' care they may make a care order. This means that the local authority shares parental responsibility with the child's parents and the child becomes looked after by the local authority and ‘in care'. The local authority can then make most of the important decisions for a child, such as where and with whom they will live.

Care proceedings are the legal processes whereby courts decide the permanence plan for children temporarily in care, whether they will return to birth parents, or to birth relatives perhaps with a Special Guardianship Order, or remain in care and be fostered long-term, or be placed for adoption. Care proceedings my result in a care order, or in relation to adoption, may result in a placement order as a precursor to the child being placed for adoption.

Celebration days take place after the court hearing that has granted an adoption order, and are a chance for adoptive families to celebrate the making of an adoption order. Adoptive families visit the court and meet the judge, who will give a certificate and usually invite families and friends to take photos. Celebration days have no legal standing, and are not part of the adoption process.

Child Permanence Report (CPR) is The Child Permanence Report is an important document, and an essential tool in enabling the adoption agency to plan for the future life of a child. It is completed by a child's social worker and contains comprehensive information about the child's family, life story and circumstances. CPRs are sent to prospective adopters who have expressed serious interest in a child during family finding and matching as a source of information to help them decide whether to proceed, and they provide essential information about the child's background and heritage which is used in the matching process. Adopted adults can also request a copy of their CPR, and it contains important information about their life history.

Concurrent Planning is for babies and young children under 2 in care who are likely to need adoption, but where attempts to reunite the child with their birth family are also being made. It is a form of fostering for adoption. Children are placed with concurrent carers, who are dually approved as foster carers and adoptive parents, who initially foster the child and will adopt the child if the courts decide that the birth family is incapable of meeting the child's needs. This scheme asks a lot of the concurrent carers who know that the child they are fostering may return to the care of their birth parent or relative at the end of court proceedings. However, it is a scheme which ensures that the babies have the best possible start in life, given that they have been born into a very vulnerable and high risk situation. If they return home, they will have had a secure and loving early period in foster care, whilst maintaining a relationship with their birth relatives through regular supervised contact centre visits. If they are adopted they will have been with their permanent family from the earliest possible time, and will have developed a secure and trusting relationship with their adopters perhaps from the time they were born, or soon after. Children placed with concurrent planning carers are not considered likely to be able to return to the care of their birth families, but until all the court assessments are complete, this is not a certainty, and a small proportion of these children do return to their parents or other relatives. See also Fostering to Adopt and Early Permanence Placements.

Contact between a child and their birth family (and others who have been important in their lives) must always be considered when a child is placed for adoption. The child's needs are central to any plan which must also take account of the adopters' views. Direct (face to face) contact between a child and their birth parent/s is rare. If contact is agreed, this is most likely to be indirect, confidential ‘letterbox' contact, where an exchange of written information between the adoptive parent and birth family, perhaps once a year, is handled through a central point (usually the adoption service acting as the letterbox exchange) to keep addresses and sensitive information confidential. Direct contact may take place between an adopted child and their siblings, who may be living in other adoptive or foster families. Contact arrangements, along with life story work and other ways of providing information, are part of a process to help children develop their sense of identity, make sense of their past and integrate it with their present.

Early Permanence or Early Permanence Plan (EPP) refers to the situation where children may be placed in their permanent home at the earliest opportunity by being placed with adopters who are also approved as foster carers, who initially foster the child and may become their adopters once the court proceedings have been concluded. There are currently two early permanence plans – see Concurrent planning and see Fostering for adoption.

Family Finding is the process by which local authorities find the most suitable permanent family for a child. Following Adoption Panel, adoption agencies will work with approved adopters to help make links with a child or children for whom they may be a good match. Profiles of children are made available to approved adopters either by their own adoption agency or via Linkmaker and other family finding and matching agencies.

FASD – Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) is a term used to describe the permanent impacts on the brain and body of individuals prenatally exposed to alcohol during pregnancy resulting in a spectrum of physical, emotional, behavioural and neurological characteristics.  Individuals with FASD may need support with motor skills, physical health, learning, memory, attention, emotional regulation, and social skills.  They also have a unique set of strengths and many are showing talents, that when nurtured and supported, demonstrates their unlimited potential in those areas.

Fast Track Assessment is an accelerated adoption assessment which can be used for those who have previously adopted a child, or who are currently approved and experienced foster carers.

Fostering places a child with an approved foster carer who can provide a stable and safe family environment and care for children who are unable to live at home. Fostering may be a permanent arrangement, or temporary until a permanence plan such as a return to birth family or adoption is made. Foster carers are paid allowances by the local authority and do not have legal or parental responsibility for the children in their care, which remains with the local authority and the child's parent/s. When adoption is the approved plan for a child in care, foster carers have a vital role to play in preparing the child to meet its new family, and facilitating introductions and final placement.

Fostering for Adoption places a child with approved adopters who are also temporarily approved foster carers. A fostering for adoption placement will only be made where there is clear evidence to the Local Authority that there is little likelihood that the birth parents can make the necessary changes to safely care for their child or that other family members can care for the child. During the fostering stage of the placement the court will weigh up what is in the child's best interests in the longer term. The carers need to be able to deal with the uncertainty of the period before the court's final decision. If the court agrees that the child should be adopted and the adoption agency approves the ‘match' between the carers and the child, then the placement becomes an adoption placement. Fostering for adoption, along with concurrent planning, is a form of early permanence, and is greatly in the child's interests as it reduces the number of placements and promotes early attachment. See also Concurrent Planning.

Information events are organised by adoption agencies to provide general information to members of the public interested becoming adopters. Social workers generally give a presentation about the children that need families, the assessment process for new adopters, how children join families and the kind of support they may need after placement. Information events are a great way for prospective adopters to get a feel for how different agencies work and to hear from adopters who often share their experiences at these events and are very helpful in enabling people to decide whether adoption is right for them and in choosing an adoption agency.

Intercountry Adoption is the process of adopting a child from overseas. Prospective adopters have to be assessed and approved by an adoption agency in the UK that specifically carries out overseas assessment, and after that there are different legal pathways depending on the child's country of origin. There are financial considerations, as intercountry adoption assessments have to be paid for by the prospective adopters.

Introductions take place after the match between child and prospective adopters has been decided after matching panel. They are a carefully managed way of supporting the child's move from foster carers to adopters, agreed during a placement planning meeting. Typically, they initially take place at the foster carer's home, and adopters will spend more and more time with the child until they are doing all the care from getting up in the morning until going to bed at night. After the agreed introductions period, the child will be move to the adopters' home, sometimes with support of the foster carer who may stay nearby for a few days until the child is settled. The length of the introductions will be based on the needs of the child and take into account the circumstances of the foster family and adoptive family. A review will usually take place during the introductions where the arrangements for the move day will be finalised. The child, foster family and adoptive family will all have their own social worker who will support them through the process. 

Later-Life Letters are written by a child's social worker, explaining why the child was taken into care and adopted. It is given to adopters on placement, and is designed to be read by the child at a time when he or she can better understand the actions and circumstances leading up to the decision.

Letterbox contact is where the adoptive and birth family exchange a letter, email or card, and sometimes photographs via the Adoption Agency. It provides a confidential, indirect way for adopted children to receive information about their birth family and for birth relatives to receive up-to-date information about the adopted child. Adoptive families will normally send details of the child’s achievements and milestones, physical health and progress at school, while birth relatives will tend to write about events in their lives. This is an adult-to-adult correspondence – adopters will be expected to share letters received with the child and involve them in the exchange at a time when the child is old enough or emotionally ready.

Life Appreciation Days take place during the matching process, and give adopters a chance to meet key individuals such as social workers, foster carers, teachers and medical advisors who have been involved in the child's life so far. It is a chance to hear about the child from those who know them best and ask questions which will help the child understand their history and identity in the future. 

Life Story Books are often put together by a child's social worker, but may also be prepared and developed by adopters, to record the child's history up to and beyond the point of being placed for adoption. Usually they contain baby photos, pictures of birth parents, foster carers and any significant other people, with simple text helping children to understand their early history.

Life Story Work is an ongoing process whereby parents help adopted children to understand their personal history and develop their sense of identity, including who they are, their biological parents and family, their early life experiences and why they were taken into care, and how they came to be adopted into their families.

Link Maker is a national website which supports the matching process. It holds a database of children who are awaiting adoption and a database of approved adopters. The website enables adopters to view the profiles of children across the country that are in need of being adopted and place requests for further information. Not all children awaiting adoption will automatically be placed on Link Maker. 

Looked After Children are children in care, however a looked after child may be either accommodated, at their parent/s request or due to their absence, or be subject to a Care Order issued by a family court. Children adopted from care continue to be considered previously looked after children, particularly with respect to education funding.

Matching is the process of identifying a suitable adoptive family for a specific child (see also family finding). It may involve the child's local authority considering a number of potentially suitable adoptive families, in order to identify one that is the best match for the child or children. This one prospective adoptive family will then proceed to matching panel.

Matching Panel is the formal meeting that recommends a match between approved adopters and a specific child or children. The adoption panel of the child's local authority will read through all the information in the adoption placement report, prepared by the prospective adopter's agency to consider the match. Within this report is the Adoption Support Plan, which outlines support to be provided for the adopter and child. If the panel approves the match, the child's local authority Agency Decision Maker then makes the final decision about whether the match should go ahead.

Placement Order this court order may be made at by a court at the end of care proceedings and gives authority a child to be placed with prospective adopters. If a child subject to a placement order is placed with a prospective adopter, at this stage the local authority and the prospective adoptive parents share parental responsibility for the child. A placement order will last until an adoption order is made, or until a court decides to end the placement order.

The Placement Planning Meeting (PPM) takes place following matching panel, once the match has been recommended. During the meeting the Placement Agreement is finalised and signed by the Local Authority and the Adoptive Parent(s). This is the agreement that the child/ren will be placed for adoption with this family under Adoption Agency Regulations. The meeting will ensure all contact details have been shared, that relevant documents have been given to the adoptive family and that the plan for the introductions is agreed. 

Post-Adoption Support refers to a range of services that can be accessed by adoptive parents. These include counselling, therapies, legal and medical advice and assessments. Many of them can be paid for by the Adoption Support Fund. Also see ADOPTION SUPPORT

Preparation Training takes place during the adopter assessment process, often starting in stage 1, and is designed to give prospective adopters the opportunity to understand and prepare for the realities of adoptive parenting. Prospective adopters meet as a group with others going through the same process to learn together, and explore the benefits and challenges of adoption and key parenting skills needed to care for children who may have experienced neglect and abuse. The format of the groups varies between adoption agencies.

One of the tools to help with matching is a Profiling Event which adopters are invited to, to view profiles of children who are currently awaiting adoption. It is an opportunity to find out more about the children, speak to their family finder, and see photos and sometimes videos of the child. 

Prospective Adopter Report (PAR) is written by the prospective adopters' social worker, summarising the information collected during the adoption assessment process. The PAR is presented to the Adoption Panel as the basis for discussion, and is sent to social workers seeking adoptive parents for children in care. Prospective adopters have the opportunity to read the report, to clarify any inaccuracies and add their own comments. The PAR should evidence the assessing agency's belief that its subjects would make good adoptive parents.

Pupil Premium is additional funding for publicly funded schools in England aimed at closing the educational gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. Pupil Premium for children adopted from care recognises the extra challenges that these children may face in education and for 2021/22 it stands at £2,345. The pupil premium is used at the school's discretion, ideally in communication with parents, and does not necessarily mean that the full amount will be spent on each individual child, but rather to provide a range of education support measures that will benefit eligible children. The scheme applies to adopted children in English schools who were adopted from care in England or Wales, from Reception class through to Year 11. To qualify for this support, the adoptive parent(s) must inform the school that their child is adopted from care.


Special Guardianship is a court order that was introduced in 2005. It provides for parental responsibility to be shared between the child's parents and an individual or individuals other than the birth parents. This could be a grandparent, close relative, foster carer or other person. The difference between Special Guardianship and adoption is that the birth parents remain the legal parents, and as such share parental responsibility for the child; however, their ability to exercise this responsibility is strictly limited and the Special Guardian is able to make nearly all the decisions in a child's life without requiring the parent's consent.

A virtual school is not a teaching institution but a way of bringing together the information about children and young people who are cared for by a local authority as if they were in a single school. That way, their progress can be closely tracked and supported, and interventions can be targeted in a more strategic way.
The school has a Headteacher, also known as the Virtual School Head - a statutory post within every local authority - who, as a senior manager within the authority can support and challenge local authority departments, schools and other agencies to help them do better.
Virtual school heads (VSHs) are in charge of promoting the educational achievement of all the children looked after by the local authority they work for.
VSHs are responsible for managing pupil premium funding for the children they look after and for allocating it to schools and alternative provision (AP) settings (these are places that provide education for children who can’t go to a mainstream school).
VSHs are also responsible for managing the early years pupil premium (EYPP). They’re in charge of giving the premium to the early years providers that educate looked-after children (children in local-authority care) who are taking up the free early education entitlement for 3- or 4-year-olds.