Say What? Navigating the Language of Adoption

By Megan Monsour

For most hopeful parents, deciding to adopt is a step into unfamiliar territory. A new place with new people, new risks, and new rewards. Throw in a few acronyms and the entire journey can feel like a bumpy trip overseas. Learning some of the language ahead of time is helpful for any trip, but especially when navigating the emotional waters of adoption. Here are a few commonly used terms for your adoption journey:


The Indian Child Welfare Act is commonly referred to as, “ICWA,” (pronounced like a word, not the letters). The ICWA is a federal law that was first enacted in 1978 to “protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families.” (25 U.S.C. 1902).

Before ICWA became law, Native American children were removed from their families and tribes at alarming rates by state child welfare and private adoption agencies. Simply put, ICWA was enacted to keep Native American kiddos with their Native American families or tribe.

The quick and dirty of what hopeful parents need to know about ICWA:

1) If the birth mother or birth father have Indian heritage, ICWA may apply. If ICWA applies, it can impact many vital pieces of the adoption puzzle and must be followed carefully. Proceed with caution and a knowledgeable ICWA attorney.

2) Potential adoptive parents should inform their adoption team if they have any Indian heritage- especially if they are a member of a federally recognized tribe. An Indian adoptive family is a preferred placement for an ICWA adoption.


The Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children or “ICPC” is a federal regulation passed into law by all 50 states which governs interstate adoptions, i.e. when the state where the child is born is not the state where the adoptive family lives. Both states must approve the adoption before the child leaves the state of birth. The child is the only one prohibited from leaving the state until approval is obtained, although both adoptive parents typically stay and care for the child while approval is obtained.

ICPC works like this:

Suppose the adoptive family lives in Georgia and the expectant mother lives in Kansas. Typically, the adoptive family will travel to Kansas for the birth of the child. The required ICPC documents are prepared and sent to the Kansas ICPC administrator. Once Kansas approves, the packet is sent to Georgia for approval. Once approved by Georgia, the family may take the baby home to Georgia.

The time for approval varies, but adoptive families should plan on staying in the state of the child’s birth for 5-7 business days after the adoption paperwork is signed.

Revocation Period  

The term revocation period refers to the time frame in which a birth parent can change their mind after signing adoption paperwork and decide to parent the child. In Kansas, a signed consent to adoption by the birth parent is final upon signature. Kansas does not have a revocation period. In Kansas, the only way for a birth parent to revoke their consent is to prove that the consent was not freely or voluntarily given, a standard that is very difficult to meet.

Other states do have true revocation periods, during which a birth parent can change their mind with no questions asked. It is important to understand which state’s laws will govern your adoption and if there is a revocation period.

Once you’ve mastered these words, with a little luck, you will start using words that won’t need any explanation at all: Mom and Dad.

This article was originally published on Wichita Mom on February 14, 2019.

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