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Abortion - A medical procedure that terminates a pregnancy. Its availability to women is regulated by legislation and has historically been the subject of intense public debate. Changes to abortion legislation in the late 1960s and early 1970s corresponded with a drop in adoption rates.

Adopted person/adult

Adopted person/adult – Adults who were placed for adoption as babies or children are described as ‘adopted adults’ or ‘adopted persons’.  


Adoptee – May be used to describe an adopted adult; however the term ‘adopted adult’ is preferentially used in government documents.

Adoptive mother/father

Adoptive mother/father – This term is used for the people who adopted babies. Until legislative reforms that began in the 1980s, adoptive parents were usually married couples.  


Anxiety –

Feelings of uneasiness, apprehension, or fear aroused by a perceived sense of threat or danger. Anxiety is considered to be a biological life-preserving response involving a combination of biochemical changes in the body. Factors affecting anxiety also include the individual’s personal history, experience, and memory. The physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety can be unpleasant and can include headache, nausea, trembling, fainting, chest tightness, and tingling in hands or feet. The distinction between anxiety as a commonplace and normal feeling or experience, and anxiety disorder is important. A person may feel anxious without having an anxiety disorder. In addition, anxiety frequently occurs as an aspect of other mental health problems.

John Harris and Vicki White, Oxford Dictionary of Social Work and Social Care, available at




1. (in psychology) the process of developing the first close selective relationship of a child’s life, most commonly with the mother. The relationship acts to reduce anxiety in strange settings and forms a base from which children develop further relationships. Seriously disturbed attachment is hypothesized to lead to personality disorders, depression, or anxiety in later life.

Oxford Concise Medical Dictionary, 8th ed, available at

Attachment disorder

Attachment disorder

… a psychiatric disorder in infants and young children resulting from institutionalization, emotional neglect, or child abuse. Affected children are either withdrawn, aggressive, and fearful or attention-seeking and indiscriminately friendly. Treatment requires the provision of stable caring adults as parents over a long period of time.’

Oxford Concise Medical Dictionary, 8th ed, available at

Attachment theory

Attachment theory

A theory advanced in 1951 by the English psychiatrist (Edward) John (Mostyn) Bowlby (1907–90) according to which an infant has an inborn biological need for close contact with its mother (or other main carer), a normal bond developing within the first 6 months of life through the mother's responsiveness to these needs, and maternal deprivation during this critical period having adverse effects on psychological development.

Andrew Colman, Oxford Dictionary of Psychology, 3rd ed, available at


BFA – An abbreviation meaning ‘baby for adoption’. This abbreviation was often placed on an unmarried woman’s medical files on her admission to a maternity home or hospital, when she had not given consent and when, in fact, consent could not be given. See consent.

Birth certificate

Birth certificate – A government issued certificate that state’s a person’s name, date, place of birth, and parents. If a person was adopted, the ‘original birth certificate’ was sealed following the order of adoption, and a second, ‘amended birth certificate’ issued. The amended birth certificate recorded the name bestowed by the adopting parents, date and place of birth, and details of the adoptive parents as if they had given birth. Some people now refer to amended birth certificates as ‘adoption certificates’.  

Blank slate

Blank slateSee tabula rasa

Related terms: Tabula rasa

Carnal knowledge

Carnal knowledge –A man who has sexual intercourse with a woman under the legally defined age of consent (usually 16) may be charged with the criminal offence of carnal knowledge. Depending on the state in which the sexual act took place, the man may be charged with a criminal offence even if he was also under the age of consent at the time of the act.  

Clean break theory

Clean break theory – A theory that advocated early and uninterrupted bonding between the adoptive mother and the baby to establish an attachment. It was assumed that the ‘clean break’ would save the mother and child from social stigma. It was also thought, incorrectly, that they would forget each other and ‘move on’ with their lives.  

Closed adoption

Closed adoption – Also referred to as secret adoption. Closed adoptions are arranged under legislation that suppresses information regarding identity, kinship and health matters, and prevents contact with the other party to the adoption. The practice of forced adoption usually took place within a closed adoption system. See secrecy.


Consent – Adoption legislation has always required the signature of the child’s guardian, usually the mother. In the 1960s, adoption laws stated that to be considered legal, consent had to be freely given, and within three to seven days of the birth, depending on the state. It was illegal to pressure a mother, trick or defraud her into giving consent, or to alter or forge forms in anyway. A mother also had to be informed about her right to revoke consent. See revocation.

Contact veto

Contact veto – A written statement supplied to state government authorities working in adoption that expresses the writer’s desire not to be contacted face-to-face by another party to the adoption. Contact vetoes are usually placed by mothers or adopted adults. Identifying information may still be released to other parties. A contact veto is known in the Northern Territory as a ‘notice of prohibition’ and in Queensland and Victoria as a ‘contact statement’.



A mood (1) state of sadness, gloom, and pessimistic ideation, with loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities, accompanied in severe cases by anorexia and consequent weight loss, insomnia (especially middle or terminal insomnia) or hypersomnia, asthenia, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, diminished ability to think or concentrate, or recurrent thoughts of death or suicide. It appears as a symptom of many mental disorders.

Andrew Colman, Oxford Dictionary of Psychology, 3rd ed, available at

Diethylstilboestrol (DES)

Diethylstilboestrol (DES) – A drug given to mothers to dry up their breast milk

Sometimes referred to as stilboestrol

A synthetic oestrogen compound with hormonal properties and actions similar to those of naturally occurring (physiologically produced) oestrogen. It was used from the 1940s to the early 1970s to treat gynecological conditions, including threatened miscarriage and menopausal symptoms. Unfortunately, it is a mutagen and a carcinogen. Its use in early pregnancy led to the occurrence in offspring of many cases of genital dysplasia and a high incidence of otherwise rare and histologically unusual vaginal cancers in late adolescence and early adult life.

Oxford Dictionary of Public Health, available at

Forced adoption

Forced adoption – An ‘adoption where a child’s natural parent, or parents, were compelled to relinquish a child for adoption’ ( Senate Inquiry report).

Forced Adoptions Implementation Working Group

Forced Adoptions Implementation Working Group – A panel of 12 experts appointed to provide key advice to the federal government on services and projects to improve support for people affected by forced adoption. See

Guardian ad Litem

Guardian ad Litem - A Guardian ad Litem could be appointed by the court to be responsible for a child between the consent for adoption was taken and the adoption order was finalised. Eligibility for this role varied depending on the the legislation that was in force in each state, but could have included the chief officer of the department or private agency arranging the adoption, a religious figure (e.g. priest) or sometimes a friend of the adopting couple. In the new adoption legislation introduced from the 1960s, all the states except Victoria stipulated that the Guardian ad Litem was to be the chief officer of the department or agency responsible for the adoption.

Identifying information

Identifying information – Information recorded during the pre- and post-natal period by hospitals, social workers and others involved in organising adoptions, which could now be used to identify any party to an adoption, for example, names, addresses and certain medical information.

Information veto

Information veto – Under legislation, parties to an adoption can place a block on the provision of information about the adoption to other parties.

Late discovery adoptee

Late discovery adoptee – An adopted person who grew up believing that their adoptive parents gave birth to them but discovered in adulthood that they were adopted. This is more common for adoptions that took place during the closed adoption period. The term is sometimes abbreviated to LDA.

Non-identifying information

Non-identifying information – Information recorded during the pre- and post-natal period by hospitals, social workers and others involved in organising adoptions that does not identify a party, for example, physical characteristics such as height or eye colour.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

(PTSD) an anxiety disorder caused by a major physical or emotional trauma, such as an injury, assault, rape, or exposure to warfare or a disaster involving many casualties. The onset is at least one month after the traumatic event. The patient experiences the persistent recurrence of images or memories of the event, together with nightmares, insomnia, a sense of isolation, guilt, irritability, and loss of concentration. Emotions may be deadened and depression may develop. The condition usually settles with time, but support and skilled counselling may be needed. More severe cases may be treated by eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR), cognitive behavioural therapy, and/or SSRIs.

Oxford Concise Medical Dictionary, 8th ed, available at


Primigravida – A woman who is pregnant for the first time. The term may be listed on medical records.

Rapid adoption

Rapid adoption – A practice whereby a married mother whose baby died during or soon after birth was offered the baby of an unmarried mother in the same institution or hospital (Senate Inquiry Report, p. 66).

Revocation of consent

Revocation of consent – In adoption legislation introduced in Australian states in the 1960s, mothers had between 28 and 30 days to withdraw their consent to adoption. However, this information was often not communicated to parents (Senate Inquiry Report, p. 63).


Secrecy – In the legal sense, when original birth records were sealed and public searches were not permitted under legislation. Socially, in relation to adoption, overt or covert suppression of the fact because it is considered to be shameful.

Tabula rasa

Tabula rasa – Also known as ‘blank slate’.

A blank slate, a term introduced by the English philosopher John Locke (1632–1704) as a metaphor for the human mind at birth, the belief of Locke and the other British empiricists being that nothing is innate in the mind and that all knowledge comes through the senses.

Relating to past adoption practices, the ‘blank slate theory’ supported the idea that the genetics of an adopted baby would be overridden by the influence of their environment and their adoptive family.

Andrew Colman, Oxford Dictionary of Psychology, 3rd ed, available at


Trauma –

A physical injury or wound, or a powerful psychological shock that has damaging effects. traumatic adj. traumata or traumas pl. traumatize vb. [From Greek trauma a wound].

Andrew Colman, Oxford Dictionary of Psychology, 3rd ed, available at

UB negative

UB negative – An abbreviation meaning ‘unmarried baby negative’, with the same implications as UM and BFA. 


UM – An abbreviation meaning ‘unmarried mother’, often placed on a woman’s medical files.