Resource Family Glossary

Resource Family Glossary of Terms

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Abandoned infant – A newborn child who is not medically cleared for hospital discharge and who is unlikely to leave the hospital in the custody of his or her biological parent(s). Abandoned infants can also refer to babies whose parents are unknown and who are abandoned in unsafe places, sometimes with fatal outcomes. Laws to avert these unsafe abandonments are almost exclusively State laws.

Abandoned Infants Assistance Act of 1988 (See Index of Federal Child Welfare Laws.)

Abandonment – A situation in which the child has been left by the parent(s), the parent’s identity or whereabouts are unknown, the child suffers serious harm, as a result of his/her desertion, or the parent has failed to maintain contact with the child or to provide reasonable support for a specified period.

Abuse and Neglect (See child abuse and neglect.)

Abuse-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (AF-CBT) – An evidence-supported intervention that targets (1) diverse individual child and caregiver characteristics related to conflict and coercion in the home and (2) the family context in which aggression or abuse may occur. This approach emphasizes training in Intra- and interpersonal skills designed to enhance self-control and reduce violent behavior.

Abused Juvenile – Defined by stat statute. The child recipient of any physical injury, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse inflicted other than by accidental means by a person responsible for his/her care, custody, and control.

Abusive Head Trauma (AHT) – A term used to describe the constellation of signs and symptoms resulting from violent shaking or shaking and impacting of the head of an infant or small child. (National Center for Shaken Baby Syndrome)

Abrasion– Wound in which an area of the body surface is scraped off skin or mucous membrane

Accreditation – The acknowledgment and verification that an organization fulfills explicit, specified standards. For example, public and private child and family service agencies may apply for certification with several accrediting bodies—including the Council on Accreditation —conduct self-assessments, and undergo periodic accreditation reviews to ensure that they meet quality standards. (Adapted from the National Association of Social Workersexternal link.)

Accredited Agency (in intercountry adoption) – An adoption service provider who has been accredited by either the Council on Accreditation (COA) or the Colorado Department of Human Services (CO) to provide adoption services in the United States for cases subject to the regulations set forth by the Hague Adoption Convention. An accredited agency does not include a temporarily accredited agency. There are more than 200 accredited adoption service providers in the United States. (U.S. Department of State)

Accredited body (in intercountry adoption) – An adoption agency which has been through a process of accreditation including meeting criteria for accreditation imposed by the accrediting country, and can perform certain functions of the Convention in the place of, or in conjunction with, the U.S. Central Authority. (U.S. Department of State)

Accrediting entity (in intercountry adoption) – The Council on Accreditation (COA) and the Colorado Department of Human Services (CO) are the two organizations that have been designated by the U.S. Secretary of State to accredit adoption service providers in the United States for cases subject to the Hague Adoption Convention. (U.S. Department of State)

ACF (See Administration for Children and Families.)

ACT – Assertive Community Treatment

ADA- American with Disabilities Act

Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 (See Major Federal Legislation Concerned with Child Protection, Child Welfare, and Adoption.)

ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

AFFM – Adoptive and Foster Families of Maine, Inc. & The Kinship Program

Adjudication– The process of giving a judicial decision as to whether the facts alleged in a petition or other pleading are true.

Adjudicatory Hearing – Held by the juvenile and family court to determine if there is enough evidence to prove that a child was actually abused, neglected, or abandoned, or whether another legal basis exists for the State to intervene to protect the child.

Administration for Children and Families (ACF)
A Federal agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that funds State, territory, local, and Tribal organizations to provide family assistance (welfare), child support, child care, Head Start, child welfare, and other programs relating to children and families. Actual services are provided by State, county, city, and Tribal governments and by public and private local agencies. ACF assists these organizations through funding, policy direction, and information services. (Adapted from the Administration for Children and Families.)

Administrative Review – Status review of children in foster care that is required every 6 months by the Adoption and Safe Families Act.

Adoption – The social, emotional, and legal process through which children who will not be raised by their birth parents become full and permanent legal members of another family while maintaining genetic and psychological connections to their birth family.

Adoption agency – A legally regulated entity that provides one or more of the following: assessment of prospective adoptive parents, counseling services to birth parents, preparation and placement of children with adoptive families, and postadoption services. Agencies may be public or private, secular or religious, for profit or nonprofit.

Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) – A national data collection and analysis system that collects case level information on all children in foster care for whom State child welfare agencies have responsibility for placement, care or supervision, and on children who are adopted under the auspices of the State’s public child welfare agency.

Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) – (See Major Federal Legislation Concerned With Child Protection, Child Welfare, and Adoption.) ASFA was signed into law November 1997 and it was designed to improve the safety of children, to promote adoption and other permanent homes for children who need them, and to support families. The law requires CPS agencies to provide more timely and focused assessment and intervention services to the children and families that are served with in the child welfare system.

Adoption assistance – Federal (title IV-E of the Social Security Act) or State benefits granted to adoptive families to offset the short- and long-term costs of adopting eligible children who have special needs (defined differently in each State). Benefits vary by State but commonly include monthly cash payments, medical assistance, social services, and nonrecurring adoption expenses.

Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 (P.L. 96-272) (See Major Federal Legislation Concerned With Child Protection, Child Welfare, and Adoption.)

Adoption Attorney- A lawyer who practices in the field of adoption law, including the application of State and Federal laws pertaining to adoption matters, and who has proficiency in filing, processing, and the finalization of adoption matters in courts having appropriate jurisdiction.

Adoption Disruption – An adoption that is terminated prior to finalization, often after the child is placed in the adoptive home, necessitating in a new placement plan for the child.

Adoption Dissolution – Describes an adoption in which the legal relationship between the adoptive parents and adoptive child is severed, either voluntarily or involuntarily, after the adoption is legally finalized. This results in the child’s return to (or entry into) foster care or placement with new adoptive parents.

Adoption Exchange – An organization that provides adoption information to educate prospective adoptive parents and connect waiting families with waiting children. Often these organizations serve to promote the adoption of children with specials needs and use print, radio, television, the Internet, and social media to recruit prospective adoptive families for specific children. An adoption exchange can be local, State, regional, national, or international in scope. (Indiana Department of Child Services)

Adoption Facilitator – An intermediary or adoption facilitator is any person or entity that is not an approved or licensed agency that acts on behalf of any birth parent or prospective adoptive parent in connection with the placement of a child for adoption. A number of States have laws that regulate or affect the use of intermediaries or facilitators.

Adoption Hearing– Judicial proceeding in which a relationship is legally established between adult individual(s) and a child not biologically related

Adoption Petition – The legal document through which prospective parents request the court’s permission to adopt a specific child. (West Virginia Bureau for Children and Familiesexternal link)

Adoption Placement – The time at which children begin living with their prospective adoptive parents, which often occurs before the legal finalization of the adoption. (Adoption USA: A Chartbook Based on the 2007 National Survey of Adoptive Parents)

Adoption Plan
The birth parent’s decision to allow his/her biological child to be adopted into an adoptive family. (Indiana Department of Child Services)

Adoption Record
In an adoption case, an adoption record is considered to be any information, supporting documents, or items related to the adoption of a child including, but not limited to, photographs, videos, correspondence, personal effects, medical and social information, and any other information about the child. These records are received or maintained by an agency, person, or public domestic authority. (U.S. Department of State)

Adoption Revocation
Legal withdrawal of an agreement to adoption by the birth parents. Circumstances and time limits for revocation are established by States.

Adoption service(s) (in intercountry adoption) – The six major services provided by adoption service providers: (1) Identifying a child for adoption and arranging an adoption; (2) Securing the necessary consent to termination of parental rights and to adoption; (3) Performing a background study on a child or a home study on a prospective adoptive parent(s), and reporting on such a study; (4) Making nonjudicial determinations of the best interests of a child and the appropriateness of an adoptive placement for the child; (5) Monitoring a case after a child has been placed with prospective adoptive parent(s) until final adoption; or (6) When necessary because of a disruption before final adoption, assuming custody and providing (including facilitating the provision of) child care or any other social service pending an alternative placement. (U.S. Department of State) Also see primary provider (in intercountry adoption).

Adoption subsidy (See adoption assistance.)

Adoption tax credit – Federal and State credits that reduce taxes paid by and/or increase refunds to parents who adopt children. The amount may depend on family income, adoption situation, other adoption benefits, and the specific rules in effect for the year of adoption. Families with special needs adoptions (that is, adoptions from foster care with adoption assistance benefits) can take the Federal adoption tax credit even if they had no adoption expenses.

Adoption tax exclusion – IRS policy that allows adoptive parents to exclude employer-provided adoption benefits from their net income for tax purposes. (Adapted from the Internal Revenue Service.)

Adoption triad – The three types of individuals involved in any adoption: the birth parent(s), the adoptive parent(s), and the adopted child or adult. The adoption triad may also be referred to as the “adoption triangle,” the “adoption circle,” or the “adoption constellation.”

Adoption Parents – The adult person(s) with whom a relationship is Legally established to a child not biologically related. Under the adoptive relationship, the child becomes an heir and is entitled to all privileges belonging to a natural child of the adoptive parent.

Adult adoption – The adoption of a person over the age of majority. States designate the age of majority and other conditions for adult adoptions. All states have provisions for adoption of adults.

AFCARS (See Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System.)

Affidavit – A statement of facts, which is sworn to (or affirmed) before an officer who has authority to administer an oath (e.g., notary public). Before signing this statement, the person signing takes an oath that the contents are, to the best of his/her knowledge, true. It is also signed by the person administering the oath, to affirm that the person signing the affidavit was under oath when doing so. These documents carry great weight in courts to the extent that judges frequently accept an affidavit in place of the testimony of the witness.

Aggravated Circumstances – Any factor involved in the commission of an act of abuse or neglect that increase its enormity or adds to its injurious consequences, including, but not limited to, abandonment, torture, chronic abuse, or sexual abuse

AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) – A group of diseases or conditions that indicate severe suppression of the immune system related to infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Allegation – An assertion of statement of a party to a legal action, which states out what he/she expects to prove.

Alternative response – A formal response of the agency that assesses the needs of the child or family without requiring a determination that maltreatment has occurred or that the child is at risk of maltreatment. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) See also differential response.

Another planned permanent living arrangement (APPLA) (See other planned permanent living arrangement (OPPLA).)

Anxiety – Persistent feelings of apprehension or fear resulting in decreased perception of well-being and ability to function.

Appeal – The attempt to have a final order of a trial court changed by seeking review of a higher court. Usually, appeals are made and decided on questions of law only; issues of fact (e.g., did the minor suffer and accident, or was he intentionally injured?) are left to the trial judge or jury, and seldom can be decided in an appeal.

Apostille (in intercountry adoption) – A simplified form that contains standardized numbered fields of common, yet essential information, which allows the data to be understood by all adoption officials regardless of the language spoken in intercountry adoption cases. A completed Apostille must be attached to the documents needed for Hague cases; it provides a certification of certain public and notarized documents. (U.S. Department of State)

APPLA (another planned permanent living arrangement; see other planned permanent living arrangement (OPPLA))

APS – Adult Protective Services

Arousal – Relaxation Cycle

Successful interaction between caregiver and child that is initiated by the child’s need and expression of displeasure and completed by the cargiver’s response resulting in the child’s quiescence. (fahlberg, 1979)

Arraignment – the bringing of a person accused of a crime before a court to be advised of the charges against him/her and to state his/her answer to the charges.

ASD – Autism Spectrum Disorder

ASFA (See Adoption and Safe Families Act.)

ASM – Autism Society of Maine

Assessment – The ongoing practice of informing decision-making by identifying, considering, and weighing factors that impact children, youth, and their families. Assessment occurs from the time children and families come to the attention of the child welfare system and continues until case closure.

ATGP – Alumni Transitional Grant Program

Attachment – Child’s connection to a parent or other caregiver that endures over time, establishes an interpersonal connection, and aids in the development of a sense of self.

Authentication – The process of certifying documents for use by foreign governments (e.g., home studies for intercountry adoptions).



Background check – An investigation of prospective foster and adoptive parents and all adults residing in prospective foster and adoptive households. In most States, the background investigation includes a fingerprint check of Federal and State criminal records and child abuse and neglect registries. These records checks are also part of the home study process used to assess the suitability of these homes for placement of foster or adoptive children.

Behavioral health
A state of mental/emotional being and/or choices and actions that affect wellness. Substance abuse and misuse, as well as serious psychological distress, suicide, and mental illness, are examples of some behavioral health problems that can be far-reaching and exact an enormous toll on individuals, their families and communities, and the broader society.

Best interests of the child
The deliberation that courts undertake when deciding what type of services, actions, and orders will best serve a child as well as who is best suited to take care of a child. “Best interests” determinations are generally made by considering a number of factors related to the circumstances of the child and the circumstances and capacity of the child’s potential caregiver(s), with the child’s ultimate safety and well-being as the paramount concern.

BHP – Behavioral Health Professional

Birth mother
The woman who gave birth to a child (the biological mother). Before the adoption, the biological mother of a child is an “expectant mother” or “the mother.”

Birth parent
The child’s biological mother or father. Sometimes called a birth mother or birth father.

Boarder baby
An infant under the age of 12 months who remains in the hospital past the date of medical discharge. Boarder babies may eventually be claimed by their parents and/or be placed in alternative care.

The process of forming an emotional attachment. It involves a set of behaviors that will help lead to a close personal bond between the parent/caregiver and their child. It is seen as the first and primary developmental achievement of a human being and central to a person’s ability to relate to others throughout life. (The Child Trauma Academy)




C-2, Is also called a Jeopardy Hearing held on the child protection petition. In it, the court decides if the child is in jeopardy (put in danger). The Child is then placed in the full custody of the Department of Health and Human Services by a District Court. At the C-2 hearing, the judge may also decide that the child is not unsafe and can return home to their parents.

C-3, Is also called a Termination of Parental Rights (TPR). This is when the court would terminate the parental rights of the child’s parents.

One who provides for the physical, emotional, and social needs of a dependent person. The term most often applies to parents or parent surrogates, child care and nursery workers, health-care specialists, and relatives caring for children, elderly, or ill family members.

CASA (See court-appointed special advocate.)

Case closure
The process of ending the relationship between the caseworker and the family. This often involves a mutual assessment of progress and includes a review of the beginning, middle, and end of the helping relationship. Optimally, cases are closed when families have achieved their goals and the risk of maltreatment has been reduced or eliminated or the child has achieved his/her permanency goal.

Case management
Coordination and monitoring of services on behalf of a client. In general, the role of the case manager does not involve the provision of direct services but the monitoring of services to assure that they are relevant to the client, delivered in a useful way, and effective in meeting the goals of the case plan. A key element of case management in child welfare is the ongoing assessment of the client’s needs and progress in services.

Case plan
The casework document that outlines the outcomes, goals, and tasks necessary to ensure child safety, permanency, and well-being.

Case registry
In compliance with the Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000, the U.S. Secretary of State and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security jointly established the Case Registry, an adoption records system.

Case review system
One of the seven systemic factors that are evaluated in the Child and Family Services Reviews’ (CFSR) process. Under this factor, various aspects of case plans are assessed based on their congruency with national standards. Federal regulations include a requirement that the child’s case plan should be reviewed periodically (no less than once every 6 months) to assess the status of each child in foster care to determine whether out of home care is still necessary and suitable, whether the case plan has been adhered to, and whether progress has been made towards reunification. (Adapted from theNational Resource Center for Permanency and Family Connectionsexternal link.)

Individuals (usually counted as children or family units) for whom a social worker is responsible, as expressed in a ratio of clients to staff members.

Method of social work intervention that helps an individual or family improve functioning by changing internal attitudes and feelings, behaviors, and external circumstances directly affecting the individual or family. This contrasts with community organization and other methods of social work intervention that focus on changing institutions or society. Casework relies on a relationship between the worker and client as the primary tool for affecting change.

CBH –Children’s Behavioral Health

CBT –  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CCS – Clinical Care Specialist

CDS – Child Development Services

Central authority (in intercountry adoption)
Authority given to the U.S. Department of State, which has been designated as the United States Central Authority for the Hague Adoption Convention, to facilitate, oversee, and regulate Hague Adoption Convention cases in the United States. (U.S. Department of State)

Central registry
A centralized database of child abuse and neglect investigation records. Reports contained in central registries are typically used to aid social services agencies in the investigation, treatment, and prevention of child abuse cases and to maintain statistical information for staffing and funding purposes. In many States, central registry records are used to screen persons who will be entrusted with the care of children.

Certificate of citizenship (in intercountry adoption)
Provides proof that an intercountry adoption has been completed and that the parent(s) have met the child. The child who was adopted is issued an IR-3 entry visa (the IR stands for “immediate relative”). Children who enter the U.S. on an IR-3 visa are automatically granted U.S. citizenship, and under regulations, will be sent a Certificate of Citizenship. (Adapted from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.)

CFSR (See Child and Family Services Review.)child abuse and neglect
Defined by the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), as, at a minimum, any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker that results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation, or an act or failure to act that presents an imminent risk of serious harm. While CAPTA sets Federal minimum standards for States that accept CAPTA funding, each State provides its own definitions of maltreatment within civil and criminal statutes. (CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2010)

Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) (Children’s Bureau)

Child advocacy center (CAC)
Community-based, child-friendly, multidisciplinary service center for children and families affected by sexual abuse or severe physical abuse. These centers bring together, often in one location, child protective services investigators, law enforcement, prosecutors, and medical and mental health professionals to provide a coordinated, comprehensive response to victims and their caregivers.

Child and Family Services Review (CFSR)
Periodic reviews of State child welfare systems conducted by the Children’s Bureau. The purpose of the reviews is to achieve three goals: ensure conformity with Federal child welfare requirements; determine what is actually happening to children and families as they are engaged in child welfare services; and to assist States in helping children and families achieve positive outcomes. (Children’s Bureau)

Child fatality review
A review of child abuse and neglect fatalities and suspicious child deaths conducted by child death review teams (also known as child fatality review teams), which exist in most States. Results of these reviews may be used to improve services, advocate for change, and conduct public awareness activities, ultimately for the purpose of preventing future child maltreatment deaths.

child maltreatment (See child abuse and neglect.)

Child protective services (CPS)
The social services agency designated (in most States) to receive reports, conduct investigations and assessments, and provide intervention and treatment services to children and families in which child maltreatment has occurred. Frequently, this agency is located within larger public social service agencies, such as departments of social services.

Child welfare reform
Formal efforts to make fundamental changes to achieve specific outcomes, usually focusing on enhancing safety, permanency, and well-being for children and families. Such efforts may encompass changes in policies, procedures, funding, or service delivery structure and may be undertaken in a local agency, a statewide child welfare system, or at a national level. They may address the entire child welfare system or major parts of the system, such as child protective services or out-of-home care. Child welfare reform efforts are intended to improve service delivery and achieve better outcomes.

Child welfare services
A continuum of services, ranging from prevention to intervention to treatment, for the purpose of protecting children and strengthening families to successfully care for their children, providing permanency when children cannot remain with or return to their families, and promoting children’s well-being. Services should be family-centered, strengths-based, and respectful of the family’s culture, values, beliefs, and needs.

Citizen review panel
A panel of private citizen volunteers who review policies, procedures, and specific cases handled by State as well as local child protective services agencies to determine whether these agencies are effectively managing individual cases and/or child welfare systems.

Closed adoption
An adoption that involves total confidentiality and sealed records.

COC – Continum of Care

A critical strategy in transfer of learning and implementation of change whereby the supervisor focuses on developing specific staff skills and assessing competence in consistent implementation. Child welfare jurisdictions are now commonly integrating coaching as part of training, workforce development, and systems change strategies. (Adapted from the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute.external link)

Organizations that offer social services to community residents as a major part of their missions. They have firsthand knowledge of local problems and are committed to serving and improving the community.

Competency-based practice
In social work, the demonstrated ability to fulfill the professional obligations to the client, the community, the society, and the profession. This demonstration occurs through acquisition of certification and licensing, keeping up with the knowledge base by fulfilling continuing education requirements, and participating in agency supervision and in-service training.

Competency-based training
Training intended to ensure that staff has the ability to carry out work assignments and achieve agency and case goals while adhering to professional values and ethics. Competency-based training includes defining required staff competencies, assessing individual training needs, developing job-related training content, developing and certifying competent trainers, and ensuring transfer of learning through supervision and follow-up training, as needed. Competency-based training may be delivered through a statewide training delivery system, including a computerized system for administration, monitoring, and quality control.

Complaint registry (in intercountry adoption)
A tool to receive, distribute, and monitor complaints relevant to the accreditation or approval status of adoption service providers. (Adapted from the U.S. State Department.)

Comprehensive family assessment
The ongoing practice of informing decision-making by identifying, considering, and weighing factors that impact children, youth, and their families. Assessment occurs from the time children and families come to the attention of the child welfare system (or before) and continues until case closure.

Concurrent planning
A case planning approach that involves considering all reasonable options for permanency at the earliest possible point following a child’s entry into foster care and simultaneously pursuing those that will best serve the child’s needs. Typically, the primary plan is reunification with the child’s family of origin. This primary plan and an alternative permanency goal are pursued at the same time, with full knowledge of all case participants. Concurrent planning seeks to eliminate delays in attaining permanency for children.

Confidential intermediary
A professional or volunteer granted access by the court to sealed confidential adoption records, for the purpose of conducting a search for adopted adults, birth parents, or other birth relatives at the request of a different party to an adoption to obtain consent to exchange information or make contact with the other party.

The legally required process and ethical practice of not disclosing to the public or other unauthorized persons any private or identifying information regarding children, their parents, or other family members that may be collected while providing services in the home or community, including child protection, foster care, and adoption services.

Consent decree
A court approval to put an agreement between disputing parties into the form of a binding judgment or contract. (Adapted from the Indiana Department of Child Services.)

Continuous quality improvement (CQI)
The complete process of identifying, describing, and analyzing strengths and problems and then testing, implementing, learning from, and revising solutions. It relies on organizational culture that is proactive and supports continuous learning. CQI is firmly grounded in the overall mission, vision, and values of an agency and is dependent upon the active inclusion and participation of staff at all levels of the agency, children, youth, families, and stakeholders throughout the process. (Children’s Bureau)

Convention (in intercountry adoption)
The treaty that governs adoptions among the United States and nearly 75 other countries. A convention in adoption usually refers to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption signed at The Hague, Netherlands on May 29, 1993. (Adapted from the U.S. State Department – Intercountry Adoption.)

Convention adoption (in intercountry adoption)
Occurs whenever a child who is a resident of a Convention country is adopted by a U.S. citizen. Another instance of a Convention adoption occurs when a child that is a U.S. resident, is adopted by an individual or individuals residing in a Convention country, when, in connection with the adoption, the child has moved or will move between the United States and the Convention country. (Adapted from the U.S. State Department – Intercountry Adoption.) Also see exempted provider (in intercountry adoption).

Convention country (in intercountry adoption)
One of 75 nations that has ratified, entered into force, and are party to (members of) the Hague Adoption Convention along with the United States. (Adapted from the U. S. State Department.)

When two or more adults together take on the care and upbringing of a child (children) for whom they share responsibility. Coparents may be members of the child’s extended family, divorced or foster parents, or other specialized caregivers. (Adapted from Coparenting: A Conceptual and Clinical Examination of Family Systemsexternal link.)

Corporal punishment
Inflicting punishment of a physical nature, such as caning, flogging, or beating for the purpose of punishment in an effort to discipline a child.

COT – Council on Transition

Country of origin (in intercountry adoption)
Is considered to be the country in which a child is a legal resident and will be emigrating from in conjunction with an adoption case. (U.S. State Department – Intercountry Adoption

Court-appointed special advocate (CASA)
A person, usually a volunteer appointed by the court, who serves to ensure that the needs and interests of a child in child protection judicial proceedings are fully protected.

CPS (See child protective services.)

CQI (See continuous quality improvement.)

Criminal background check (See background check.)

CSHN – Children with Special Health Needs

Cultural competence
The ability of individuals and systems to respond respectfully and effectively to people of all cultures, classes, races, ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, and faiths or religions in a manner that recognizes, affirms, and values the worth of individuals, families, tribes, and communities, and protects and preserves the dignity of each. Cultural competence is a vehicle used to broaden our knowledge and understanding of individuals and communities through a continuous process of learning about the cultural strengths of others and integrating their unique abilities and perspectives into our lives. (Adapted from the Child Welfare League of Americaexternal link.)

Cultural humility
A perspective that recognizes the uniqueness of each individual and the cultural expertise of those participating in services. (Adapted from Recruitment & Retention of Child Welfare Professionals Programexternal link.)

Custody (in child welfare)
Refers to the legal right to make decisions about children, including where they live. Parents have legal custody of their children unless they voluntarily give custody to someone else or a court takes this right away and gives it to someone else such as a relative or a child welfare agency. Whoever has legal custody can enroll the children in school, give permission for medical care, and give other legal consents.

Customary adoption
An adoption that occurs under the customs, laws, or traditions of a child’s Tribe that gives the child a new legally recognized permanent parent while still retaining the legal rights of birth parents, relatives, and other significant people in the child’s kinship network. Parental rights are modified but not terminated, and the process is considered to be binding by the Tribe.

Cycle of abuse
A generational pattern of abusive behavior that can occur when children who have either experienced maltreatment or witnessed violence between their parents or caregivers learn violent behavior and learn to consider it appropriate.




DAB – Drug Affected Baby

DD – Developmental Delay

Decree of adoption
The document signed by a judge to finalize an adoption. It formally creates the parent-child relationship between the adoptive parents and the adopted child, as though the child were born as the biological child of its new parents. It places full responsibility for the child on the new parents.

Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (See Major Federal Legislation Concerned With Child Protection, Child Welfare, and Adoption.)

Developmental disability
A diverse group of severe chronic conditions caused by mental and/or physical impairments. People with developmental disabilities may have problems with major life activities such as language, mobility, learning, self-help, and independent living. Developmental disabilities begin anytime during development up to 22 years of age and usually last throughout a person’s lifetime.

DHHS – Department of Health and Human Services

Differential response
An approach that enables child protective services (CPS) to differentiate its response to reports of child abuse and neglect based on several factors, including the level of risk associated with the report, indicators of child safety, and the family’s need for services and support. Differential response is an area of CPS reform also referred to as “dual track,” “multiple track,” or “alternative response.” (Also see alternative response.)

Disaster preparedness
The process of developing and implementing emergency responses in the event of a natural or human-made disaster.

Training that develops self-control, self-sufficiency, and orderly conduct. Discipline is based on respect for an individual’s capability and is not to be confused with punishment.

Dispositional hearing
Hearings held by the juvenile and family court to determine the legal resolution of cases after adjudication. Dispositional hearings may determine where the children will live for the time being, who will have legal custody of them, and what services the children and family will need to reduce the risk and to address the effects of maltreatment.

Disproportionality (See racial disproportionality.)

Disruption (See adoption disruption.)

Dissolution (See adoption dissolution.)

DOC – Department of Corrections

DOE – Department of Education

Domestic adoption
The adoption of children residing in the United States by adoptive parents who are U.S. citizens.

Domestic/family violence
A pattern of assaultive and/or coercive behaviors, including physical, sexual, and psychological attacks, as well as economic coercion, that adults or adolescents use against their intimate partners. Intimate partners include spouses, sexual partners, parents, children, siblings, extended family members, and dating relationships.

Dossier (in intercountry adoption)
A collection of required documents sent to a foreign country in order to process the adoption of a child in that country’s legal system. Adoptive families will have documents translated for those involved in the process of adoption in the child’s country of origin. Required information varies by country but generally includes records to prove a family’s identity, finances, health, and character.

DRC – Developmental Rights Center

DSM – Diagnostic & Statistical Manual

DSP – Direct Support Proffessional

Dual-system served/crossover youth
Youth who are involved in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, sometimes also known as cross-over, joint cases, dual-system served, or multisystem involved youth. (Adapted from The Center for Juvenile Justice Reform & Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corpsexternal link.)

Dual track (See differential response.)

Due process
The principle that every person has the protection of a day in court, representation by an attorney, and the benefit of procedures that are speedy, fair, and impartial.



Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment Program (EPSDT)
The child health component of Medicaid. It is required in every State and is designed to improve the health of low-income children, by financing appropriate and necessary pediatric services. (From HRSA Maternal and Child Health.)

Early childhood intervention
A support system or collection of services for infants and children with developmental disabilities or delays and their families under the IDEA Part C program. The term is also used to describe services and supports that promote healthy development and a readiness to learn in children up to age 5 and that create safe, stable, and nurturing families and communities.

Educational neglect
Involves the failure of a parent or caregiver to enroll a child of mandatory school age in school or provide appropriate homeschooling or needed special education training, thus allowing the child or youth to engage in chronic truancy.

Emotional/psychological neglect
A pattern of behavior that impairs a child’s emotional development or sense of self-worth. This may include constant criticism, threats, or rejection, as well as withholding love, support, or guidance.

Employer-provided adoption benefits
Benefits paid by employers to families who adopt, which usually mirror those available to new biological parents. Benefits may include paid or unpaid leave when a child arrives in the home, reimbursement of some portion of adoption expenses, or assistance with adoption services.

EPSDT (See Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment Program.)

EMDC – Eastern Maine Development Corporation

Equitable adoption
The legal process used in some States to establish inheritance rights of a child when the prospective adoptive parent had entered into an oral contract to adopt the child and the child was placed with the parent, but the adoption was not finalized before the prospective adoptive parent died. Laws vary by State.

Ethical practice
Behavior or professional conduct that meets the system of moral principles and perceptions about right versus wrong developed and guided by the profession’s standards of conduct or code of ethics. (Adapted from the Indiana Department of Child Services.)

Pertaining to or characteristic of a people who share a common and distinct culture, religion, language, or other quality.

Evidence-based practice
Involves approaches to prevention or treatment that are validated by some form of documented scientific evidence. This includes findings established through controlled clinical studies, but other methods of establishing evidence are valid as well.

Use of the best available research and practice knowledge to guide program design and implementation within the context of the child, family and community characteristics, culture and preferences. (Guidelines for Community-Based Grants for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect Programs – CBCAP) Also seeevidence-based practice.

Exempted provider (in intercountry adoption)
Describes social work professionals or organizations that perform home studies on prospective adoptive parents. Exempted providers can also conduct child background studies in the United States in connection with a Convention adoption, but that is not currently providing and has not previously provided any other adoption service in the case. Exempted providers are not required to be accredited, approved, or supervised by an accredited agency or approved person, but the studies they perform must subsequently be approved. (Adapted from the U.S. State Department, Intercountry Adoption.)



Family assessment (See comprehensive family assessment.)

Faith-based organization (FBO)
A faith-based organization is one that holds religious or worship services, or is affiliated with a religious denomination or house of worship that generally maintains a faith-based mission, but the services they deliver may or may not have content that is faith-based. FBOs do not necessarily restrict participants to those who adhere to that faith.

Family-centered casework practice
Encompasses the range of activities designed to help families with children strengthen family functioning and address challenges that may threaten family stability. These activities include family-centered assessment and case planning; case management; specific interventions with families including counseling, education, and skill building; advocating for families; and connecting families with the supportive services and resources they need to improve their parenting abilities and achieve a nurturing and stable family environment.

Family-centered practice
A way of working with families, both formally and informally, across service systems to enhance their capacity to care for and protect their children. It focuses on the needs and welfare of children within the context of their families and communities. Family-centered practice recognizes the strengths of family relationships and builds on these strengths to achieve optimal outcomes. Family is defined broadly to include birth, blended, kinship, and foster and adoptive families.

Family court
A family court is a court of limited jurisdiction that hears cases involving family law. For example, family courts typically hear cases involving divorce, child custody, and domestic abuse. Family courts are governed by State and local law. Depending on the jurisdiction, these courts might be called domestic courts. In some jurisdictions, family courts also handle guardianship and incompetence hearings. Other jurisdictions leave these matters to probate courts. (See Cornell University Lawexternal link)

Family engagement
A family-centered and strengths-based approach to partnering with families in making decisions, setting goals, and achieving desired outcomes. Beyond specific cases, engaging families as key stakeholders must extend to policy development, service design, and evaluation.  (See Family Engagement

Family Engagement Inventory
A cross-discipline collection of information designed to assist professionals in child welfare, juvenile justice, behavioral health, early education, and education to learn how family engagement is defined and implemented across these fields of practice. (See Family Engagement Inventory

Family group conferencing (See family group decision-making.)

Family group decision-making
A generic term that includes a number of approaches in which family members are brought together to make decisions about how to care for their children and develop a plan for services. Families are engaged and empowered by child welfare agencies to make decisions and develop plans that protect their children from experiencing further abuse and neglect. Different terms used for this type of intervention include “family group conferencing,” “family team conferencing,” “family team decision-making,” “family team meetings,” “family unity meetings,” and “team decision-making.” Approaches differ in various aspects, but most consist of several phases and employ a trained facilitator or coordinator.

Family Preservation and Support Services Program Act of 1993 (P.L. 103-66) (See Major Federal Legislation Concerned With Child Protection, Child Welfare, and Adoption.)

Family preservation services
Short-term, family-focused, and community-based services designed to help families cope with significant stresses or problems that interfere with their ability to nurture their children. The goal of family preservation services (FPS) is to maintain children with their families or to reunify the family, when it can be done safely. These services are applicable to families at risk of disruption/out-of-home placement across systems and may be provided to different types of families—birth or biological families, kinship families, foster families, and adoptive families—to help them address major challenges, stabilize the family, and enhance family functioning. (See also intensive family preservation services)

Family reunification
Refers to the process of returning children in temporary out-of-home care to their families of origin. Reunification is both the primary goal for children in out-of-home care as well as the most common outcome. (See Family Reunification: What the Evidence Shows)

Family support services
Community-based services that assist and support parents in their role as caregivers with the goal of promoting parental competencies and strengthening family life, leading to healthy child and family development. Family support programs emphasize a proactive approach toward the prevention of problems including the following characteristics: partnership with families built on a relationship of mutual respect; participants as a vital resource in program decision-making and governance; community-based and culturally relevant services; education, information and skill-building for parents; and voluntary participation.

Family visiting (visitation)

Face-to-face contact between a child (or children) in out-of-home care and his or her biological family. Family visiting is considered a major feature of permanency planning for children in foster care. (Adapted from Information Packet: Visiting with Children in Foster Careexternal link)

FAPE – Free and Appropriate Public Education

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs)
A group of conditions that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. These effects can include physical problems and problems with behavior and learning. Often, a person with FASDs has a mix of these problems. (Adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

FFT – Functional Family Therapy

FH – Foster Home

Fictive kin
People not related by birth or marriage who have an emotionally significant relationship with an individual.

The legal act that establishes a family connection between the adopting person and the adopted person. Usually done in a courtroom setting, this act grants rights and responsibilities to the adoptive parent and child equal to those rights and responsibilities granted to families created by birth.

FIS – Family Information Specialist

Foreign authorized entity (in intercountry adoption)
Outside the United States, a foreign Central Authority or an accredited body or entity that has been authorized by that particular country to perform Central Authority functions in a Hague Convention adoption case. (Also see Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption.)

Foster care
A 24-hour substitute care for children placed away from their parents or guardians, and for whom the State agency has placement and care responsibility. This includes, but is not limited to, placements in foster family homes, foster homes of relatives, group homes, emergency shelters, residential facilities, child care institutions, and preadoptive homes. (Adapted from the Code of Federal Regulations)

Foster care adoption
Adoption of children who are in the custody of their State or county’s Department of Child and Family Services. These adoptions are usually handled by local public agencies and/or private agencies under contract with their State or county. (Also see Adopting Children from Foster Care.)

Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 (See Major Federal Legislation Concerned With Child Protection, Child Welfare, and Adoption.)

Foster care review board
State boards made up of volunteer citizens who review foster care cases to help ensure safe and timely permanency for children and that quality services are provided to families involved in the State foster care system. Foster care review boards often inform State policy and are typically established through State legislation.

Foster child
A child who has been placed in the State or county’s legal custody because the child’s custodial parents/guardians are unable to provide a safe family home due to abuse, neglect, or an inability to care for the child. (Adapted from the Indiana Department of Children’s Servicesexternal link)

Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 (see Major Federal Legislation Concerned with Child, Protection, Child Welfare, and Adoption)

Foster parent
Adults who provide a temporary home and everyday nurturing and support for children who have been removed from their homes. The individual(s) may be relatives or nonrelatives and are required to be licensed in order to provide care for foster children.

Full disclosure
Information provided to the family by the child welfare agency regarding the steps in the intervention process, the requirements of the case plan, the expectations of the family, the consequences if the family does not fulfill the expectations, and the rights of the parents to ensure that the family completely understands the process.




GA – General Assistance

GAL (See guardian ad litem.)

G.E.A.R. – Gaining Employment Allows Results

A continuing process of mourning through which one learns to live with loss. (See the National Center for Victims of Crimeexternal link)

Group care (See residential services.)

Group home
A residence intended to meet the needs of children who are unable to live in a family setting and do not need a more intensive residential service. Homes normally house 4 to 12 children in a setting that offers the potential for the full use of community resources, including employment, health care, education, and recreational opportunities. Desired outcomes of group home programs include full incorporation of the child into the community, the return of the child to his or her family or another permanent family, and/or acquisition by the child of the skills necessary for independent living.

Guardian (See legal guardian.)

Guardian ad litem (GAL)
A lawyer or layperson who represents a child in juvenile or family court. Usually, this person considers the best interests of the child and may perform a variety of roles, including those of independent investigator, advocate, advisor, and guardian for the child. A layperson who serves in this role is sometimes known as a court-appointed special advocate (CASA). (See A Coordinated Response to Child Abuse and Neglect: The Foundation for Practice)

A judicially created relationship between a child and caretaker that is intended to be permanent and self-sustaining as evidenced by the transfer to the caretaker of the following parental rights with respect to the child: protection, education, care and control of the person, custody of the person, and decision-making. (Adapted from the Code of Federal Regulations)



Hague Adoption Certificate
Issued by the U.S Department of State, it attests that the child’s adoption has been completed in the United States in accordance with the Convention and the Intercountry Adoption Act (IAA).

Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption
Is an international agreement to establish safeguards to ensure that intercountry adoptions take place in the best interests of the child.

Hague Custody Declaration
Issued by the U.S. Department of State when a child emigrates from the United States (outgoing adoption case) to another Convention country and certifies that custody of a child for purposes of adoption has been granted in the United States in accordance with the Convention and the Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000.

HCT – Home and Community based Treatment

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)
A virus spread through bodily fluids that affects specific cells of the immune system. Over time, HIV can destroy so many of the cells that the body cannot fight off infection and disease. When this happens, HIV infection leads to AIDS. (Adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Home-based services
Services provided primarily to families in their homes. In child welfare, this may include home visiting, parent aides, respite care, and homemaker services.

Home study
The process of gathering information, preparing, and evaluating the fitness of prospective foster, kinship, and adoptive parents. The primary purpose of a home study is to ensure that each child is placed with a family that can best meet his/her needs. Home study requirements vary greatly from agency to agency, State to State, and (in the case of intercountry adoption) by the child’s country of origin.

Home visiting
Method of delivering preventive and family support services directly to the family in the home. Home visiting programs support positive parent-child relationships, promote optimal child health, development, and academic success, enhance parental self-sufficiency and parenting skills, connect the family with community resources, and prevent child abuse and neglect. They focus on the importance of children’s early years and on the role parents play in child development.

HUD – Housing & Urban Development



IAA (See Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000.)

ICAMA (See Interstate Compact on Adoption and Medical Assistance.)

ICPC (See Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children.)

ID – Intellectual Disability

IDEA – Individuals with Disability Education Act.

IEP (See Individual Education Plan.)

IEPA (See Interethnic Adoption Provisions of 1996.)

IFPS (See intensive family preservation services.)

Illegal adoption
An adoption resulting from abuses such as: abduction, the sale of, trafficking in, and other illegal or illicit activities against children.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) broadly defines an immigrant as any alien in the United States, except one legally admitted under specific nonimmigrant categories (INA section 101(a)). An illegal alien who entered the United States without inspection, for example, would be strictly defined as an immigrant under the INA but is not a permanent resident alien. (See U.S. Department of Homeland Security)

The act of entering a country or region to which one is not native with the intent of living there.

Legal protection from civil or criminal liability for individuals making reports in good faith of suspected or known instances of child abuse or neglect. (Adapted from the Child Welfare Information Gateway State Statutes Series, Immunity for Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect)

Implementation science
The study of methods to promote the integration of research findings and evidence into child welfare policy and practice. (Adapted from U.S. National Library of Medicine)

Sexual contact between closely related persons. Laws vary across States regarding what constitutes crimes of incest. (Adapted from RAINNexternal link)

Independent adoption, private adoption
Adoption arranged through an intermediary rather than through a licensed adoption agency to assist prospective parents with the adoption process. This method of adoption usually involves the adoption of an infant. (Adapted from Adoption Options.)

Independent living program
A program that assists youth who are transitioning from an out-of-home care placement in receiving services necessary to become independent. Programs provide youth with services such as stable, safe living accommodations, basic life-skill and interpersonal skill-building techniques, educational opportunities, assistance in job preparation and attainment, trauma-informed mental health care, and physical health care. (Adapted from theAdministration for Children and Families, Family and Youth Services Bureau Transitional Living Program Fact Sheet)

Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) (See Major Federal Legislation Concerned With Child Protection, Child Welfare, and Adoption.)

Information and/or data that help measure progress toward desired outcomes, goals, and objectives. Within the child welfare field, indicators can be used by administrators, policymakers, and researchers to assess an agency/organization’s progress toward achieving child safety, permanency, and well-being outcomes.  (Adapted from Casey Family Programs)

Individual Education Plan (IEP)
A federally mandated statement written for each child with a disability that is developed, reviewed, and revised in a meeting in accordance with outlined regulations.(Adapted from the U.S. Department of Education)

Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
A law ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the nation. IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities. (U.S. Department of Education)

In-home services
Services provided to children and families who have been reported to child protective services (CPS) for possible child abuse or neglect and who are assessed as being able to benefit from services delivered in the home. Services are generally provided to families who have an “open case” with the child welfare agency and whose children remain at home or have returned home from out-of-home care. (Adapted from Child Welfare Information Gateway Issue Brief: In-Home Services in Child Welfare)

The practice of placing children or youth in hospitals, residential treatment, institutions, or orphanages.

A respectful, systematic process of gathering personal information of either clients or clients’ caregivers in order to facilitate service providers as well as clients to make informed decisions about the needed programs and/ or services. (See National Council of Social Servicesexternal link)

Intellectual disability – A term used when a person has certain limitations in mental functioning and challenges in skills such as communicating, taking care of him or herself, and social interactions. (See National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities)

Intensive family preservation services
Family-focused, community-based crisis intervention services designed to maintain children safely in their homes and prevent the unnecessary separation of families. They are characterized by small caseloads for workers, short duration of services, 24-hour availability of staff, and the provision of services primarily in the family’s home or in another environment familiar to the family. They are often offered to families as an alternative to placing a child in out-of-home care. (See family preservation services)

Intercountry adoption
The adoption of children who are citizens of one country by parents who are citizens of a different country.

Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000 (See Major Federal Legislation Concerned With Child Protection, Child Welfare, and Adoption.)

Interethnic Provisions of 1996 (Section 1808 of P.L. 104-188, Removal of Barriers to Interethnic Adoption) (See Major Federal Legislation Concerned with Child Protection, Child Welfare, and Adoption.)

interjurisdictional placement
The placement of children across county and State lines.

Interstate Compact on Adoption and Medical Assistance (ICAMA)
An agreement between member States that governs the interstate delivery of and payment for medical services and adoption assistance payments/subsidies for adopted children with special needs. The agreements are established by the laws of the States that are parties to the Compact. Nearly all 50 States and the District of Columbia are parties to the ICAMA.

Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC)
An agreement regulating the placement of children across State lines. All 50 States, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have adopted the ICPC as statutory law in their respective jurisdictions.

An action intended to modify an outcome; a set of techniques and therapies practiced in counseling.

A type of Child Protective Services response that involves the gathering of objective information to determine whether a child was maltreated, or is at risk of maltreatment, and establishes if an intervention is needed. It generally includes face-to-face contact with the alleged victim and results in a disposition as to whether or not the alleged maltreatment occurred. (See Child Maltreatment 2013)

IR-3 Visa (for Intercountry Adoption)
Children adopted in non-Convention countries receive IR-3 or IR-4 immigrant visas. IR-3 visas are issued after a full and final adoption is completed abroad by both adopting parents; both parents physically see the child prior to or during local adoption proceedings; and the country in which the child resides does not require re-adoption in the United States. Children who are under 18 automatically acquire U.S. citizenship upon entry to the United States on IR-3 visas. In such cases, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services automatically sends Certificates of Citizenship without requiring additional forms or fees. (See also Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State.)

IR-4 Visa (for Intercountry Adoption)
Children adopted in non-Convention countries receive IR-3 or IR-4 immigrant visas. IR-4 visas are issued to children for whom a full and final adoption will be completed in the United States. This classification is used when a foreign country only permits prospective adoptive parents to obtain guardianship of a child, rather than allowing a full and final adoption; and/or the prospective adoptive parent(s) have not seen and observed the child prior to the adoption process. Orphans admitted to the United States on IR-4 visas become lawful permanent residents and are automatically processed to receive an Alien Registration Card (“green card”). (Adapted from U.S. Department of State)



JCCO – Juvenile Community Correctional Officer

JJAG – Juvenile Justice Advisory Group

Judicial Review a court review that looks at the progress of the parents and the youth. This helps decide the safest place for the child to live. There must be a judicial review at least every 6 months. At least every 12 months the judicial review must identify the permanent plan.

Jurisdiction [of a court]
The legal authority of a court to hear and decide a certain type of case. It is also used as a synonym for venue, meaning the geographic area over which the court has territorial jurisdiction to decide cases. (Also see United States Courts.)

Juvenile court
A court of law that has jurisdiction over cases involving children under a specific age, usually 18. Juvenile courts (sometimes referred to as family courts) generally preside over both delinquency and dependency proceedings. (See Juvenile Law Centerexternal link)

Juvenile delinquency
A federal criminal violation committed prior to one’s eighteenth birthday. (See Office of the United States Attorney)



Keeping Children and Families Safe Act of 2003 (See Major Federal Legislation Concerned with Child Protection, Child Welfare, and Adoption.)

Kinship adoption
Adoption of a child by someone related by family ties or a prior relationship.

Kinship foster care
Kinship foster care refers to those arrangements that occur when child welfare agencies take custody of a child after an investigation of abuse and/or neglect and place the child with a kinship caregiver who is an approved placement based on the assessment standards developed by the agency. (See State Child Welfare Policy Databaseexternal link)

Kinship navigator program
A federally funded program that connects children involved with child welfare to grandparents or relative caregivers and helps those caregivers identify and access needed services. Kinship navigator programs are funded through grants established by the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008.

KMCC – Keeping Maine’s Children Connected



LCPC – Licensed clinical professional counselor

LCSW – Licensed Clinical Social Worker

LD (See learning disability.)

The ability to set a direction and influence others to follow. Increasingly, child welfare researchers and reformers have focused on the importance of leadership in building and maintaining an effective workforce. Agency administrators and judicial officers can set the tone for the organization and affirm the importance of its workforce through large and small decisions as well as day-to-day interactions with staff.

Learning disability (LD)
A neurological condition that interferes with an individual’s ability to store, process, or produce information. Learning disabilities can affect one’s ability to read, write, speak, spell, compute math, and reason, and can affect an individual’s attention, memory, coordination, social skills, and emotional maturity.  (Learning Disabilities Association of Americaexternal link)

Learning organization
An organization/system in which there is a culture that is proactive and supports ongoing learning as a framework for continuous quality improvement. (Adapted from the CB CQI IM-12-07.)

Legal counsel
Another term for a lawyer or attorney. A legal counsel advises clients about their legal rights and obligations and represents clients in legal proceedings.

Legal custody (See custody.)

Legal risk placement
A placement made preliminarily to an adoption where the prospective adoptive parents acknowledge, in writing, that a child can be ordered returned to the sending state or the birth mother’s state of residence (if different from the sending state), and a final decree of adoption shall not be entered in any jurisdiction until all required consents or a termination of parental rights are obtained or dispensed with in accordance with applicable law.

Legally free (in adoption)
A child is legally free for adoption when the parental rights of that child’s birth parents have been terminated in a court of law.

Licensing, licensure for child placement
Regulations in each State that ensure children are cared for in physically and developmentally safe environments. In most States, licensing may not be required for kinship or relative care.

Life book, life story book
A journal or scrapbook that provides a chronicle of a child’s life story and personal history. A social worker, therapist, foster parent, or adoptive parent can help a child to make a life book. It can then serve as a therapeutic tool to help facilitate the child’s identity formation and understanding of adoption, and provides a way to share parts of the child’s life not spent with their parents.

LOC – Level of Care

Logic model
A logic model is a map or a simple illustration of what you do, why you do it, what you hope to achieve, and how you will measure achievement. It includes the anticipated outcomes of your services, indicators of those outcomes, and measurement tools to evaluate the outcomes.

Long-term foster care
The placement of a child in foster care for an extended period of time. The Adoption and Safe Families Act does not recognize long-term foster care as a permanency option and, increasingly, State child welfare systems no longer view long-term foster care as a placement alternative.

The harm or distress resulting from losing. Children and families involved in child welfare typically have suffered many losses that may be attributed to abuse and neglect, removal from the home (loss of family and friends), and/or the transitions or disruptions they may experience throughout the process.

LPC – Licensed Professional Counselor



M.A.F.O. – Maine Alliance of Family Organizations

In all businessexternal link and organizational activities, management is the act of coordinating the efforts of people to accomplish desired goals and objectivesexternal linkusing available resources efficiently and effectively. Management composes planningexternal link, organizingexternal link, staffingexternal link, leadingexternal link or directing, and controllingexternal linkan organizationexternal link (a group of one or more people or entities) or effort for the purpose of accomplishing a goal.

Mandated reporter
Groups of professionals who are required by State statutes to report suspected child abuse and neglect to the proper authorities (usually Child Protective Services or law enforcement agencies). Mandated reporters typically include educators and other school personnel, health care and mental health professionals, social workers, child care providers, and law enforcement.

In the case of domestic infant adop­tion or placement of children from foster care, matching is the task of reviewing the assess­ments of prospective families along with those of available children to determine the best family to provide safety, permanency, and well-being for a specific child or sibling group.

Maternity home
A residence for pregnant woman (adults or adolescents) who are in the process of making an adoption plan for their unborn child. Pregnant young woman in foster care can be placed in a maternity home setting if the home is licensed to provide group home care.

MC – Maine Care

A nonadversarial, voluntary process that allows the parties involved to agree on a permanency decision in the best interests of the child with the help of a trained, neutral, third party. Mediation generally avoids adversarial court hearings. Parties are more invested in the outcome because they participated in decision-making. Parties to mediation may include birth parents, foster/adoptive parents, relatives, the child, the agency worker, attorneys, and others. Mediations can be court-based or may take place at other, more neutral locations.

Medical neglect
Failure to provide or to allow needed care as recommended by a competent health care professional for a physical injury, illness, medical condition, or impairment, and/or the failure to seek timely and appropriate medical care for a serious health problem that any reasonable person would have recognized as needing professional medical attention.

MEJ – Maine Equal Justice

Mental retardation
Significantly below average intellectual functioning and potential, with onset before age 18, resulting in limitations in communication, self-care, self-direction, social and interpersonal skills, work, leisure, health, and safety. Retardation is the result of genetic, pregnancy, or prenatal problems or family or environmental factors such as social deprivation.

Enhancing organizational culture and workforce retention through peer support. In many jurisdictions, new child welfare staff are now assigned mentors during their designated training period. Mentors are typically seasoned colleagues who can assist new caseworkers with specific knowledge development about their job, organization, and/or the community.

MEPA (See Multiethnic Placement Act of 1994.)

A quantitative, formal, epidemiological study design used to assess previous research studies systematically to derive conclusions about that body of research. (US National Library of Medicine)

A highly addictive stimulant associated with serious health and psychiatric conditions, including heart damage and brain damage, impaired thinking and memory problems, aggression, violence, and psychotic behavior. Methamphetamine is also associated with the transmission of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.  (Adapted from the National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare)

The analysis of the principles of methods, rules, and postulates employed by a discipline; the systematic study of methods that are, can be, or have been applied within a discipline; or a procedure or set of procedures.

Model court
In general, a court that seeks to improve outcomes for children and families involved in the child welfare system by adhering to the practices and procedures described in Resource Guidelines: Improving Court Practice in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases (National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges—NCJFCJ). More specifically, it refers to one of the Model Court sites supported by NCJFCJ’s Child Victim’s Act Model Courts Project. (See National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges—NCJFCJexternal link)

MPF – Maine Parent Federation

Multicultural, multiculturalism
The coexistence of diverse cultures, where culture includes racial, religious, or cultural groups and is manifested in customary behaviors, cultural assumptions and values, patterns of thinking, and communicative styles. (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutionsexternal link)

Multidisciplinary team
A team established between agencies and professionals within the child protection system to discuss cases of child abuse and neglect and to aid in decisions at various stages of the child protective services’ case process. These terms may also be designated by different names, including child protection teams, interdisciplinary teams, or case consultation teams.(See Child Protective Services:  A guide for Caseworkers)

Multiethnic Placement Act of 1994 (MEPA) (See Major Federal Legislation Concerned With Child Protection, Child Welfare, and Adoption.)

MYTC – Maine Youth Transition Collaborative



NAMI – National Alliance on Mental Health Issues

National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS)
A voluntary national data collection and analysis system created in response to the requirements of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (P.L. 93-247) as amended.

NCANDS (See National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System.)

Neglect (See educational neglect, emotional neglect, medical neglect, physical neglect.)

NEYC – New England Youth Coalition

NFCYAPC – National Foster Care Youth & Alumni Policy Council

Nonrecurring adoption expenses
The reasonable and necessary adoption fees, court costs, attorney’s fees, and other expenses that are directly related to the legal adoption of a child with special needs, which are not incurred in violation of State or Federal law, and which have not been reimbursed from other sources or funds.

Nonresident father
A parent who does not live in the same household as his child. A nonresident father may be divorced, separated, or never married to the child’s mother. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)

Behaviors and activities that further the growth and development of another person, family, group, or community.



OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

OCFS – Office of Child and Family Services

ODD – Oppositional Defiant Disorder

An advocate or spokesperson for a group who are served by an organization to ensure that the organization’s obligations, ethical duties, and rules are being followed; investigates possible illegal, unethical activities or harmful, unforeseen consequences of that organization’s actions; and facilitates negotiations or actions for satisfactory solutions.

OMS – Office of Medical Services (Maine Care)

Open adoption
A type of adoption in which birth and adoptive families have some form of initial and/or ongoing contact. Parents have several options available related to openness, including closed adoption, semi-open or mediated adoption, and open or fully disclosed adoption.

OPP – Opportunity Pass Port

OPPLA/APPLA (other planned permanent living arrangement) (see OPPLA/APPLA)

A child is considered an orphan for any of several reasons: the death or disappearance of, abandonment or desertion by, separation from, or loss of both parents; or if a surviving parent or unwed mother is unable to care for the child properly, as specified by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for intercountry adoption.

Institution that houses children who are orphaned, abandoned, or whose parents are unable to care for them. Orphanages are rarely used in the United States, although they are frequently used abroad.

OSA – Office of Substance Abuse

OT – Occupational Therapy

Other planned permanent living arrangement (OPPLA/APPLA)
Also known as another planned permanent living arrangement (APPLA), a term created by the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 to replace the term “long-term foster care.” With OPPLA, the child welfare agency maintains care and custody of the youth and arranges a living situation in which the youth is expected to remain until adulthood. OPPLA or APPLA is a permanency option only when other options, such as reunification, relative placement, adoption, or legal guardianship, have been ruled out.

The anticipated or actual effect of program activities and outputs. An outcome constitutes changes or improvements in the target populations being served or the target systems being affected. The Child and Family Services Reviews incorporate the following seven outcomes in evaluating State child welfare programs: (1) Children are, first and foremost, protected from abuse and neglect; (2) children are safely maintained in their homes whenever possible; (3) children have permanency and stability in their living situations; (4) the continuity of family relationships and connections is preserved for children; (5) families have enhanced capacity to provide for their children’s needs; (6) children receive appropriate services to meet their educational needs; and (7) children receive adequate services to meet their physical and mental health needs. (American Bar Association Center on Children and the Lawexternal link)

Out-of-home care
Also called foster care, including family foster care, kinship care, treatment foster care, and residential and group care. Out-of-home care encompasses the placements and services provided to children and families when children must be removed from their homes because of child safety concerns, as a result of serious parent-child conflict, or to treat serious physical or behavioral health conditions that cannot be addressed within the family. (See Out-of-Home Care)

Activities to bring services, resources, or information to people in their homes or usual environments.

Used interchangeably with the term “disproportionality” to refer to the proportion of ethnic or racial groups of children in child welfare compared to those groups in the general population.



PA – Program Administrator or

PA – Prior Authorization

One who has specialized knowledge and technical training and performs under the supervision of a trained and/or certified professional.

Parens patriae
A legal term referring to the State’s power to act for or on behalf of children who cannot act on their own behalf, in their best interest.

Parent café
A forum for holding structured conversations—either online or in person—about protective factors led by parents who relate the information to their own lives. The process of organizing and leading the cafés has resulted in a unit of committed parent leaders at the State and national levels. (Adapted fromStrengthening Families Illinoisexternal link.)

Parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT)
A family-centered treatment approach proven effective for abused and at-risk children ages 2 to 12 and their biological or foster caregivers. A key activity is the therapist’s role in coaching the parent to interact more positively with the child.

Parent education
Community-based services that support parents in their roles as caregivers. The goal of parent education is to promote parental competency and strengthen family life to prevent child abuse and neglect and to enhance healthy child and family development.

Parent leadership
Opportunities for parents to provide input and leadership in designing, implementing, and/or evaluating programs.

Parental rights
The legal rights and corresponding legal obligations that go along with being the parent of a child.

Legal or biological fatherhood.

Paternity establishment
The legal procedure to determine if a man is the biological father of a particular child and to establish his rights and responsibilities in regard to that child.

PCP – Primary Care Provider

PCP – Person Centered Plan

PDD – Pervasive Developmental Disorder

Performance measure
A measure of how well services are delivered by an agency or program. Performance measures address issues such as the degree to which services are timely, cost-effective, or in compliance with standards. Unlike an indicator, which measures progress toward a broad outcome, a performance measure gauges how well a program is run. Examples include percentage of child abuse investigations completed within 24 hours of a report or the amount of child support collected for each dollar spent on child support enforcement.

A legally permanent, nurturing family for every child and youth. As defined in the Child and Family Services Reviews, a child in foster care is determined to have achieved permanency when any of the following occurs: (1) The child is discharged from foster care to reunification with his or her family, either a parent or other relative; (2) the child is discharged from foster care to a legally finalized adoption; or (3) the child is discharged from foster care to the care of a legal guardian.

Permanency Pact
A tool used to create a formalized, facilitated process to connect youth in foster care with a supportive adult. A permanency pact or pledge provides structure and a safety net for youth. It involves a defined and verbalized commitment by both parties to a long-term supportive relationship and provides clarity regarding expectations of the relationship. A permanency pact can be helpful particularly for youth who are preparing to transition out of foster care to life on their own. (Adapted from the FosterClubexternal link.)

Permanency planning
A process through which planned and systematic efforts are made to ensure that children and youth are in safe and nurturing relationships expected to last a lifetime. Permanency planning involves time-limited, goal-oriented activities to maintain children within their families of origin, including kin, or to place them with other permanent families through adoption or guardianship.

In child welfare, the person who has been determined to have caused or knowingly allowed the maltreatment of a child.

Photo listing
A publication (print or online) that contains photos and descriptions of children who are available for adoption. Photolisting is used by agencies and adoption exchanges to recruit prospective adoptive parents for children awaiting permanency.

Physical abuse
Child abuse that results in physical injury to a child. This may include, burning, hitting, punching, shaking, kicking, beating, or otherwise harming a child. Although an injury resulting from physical abuse is not accidental, the parent or caregiver may not have intended to hurt the child. The injury may have resulted from severe discipline, including injurious spanking, or physical punishment that is inappropriate to the child’s age or condition. The injury may be the result of a single episode or of repeated episodes and can range in severity from minor marks and bruising to death.

Physical neglect
Failure to provide for a child’s basic survival needs, such as nutrition, clothing, shelter, hygiene, and medical care. Physical neglect may also involve inadequate supervision of a child and other forms of reckless disregard of the child’s safety and welfare.

PIP (See Program Improvement Plan.)

Placement stability
Ensuring that children remain in stable out-of-home care, avoiding disruption, removal, and repeated placements that have harmful effects on child development and well-being. In the Federal Child and Family Services Reviews, placement stability is one of the four composites used as the basis for national standards for Permanency Outcome 1: Children have permanency and stability in their living situations.

PNMI – Private Non-medical Institutions

Post adoption reporting (in intercountry adoption)
After a child has been adopted, some countries of origin have post-adoption reporting requirements. Adoption service providers must comply with the state laws of the jurisdiction where you live regarding the number of post adoption home visits that are required as well. The adoption service provider includes a requirement for such reports in the adoption services contract.

Postadoption services
Services provided to an adopted child, the adoptive family, and/or the birth parents after an adoptive placement is finalized.  In intercountry adoption, postadoption is a period of time after an adoption in a Convention country and is followed by a readoption in the United States.

Post institutionalized child
A child adopted from an institutional, hospital, or orphanage setting. The term arises when describing an array of emotional and psychological disturbances, developmental delays, learning disabilities, and/or medical problems in children resulting from their stay in institutions. These may include difficulties with feeding, sleeping, and speech, as well as difficulties in forming healthy attachments.

Popost permanencyervices
Services provided to birth families, kinship families, and adoptive families to support child safety, permanency, and well-being after the child has achieved his or her permanency goal. Services may include educational and informational services, clinical and treatment services, material services such as financial support, and support networks.

Post placement
The period of time before an adoption is finalized, but after a grant of legal custody, or guardianship of the child to the prospective adoptive parents, or to a custodian for the purpose of adoption.

Post placement supervision
The range of counseling and agency services provided to adoptive parents and adopted children after adoptive placement, before the adoption is legally finalized in court. The primary purpose of postplacement supervision is to ensure, as much as possible, that the child is safe in the home, that his or her well-being needs are met, and that the adoptive family remains committed to and is able to provide a permanent home for the child.

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Disorder occurring as a result of exposure to a traumatic stressor, characterized by reexperiencing the traumatic event through the recollection of images, thoughts, and perceptions, accompanied by intense feelings of distress, lasting for at least 1 month. (See NYU Child Study Center’s Mental Health Dictionaryexternal link.)

Practice model
A conceptual map and articulated organizational ideology of how agency employees, families, and stakeholders partner in an environment that focuses on the safety, permanency, and well-being of children and their families. A practice model contains definitions and explanations regarding how the agency as a whole will work internally as well as how it will partner with families, service providers, and other stakeholders in child welfare services. The model guides the daily interactions of employees, families, stakeholders, and community members connected to their work with the child welfare agency in conjunction with the standards of practice to achieve defined outcomes.

Prenatal substance exposure
Fetal exposure to maternal drug and alcohol use that can significantly increase the risk for developmental and neurological disabilities in the child. The effects can cause severe neurological damage and growth retardation in the substance-exposed newborn. Also see alcohol-related birth defects and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

Prevention of child abuse and neglect
Prevention services aimed at supporting and strengthening families in order to prevent child abuse and neglect from occurring. Prevention typically consists of methods or activities that seek to reduce or deter specific or predictable problems, protect the current state of well-being, or promote desired outcomes or behaviors.

Primary provider (in intercountry adoption)
Any accredited agency, temporarily accredited agency, or approved person that is identified as responsible for ensuring that all six adoption services are provided. Also see adoption services (in intercountry adoption).

The increasing reliance upon market forces, competition, and the private sector to provide services formerly provided by public or governmental agencies. Privatization may involve performance contracting with private agencies for services that involve a payment structure for contracted agencies based on the achievement of set outcomes. Under these purchase-of-service contracts, the role of the public social worker often becomes one of referral of individual cases and monitoring of service contracts. Also see purchase-of-service agreement.

Program Improvement Plan (PIP)
The plan that States are required to submit to the Federal Government if found out of conformity on any of the seven outcomes or seven systemic factors subject to review in the Federal Child and Family Services Reviews.

Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF) program (See Major Federal Legislation Concerned With Child Protection, Child Welfare, and Adoption.)

Protective custody
A form of custody required to remove a child from his or her home and place in out-of-home care. Law enforcement may place a child in protective custody based on an independent determination that the child’s health, safety, and welfare is jeopardized. A child can also be placed in protective custody via court order.

Protective/promotive factor
Strengths and resources that appear to mediate or serve as a buffer against risk factors that contribute to maltreatment. These factors may strengthen the parent-child relationships, ability to cope with stress, and capacity to provide for children. Protective factors include nurturing and attachment, knowledge of parenting and of child and youth development, parental resilience, social connections, and concrete supports for parents.

Psychological maltreatment
A pattern of caregiver behavior or extreme incidents that convey to children that they are worthless, flawed, unloved, unwanted, endangered, or only of value in meeting another’s needs. This maltreatment may be perpetrated by parents or caretakers using extreme or bizarre forms of punishment or threatening or terrorizing a child. The term “psychological maltreatment” is also known as emotional abuse or neglect, verbal abuse, or mental abuse.

Psychological parent
An adult who, on a continuing day-to-day basis, fulfills a child’s emotional needs for nurturance through interaction, companionship, and mutuality. It may be the biological parent or another person who fulfills these functions.

PSS – Personal Support Specialist

PT – Physical Therapy

Purchase-of-service agreement
Fiscal arrangement or contract between two or more organizations by which one organization agrees in advance to pay a specified amount to the other for providing a predetermined number of services within a specified period. Such agreements are often between government entities as the purchaser and social agencies as providers. Also see privatization.

Putative father
Legal term for a man who is not married to the child’s mother and who is alleged or claims to be the biological father of a child.

Putative father registry
Registry system that serves to ensure that birth fathers’ rights are protected. Some States require that birth fathers register, while other States presume that the father does not wish to pursue paternity rights if he does not initiate any legal action.



Quality assurance/quality improvement (Also see CQI.)
The processes and measures an organization uses to determine that its products or services measure up to the standards established for them. In child welfare agencies, quality assurance programs may contain one or more of the following components: a client information/data system, a peer review system, and a case record review system. All State child welfare agencies are required to develop and implement standards to ensure that children in foster care are provided quality services that protect the safety and health of the children. They are also required to operate an identifiable quality assurance system that evaluates the quality of services, identifies strengths and needs of the service delivery system, provides relevant reports, and evaluates implemented program improvement measures.


Racial disproportionality
The differences in the percentage of children of a certain racial or ethnic group in the country as compared to the percentage of the children of the same group in the child welfare system. For example, in 2000, Black children made up 15.1 percent of the children in this country but 36.6 percent of the children in the child welfare system. Also see overrepresentation.

Reasonable efforts
Efforts made by State social services agencies to provide the assistance and services needed to preserve and reunify families.

Recurrence of child abuse and neglect
A substantiated report of child abuse or neglect following a prior substantiation that involved the same child victim or family.

An individual who has left his or her native country and is unwilling or unable to return to it because of persecution or fear of persecution because of race, religion, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Relative adoption (See kinship adoption.)

Relative care (See kinship care.)

Voluntary termination or release of all parental rights and duties that legally frees a child to be adopted. This is sometimes referred to as a surrender or as making an adoption plan for one’s child.

Residential services
Services designed for children who need a more structured environment than generally offered in the child’s home or in family foster care. They are delivered in a diverse array of settings, with the purpose of providing physical safety and security; maximizing children’s growth, development, and potential; supporting and promoting permanency and families’ involvement in meeting children’s individual needs; and helping children move toward leading productive, satisfying, and independent lives.

Residential treatment facility
Structured, 24-hour facility that provides a range of therapeutic, educational, recreational, and support services for children by a professional, interdisciplinary team.

The ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress. Parental resilience is considered a protective factor in child abuse and neglect prevention. Resilience in children enables them to thrive, mature, and increase competence in the midst of adverse circumstances. Resilience can be fostered and developed in children as it involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned over time and is impacted by positive and healthy relationships with parents, caregivers, and other adults.

Resource family
Includes foster/adoptive parents, foster parents, and relative or kinship caregivers.

Respite care
Child care offered for designated periods of time to allow a caregiver to tend to other family members; alleviate a work, job, health, or housing crisis; or take a break from the stress of caring for a seriously ill child. Respite for foster and adoptive parents is a preventive measure that enhances quality of care for the child, gives the caregiver a deserved and necessary break, and ensures healthy and stable placements for children.

Response time
The time between the log-in of a call to the State agency alleging child maltreatment and the face-to-face contact with the alleged victim, where this is appropriate, or contact with another person who can provide information.

Reunification (See family reunification.)

A meeting between birth relatives and an adopted person. Also see search.

Reunion registry
A tool that allows adopted persons and birth parents who do not know each other’s identity to register the fact that they are searching for each other. If both parties’ names are on the same registry, a “match” is made and the organization can inform the parties or arrange a meeting. Most registries are passive, which means both parties must have independently registered in order for a match to be made. The organization will not search for the missing party. By contrast, an active registry will actively search for birth relatives and usually involves a fee. Both types of registries are operated by private and State organizations. An “access veto” may be filed by one party to the adoption to veto contact and/or the release of identifying information to those searching. Also see search.

Review hearing
Held by the juvenile or family court to review case progress (usually every 6 months) and to determine the need for continued court jurisdiction. Under the Social Security Act, the status of each child in foster care must be reviewed at least once every 6 months by either a court or by administrative review.

RFP – Request for Proposal

In child welfare, the likelihood that a child will be maltreated in the future.

Risk assessment
A measure of the likelihood that a child will be maltreated in the future, frequently through the use of checklists, matrices, scales, and other methods of measurement.

Risk factor
Behaviors and conditions present in the child, parent, or family that will likely contribute to child maltreatment occurring in the future. Major risk factors include substance abuse, domestic/family violence, and mental health problems.



SACWIS (See Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System.)

Safe haven
When applied to legislation, refers to the policy in which a parent can relinquish a child, usually a newborn, to lawfully designated places such as a hospital. When a child is surrendered in this way, the parent is protected from criminal prosecution. The legislation is not without controversy, and the scope and specifications of the rule vary widely across the States. “Safe haven” laws are in effect in all 50 U.S. States.

Absence of an imminent or immediate threat of moderate-to-serious harm to the child.

Safety assessment
A part of the child protective services case process in which available information is analyzed to identify whether a child is in immediate danger of moderate or serious harm. Safety assessments also are conducted throughout the life of a case, including while in-home services are provided, when a child is in out-of-home care, preceding and during family visitation, and throughout the process of achieving permanency for the child.

Safety plan
A casework document developed when it is determined that a child is in imminent or potential risk of serious harm. In the safety plan, the caseworker targets the factors that are causing or contributing to the risk of imminent serious harm to the child and identifies, along with the family, the interventions that will control the safety factors and assure the child’s protection.

Secondary trauma
The stress or trauma symptoms that a professional may experience as a result of working with traumatized children and families. It is also called secondary traumatic stress or vicarious trauma.

Semi-open adoption (See open adoption/openness.)

SEN (substance-exposed newborn) (See prenatal substance exposure.)

Serious emotional disturbance
A term used to identify children and youth who persistently exhibit behaviors that indicate severe emotional and/or behavioral disorders. One who is classified as having a serious emotional disturbance is eligible for special health and special education services under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.

Service agreement
The casework document developed between the caseworker and the family that outlines the tasks necessary to achieve case goals and outcomes. A service agreement may also be known as a case plan.

Sexual abuse
According to the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), the employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit conduct or simulation of such conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct; or the rape, and in cases of caretaker or interfamilial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children.

SFY- State Fiscal Year ( July 1st – June 30th )

Shaken baby syndrome
The collection of signs and symptoms resulting from the violent shaking of an infant or small child. The consequences of less severe cases may not be brought to the attention of medical professionals and may never be diagnosed. In severe cases that usually result in death or severe neurological consequences, the child usually becomes immediately unconscious and suffers rapidly escalating, life-threatening central nervous system dysfunction.

Shared family care
A type of foster care in which both the birth parents and the host caregivers simultaneously care for the child and work toward reunification and independent care by the parents. The intent of shared family care is to maintain parent-child bonds, enable children to participate in their parents’ treatment, as appropriate, and provide an opportunity for staff to work closely with the parent on improving parenting skills.

Sibling abuse
The physical, emotional, or sexual maltreatment of a child by a brother or sister.

SIDS – Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

SIB – Self Injurious Behavior

SMHSA – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

SOC – System of Care

Social support
Formal and informal activities and relationships that provide for the needs of children and families in their efforts to live successfully in society. These needs include education, income security, health care, and, especially, a network of other individuals and groups who offer encouragement, access, empathy, role models, and social identity.

Special needs children
Children in foster care available for adoption or adopted from foster care who meet a State’s definition of “special needs.” There is no Federal definition of special needs, and the guidelines for classifying a child as special needs vary by State. The term is used in State law to indicate eligibility for Federal financial assistance, and most frequently refers to children who are school-aged, part of a sibling group, children of color, or those with special physical, emotional, or developmental needs. The phrase “special needs” can apply to almost any child or youth adopted from foster care. The preferred term is “children with special needs.”

SSI – Supplemental Social Security

State child welfare agency
State agencies that are mandated to respond to reports of child abuse and neglect and to intervene as needed to protect the child. Typically, they provide a range of child welfare services for children and families, including family preservation, child protection, out-of-home care, and adoption.

State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)
Title XXI of the Social Security Act, jointly financed by the Federal and State governments and administered by the States. This national program is designed for families who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, yet cannot afford to buy private health insurance. Within broad Federal guidelines, each State determines the design of its program, eligibility groups, benefit packages, payment levels for coverage, and administrative and operating procedures. The Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148) expanded eligibility for many low-income families. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)

Statewide Assessment
The first phase of the Federal Child and Family Services Review. The Statewide Assessment is conducted by a State child welfare agency in collaboration with the agency’s external partners or stakeholders and the Children’s Bureau Central and Regional Office staff. Through this assessment, States examine their capacity and performance in improving outcomes for children and families engaged in child welfare services.

Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS)
A comprehensive automated case management and data collection tool supporting child welfare case management practice and meeting the requirements of 45 CFR 1355.50 – 57, including data reporting to AFCARS, NCANDS, and NYTD.

A perspective that emphasizes an individual or family’s capabilities, support system, and motivation to meet challenges.

Structured decision-making
An approach to child protective services that uses clearly defined and consistently applied decision-making criteria in screening for investigation, determining response priority, identifying immediate threatened harm, and estimating the risk of future abuse and neglect.

Subsidized guardianship
A program to provide financial assistance and social services for relatives who take legal guardianship of children who can no longer live with their parents.

Substance abuse
A pattern of substance use that results in at least one of four consequences: (1) failure to fulfill role obligations, (2) placing oneself or others in danger (e.g., driving under the influence), (3) legal consequences, or (4) interpersonal/social problems.

Substance-exposed newborn (SEN) (See prenatal substance exposure.)

An investigation disposition concluding that the allegation of child maltreatment or risk of maltreatment was supported or founded by State law or State policy. A child protective services determination means that credible evidence exists that child abuse or neglect has occurred.

Sudden infant death syndrome
The unexplained death of a young child, most frequently occurring between the ages of 2 and 5 months, sometimes referred to as “crib death.” The cause is not yet well understood, but it has been hypothesized that some babies have no established adequate defense responses to respiratory problems and accidentally suffocate (due to bedding or sleep position).

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
A federally funded, needs-based disability program for adults and children that provides monthly cash benefits and, in most States, automatic Medicaid eligibility.

Supportive housing
Services that integrate community programs to provide shelter along with other critical resources, including mental health and substance abuse programs for families who lack adequate housing and may be experiencing other safety needs. (Adapted from Casey Family Programsexternal link.)

Surrender (See relinquishment.)

System of care
A process of partnering an array of service agencies and families that work together to provide individualized care and supports designed to help children and families achieve safety, stability, and permanency in their home and community. The term originated in the mental health field.

Systemic factors
The seven State and local child welfare agency systemic factors included in the Federal Child and Family Services Review that affect the achievement of positive outcomes by the children and families that agencies serve. These include (1) Statewide Information System, (2) Case Review System, (3) Quality Assurance System, (4) Staff and Provider Training, (5) Service Array and Resource Development, (6) Agency Responsiveness to the Community, and (7) Foster and Adoptive Home Licensing, Approval, and Recruitment.



Temporarily accredited agency (in intercountry adoption)
An agency that has been accredited on a temporary basis by an accrediting entity to provide adoption services in the United States in cases subject to the Convention.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
A program that provides assistance and work opportunities to needy families by granting States the Federal funds and wide flexibility to develop and implement their own welfare programs. The focus of the program is to help move recipients into work and to turn welfare into a program of temporary assistance.

Termination of parental rights (TPR)
Voluntary or involuntary legal severance of the rights of a parent to the care, custody, and control of a child and to any benefits that, by law, would flow to the parent from the child, such as inheritance.

TFCBT – Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Therapeutic foster care
Intensive care provided by foster parents who have received special training to care for a wide variety of children and adolescents, usually those with significant emotional, behavioral, or social problems or medical needs. Therapeutic foster parents typically receive additional supports and services.

TIC – Trauma informed care

TPR (See termination of parental rights.)

Transition, independent living, and self-sufficiency services
Those programs, services, and opportunities intended to support young people in out-of-home care to develop to their full potential; contribute to their schools, programs, and the community; and succeed in work, family, and community life as adults. Also see independent living program.

An event or situation in which a child’s fundamental needs for physical safety and emotional security are not met.

Treatment foster care (See therapeutic foster care.)

Tribe, Tribal
To view the procedures for establishing that an American Indian group exists as an Indian Tribe, see Title 25 of the Code of Federal Regulations.



Unaccompanied refugee minors (URMs)
Children who are separated from both parents and are not being cared for by an adult who, by law or custom, is responsible to do so, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In resettlement terms, URMs are children under age 18 who are resettled alone in the United States without a parent or relative able to care for them.

Unsubstantiated (not substantiated)
An investigation disposition that determines that there is not sufficient evidence under State law or policy to conclude that a child has been maltreated or is at risk of maltreatment. A child protective services determination means that credible evidence does not exist that child abuse or neglect has occurred.

U.S. authorized entity (in intercountry adoption)
An agency or person that is accredited or temporarily accredited or approved by an accrediting entity, or a supervised provider acting under the supervision and responsibility of an accredited agency or temporarily accredited agency or approved person.

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
Federal agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that must approve all intercountry adoptions. USCIS determines whether a particular child meets the definition of a Hague Convention-adopted person, conducts background and criminal checks on all household members, (including fingerprint checks of all household members aged 18 and older), approves the adoption home study, and issues a Certificate of Citizenship.



V-2 Children are placed in Department’s care. This is through a voluntary agreement between the birth parents and the department while the parent’s retain custody. This is not a common practice

V-9 Young adults between the ages of 18-21 are given the option to sign the V-9 which is agreement for DHHS to extend their care and services to the child while they continue their education or transition into independent adults.

An official authorization permitting entry into and travel within a particular country or region. When an orphan enters the United States with an immigrant visa, he/she is usually considered to be a lawful permanent resident of the United States, not a U.S. citizen, depending on the type of visa. Also see IR-3 Visaand IR-4 Visa.

Scheduled contact among a child in out-of-home care and his or her family members. The purpose of visitation is to maintain family attachments, reduce the sense of abandonment that children may experience during placement, and prepare for permanency.

Vital record
Official records usually maintained by States that document births, deaths, marriages, divorces, naturalization, and adoption.

Vluntary adoption registry (See reunion registry.)

VR – Vocational Rehabilitation



Waiting children
Children in the public child welfare system who cannot return to their birth homes and need permanent, loving families to help them grow up safely and securely. Preferred term is “child who waits for a family.”

Welfare reform
Various efforts to change the way social welfare programs are administered, funded, and used. A significant reform effort, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (P.L.104-193), replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF).

The result of meeting a child’s educational, emotional, and physical and mental health needs. Well-being is achieved when families have the capacity to provide for the needs of their children or when families are receiving the support and services needed to adequately meet the needs of their children.

Wellness means overall well-being. It includes the mental, emotional, physical, occupational, intellectual, and spiritual aspects of a person’s life. Incorporating aspects of the eight dimensions of wellness, such as choosing healthy foods, forming strong relationships, and exercising often, into everyday habits can help people live longer and improve quality of life. The Eight Dimensions of Wellness may also help people better manage their condition and experience recovery.

Those individuals who are employed in a given organization or industry. The child welfare workforce includes those employed in either the public or private sector to provide professional services to children and families who are engaged in child abuse prevention programs, child protective services, out-of-home care, adoption, or otherwise served by the child welfare system. While there is a diversity of skills and services provided by these professionals, the purpose of their work is focused on promoting the safety, permanency, and well-being of children, youth, and families.

The amount of work required to successfully manage a case and bring it to resolution. It is based on the responsibilities assigned to complete a specific task or set of tasks for which the caseworker is responsible.

Wraparound services
An arrangement of individualized, coordinated, family-driven care to meet complex needs of children and families who are involved with several child- and family-serving systems (such as mental health, child welfare, juvenile justice, and special education). The children may experience emotional, behavioral, or mental health difficulties and be at risk of placement in institutional settings. Wraparound services aim to emphasize the strengths of the child and family and to deliver coordinated, unconditional services to achieve positive outcomes.

Wrongful adoption
Lawsuits brought against agencies for intentionally misrepresenting, deliberately concealing, or negligently disclosing a child’s background information to adoptive parents.

A process that prepares young people to meet the challenges of adolescence and adulthood through a coordinated, progressive series of activities and experiences that help them to become socially, morally, emotionally, physically, and cognitively competent. Positive youth development addresses the broader developmental needs of youth, in contrast to deficit-based models that focus solely on youth problems.


YDC – Youth Development Center

Y.L.A.T (Youth Leadership Advisory Team)

Youth involvement/engagement
A component of family-centered practice that centers on recognizing youth as experts in determining what is best for themselves and engaging youth in the development of policy, program, and service design and in decision-making, implementation, and evaluation.

Youth leadership
The ability of a youth to guide or direct others on a course of action, influence the opinion and behavior of other people, and show the way by going in advance. It also includes the ability to analyze one’s own strengths and weaknesses, set personal and vocational goals, and have the self-esteem to carry them out and to establish support networks to participate in community life and to effect positive social change.

Youth permanency
The opportunity for a continuous, lifetime relationship with a nurturing parent, caregiver, or other adult. Includes unconditional commitment by a caring adult, lifelong support, involvement of the youth as a participant, a legal arrangement, where possible, and the opportunity to maintain contacts with important people, including birth family members and siblings.