Many child welfare terms are subject to interpretation. The Glossary identifies commonly held definitions for terms that can be found on the Child Welfare Information Gateway website. It defines common acronyms and includes links to information on major Federal legislation and related child welfare terms. The Glossary will be updated as new terminology emerges in the field, as new legislation is enacted, and as child welfare terms take on new meaning.
For additional information on glossary terms, please see our index Search A-Z.
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.)
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 of time.
abuse and neglect (See child abuse and neglect.)
abusive head trauma (AHT)
A preventable and severe form of physical child abuse, including shaken baby syndrome, which results in an injury to the brain of an infant or child. AHT is most common in children under age five, with children under one year of age at most risk. It is caused by violent shaking and/or with blunt impact. The resulting injury can cause bleeding around the brain or on the inside back layer of the eyes. (Center for Disease Control)
The acknowledgment and verification that an organization fulfills explicit, specified standards. For example, public and private child and family service agencies may apply for accreditation 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 Workers.)
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)
Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 (See Major Federal Legislation Concerned with Child Protection, Child Welfare, and Adoption.)
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. Also referred to as a fact-finding hearing. (See Child Welfare and the Courts)
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.)
Status review of children in foster care that is required every 6 months by the Adoption and Safe Families Act.
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.
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.)
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.)
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.
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.
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.
A service that helps agencies match waiting children with prospective adoptive parents by maintaining a list of children waiting for adoption and adoptive parents who have been approved as potential placements for these children. (Adapted from AdoptUsKids)
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.
A written instrument by which a person invokes the jurisdiction of the court to establish the legal relationship of parent and child between adoptive parents and a child who is not related by birth. (Adapted from Ballentine's Law Dictionary)
The action of placing a child with prospective adoptive parents, which often occurs before the legal finalization of the adoption. (Adapted from Adoption USA: A Chartbook Based on the 2007 National Survey of Adoptive Parents)
A course of action developed with the intent to achieve permanency for a child through adoption. It generally refers to a birth parent's decision to arrange for the placement of his/her biological child in a prospective adoptive home with the assistance of an adoption professional. An adoption plan may be formalized in a written agreement, but it is flexible and can be adjusted to meet a birth parent's needs and changing preferences, such as choosing the adoptive family, the degree of openness in the arrangement, and the type of postadoption contact desired. (Adapted from Open Adoption)
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. (Adapted from US Department of State)
Legal withdrawal of an agreement to adoption by the birth parents. Circumstances and time limits for revocation are established by States.
adoption services (in domestic adoption)
A range of services provided by adoption agencies in support of adoptive families, which include orientation and training sessions, family homestudy, adoption matching, placement and postplacement supervision and postadoption counseling. (See Adoption Options: Where Do I Start?)
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
Tax benefits that include both a tax credit for qualified adoption expenses paid to adopt an eligible child and an exclusion from income for employer-provided adoption assistance. The credit is nonrefundable, which means it is limited to an individual's tax liability for the year. (Adapted from the Internal Revenue Services)
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.)
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."
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.
adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)
Stressful or traumatic events, including abuse and neglect. They may also include household dysfunction such as witnessing domestic violence or growing up with family members who have substance use disorders. ACEs are strongly related to the development and prevalence of a wide range of health problems throughout a person’s lifespan, including those associated with substance misuse. (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
AFCARS (See Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System.)
AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome)The most severe phase of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection occurring when an immune system is badly damaged and becomes vulnerable to opportunistic infections. (Adapted from AIDS.gov)
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.
alternatives for families - 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. (See Alternatives for Families: A Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (AF-CBT))
another planned permanent living arrangement (APPLA) (See other planned permanent living arrangement (OPPLA).)
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)
ASFA (See Adoption and Safe Families Act.)
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.
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.
The process of certifying documents for use by foreign governments (e.g., home studies for intercountry adoptions).