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 or in products and materials developed by external entities (e.g., Federal or State Agencies or other reliable organizations). When noted, Information Gateway is cited as the source. The Glossary also provides 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.
An investigation of prospective kinship caregivers, 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.
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. (U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
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.
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."
The child’s biological mother or father. Sometimes called a birth mother or birth father.
An infant under the age of 12 months who is left at 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 ChildTrauma Academy (PDF - 860 KB))
Unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. (Bullying.gov)
burnout (See secondary traumatic stress.)