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.
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.)
The process of ending the involvement between the child protective services caseworker and the family, which often involves a mutual assessment of progress and outcome achievement. Optimally, cases are closed when families have achieved their goals and the risk of maltreatment has been sufficiently reduced or mitigated.
A process that includes the coordination, provision, and monitoring of services tailored to best address clients' strengths and needs. Ongoing case management requires frequent, planned contact with the family to assess progress toward goals.
A living document that describes the outcomes, goals, and tasks concerning a child’s care while in placement. These goals include ensuring that the child receives safe and proper care while in state custody and that appropriate services are provided to the parents and foster parents, as well as determining goals/objectives families must meet in order to create a safe, permanent home for the child. Progress is monitored by the case worker and may affect court proceedings.
The number of cases (children or families) assigned to an individual worker in a specific time period. It reflects the ratio of cases (or clients) to staff members and may be measured for an individual worker, all workers assigned to a certain type of case, or all workers in a specified area (e.g., agency or region).
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.
central authority (in intercountry adoption)
The authoritative source of information and point of contact in countries that are party to the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. The Department of State is the U.S. central authority for the Convention. (U.S. Department of State.)
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)
An identity document proving U.S. citizenship. Certificates of Citizenship are issued to derivative citizens and to persons who acquire U.S. citizenship. Certificates of Citizenship and Naturalization both serve as proof of U.S. citizenship, but the eligibility requirements differ. For example, a 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 trafficking, 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. (Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act)
child abuse pediatrician
Doctors with special training, experience, and skills in evaluating children who may be victims of some type of abuse or neglect. (American Academy of Pediatrics)
Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA)
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 CFSRs is to achieve three goals: ensure conformity with Federal child welfare requirements, determine what is happening to children and families engaged in child welfare services, and assist States in helping children and families achieve positive outcomes. The reviews also measure State performance on seven systemic factors, including the effectiveness of (1) the statewide child welfare information system; (2) the case review system; (3) the quality assurance system; (4) staff and provider training; (5) service array and resource development; (6) an agency’s responsiveness to the community; and (7) foster and adoptive parent licensing, recruitment, and retention. (Children's Bureau)
child custody (in child welfare)
A court's determination of which parent, relative, or other adult should have physical and/or legal control and responsibility for a child who is younger than age 18. Child custody can be decided by a local court if a child, relative, close friend, or state agency questions whether the parents are unfit, absent, dead, incarcerated, or dangerous to the child's well-being. In such cases, custody can be awarded to a grandparent or other relative, a foster parent, a state agency, or other organization or institution. There is a difference between physical custody, which designates where the child will actually live, and legal custody, which gives the custodial person(s) the right to make decisions for the child's welfare. Whoever has legal custody can enroll the child in school, give permission for medical care, and give other legal consents. (Adapted from The People's Law Dictionary.)
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 labor trafficking
The act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, obtaining a child for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purposes of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. Child trafficking is a crime under federal, international, and state law.
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 sex trafficking
The act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, obtaining, patronizing, soliciting, or maintaining a child (under 18 years of age) for commercial sex, including prostitution and the production of child pornography. (Adapted from U.S. Department of State.)
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 designed to protect children, strengthen families to care for their children, and promote permanency when children cannot remain with or return to their families. Services should be family centered, strengths based, and respectful of the family's culture, values, beliefs, and needs.
The assumption of adult-like traits and responsibilities, which often occurs within a family, such as providing extensive caregiving to parents or younger siblings and/or premature self-sufficiency. (National Institutes of Health)
children and families of color
Children and families (or people) of color is a collective term referring to non-White racial and ethnic groups, such as populations with African, Asian, and Pacific Islander, Hispanic and Latino, and/or American Indian/Alaska Native backgrounds. (Capacity Building Center for States)
chronic environmental stress
A constant background level of threat based in the environmental physical and social structure. It includes racism and economic inequality, but also heightened danger and the intrusion of social problems into everyday life. (Center for the Study of Social Policy)
citizen review panel
A board 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.
An adoption that involves total confidentiality and sealed records.
The process by which the coach creates structured, focused interaction and uses appropriate strategies, tools, and techniques to promote desirable and sustainable change for the benefit of the learner, in turn aiming to make a positive impact on the organization. (California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare)
A community-based organization or public or private nonprofit (including a church or religious entity) that is representative of a community or a significant segment of a community and is engaged in meeting human, educational, environmental, or public safety community needs. (Cornell Law School 42 U.S. Code § 12511 Definitions)
A state of deep physical and emotional exhaustion experienced by helping professionals, including child protective services (CPS) caseworkers. (Adapted from Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, Children’s Bureau.)
The sense of fulfillment from helping others; higher compassion satisfaction may mitigate compassion fatigue and burnout. (Adapted from Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, Children’s Bureau.)
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.
Training intended to ensure that staff have the ability to carry out work responsibilities 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, creating job-related training content, developing and certifying competent trainers, and ensuring transfer of learning through supervision and follow-up training, as needed.
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. Department of State.)
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.
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.
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.
A placement setting of group home (a licensed or approved home providing 24-hour care in a small group setting of 7 to 12 children) or institution (a licensed or approved child care facility operated by a public or private agency and providing 24-hour care and/or treatment typically for 12 or more children who require separation from their own homes or a group living experience). These settings may include child care institutions, residential treatment facilities, or maternity homes. (Children's Bureau)
A judge's order that is based upon an agreement, almost always put in writing, between the parties to a lawsuit instead of continuing the case through a trial or hearing. It cannot be appealed unless it was based upon fraud by one of the parties (he or she lied about the situation), mutual mistake (both parties misunderstood the situation), or if the court does not have jurisdiction over the case or the parties. Such a decree is otherwise almost always final and nonappealable since the parties have negotiated the terms. (Adapted from The People's Law Dictionary.)
An enhanced form of communication that emphasizes trust, respect, and shared responsibility. It is an open and free exchange of information and opinion among parties, which leads to mutual understanding and comprehension. Consultation is integral to a deliberative process, which results in effective collaboration and informed decision-making with the goal of reaching consensus on issues. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Tribal Advisory Committee)
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 (Adapted from Children's Bureau.)
continuum (in child welfare)
An uninterrupted sequence of services and supports provided to the child or youth and his/her family across the child welfare spectrum from child abuse prevention to permanency.
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 when a child who is a resident of a Convention country is adopted by a U.S. citizen. A Convention adoption also occurs when a child who 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. Department of State) (See exempted provider [in intercountry adoption].)
convention country (in intercountry adoption)
One of the 81 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.)
coparenting (See shared parenting)
The act of inflicting physical pain for the purpose of punishment in an effort to discipline a child.
country of origin (in intercountry adoption)
The country in which a child is a legal resident and will be emigrating from in conjunction with an adoption case. (U.S. Department of State)
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.)
The process by which individuals and systems respond respectfully and effectively to people of all cultures, languages, classes, races, ethnic backgrounds, religions, spiritual traditions, immigration status, and other diversity factors in a manner that recognizes, affirms, and values the worth of individuals, families, and communities and protects and preserves the dignity of each. (National Association of Social Workers)
The ability to maintain an interpersonal stance that is other oriented (or open to the other) in relation to aspects of cultural identity that are most important to the person. (American Psychological Association)
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.
Bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets. Cyberbullying can occur through SMS, Text, and apps, or online in social media, forums, or gaming where people can view, participate in, or share content. Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation. Some cyberbullying crosses the line into unlawful or criminal behavior. (Adapted from StopBullying.gov.)
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.