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 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.
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.
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. (Adapted from the U.S. Department of State)
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 the National Resource Center for Permanency and Family Connections.)
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.
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)
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. (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 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.
Sometimes referred to as child abuse and neglect, includes all forms of physical and emotional maltreatment, sexual abuse, neglect, and exploitation that results in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, development, or dignity. Within this broad definition, five subtypes can be distinguished – physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and negligent treatment, emotional abuse, and exploitation. (World Health Organization)
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.
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.
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.)
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)
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 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.
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)
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)
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 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 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)
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 Systems.)
The act of inflicting physical pain for the purpose of punishment in an effort to discipline a child.
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.)
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 America.)
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 using electronic technology. Examples of cyberbullying include mean text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles. (Bullying.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.