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.
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.
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.
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 Law)
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 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)
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 reunification packet (FRP)
An application and supporting documentation completed by potential sponsors who wish to have an unaccompanied child released from the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to the sponsor's care. ORR uses the FRP, as well as other procedures, to determine the sponsor's ability to provide for the unaccompanied child's physical and mental well-being. (Office of Refugee Resettlement)
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 Violence Prevention and Services Act (Family & Youth Services Bureau)
family visiting (visitation)
A key factor in promoting family bonding and setting the stage for successful reunification after a child has been placed in out-of-home care. Although in-person contact is the preferred method for family time, in extreme cases, when in-person contact is not appropriate or safe, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic. Virtual family time, established through video or streaming services, may offer a safe alternative that allows parents and children to strengthen or maintain their relationship when they are separated.
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.)
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.
A lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
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.)
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.
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 Services)
Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 (see Major Federal Legislation Concerned with Child, Protection, Child Welfare, and Adoption)
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.
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.