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 has specialized knowledge and technical training and performs under the supervision of a trained and/or certified professional. (Adapted from National Association of Social Workers)
A legal term referring to the State's power to act for or on behalf of children who cannot act on their own behalf, in their best interest. (Adapted from Cornell University Law School Legal information Institution)
A forum for holding structured conversations—either online or in person—about protective factors led by parents who relate the information to their own lives. The process of organizing and leading the cafés has resulted in a unit of committed parent leaders at the State and national levels. (Adapted from Strengthening Families Illinois.)
parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT)
A family-centered treatment approach proven effective for abused and at-risk children ages 2 to 12 and their biological or foster caregivers. A key activity is the therapist's role in coaching the parent to interact more positively with the child.
Community-based services that support parents in their roles as caregivers. The goal of parent education is to promote parental competency and strengthen family life to prevent child abuse and neglect and to enhance healthy child and family development.
A strength-based approach to family support that is founded on the belief that parents are knowledgeable about their families and communities and can provide valuable insight into programmatic and community changes to benefit children and families. (Adapted from FRIENDS National Resource Center for Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention)
Describes the legal relationship between the parent and the child. This legal relationship includes the parent's responsibility to financially support the child, the parent's right to custody, to visit with the child, to make educational, religious, or medical decisions for the child. (Adapted from New York State Courts)
The legal and/or biological relationship between a father and his child.
The legal procedure to determine if a man is the biological father of a particular child and to establish his rights and responsibilities in regard to that child.
A measure of how well services are delivered by an agency or program. Performance measures address issues such as the degree to which services are timely, cost-effective, or in compliance with standards. Unlike an indicator, which measures progress toward a broad outcome, a performance measure gauges how well a program is run. Examples include percentage of child abuse investigations completed within 24 hours of a report or the amount of child support collected for each dollar spent on child support enforcement. (Promising Practices Network)
A legally permanent, nurturing family for every child and youth. As defined in the Child and Family Services Reviews, a child in foster care is determined to have achieved permanency when any of the following occurs: (1) The child is discharged from foster care to reunification with his or her family, either a parent or other relative; (2) the child is discharged from foster care to a legally finalized adoption; or (3) the child is discharged from foster care to the care of a legal guardian.
A tool used to create a formalized, facilitated process to connect youth in foster care with a supportive adult. A permanency pact or pledge provides structure and a safety net for youth. It involves a defined and verbalized commitment by both parties to a long-term supportive relationship and provides clarity regarding expectations of the relationship. A permanency pact can be helpful particularly for youth who are preparing to transition out of foster care to life on their own. (Adapted from the FosterClub.)
In child welfare work, permanency planning is a systematic effort to provide long-term continuity in a dependent child's care, as an alternative to temporary foster placements. This might be done by facilitating adoption, by establishing clear guidelines for remaining in foster care or by helping the child's family become capable of meeting the child's needs. (Adapted from Office of Children & Families in the Courts)
The person who has been determined to have caused or knowingly allowed the maltreatment of a child. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
A child-specific recruitment strategy used by agencies and adoption organizations aiming to present children available for adoption to prospective adoptive parents. Photolistings commonly contain pictures of the child, descriptions, and information regarding how adoptive families can learn more about the child. (Adapted from AdoptUSKids)
Generally defined as "any nonaccidental physical injury to the child" and can include striking, kicking, burning, or biting the child, or any action that results in a physical impairment of the child. In approximately 38 States and certain territories, the definition of abuse also includes acts or circumstances that threaten the child with harm or create a substantial risk of harm to the child's health or welfare.
Failure to provide for a child's basic survival needs, such as nutrition, clothing, shelter, hygiene, and medical care. Physical neglect may also involve inadequate supervision of a child and other forms of reckless disregard of the child's safety and welfare.
PIP (See Program Improvement Plan.)
Ensuring that children remain in stable out-of-home care, avoiding disruption, removal, and repeated placements that have harmful effects on child development and well-being. In the Federal Child and Family Services Reviews, placement stability is one of the four composites used as the basis for national standards for Permanency Outcome 1: Children have permanency and stability in their living situations.
postadoption reporting (in intercountry adoption)
A requirement to submit information about a child's welfare after adoption. After a child has been adopted, some countries of origin have postadoption reporting requirements. Adoption service providers must comply with the State laws of the jurisdiction where the adoptive parent lives regarding the number of postadoption home visits that are required as well. The adoption service provider includes a requirement for such reports in the adoption services contract. (U.S. Department of State)
Services provided to an adopted child, the adoptive family, and/or the birth parents after an adoptive placement is finalized. In intercountry adoption, postadoption is a period of time after an adoption in a Convention country and is followed by a readoption in the United States.
A child adopted from an institutional, hospital, or orphanage setting. The term arises when describing an array of emotional and psychological disturbances, developmental delays, learning disabilities, and/or medical problems in children resulting from their stay in institutions. These may include difficulties with feeding, sleeping, and speech, as well as difficulties in forming healthy attachments.
Services provided to birth families, kinship families, and adoptive families to support child safety, permanency, and well-being after the child has achieved his or her permanency goal. Services may include educational and informational services, clinical and treatment services, material services such as financial support, and support networks. (Adapted from the Children's Bureau)
The period of time before an adoption is finalized, but after a grant of legal custody, or guardianship of the child to the prospective adoptive parents, or to a custodian for the purpose of adoption. (U.S. Department of State)
The range of counseling and agency services provided to adoptive parents and adopted children after adoptive placement, before the adoption is legally finalized in court. The primary purpose of postplacement supervision is to ensure, as much as possible, that the child is safe in the home, that his or her well-being needs are met, and that the adoptive family remains committed to and is able to provide a permanent home for the child.
posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
A mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event. PTSD is characterized by pervasive feelings of distress after the event. PTSD is diagnosed if the duration of symptoms is longer than a few months, or if symptoms are significantly disrupting daily life. (Adapted from U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs)
A conceptual map and articulated organizational ideology of how agency employees, families, and stakeholders partner in an environment that focuses on the safety, permanency, and well-being of children and their families. A practice model contains definitions and explanations regarding how the agency as a whole will work internally as well as how it will partner with families, service providers, and other stakeholders in child welfare services. The model guides the daily interactions of employees, families, stakeholders, and community members connected to their work with the child welfare agency in conjunction with the standards of practice to achieve defined outcomes. (Adapted from National Child Welfare Resource Center for Organizational Improvement)
prenatal substance exposure
Fetal exposure to maternal drug and alcohol use that can significantly increase the risk for developmental and neurological disabilities in the child. The effects can cause severe neurological damage and growth retardation in the substance-exposed newborn. Also see alcohol-related birth defects and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. (Adapted from National Institute on Drug Abuse)
prevention of child abuse and neglect
Prevention services aimed at supporting and strengthening families in order to prevent child abuse and neglect from occurring. Prevention typically consists of methods or activities that seek to reduce or deter specific or predictable problems, protect the current state of well-being, or promote desired outcomes or behaviors.
primary provider (in intercountry adoption)
Any accredited agency, temporarily accredited agency, or approved person that is identified as responsible for ensuring that all six adoption services are provided. Also see adoption services (in intercountry adoption). (U.S. Department of State)
The increasing reliance upon market forces, competition, and the private sector to provide services formerly provided by public or governmental agencies. Privatization may involve performance contracting with private agencies for services that involve a payment structure for contracted agencies based on the achievement of set outcomes. Under these purchase-of-service contracts, the role of the public social worker often becomes one of referral of individual cases and monitoring of service contracts. Also see purchase-of-service agreement.
Program Improvement Plan (PIP)
The plan that States are required to submit to the Federal Government if found out of conformity on any of the seven outcomes or seven systemic factors subject to review in the Federal Child and Family Services Reviews. (Adapted from the Children's Bureau)
Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF) program
(See Major Federal Legislation Concerned With Child Protection, Child Welfare, and Adoption.) Services provided and funded under the Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF) legislature. Goals of PSSF are to prevent the unnecessary separation of children from their families, improve the quality of care and services to children and their families, and ensure permanency for children by reuniting them with their parents, by adoption or by another permanent living arrangement. States are to spend most of the funding for services that address: family support, family preservation, time-limited family reunification, and adoption promotion and support. (Adapted from Children's Bureau)
A form of custody required to remove a child from his or her home and place in out-of-home care. Law enforcement may place a child in protective custody based on an independent determination that the child's health, safety, and welfare is jeopardized. A child can also be placed in protective custody via court order.
A characteristic at the biological, psychological, family, or community (including peers and culture) level that is associated with a lower likelihood of problem outcomes or that reduces the negative impact of a risk factor on problem outcomes. Protective/promotive factors include nurturing and attachment, parental resilience, knowledge of parenting, opportunities for engagement within school and the community, and individual coping skills. (Adapted from Youth.gov)
A pattern of caregiver behaviors that negatively affect the child's cognitive, social, emotional, and/or physical development. These include acts of omission (ignoring need for social interactions) or commission (spurning, terrorizing). They may be verbal or nonverbal, active or passive, and with or without intent to harm. (Adapted from American Academy of Pediatrics)
A person who, on a continuing day-to-day basis, through interaction, companionship, interplay, and mutuality, fulfills a child's psychological and physical needs for a parent and provides for the child's emotional and financial support. Certain States have adapted legislature such that those deemed psychological parents can have parental rights in court. (Supreme Courts of Appeal of West Virginia)
Fiscal arrangement or contract between two or more organizations by which one organization agrees in advance to pay a specified amount to the other for providing a predetermined number of services within a specified period. Such agreements are often between government entities as the purchaser and social agencies as providers. Also see privatization.
Legal term for a man who is not married to the child's mother and who is alleged or claims to be the biological father of a child.
putative father registry
Registry system that serves to ensure that birth fathers' rights are protected. Some States require that birth fathers register, while other States presume that the father does not wish to pursue paternity rights if he does not initiate any legal action.