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.
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 tool used to engage parents directly in building protective factors for themselves and their families. It facilitates structured, small-group conversations that bring parents together to discuss issues that are important to them. (Adapted from Children’s Bureau)
A new strengths-based model to help parents with disabilities plan for parenting. This model is an adaptation of person-centered planning, which is common in the field of disability services. This model helps parents set realistic long-term parenting goals and enlists informal and formal supporters to assist parents in making concrete steps toward achieving these goals. (Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare)
parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT)
A dyadic behavioral intervention for children (ages 2–7 years) and their parents or caregivers that focuses on decreasing externalizing child behavior problems (e.g., defiance, aggression), increasing child social skills and cooperation, and improving the parent-child attachment relationship. It teaches parents traditional play-therapy skills to use as social reinforcers of positive child behavior and traditional behavior management skills to decrease negative child behavior. (California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse)
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)
A parent who has already experienced involvement with the child welfare system and can offer support, guidance, and information to families who have come to the attention of child protective services. Parent partners with lived experience can teach other parents and caregivers how to effectively self-advocate and share insights and tips to help them navigate the child welfare system.
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)
A group of organizations with a common interest that agree to work together toward a common goal. (University of North Carolina at Greensboro Center for Social Community and Health Research)
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.
people of color
A collective term for individuals of Asian and Pacific Islander, African, Hispanic and Latino, and American Indian/Alaska Native backgrounds who have the common experience of being targeted and oppressed by racism. While each oppressed group is affected by racism differently and maintains its own unique identity and culture, there is also the recognition that racism has the potential to unite oppressed people in a collective of resistance. For this reason, many individuals who identify as members of racially oppressed groups also claim the identity of being people of color. This in no way diminishes their specific cultural or racial identity; rather it is an affirmation of the multiple layers of identity of every individual. (National Association of Counties)
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)
The outcome goal in foster care based on the realization of a legal, permanent family relationship 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 live on their own. (Adapted from FosterClub.)
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, establishing clear guidelines for remaining in foster care, or helping the child's family become capable of meeting the child's needs. (Adapted from the Office of Children & Families in the Courts)
Term previously used to define the individual who has been determined to have caused or knowingly allowed the maltreatment of a child. However, a more strength-based approach to defining this population is “person who engages in violence.”
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.)
A key desired outcome designed to ensure 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.
positive youth development
A strengths-based approach to working with youth that focuses on preparing them to meet the challenges of adolescence and adulthood through a coordinated, progressive series of activities and experiences that help them to become socially, morally, emotionally, physically, and cognitively competent.
Also known as follow-up services, these services are provided to an unaccompanied child based on the child's needs after leaving the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Post-release service providers coordinate referrals to supportive services in the community where the unaccompanied child resides and provides other child welfare services, as needed. Post-release services can occur in combination with a home study or independently. They are available until the minor turns 18 years of age. Participation by the sponsor and child in post-release services is voluntary. (Office of Refugee Resettlement)
post-release service provider
An agency funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to connect the sponsor and unaccompanied child to community resources and other child welfare services, as needed, following the release of the unaccompanied child from ORR custody. (Office of Refugee Resettlement)
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. Additionally, 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. 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.
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 disorder that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening or other traumatic 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.
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
A comprehensive and integrated approach aimed at supporting and strengthening families 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. (See adoption services in intercountry adoption.) (U.S. Department of State)
The contracting out of the case management function in child welfare, which results in contractors making the day-to-day decisions regarding a child and family’s case. Typically, such decisions are subject to public agency and court review and approval, either at periodic intervals or at key points during the case. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation)
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). A program 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)
Positive individual and external components (e.g., resilience, social connections) shown to enhance youth well-being and healthy development, regardless of risk. Promotive factors make positive outcomes more likely across the board, regardless of risk. Protective factors make positive outcomes more likely in the face of risk.
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.
Conditions or attributes of individuals, families, communities, or the larger society that reduce risk and promote healthy development and well-being of children and families and/or appear to mitigate vulnerability to or negative effects from maltreatment.
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 fulfills a child's psychological and physical needs for a parent and provides for the child's emotional and financial support on a continuing day-to-day basis through interaction, companionship, interplay, and mutuality. Certain States have legislation stating that those deemed psychological parents can have parental rights in court. (Adapted from Supreme Courts of Appeal of West Virginia.)
Any medication capable of affecting a person's mind, emotions, moods, and behaviors. (Children's Bureau)
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.