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 social and political construction—with no inherent genetic or biological basis—used by social institutions to arbitrarily categorize and divide groups of individuals based on physical appearance (particularly skin color), ancestry, cultural history, and ethnic classification. (Center for the Study of Social Policy)
The fear of being judged, based on an individual’s race, when interacting with people of other races. People of color fear being the victim of discriminatory behavior and violence, while White people fear assumptions of being racist. (Center for the Study of Social Policy)
An unequal outcome one racial group experiences as compared to the outcome for another racial group. (Center for the Study of Social Policy)
The difference between the percentage of children of a certain racial or ethnic group in the country and the percentage of children of the same group in the child welfare system. (See overrepresentation.)
A process by which race is no longer a predictor of life trajectories, leading to more just outcomes in policies, practices, attitudes, and cultural messages. (Adapted from the Center for the Study of Social Policy.)
The proactive process of reinforcing and establishing a set of policies, practices, attitudes, and actions that produce equitable power, access, opportunities, treatment, impacts, and outcomes for all individuals and groups impacted by racism. The goal, however, is not only the eradication of racism, but also the presence of deliberate social systems and structures that sustain racial equity through proactive and preventative measures. (Center for the Study of Social Policy)
The slights, indignities, insults, put downs, and invalidations that people of color experience in their day-to-day interactions with others. (Center for the Study of Social Policy)
The systematic discrimination directed against minorities or marginalized groups. Racism differs from prejudice, hatred, or episodic discrimination because it requires one racial group to have systematic power and superiority over other groups in society. (Adapted from the Center for the Study of Social Policy.)
Efforts made by State social services agencies to provide the assistance and services needed to preserve and reunify families.
recurrence of child abuse and neglect
A substantiated report of child abuse or neglect following a prior substantiation that involved the same child victim or family.
Defined under United States law, an individual who is located outside of the United States; is of special humanitarian concern to the United States; demonstrates that he or she was persecuted or fear persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group; is not firmly resettled in another country; and is admissible to the United States. (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services)
The achievement of a loving, lasting, and supportive relationship that is essential for successful navigation of adulthood. Research indicates that relational permanency builds on experiences of healthy relationships in foster care. A sense of agency, support, and emotional connection are all found to be factors that promote relational permanency, regardless of whether youth attained legal permanency. (Adapted from Children’s Youth Services Review)
relative adoption (See kinship adoption.)
relative care (See kinship foster care.)
Voluntary termination or release of all parental rights and duties that legally frees a child to be adopted. This is sometimes referred to as making an adoption plan for one's child.
Services that are provided within a residential treatment setting to support children, youth, or adults that struggle with psychological, behavioral, and/or substance use issues and require supportive services or treatment that are not available in a less secure or less restrictive environment. Time-limited services may include around-the-clock supervision and a variety of counseling, education, and therapy.
residential treatment center (RTC)
A time-limited, interdisciplinary, and therapeutic structured program with community linkages, provided through coordinated and specialized services and interventions. RTCs provide highly customized care to individuals following a community-based placement or more intensive intervention, with the aim of moving individuals toward a stable, less intensive level of care or independence. (Office of Refugee Resettlement) (See residential treatment facility.)
residential treatment facility
Structured, 24-hour facility that provides a range of therapeutic, educational, recreational, and support services for children by a professional, interdisciplinary team.
The process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress. (Adapted from the American Psychological Association)
A term generally applied a licensed foster, kinship, or adoptive caregiver who provides out-of-home care for a youth in the child welfare system.
respite care services
Short-term child care services intended for parents and other caregivers that offer temporary relief, improve family stability, and reduce the risk of abuse or neglect. Respite can be planned or offered during emergencies or times of crisis.
The time from the child protection agency’s receipt of a referral to the initial face-to-face contact with the alleged victim, when appropriate, or with another person who can provide information on the allegation(s). (Children’s Bureau)
reunification (See family reunification.)
reunion (in adoption)
The ultimate goal of many adoption searches, culminating in contact between a birth parent/relative and an adopted person. Reunion can be emotional for both birth parent and adopted adult and preparation is essential to think through expectations and potential outcomes specific to each situation. Although not all searches will result in a reunion, many adopted people and birth parents have been able to build meaningful relationships with their newfound relatives. (See search.)
A tool that allows adopted persons and birth parents who do not know each other's identity to register the fact that they are searching for each other. If both parties' names are on the same registry, a "match" is made, and the organization can inform the parties, including helping to arrange a meeting. Most registries are passive, which means both parties must have independently registered in order for a match to be made. The organization will not search for the missing party. By contrast, an active registry will actively search for birth relatives and usually require a fee. Both types of registries are operated by private and State organizations. An "access veto" may be filed by one party to the adoption to veto contact and/or the release of identifying information to those searching. (See search)
An opportunity to evaluate the progress that has been made toward completing the case plan and any court orders and to revise the plan as needed. (Children's Bureau)
In child welfare, the likelihood that a child will be maltreated in the future.
Measures the likelihood that a child will be maltreated in the future, using checklists, matrices, scales, and other methods of measurement.
In child welfare, conditions, events, or circumstances that increase a family’s chances for poor outcomes, including child abuse and neglect.