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.
SACWIS (See Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System.)
When applied to legislation, refers to the policy in which a parent can relinquish a child, usually a newborn, to lawfully designated places such as a hospital. When a child is surrendered in this way, the parent is protected from criminal prosecution. The legislation is not without controversy, and the scope and specifications of the rule vary widely across the States. "Safe haven" laws are in effect in all 50 U.S. States.
Absence of an imminent or immediate threat of moderate-to-serious harm to the child. (Children's Bureau)
A part of the child protective services case process in which available information is analyzed to identify whether a child is in immediate danger of moderate or serious harm. Safety assessments also are conducted throughout the life of a case, including while in-home services are provided, when a child is in out-of-home care, preceding and during family visitation, and throughout the process of achieving permanency for the child. (Children's Bureau)
A casework document developed when it is determined that a child is in imminent or potential risk of serious harm. In the safety plan, the caseworker targets the factors that are causing or contributing to the risk of imminent serious harm to the child and identifies, along with the family, the interventions that will control the safety factors and assure the child's protection. (Children's Bureau)
Activities by a birth parent, adopted person, or adoptive parent to learn the identity and location of another member of the adoption triad, often with the intent of initiating some form of contact. Also see reunion and reunion registry.
secondary traumatic stress
The emotional duress that results when a professional working with children and families hears about their firsthand trauma experiences. Its symptoms mimic those of posttraumatic stress disorder. (Adapted from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.)
semi-open adoption (See open adoption/openness.)
SEN (substance-exposed newborn) (See prenatal substance exposure.)
serious emotional disturbance
A term used to identify children and youth who persistently exhibit behaviors that indicate severe emotional and/or behavioral disorders. One who is classified as having a serious emotional disturbance is eligible for special health and special education services under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. (Adapted from the U.S. Department of Education)
The casework document developed between the caseworker and the family that outlines the tasks necessary to achieve case goals and outcomes. A service agreement may also be known as a case plan. (Children's Bureau)
The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age. (Human Trafficking Hotline)
According to the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), the employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit conduct or simulation of such conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct; or the rape, and in cases of caretaker or interfamilial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children.
shaken baby syndrome
The collection of signs and symptoms resulting from the violent shaking of an infant or small child. The consequences of less severe cases may not be brought to the attention of medical professionals and may never be diagnosed. In severe cases that usually result in death or severe neurological consequences, the child usually becomes immediately unconscious and suffers rapidly escalating, life-threatening central nervous system dysfunction. (Adapted from National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome)
shared family care
A type of foster care in which both the birth parents and the host caregivers simultaneously care for the child and work toward reunification and independent care by the parents. The intent of shared family care is to maintain parent-child bonds, enable children to participate in their parents' treatment, as appropriate, and provide an opportunity for staff to work closely with the parent on improving parenting skills.
The physical, emotional, or sexual maltreatment of a child by a brother or sister. (Adapted from University of Michigan Health System)
Formal and informal activities and relationships that provide for the needs of children and families in their efforts to live successfully in society. These needs include education, income security, health care, and, especially, a network of other individuals and groups who offer encouragement, access, empathy, role models, and social identity. (Adapted from Indiana University of Pennsylvania)
special needs children
Children in foster care available for adoption or adopted from foster care who meet a State's definition of "special needs." There is no Federal definition of special needs, and the guidelines for classifying a child as special needs vary by State. The term is used in State law to indicate eligibility for Federal financial assistance, and most frequently refer to children who are school-aged; part of a sibling group; children of color; or those with specific physical, emotional, or developmental needs. The phrase "special needs" can apply to almost any child or youth adopted from foster care. The preferred term is "children with special needs."
State child welfare agency
State agencies that are mandated to respond to reports of child abuse and neglect and to intervene as needed to protect the child. Typically, they provide a range of child welfare services for children and families, including family preservation, child protection, out-of-home care, and adoption.
State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)
Title XXI of the Social Security Act, jointly financed by the Federal and State governments and administered by the States. This national program is designed for families who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, yet cannot afford to buy private health insurance. Within broad Federal guidelines, each State determines the design of its program, eligibility groups, benefit packages, payment levels for coverage, and administrative and operating procedures. The Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148) expanded eligibility for many low-income families. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
The first phase of the Federal Child and Family Services Review. The Statewide Assessment is conducted by a State child welfare agency in collaboration with the agency's external partners or stakeholders and the Children's Bureau Central and Regional Office staff. Through this assessment, States examine their capacity and performance in improving outcomes for children and families engaged in child welfare services. (Adapted from Child and Family Services Review Information Portal)
Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS)
A comprehensive automated case management and data collection tool supporting child welfare case management practice and meeting the requirements of 45 CFR 1355.50–57, including data reporting to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis Reporting System, the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, and the National Youth in Transition Database. (Adapted from Children's Bureau)
A perspective that emphasizes an individual or family's capabilities, support system, and motivation to meet challenges.
An approach to child protective services that uses clearly defined and consistently applied decision-making criteria in screening for investigation, determining response priority, identifying immediate threatened harm, and estimating the risk of future abuse and neglect.
A program to provide financial assistance and social services for relatives who take legal guardianship of children who can no longer live with their parents.
A pattern of substance use that results in at least one of four consequences: (1) failure to fulfill role obligations, (2) placing oneself or others in danger (e.g., driving under the influence), (3) legal consequences, or (4) interpersonal/social problems. (Adapted from National Center for Substance Abuse and Child Welfare)
substance-exposed newborn (SEN) (See prenatal substance exposure.)
An investigation disposition concluding that the allegation of child maltreatment or risk of maltreatment was supported or founded by State law or State policy. A child protective services determination means that credible evidence exists that child abuse or neglect has occurred. (Children's Bureau)
sudden infant death syndrome
The sudden death of an infant less than 1 year of age that cannot be explained after a thorough investigation is conducted, including a complete autopsy, examination of the death scene, and a review of the clinical history. (Adapted from Center for Disease Control)
Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
A federally funded, needs-based disability program for adults and children that provides monthly cash benefits and, in most States, automatic Medicaid eligibility. (Adapted from Social Security Administration)
Services provided to residents of supportive housing to facilitate residents' independence. Examples include case management, medical or psychological counseling and supervision, childcare, transportation, and job training. (Adapted from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development)
surrender (See relinquishment.)
system of care
A process of partnering an array of service agencies and families that work together to provide individualized care and supports designed to help children and families achieve safety, stability, and permanency in their home and community. The term originated in the mental health field.
The seven State and local child welfare agency systemic factors included in the Federal Child and Family Services Review that affect the achievement of positive outcomes by the children and families that agencies serve. These include (1) Statewide Information System, (2) Case Review System, (3) Quality Assurance System, (4) Staff and Provider Training, (5) Service Array and Resource Development, (6) Agency Responsiveness to the Community, and (7) Foster and Adoptive Home Licensing, Approval, and Recruitment. (Adapted from Child and Family Services Reviews)