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.)
Refers to the legislative 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 statutes vary widely across the States. Safe haven laws are in effect in all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.
The absence of an imminent or immediate threat of moderate-to-serious harm to a child. (Children’s Bureau)
Child protective services ongoing process in which available information is analyzed to identify whether a child is in immediate or imminent danger of moderate-to-serious harm. (Children’s Bureau)
A casework document developed when it is determined that a child is in imminent or potential risk of serious harm. It 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.)
A facility with a physically secure structure and staff able to control violent behavior. The Office of Refugee Resettlement uses a secure facility as the most restrictive placement option for an unaccompanied child who poses a danger to self or others or has been charged with having committed a criminal offense. A secure facility may be a licensed juvenile detention center or a highly structured therapeutic facility. (Office of Refugee Resettlement)
A proactive, holistic, and personalized approach to the promotion of health and wellbeing through a variety of strategies, in both personal and professional settings, to enhance capacity for compassionate care of children and their families. (Adapted from U.S. National Library of Medicine.)
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)
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. (See case plan.)
The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purpose of commercial sex. While adults must be compelled to perform commercial sex by force, fraud, or coercion in order for it to be considered a severe form of trafficking in persons, this is not the case for children. By law, children under the age of 18 who are induced to engage in a commercial sex act are considered victims of sex trafficking.
Inappropriate adolescent or adult sexual behavior with a child. It includes fondling a child’s genitals, making the child fondle the adult’s genitals, intercourse, incest, rape, sodomy, exhibitionism, sexual exploitation, or exposure to pornography. To be considered child abuse, these acts have to be committed by a person responsible for the care of a child (for example, a babysitter, parent, or daycare provider) or related to the child. If a stranger commits these acts, it would be considered sexual assault and handled solely by the police and criminal courts. (Children’s Bureau)
shaken baby syndrome
The constellation of signs and symptoms resulting from violent shaking or shaking and impacting of the head of an infant or small child. The American Academy of Pediatrics describes shaken babay syndrome as a subset of abusive head trauma with injuries having the potential to result in death or permanent neurologic disability. (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.
A child welfare practice based on the development of a supportive and positive relationship between foster parents and biological parents, with the goal of preserving and/or reunifying families. In shared parenting, foster parents do not necessarily live in the same home as the child, but they serve a pivotal role in promoting the achievement of positive outcomes in the best interests of the child.
A residential care provider facility that administers all programmatic components onsite, in the least restrictive environment. (Office of Refugee Resettlement)
short term guardianship
A type of guardianship granted to an individual who accepts care and custody of a minor for a defined amount of time, usually for one year or less, which authorizes him/her to exercise the full decision-making rights of a guardian. These rights include enrolling the child in school, allowing for participation in school and community activities, and consenting to the provision of medical care and treatment.
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."
An individual (usually a parent or other relative) or entity to whom the Office of Refugee Resettlement releases an unaccompanied child out of Federal custody. (Office of Refugee Resettlement)
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.
Program that provides financial assistance for caregivers 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 by State law or policy, i.e., that credible evidence exists that child abuse or neglect has occurred. (Children’s Bureau)
sudden infant death syndrome
A term describing the sudden and unexpected death of a baby less than 1 year old in which the cause was not obvious before investigation. These deaths often happen during sleep or in the baby’s sleep area. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
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)
Housing, including housing units and group quarters, that has a supportive environment and includes a planned service component. (American Association of Service Coordinators)
(See safe haven.)
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)