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Adoption Glossary

As you begin to research adoption, you'll find that it comes with its own adoption terms and jargon. Although some adoption terms may be defined a little differently by another adoption professional, we hope the adoption glossary below will help you make sense of some buzzwords used in adoption. If you're unable to find the information you're looking for in the adoption glossary, call one of our knowledgeable Adoption Specialists at
Abandonment - Desertion of a child by a parent or adult primary caregiver with no provisions for continued childcare nor with any apparent intention to return to resume caregiving.
Abuse and Neglect - Physical, sexual and/or emotional maltreatment. Child abuse and neglect is defined as any recent act or failure to act resulting in imminent risk of serious harm, death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation of a child (a person under the age of 18, unless the child protection law of the state in which the child resides specifies a younger age for cases not involving sexual abuse) by a parent or caretaker (including any employee of a residential facility or any staff person providing out-of-home care) who is responsible for the child's welfare. Abuse and neglect are defined in both federal and state legislation. The federal CAPTA legislation provides a foundation for states by identifying a minimum set of acts or behaviors that characterize maltreatment. This legislation also defines what acts are considered physical abuse, neglect and sexual abuse (maltreatment).
Access Veto Systems - Type of reunion registry system. The veto is a document filed by one party to the adoption which registers that person's refusal to be contacted or denial of release of identifying information. In an access veto or non-disclosure request system, an adopted adult may receive identifying information about another party if no veto is on file. Some states may have provisions for a contact veto, permitting a party seeking information access to identifying information, including an original birth certificate, but prohibiting contact between the parties.
Active Registries - Reunion registries which do not require that both parties register their consent. Once one party is registered, a designated individual (often an agency or court representative) is assigned to contact those persons being sought and determine their wishes for the release of information.
ADD - Acronym for attention deficit disorder.
ADHD - Acronym for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Adjudicatory Hearings - Held by the juvenile and family court to determine whether a child has been maltreated or whether another legal basis exists for the state to intervene to protect the child.
Adoptee - Any person who has been adopted.
Adoption - Legal process where parental rights are transferred from birth parents to adoptive parents.
Adoption Agency - Organization placing children in homes, under the jurisdiction of state or licensing laws.
Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) - Signed into law November 1997 and designed to improve the safety of children, to promote adoption and other permanent homes for children who need them and to support families. The law requires Child Protective Services (CPS) to provide more timely and focused assessment and intervention services to the children and families that are served within the CPS system.
Adoption Assistance - Monthly or one-time only subsidy payments to help adoptive parents raise children with special needs. These payments were initially made possible by the enactment of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 (P.L. 96-272) which provided federal funding for children eligible under title IV-E of the Social Security Act; States also fund monthly payments for children with special needs who are not eligible for federally funded subsidy payments. "Adoption assistance" can also refer to any help given to adoptive parents.
Adoption Attorney - Lawyers who arrange adoptive placements and specialize in adoption.
Adoption Benefits - Compensation to workers through employer-sponsored programs. Some examples of such benefits are financial assistance or monetary reimbursement for the expenses of adopting a child, or provision of "parental" or "family" leave.
Adoption Consultant - Anyone who helps with the placement of a child, but specifically someone who makes it his or her private business to facilitate adoptions.
Adoption Disruption - The interruption of an adoption prior to finalization - sometimes called a "failed adoption" or a "failed placement."
Adoption Dissolution - The interruption or "failure" of an adoption after finalization that requires court action.
Adoption Exchange - An organization which recruits adoptive families for children with special needs using print, radio, television and Internet recruitment, as well as matching parties (which bring together prospective adoptive parents, waiting children and their social workers in a child-focused setting). Adoption exchanges can be local, state, regional, national or international in scope.
Adoption Facilitator - Unlicensed organizations or individuals offering adoption services, which is illegal in 20 states.
Adoption Insurance (adoption cancellation insurance) - Insurance which protects against financial loss which can be incurred after a birth mother changes her mind and decides not to place her child for adoption.
Adoption Petition - The legal document through which prospective parents request the court's permission to adopt a specific child.
Adoption Placement - The point at which a child begins to live with prospective adoptive parents; the period before the adoption is finalized.
Adoption Plan - A plan created between a birth mother and a social worker specifying all aspects and desires with regards to an adoption.
Adoption Professional - Employee of a licensed adoption agency or a trained and educated adoption authority who has training and experiences in adoption services and authorized by the agency to provide adoption services.
Adoption Reversal - Reclaiming of a child (originally voluntarily placed with adoptive parents) by birth parent(s) who have had a subsequent change of heart. State laws vary in defining time limits and circumstances under which a child may be reclaimed.
Adoption Subsidies - Federal or state adoption benefits (also known as adoption assistance) designed to help offset the short- and long-term costs associated with adopting children who need special services. To be eligible for the Federal IV-E subsidy program, children must meet each of the following characteristics: a court has ordered that the child cannot or should not be returned to the birth family; the child has special needs, as determined by the state's definition of special needs; a "reasonable effort" has been made to place the child without a subsidy; the child also must have been eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) at the time of the adoption, or the child's birth family must have been receiving - or eligible to receive - Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). Benefits available through subsidy programs vary by state, but commonly include: monthly cash payments - up to an amount that is $1 less than the foster care payment the state would have made if the child were still in basic family foster care medical assistance - through the federal program (and some state programs), Medicaid benefits social services - post-adoption services such as respite care, counseling, day care, etc. nonrecurring adoption expenses - a one-time reimbursement (depending upon the state, between $400 and $2,000) for costs such as adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees, physical and psychological examinations and other expenses related to the legal adoption of a child with special needs. Before adopting a child with special needs, ask your agency about the availability of federal and state subsidies.
Adoption Tax Credits - Non-refundable credit which reduces taxes owed by adoptive parents who claim adoption expense reimbursement under P.L. 104-188; may be claimed on federal taxes (and in some states with similar legislation, on state taxes).
Adoption Tax Exclusions - IRS provisions in the federal tax code which allow adoptive parents to exclude cash or other adoption benefits for qualifying adoption expenses received from a private-sector employer when computing the family's adjusted gross income for tax purposes.
Adoption Triad/Triangle - The three parties involved in an adoption: adoptee, adoptive parents and birth parents.
Adoptive Parent - Person(s) who legally assume parental rights/responsibilities for adopted child.
Adult Adoption - The adoption of a person over the age of majority (as defined in state law).
Agency Adoption - Adoptive placements made by licensed organizations that screen prospective adoptive parents and supervise the placement of children in adoptive homes until the adoption is finalized.
Agency Placement - Completion of an adoption.
Alcohol-Related Birth Defects - Physical or cognitive deficits in a child which result from maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy - includes but is not limited to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and Fetal Alcohol Effect (FAE).
Anti-Social Behavior - Actions deviating sharply from the social norm. Children with such behaviors commonly skip school, get into fights, run away from home, persistently lie, use drugs or alcohol, steal, vandalize property and violate school and home rules.
Apostille - A simplified certification of public (including notarized) documents used in countries that participate in a Hague Convention. This simplified form contains numbered fields (which allow the data to be understood by all participating countries regardless of the official language of the issuing country). The completed apostille form certifies the authenticity of the document's signature, the capacity in which the person signing the document has acted, and identifies the seal/stamp which the document bears. Documents needed for intercountry adoptions require the attachment of an apostille (rather than authentication forms) if the foreign country participates in the convention.
Artificial Insemination - Impregnation of a woman by one of many possible artificial reproductive technologies (ARTs).
ASFA - Acronym for Adoption and Safe Families Act.
Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) - Medical technologies that assist in the impregnation of a female. Technologies include oocyte (or egg) donation, embryo donation, in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination and sperm donation. Different medical procedures are used within each of these procedures.
Attachment - The ability of a child to form significant and stable emotional connections with other people, beginning in early infancy with one or more primary caretakers. Failure to establish such connections before the age of five may result in difficulties with social relationships as severe as reactive attachment disorder.
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) - A lifelong developmental disability (with onset in infancy, childhood or adolescence) that affects a child's ability to concentrate and control impulses. A child who has ADD is not hyperactive, but often has problems sustaining attention in task or play activities, difficulty in persisting with tasks to completion, and concentrating for longer periods of time.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) - A lifelong developmental disability (with onset in infancy, childhood or adolescence) that involves problems with attention span, impulse control, and activity level at home, at school or at work. Typical behaviors include: fidgeting with hands or squirming in seat; difficulty remaining seated when required; distractibility; difficulty waiting for turns in groups; difficulty staying on task with chores or play activities; difficulty playing quietly; excessive talking; inattention; restlessness; and engaging in physically dangerous activities without considering consequences.
Autistic Disorder - A pervasive developmental disturbance with onset before age three, characterized by markedly abnormal or impaired development in social interaction and communication and a markedly restricted array of activity and interests. Manifestations of the disorder vary greatly depending on the developmental level and age of the individual. Autistic children can be withdrawn and show little interest in others or in typical childhood activities and instead exhibit repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests and activities.
Bi-Racial - Refers to a child that has heritage of two races, usually African-American and another race.
Biological Child - The child of parents by birth.
Bipolar Disorder - A category of mental illnesses in which mood and affect are disturbed - characterized by irregular cycles of mania and/or depression. During manic periods, the individual may be in a very elevated mood and exhibit symptoms of hyperactivity, wakefulness and distractibility or irritability. In very severe episodes, psychotic symptoms may also be present. Individuals experiencing depressive periods can exhibit sustained symptoms of depressed mood, diminished pleasure or interest in most activities, fatigue, sleep disturbance (either insomnia or hypersomnia), weight loss or weight gain and slowed thinking.
Birth Certificate (amended) - Legal document after the adoption is finalized, replacing the original birth certificate, as indicated by the court in the adoption decree, with the adoptive parents' names replacing the birth parents' names.
Birth Certificate (original) - Legal document issued at time of birth with the child's biological history including the identity of one or both biological parents.
Birth Father - Biological father of a child that is adopted or planning to be adopted.
Birth Mother - Biological mother of a child that is adopted or planning to be adopted.
Birth Parent - A child's biological parent.
Black Market - Adoption performed outside the law, often referred to as the illegal buying and selling of children.
Boarder Babies - Infants abandoned in hospitals because of the parents' inability to care for them. These babies are usually born HIV-positive or drug addicted.
Bonding - The process of developing lasting emotional ties with one's immediate caregivers; seen as the first and primary developmental task of a human being and central to the person's ability to relate to others throughout life.
CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocates) - Court-appointed special advocates (usually volunteers) who serve to ensure that the needs and interests of a child in child protection judicial proceedings are fully protected.
Case Closure - The process of ending the relationship between the CPS worker and the family that often involves a mutual assessment of progress. Optimally, cases are closed when families have achieved their goals and the risk of maltreatment has been reduced or eliminated.
Case Plan - The casework document that outlines the outcomes, goals and tasks necessary to be achieved in order to reduce the risk of maltreatment.
Case Planning - The stage of the CPS case process where the CPS caseworker develops a case plan with the family members.
Caseworker Competency - Demonstrated professional behaviors based on the knowledge, skills, personal qualities and values a person holds.
Central Auditory Processing Disorder - A condition in which an individual has difficulty comprehending and integrating information that is heard, although hearing is normal. Central auditory processing disorder occurs when the ear and the brain do not coordinate fully. The causes of this disorder are varied and can include head trauma, lead poisoning, possibly chronic ear infections and other unknown reasons. Because there are many different possibilities or even combinations of causes each child must be individually assessed.
Central Registry - A centralized database containing information on all substantiated/founded reports of child maltreatment in a selected area (typically a State).
Cerebral Palsy - A non-hereditary condition which results from brain damage before, during or after birth. Children with cerebral palsy lack muscle control in one or more parts of their bodies or may experience speech and language difficulties, depending on the area of the brain damaged. Individuals with cerebral palsy can possess very normal mental functions.
Certification - The approval process (detailed in State laws or regulations) that takes place to ensure, insofar as possible, that adoptive or foster parents are suitable, dependable and responsible. "Certification" of documents involves a seal or apostille required by law or regulation affixed to a public document (such as a birth or marriage certificate or court record) to attest to its authenticity or to a general document to attest that the document has been notarized by an authorized official.
Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) - The law (P.L. 93-247) that provides a foundation for a national definition of child abuse and neglect. Reauthorized in October 1996 (P.L. 104-235), it was up for reauthorization at the time of publication. CAPTA defines child abuse and neglect as "at a minimum, any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker, which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation, or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm."
Child Protective Services (CPS) - The designated social services agency (in most states) to receive reports, investigate and provide intervention and treatment services to children and families in which child maltreatment has occurred. Frequently, this agency is located within larger public social service agencies, such as Departments of Social Services.
Closed Adoption - Adoption in which confidentiality of both adoptive parents and birth parents are protected under the law, the courts seal all records.
Co-Parenting - A long-term (formal or informal) agreement to support the needs of children with developmental disabilities by which extra caregivers support parents by providing ongoing respite parenting when needed.
Concurrent Planning - A process used in foster care case management by which child welfare staff work toward family reunification and, at the same time, develop an alternative permanency plan for the child (such as permanent placement with a relative or adoption) should family reunification efforts fail. Concurrent planning is intended to reduce the time a child spends in foster care before a child is placed with a permanent family.
Conduct Disorder - A condition characterized by a repetitive and persistent pattern of behavior which violates the basic rights of others or major age-appropriate societal norms or rules. A child or teen with conduct disorder may: display aggressive conduct (bully or threaten others, initiate fights, use weapons that could cause serious harm, force someone into sexual activity, be physically aggressive or cruel to people or animals); engage in non-aggressive behaviors that result in property loss or damage; engage in deceitfulness or theft (steal, lie or break promises to obtain goods or to avoid debts or obligations); persistently engage in serious violations of rules that lead to confrontations with parents, school suspensions or expulsion; problems in the workplace; or legal difficulties (staying out after dark without permission, running away from home, truancy, etc.) Conduct disorder may lead to the development of antisocial personality disorder during adulthood.
Confidential Intermediary - State employee or trained volunteer sanctioned by the courts, who is given access to sealed adoption files for the purpose of conducting a search. A confidential intermediary may be hired by the inquiring party to conduct searches for an adopted adult or birth parent or other birth relatives (depending on state laws), make contact with each party and obtain each person's consent or denial for the release of information. Depending on the particular laws of the state, contact may be attempted once, after a specific time period or the file may be closed permanently if the party being sought cannot be found.
Confidentiality - The legally required process of keeping identifying or other significant information secret; the principle of ethical practice which requires social workers and other professional not to disclose information about a client without the client's consent.
Consent Form - The legal document signed by the biological mother and father allowing their child to be placed for adoption. If birth parent is unavailable, the courts can validate the consents without the birth parents' signature. (A consent is also referred to as a surrender or relinquishment).
Consent to Adopt or Consent to Adoption - Legal permission for the adoption to proceed.
Cooperative Adoption - Adoption in which adopted child has access to both adoptive parents and birth parents who participate in decisions affecting their life.
CPS - Acronym for Child Protective Services.
Cultural Competence - A set of attitudes, behaviors and policies that integrates knowledge about groups of people into practices and standards to enhance the quality of services to all cultural groups being served.
Custody - Authority by a person or guardian embodying all of the rights and responsibilities.
De Facto - A term meaning "in actual fact,” "in deed," or "actually,” regardless of legal or normative standards. In a legal context, the phrase refers to an action or a state of affairs which must be accepted for all practical purposes, but which has no legal basis. A "de facto family" is a "psychological family" in which members have ties to each other even though they are relatives by birth or marriage and do not have a legal document recognizing their relationship.
De Facto Adoption - A legal agreement to adopt a child according to the laws of a particular state which will result in a legal adoption process once the adoption petition is filed with the appropriate court; an equitable adoption.
Decree of Adoption - A legal order that finalizes an adoption.
Dependent Child - A child who is in the custody of the county or state child welfare system.
Developmental Disability - Any handicapping condition related to delays in maturation of or difficulties with skills or intellect.
Differential Response - An area of CPS reform that offers greater flexibility in responding to allegations of abuse and neglect. Also referred to as "dual track" or "multi-track" response, it permits CPS agencies to respond differentially to children's needs for safety, the degree of risk present, and the family's needs for services and support. See "Dual Track."
Disclosure - The release or transmittal of previously hidden or unknown information.
Dispositional Hearings - Held by the juvenile and family court to determine the disposition of children after cases have been adjudicated, such as whether placement of the child in out-of-home care is necessary and what services the children and family will need to reduce the risk of maltreatment and to address the effects of maltreatment.
Disruption - An adoption or potential adoption that fails before finalization.
Dissolution - The term dissolution is used to describe an adoption that fails after finalization, resulting in the child's legal custody reverting back to the agency or court that made the original placement and the child returning to foster care and/or to other adoptive parent(s).
Dossier - The collection of paperwork used in an international adoption that has been properly authenticated and translated.
Down Syndrome - A genetic disorder (caused by the presence of an extra chromosome), which results in physical and mental abnormalities. Physical characteristics include a flattened face, widely spaced and slanted eyes, smaller head size and lax joints. Mental retardation is also typical, though there are wide variations in mental ability, behavior, and developmental progress. Possible related health problems include poor resistance to infection, hearing loss, gastrointestinal problems and heart defects.
Dual Track - term reflecting new CPS response systems that typically combine a non-adversarial service-based assessment track for cases where children are not at immediate risk with a traditional CPS investigative track for cases where children are unsafe or at greater risk for maltreatment. See "differential response."
Emotional Disturbance - Severe, pervasive or chronic emotional/affective condition which prevents a child from performing everyday tasks. This condition is characterized by an inability to build or maintain relationships, inappropriate behaviors or feelings under normal circumstances, a pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression or a tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears related to personal or school problems. Children may require special classrooms and teachers trained to help children with these special needs. School systems may have varying "levels" and processes for educational planning.
Employer Assistance - Adoption benefits provided to employees by employers which may include direct cash assistance for adoption expenses, reimbursement of approved adoption expenses, paid or unpaid leave (beyond federal leave requirements established through the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993) and resource and referral services. For a list of employers who provide benefits, call the National Adoption Center at (800)-TO-ADOPT.
Equitable Adoption - The legal process used in some states to establish inheritance rights of a child, when the prospective adoptive parent had entered into an oral contract to adopt the child and the child was placed with the parent but the adoption was not finalized before the parent died.
Evaluation of Family Progress - The stage of the CPS case process where the CPS caseworker measures changes in family behaviors and conditions (risk factors), monitors risk elimination or reduction, assesses strengths and determines case closure.
Extended Family - A child's relatives (other than parents) such as aunts, uncles, grandparents and sometimes close friends.
Family Assessment - The stage of the child protection process when the CPS caseworker, community treatment provider and the family reach a mutual understanding regarding the behaviors and conditions that must change to reduce or eliminate the risk of maltreatment, the most critical treatment needs that must be addressed and the strengths on which to build.
Family Group Conferencing - A family meeting model used by CPS agencies to optimize family strengths in the planning process. This model brings the family, extended family and others important in the family's life (e.g., friends, clergy, neighbors) together to make decisions regarding how best to ensure safety of the family members.
Family Preservation - A program of supportive social services designed to keep families together by providing services to children and families in their home. It is based on the premise that birth families are the preferred means of providing family life for children.
Family Unity Model - A family meeting model used by CPS agencies to optimize family strengths in the planning process. This model is similar to the family group conferencing model.
Fetal Alcohol Effect (FAE) - A disorder associated with cognitive and behavioral difficulties in children whose birth mothers drank alcohol while pregnant. Symptoms are similar to fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) but less severe or comprehensive.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) - Birth defects and serious life-long mental and emotional impairments that may result from heavy maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Symptoms of mental and emotional deficits may include significant learning and behavioral disorders (including attention deficits and hyperactivity), diminished cause-and-effect thinking, poor social judgment and impulsive behaviors.
Fictive Kin - People not related by birth or marriage who have an emotionally significant relationship with an individual.
Final Adoption Decree - Legal document issued by the court that completes the adoption.
Finalization - Court action that grants permanent legal custody of a child to the adoptive parents.
Foster Adoption Placement - Foster placement of a child, with adoption being the final goal, once all legal requirements have been met. The couple must be certified as suitable to adopt with their home licensed as a foster home. (There is no assurance that placement will evolve into adoption
Foster Care - Substitute parental care for a short, extended or permanent period of time for a child whose biological parents cannot provide proper care.
Foster Child - Child who is placed with a state-licensed family or in a group care facility because their biological parents cannot provide proper care.
Foster Parent - State-licensed adult who is paid or volunteers to take care of children, but is not related by blood, marriage or adoption.
Foster-Adoption - A child placement in which birth parents' rights have not yet been severed by the court or in which birth parents are appealing the court's decision but foster parents agree to adopt the child if/when parental rights are terminated. Social workers place the child with specially trained foster-adopt parents who will work with the child during family reunification efforts but who will adopt the child if the child becomes available for adoption. The main reason for making such a placement, also called legal-risk adoption, is to spare the child another move.
Full Disclosure - CPS information to the family regarding the steps in the intervention process, the requirements of CPS, the expectations of the family, the consequences if the family does not fulfill the expectations and the rights of the parents to ensure that the family completely understands the process.
Genealogy - A family's genetic "line,” family tree or a record of such ancestry.
Grief - A feeling of emotional deprivation or loss. Grief may be experienced by each member of the adoption triad at some point.
Group Home - A homelike setting in which a number of unrelated children live for varying time periods. Group homes may have one set of house parents or may have a rotating staff and some therapeutic or treatment group homes have specially trained staff to assist children with emotional and behavioral difficulties.
Guardian - Person who fulfills some of the responsibilities of the legal parent role, although the courts or birth parents may continue to hold some jurisdiction of the child. Guardians do not have the same reciprocal rights of inheritance as birth or adoptive parents. Guardianship is subject to ongoing supervision by the court and ends at the child's majority or by order of the court.
Guardian ad Litem - A lawyer or lay person who represents a child in juvenile or family court. Usually this person considers the "best interest" of the child and may perform a variety of roles, including those of independent investigator, advocate, advisor and guardian for the child. A lay person who serves in this role is sometimes known as a court-appointed special advocate or CASA. The status of guardian ad litem exists only within the confines of the particular court case in which the appointment occurs.
Home Study - A study of the home of prospective adoptive parents, normally completed prior to placement of a child in their home. It validates suitability to adopt for the courts. (A negative home study evaluation, while rare, usually means the adoption will not be authorized.)
Home Visitation Programs - Prevention programs that offer a variety of family focused services to pregnant mothers and families with new babies. Activities frequently encompass structured visits to the family's home and may address positive parenting practices, nonviolent discipline techniques, child development, maternal and child health, available services and advocacy.
I-600 and I-600A Visa Petition - An official request to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to classify an orphan as an immediate relative - providing expedited processing and issuance of a visa to allow the child to enter the United States after having been adopted abroad or in order to be adopted in the United States.
Identifying Information - Information on birthparents which discloses their identities.
Immunity - Established in all child abuse laws to protect reporters from civil lawsuits and criminal prosecution resulting from filing a report of child abuse and neglect.
Independent Adoption - An adoption arranged privately by a non-licensed third party (i.e., doctor or lawyer) or between the birth family and adoptive parents.
Independent Living - A type of placement that provides life-skills training to youth to assist them to acquire the skills they will need to live independently as adults. The program is designed for children who are "aging out" of foster care and for whom there is no other permanency plan.
Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) - Federal Act designed to protect the interest of Native American children and tribes.
Individualized Educational Plan - IEP, a plan for educational support services and outcomes developed for students enrolled in special education programs.
Infertility - The inability to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term.
Initial Assessment or Investigation - The stage of the CPS case process where the CPS caseworker determines the validity of the child maltreatment report, assesses the risk of maltreatment, determines if the child is safe, develops a safety plan if needed to assure the child's protection and determines services needed.
INS - INS has changed its name to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, now a bureau under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Institutionalization - The placement of children in hospitals, institutions or orphanages. Placement in institutions during early critical developmental periods and for lengthy periods is often associated with developmental delays due to environmental deprivation, poor staff-child ratios or lack of early stimulation.
Intake - The stage of the CPS case process where the CPS caseworker screens and accepts reports of child maltreatment.
Intercountry or International Adoption - The adoption of a child who is a citizen of one country by adoptive parents who are citizens of a different country.
International Adoption - Adoption of a child born outside of the United States.
Interstate Compact - A voluntary agreement between two or more states designed to address common problems of the states concerned.
Interstate Compact on Adoption and Medical Assistance (ICAMA) - An agreement between member states that governs the interstate delivery of and payment for medical services and adoption assistance payments/subsidies for adopted children with special needs. The agreements are established by the laws of the states which are parties to the compact.
Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) - An agreement regulating the placement of children across state lines. All 50 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands have independently adopted the ICPC as statutory law in their respective jurisdictions.
Interview Protocol - A structured format to ensure that all family members are seen in a planned strategy, that community providers collaborate and that information gathering is thorough.
Juvenile and Family Courts - Established in most states to resolve conflict and to otherwise intervene in the lives of families in a manner that promotes the best interest of children. These courts specialize in areas such as child maltreatment, domestic violence, juvenile delinquency, divorce, child custody and child support.
Kinship Care - The full-time nurturing of a child by someone related to the child by family ties or by prior relationship connection (fictive kin).
Learning Disabilities (LD) - One or more impairments in reading, mathematics or written expression skills which interfere with academic performance in school or in activities of daily living requiring those skills. Performance on standardized tests below that expected for age, schooling and level of intelligence are used as preliminary diagnostic tools to identify areas where children are experiencing problems. Children with learning disabilities may be of average or above average intelligence, but have difficulty learning, sorting and storing information. Some children find learning in a regular classroom difficult and LD classes may be recommended to help them achieve their potential in school.
Legal Custody - Restraint of or responsibility for a person according to law, such as a guardian's authority (conferred by the court) over the person or property (or both) of his ward.
Legal Guardian - Any person who can make legal decisions for a minor child.
Legal Risk Adoption - An adoption proceeding that is started even though the prospective adoptive family cannot be guaranteed that the child is eligible for adoption.
Legal Risk Placement - Placement of a child in a prospective adoptive family when a child is not yet legally free for adoption. Before a child can be legally adopted by another family, parental rights of his or her birth parents must be terminated. In a "legal risk" adoptive placement either this termination of parental rights has not yet occurred, or it is being contested. In some cases, termination of parental rights is delayed until a specific adoptive family has been identified.
Legally Free - A child whose birth parents' rights have been legally terminated so that the child is "free" to be adopted by another family.
Liaison - The designation of a person within an organization who has responsibility for facilitating communication, collaboration and coordination between agencies involved in the child protection system.
Life Book - A pictorial and written representation of the child's life designed to help the child make sense of his unique background and history. The life book includes birthparents, other relatives, birthplace and date, etc. and can be put together by social workers, foster parents or adoptive parents working with the child.
Long-Term Foster Care - The intentional and planned placement of a child in foster care for an extended period of time. After the goal of adoption has been explored and not selected, and relative options are not feasible, a goal of planned long-term foster care may be seen as a viable goal. Increasingly some States child welfare systems no longer view long-term foster care as a placement alternative.
Loss - A feeling of emotional deprivation that is experienced at some point in time. For a birth parent the initial loss will usually be felt at or subsequent to the placement of the child. Adoptive parents who are infertile feel a loss in their inability to bear a child. An adopted child may feel a sense of loss at various points in time; the first time the child realizes he is adopted may invoke a strong sense of loss for his birth family.
Mainstreamed - In education, a term that typically refers to the planned and sustained placement of a child with special educational needs into a regular education classroom for part or all of the school day.
Maltreatment - Physical abuse, child neglect, sexual abuse and emotional abuse. Federal CAPTA legislation (P.L. 104-235) provides definitions that identify a minimum set of acts or behaviors that characterize maltreatment. Each state is responsible for providing its own definitions of child abuse and neglect within the state's civil and criminal context.
Mandated Reporter - Individuals required by state statutes to report suspected child abuse and neglect to the proper authorities (usually CPS or law enforcement agencies). Mandated reporters typically include professionals, such as educators and other school personnel, health care and mental health professionals, social workers, childcare providers and law enforcement officers. Some states identify all citizens as mandated reporters.
Matching - The process of finding prospective families specifically suited to meet the needs of a waiting child, not to be confused with "placement.”
Maternity Home - Residences for pregnant women. The number of homes has decreased over the past three decades, and existing homes often have a waiting list of women. The women who live in a maternity home may pay a small fee or no fee to live in the home and they often apply for public assistance and Medicaid payments.
Mental Retardation - Impaired or incomplete mental development characterized by an IQ of 70 or below and characterized by significant functional limitations in at least two of the following skills: communication, self-care, home living, social/interpersonal skills, use of community resources, self-direction, functional academic skills, work, leisure, health and safety. Onset usually occurs before age 18. More than 200 specific causes of mental retardation have been identified. Degrees of severity reflect the level of intellectual impairment: Mild Mental Retardation - IQ level 50-55 to approximately 70; Moderate Retardation - IQ level 35-40 to 50-55; Severe Mental Retardation - IQ level 20-25 to 35-40; Profound Mental Retardation - IQ level below 20-25
MEPA - Acronym for Multi-Ethnic Placement Act of 1994.
Minority Children - Children of partial or full non-Caucasian parentage, or mixed Caucasian and non-Caucasian heritage.
Multi-Ethnic Placement Act - A federal law enacted in 1994 and implemented through state policy. The Multi-Ethnic Placement Act of 1994, as amended, P.L. 103-382 [42 USC 622] prohibits the delay or denial of any adoption or placement in foster care due to the race, color or national origin of the child or of the foster or adoptive parents and requires states to provide for diligent recruitment of potential foster and adoptive families who reflect the ethnic and racial diversity of children for whom homes are needed. The 1996 amendment, Section 1808 of P.L. 104-188, Removal of Barriers to Interethnic Adoption, affirms the prohibition against delaying or denying the placement of a child for adoption or foster care on the basis of race, color or national origin of the foster or adoptive parents or of the child involved [42 USC 1996b].
Multi-Racial - Refers to a child that has heritage of two or more races.
Multidisciplinary Team - Established between agencies and professionals within the child protection system to discuss cases of child abuse and neglect and to aid in decisions at various stages of the CPS case process. These terms may also be designated by different names, including child protection teams, interdisciplinary teams or case consultation teams.
Neglect - The failure to provide for the child's basic needs. Neglect can be physical, educational or emotional. Physical neglect can include not providing adequate food or clothing, appropriate medical care, supervision or proper weather protection (heat or coats). Educational neglect includes failure to provide appropriate schooling, special educational needs or allowing excessive truancies. Psychological neglect includes the lack of any emotional support and love, chronic inattention to the child, exposure to spouse abuse or drug and alcohol abuse.
Non-Identifying Information - The medical and social history along with other information exchanged between birth parents and adoptive parents without using names, addresses or other identifying information of both parties.
Non-Recurring Adoption Costs - One time adoption expenses, which may be at least partially reimbursed by states up to a maximum amount to families adopting children with special needs. Allowable expenses for this reimbursement benefit can include the cost of a home study, adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees, physical and psychological examinations, travel to visit with the child prior to the placement and other expenses related to the legal adoption of a child with special needs.
Non-Sectarian Agencies - Any agency that does not have any religious requirements for its clients.
Occupational Therapy - The science of using everyday activities with specific goals, to help people of all ages prevent, lessen or overcome physical disabilities.
Open Adoption - Usually, an adoption where birth parents and adoptive parents meet, names and addresses may be exchanged and communication may continue indefinitely.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) - A recurrent pattern of negative, defiant, disobedient and hostile behavior toward authority figures that persists for at least six months. This disorder is characterized by frequent occurrence of at least four of the following behaviors: frequent loss of temper, tendency to argue with adults, refusal to obey adult rules or requests, deliberate behaviors to annoy others, spiteful and vindictive behavior, being touchy or easily annoyed by others, being angry and resentful, use of obscene language and a tendency to blame others for mistakes or misbehaviors. Symptoms are less severe than those associated with Conduct Disorder but sometimes indicate the early stages of Conduct Disorder (CD) and may sometimes lead to the development of Antisocial Personality Disorder during adulthood.
Orphan - Child from another country that has no parents or only one parent that cannot care for them.
Orphan (international adoption definition) - For immigration purposes, a child under the age of 16: • whose parents have died or disappeared • who has been abandoned or otherwise separated from both parents • whose sole surviving parent is impoverished by local standards and incapable of providing that child with proper care and who has, in writing, irrevocably released the child for emigration and adoption. To enter the United States, an orphan must have been adopted abroad by a U.S. citizen or be admitted to the United States for the purpose of adoption by a U.S. citizen.
Orphanage - Institution that houses children who are orphaned, abandoned or whose parents are unable to care for them. Orphanages are rarely used in the United States, although they are more frequently used abroad.
Out-of-Home Care - Child care, foster care or residential care provided by persons, organizations and institutions to children who are placed outside their families, usually under the jurisdiction of juvenile or family court.
Parens Patriae Doctrine - Originating in feudal England, a doctrine that vests in the state a right of guardianship of minors. This concept has gradually evolved into the principle that the community, in addition to the parent, has a strong interest in the care and nurturing of children. Schools, juvenile courts and social service agencies all derive their authority from the state's power to ensure the protection and rights of children as a unique class.
Parent or caretaker - Person responsible for the care of the child.
Petition - Written request to the court for legal custody, guardianship or adoption of a child.
Physical Abuse - The inflicting of a non-accidental physical injury upon a child. This may include burning, hitting, punching, shaking, kicking, beating or otherwise harming a child. It may, however, have been the result of over-discipline or physical punishment that is inappropriate to the child's age.
Post-Placement Visits - Investigation and interviews with an adoptive family once a child has been placed with them.
Primary Prevention - Activities geared to a sample of the general population to prevent child abuse and neglect from occurring. Also referred to as "universal prevention."
Private Adoption Agencies - Non-governmental agencies licensed by the state to provide adoption services, primarily dealing with infant adoptions.
Protective Factors - Strengths and resources that appear to mediate or serve as a "buffer" against risk factors that contribute to vulnerability to maltreatment or against the negative effects of maltreatment experiences.
Protocol - An interagency agreement that delineates joint roles and responsibilities by establishing criteria and procedures for working together on cases of child abuse and neglect.
Psychological Maltreatment - A pattern of caregiver behavior or extreme incidents that convey to children that they are worthless, flawed, unloved, unwanted, endangered or only of value to meeting another's needs. This can include parents or caretakers using extreme or bizarre forms of punishment or threatening or terrorizing a child. The term "psychological maltreatment" is also known as emotional abuse or neglect, verbal abuse or mental abuse.
Public Adoption Agencies - Governmental adoption agency or social services department providing adoption services, primarily dealing with older children in foster care.
Putative Father Registry - a.k.a. Birth Father Registry, state registry where alleged paternity can be listed and birth fathers have the opportunity to protest the birth mother's adoption plans. Approximately one-half of the states have a putative registry.
Re-Adoption - Process by where international adoptive parents adopt their children for a second time in front of a U.S. judge.
Reactive Attachment Disorder - A condition with onset before age 5, resulting from an early lack of consistent care, characterized by a child's or infant's inability to make appropriate social contact with others. Symptoms may include failure to thrive, developmental delays, failure to make eye contact, feeding disturbances, hyper-sensitivity to touch and sound, failure to initiate or respond to social interaction, indiscriminate sociability, self-stimulation and susceptibility to infection.
Relinquishment - Legal act by which birth parents consent to an adoption and give up all legal rights to a child so an adoption can take place.
Residential Care Facility - A structured 24-hour care facility with staff that provide psychological services to help severely troubled children overcome behavioral, emotional, mental or psychological problems that adversely affect family interaction, school achievement and peer relationships.
Residential Treatment - Therapeutic intervention processes for individuals who cannot or do not function satisfactorily in their own homes. For children and adolescents, residential treatment tends to be the last resort when a child is in danger of hurting himself or others.
Respite Care - Temporary or short-term home care of a child provided for pay or on a voluntary basis by adults other than the parents (birth, foster or adoptive parents).
Response Time - A determination made by CPS and law enforcement regarding the immediacy of the response needed to a report of child abuse or neglect.
Reunification - The returning of foster children to the custody of their parent(s) after placement outside the home.
Reunification Services - Interventions by social worker and other professionals to help children and their birth parents develop mutually reciprocal relationships that will help them to live together again as a family.
Reunion - A meeting between birthparent(s) and an adopted adult or between an adopted adult and other birth relatives. The adopted adult may have been placed as an infant and thus has no memory of the birthparent(s).
Review Hearings - Held by the juvenile and family court to review dispositions (usually every six months) and to determine the need to maintain placement in out-of-home care or court jurisdiction of a child.
Revoke - Take back consent to an adoption. Some states offer no time for revocation while other states place a time limit.
Risk - The likelihood that a child will be maltreated in the future.
Risk Assessment - To assess and measure the likelihood that a child will be maltreated in the future, frequently through the use of checklists, matrices, scales and other methods of measurement.
Risk Factors - Behaviors and conditions present in the child, parent or family that will likely contribute to child maltreatment occurring in the future.
Ritalin - A commonly prescribed drug that can help to control some of the symptoms of attention deficit disorder. It may have a calming effect and help to improve concentration.
Safety - Absence of an imminent or immediate threat of moderate-to-serious harm to the child.
Safety Assessment - A part of the CPS case process in which available information is analyzed to identify whether a child is in immediate danger of moderate or serious harm.
Safety Plan - A casework document developed when it is determined that the 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.
Search - An attempt, usually by birthparent, adopted person or adoptive parent (but sometimes by volunteers or paid consultants) to make a connection between the birthparent and the biological child.
Search and Consent Procedures - Procedures, sanctioned in state law, that authorize a public or private agency to assist a searching party to locate another party to the adoption to determine if the second party agrees to the release of identifying information or to meeting with the requesting party. If consent is given, the disclosure of information may then be authorized by the court. In some states counseling is required before information is received.
Secondary Prevention - Activities targeted to prevent breakdowns and dysfunctions among families who have been identified as at risk for abuse and neglect.
Semi-Open (Closed) Adoption - Adoption where adoptive family and birth parents may talk, meet and have correspondence after the adoption, but no identifying information is exchanged.
Semi-Open Adoption - An adoption in which a child's birth parents and pre-adoptive parents may exchange primarily non-identifying information. After the child is placed in the adoptive home, contact with the birth family may involve letters or pictures or other communications sent through the intermediary of the adoption agency or the attorney who assisted in the placement.
Service Agreement - The casework document developed between the CPS caseworker and the family that outlines the tasks necessary to achieve goals and outcomes necessary for risk reduction.
Service Provision - The stage of the CPS casework process when CPS and other service providers provide specific services geared toward the reduction of risk of maltreatment.
Sexual Abuse - 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 any simulation of such conduct for the purpose of producing any visual depiction of such conduct; or rape, and in cases of caretaker or inter-familial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution or other form of sexual exploitation of children; or incest with children.
Sexual Abuse Symptomology - Indicators and behaviors which suggest that a child may have been sexually abused, including: excessive masturbation, sexual interaction with peers, sexual aggression towards younger and more naive children, seductive behavior and promiscuity.
Social Marketing - The use of marketing principles and techniques to influence a target audience to voluntarily accept, reject, modify or abandon a behavior for the benefit of individuals, groups or society as a whole.
Social Worker - Person who completes home studies, works with birth parents and adoptive families in adoption situations.
Special Needs - A child with a physical handicap, mental handicap or illness often times considered hard-to-place.
Special Needs Children - Children whose emotional or physical disorders, age, race, membership in a sibling group, a history of abuse or other factors contribute to a lengthy stay in foster care. Guidelines for classifying a child as special needs vary by state. Common special needs conditions and diagnoses include: serious medical conditions, emotional and behavioral disorders, history of abuse or neglect, medical or genetic risk due to familial mental illness or parental substance abuse.
Speech and Language Disorders - Impairments of speech or receptive language. Speech disorders usually involved difficulties with articulation which can generally be improved or resolved with speech therapy, usually requiring treatment over months or years. Language disorders, on the other hand, often result in substantial learning problems, involving difficulty with language comprehension, expression, word-finding or speech discrimination. Treatment by a language therapist generally leads to improvement in functional communication skills, although treatment cannot be generally expected to eradicate the problem.
Stepparent Adoption - The adoption of a child by the new spouse of the birthparent.
Substantiated - An investigation disposition concluding that the allegation of maltreatment or risk of maltreatment was supported or founded by state law or state policy. A CPS determination means that credible evidence exists that child abuse or neglect has occurred.
Substitute Care - Any kind of care sanctioned by the court of jurisdiction in which the child does not live with the birth parent.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) - A Federally funded needs-based disability program for adults and children which provides monthly cash benefits and, in most states, automatic Medicaid eligibility.
Surrender - Voluntary termination of parental rights. An action taken by birth parents to voluntarily "make an adoption plan" for a child or "relinquishment” of child for adoption.
Surrender Papers - Legal document attesting to the signator's voluntary relinquishment of parental rights to a child.
Surrogate Mother - A woman who carries another woman's child by pre-arrangement or by legal contract.
System - Often referred to as "the public child welfare system." Refers to the network of governmental organizations providing a range of child welfare services.
Systems of Care - A system of care is a process of partnering an array of service agencies and families, working together to provide individualized care and supports designed to help children and families achieve safety, stability and permanency in their home and community.
Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) - The legal process which involuntarily severs a parent's rights to a child.
Tertiary Prevention - Treatment efforts geared to address situations where child maltreatment has already occurred with the goals of preventing child maltreatment from occurring in the future and of avoiding the harmful effects of child maltreatment.
Therapeutic (or treatment) Foster Home - A foster home in which the foster parents have received special training to care for a wide variety of children and adolescents, usually those with significant emotional or behavioral problems. Parents in therapeutic foster homes are more closely supervised and assisted more than parents in regular foster homes.
Tourette's Syndrome - A treatable neurological disorder that consists of involuntary "tic" movements or vocalizations that become more apparent under stress. Common manifestations include shoulder-shrugging, neck-jerking, facial twitches, coughing, grunting, throat clearing, sniffing, snorting and barking. Children with Tourette's often have problems with hyperactivity as well.
Traditional Adoption - Most often used to refer to a domestic infant adoption in which confidentiality is preserved. Equivalent to a Closed adoption.
Treatment - The stage of the child protection case process when specific services are provided by CPS and other providers to reduce the risk of maltreatment, support families in meeting case goals and address the effects of maltreatment.
Treatment Foster Home - A foster home in which the foster parents are trained to offer treatment to children with moderate to severe emotional problems; also known as therapeutic foster home.
Universal Prevention - Activities and services directed at the general public with the goal of stopping the occurrence of maltreatment before it starts. Also referred to as "primary prevention."
Unsubstantiated - An investigation disposition that determines that there is not sufficient evidence under State law or policy to conclude that the child has been maltreated or at risk of maltreatment. A CPS determination means that credible evidence does not exist that child abuse or neglect has occurred.
Voluntary Adoption Registry - A reunion registry system which allows adoptees, birthparents and biological siblings to locate each other if they wish by maintaining a voluntary list of adoptees and birth relatives.
Waiting Children - Children in the public child welfare system who cannot return to their birth homes and need permanent, loving families to help them grow up safe and secure.
Waiting Period - Typically refers to the time period which must lapse between birth and the time the consent to the adoption can be signed by the birth parents (varies from state to state).