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Foster Care & Adoption Glossary


Abuse: Harm inflicted on a person through physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual means; may cause victim to develop emotional or behavioral problems, some of which may not appear until later in life. Help from an experienced counselor or therapist may be needed to work through abuse issues.


Adoption: A legal process in which parental rights of a child are granted to adoptive parents.


Adoption Certificate/Decree: Also known as the Certificate of Adoption, this is the document that is signed by the presiding Judge upon finalization of the adoption. This official document allows for a new birth certificate to be issued for the adopted child by the appropriate authority. This new birth certificate will reflect the child’s new information (name, adoptive parents, etc.) and will replace the original birth certificate.


Case Management: The ongoing follow-up and review of the safety and well-being of a child who has been removed from parents or caregivers. A child who is in out-of-home care will see a case manager at least once a month, and the case manager will work with the parents, the child, and the child’s current caregivers to determine the best interests of the child.


Case Plan: The court document that all parents or caregivers of dependent children must follow. Case plans have goals for the parents and the child so that the parents can reunify with the child and safely care for him or her.


Caseworker/Social Worker: Individuals that assist foster and adoptive parents with the foster or adoption process. They are responsible for many things throughout the process, such as completing home studies and counseling.


Child/Youth in Foster Care: A child/youth in foster care is a dependent child who is has been removed from their parent or guardian and is living in a licensed foster home. 


Child Protection Team: Conducts forensic interviews and medical exams of children to determine if they have been abused or neglected.


Child Protective Investigator (CPI): A child protective investigator checks into allegations of abuse, neglect, and abandonment of children by their caregiver. The investigator will interview the child, caregivers, and other contacts to determine if a child is safe or not. If a child is not safe, the CPI can remove the child from the home.


Closed/Confidential Adoption: An adoption in which neither the adoptive parents nor the birth parents have any identifying information regarding each other. 


Dependent Child: A child who has been removed from their home and needs to be under state supervision. This child could live with a relative, non-relative, or in foster care.


Disruption: A situation in which, for whatever reason, an adoption has not become final even though the adoptive parents were identified as the parents to adopt the child and the child may have even been placed in their home for a period of time.


Dissolution: An overturning or termination of an adoption after it has become legal.


Finalization: The stage in the adoption process at which the court awards parental rights to the adoptive parents.


Foster Care: Licensed foster care is made up of individuals or families who have requested to be able to take dependent children into their home. Foster homes are licensed and inspected regularly, and foster parents go through a rigorous interview process before being approved.


Foster Parents: State-licensed adults who provide a temporary home for children in state custody whose birth parents are unable to care for them.


Group Home: A home for several foster children that is licensed by the state. Group homes are run either by house parents who live with the children, or by shift staff who transfer in and out every 24 hours.


Guardian ad Litem: A volunteer advocate for a dependent child in court. This advocate is represented by an attorney and speaks to the judge on behalf of the child they represent.


Home Study: The in-depth review prospective foster or adoptive parents must go through to be able to legally adopt. A home study typically includes evaluations of the prospective parents’ relationship, inspections of their residence, parenting ideals, medical history, employment verification, financial status, and criminal background checks.


Independent Living: A program for teens in foster care that prepares them for adult life.


In-Home Care: Some children are under state supervision, but are able to safely remain in their own homes with regular case management.


Licensing: The licensing process includes interviews with prospective foster parents, a home study, and a review of financial records, among other things.


Legally Free: A child whose birth parents’ rights have been legally terminated or relinquished so that the child is free to be adopted by another family.


Legal-Risk Adoption: The placement of a child in an adoptive home when the birth parents’ rights have not yet been voluntarily or involuntarily terminated.


Medicaid: The federal program that funds health insurance for low-income families. Medicaid covers the health and dental care that is needed for children in foster care.


Neglect: Failure of a parent or other person with responsibility for the child to provide needed food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or supervision–to the degree that the child’s health, safety, and well-being are threatened with harm.


Non-Relative Placement: A child who has been removed from their parent or guardian and placed with a family friend. Non-relatives are not eligible for additional funding.


Open Adoption: Birth parents and adoptive parents in the process of an adoption are given information that could be used to identify them.


Out-of-Home Care: This term includes all children who have been removed from their home and are living with a relative, non-relative, or in foster care. 


Parental Rights: All legal rights and corresponding legal obligations that come with being the legal parent of a child.


Permanent Guardianship: Many children will be placed in permanent guardianship, usually with appropriate relatives, if the parents’ rights have not been terminated but the child cannot safely return home.


Placement: Describes the point in time when the child goes to live with his or her legal adoptive parents.


Post-Placement Supervision: Upon placement, a caseworker will be assigned to complete post-placement supervision of the adoptive family. The caseworker will visit the home several times over a set period (according to state requirements) to determine if adoption of the child was in the “best interests of the child.”


Private Agency: An agency licensed by the government in whose jurisdiction the agency operates. Private agencies generally operate on a fee-for-service basis.


Public Agency: An agency funded by the government in whose jurisdiction they operate. Most services provided by public agencies are provided at no cost, but for some services there may be charges.


Relative Placement: A child who has been removed from their parent or guardian and placed with a relative. Relatives can get some funding to help with the child’s expenses through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.


Relinquishment: When a birth parent voluntarily forfeits his or her parental rights to a child. The parental rights are typically transferred to an agency, rather than directly to new adoptive parents.


Respite Care: Childcare and other services designed to give parents temporary relief from their responsibilities as care givers.


Reunification: The process of returning a child who has been removed from the home back to his or her parents or guardians, and ensuring that the child will remain safe. Reunification is the case goal plan for the majority of children who are removed from their homes.


Social Worker: Depending on the state, designation as a social worker means that an individual has earned a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) after successfully completing four years of college. An individual with a Master’s degree in social work (MSW) has completed a graduate program and is eligible to pursue licensure.


Special-Needs Adoption: An adoption where it is known or suspected that the child may have a disability of some sort; this term may also be used when the child or children are hard to place (i.e. sibling set, older kids, etc.).


Therapeutic Foster Home: A foster home where the parent or parents have received special training in dealing with a wide variety of children with special needs. Parents in therapeutic homes are supervised and assisted more than parents in regular foster homes.


Waiting Children: Children in the care of the public child welfare system (children and youth in foster care) who cannot return to their birth homes and who need permanent, loving families to help them grow up safe and secure.


Information adapted from http://www.adoptachild.org/common-adoption-terms