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Desertion of a child by a parent or adult primary care giver with no provisions for continued childcare nor with any apparent intention to return to resume.    

Adoption assistance
Monthly subsidy payments to help adoptive parents raise children with special needs. These payments were initially made possible by the Federal Government. States also fund monthly payments for children with special needs who are not eligible for federal subsidy payments.

Adoption benefits
Compensation to workers through employer-sponsored programs. Some examples of such benefits are financial assistance or reimbursement for the expenses of adopting a child, or provision of paid parental or family leave.

Adoption Exchange
An organization comprised of both private and public adoption agencies that meet to exchange information about available families, waiting children, and making matches. Adoption exchanges also sponsor matching parties to bring together prospective adoptive parents, waiting children and their social workers in a child-focused setting. Adoption exchanges can be local, state wide or national in scope.

Adoption Petition
The legal document through which prospective parents request the court’s permission to adopt a specific child.

Adoptive Placement
The point at which a child begins to live with prospective adoptive parents; the period before the adoption is finalized.

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 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 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 very 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 service: post-adoption services such as respite care, counseling, day care, etc.
  • nonrecurring adoption expenses—a one-time reimbursement 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

Adoption tax credits
Non-refundable credit which reduces taxes owed by adoptive parents who claim adoption expense reimbursement under P.L. 10-188; may be claimed on Federal taxes (and in some States with similar legislation, on State taxes).

Adoption tax exclusions
RS 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.

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.

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The approval process that takes place to ensure, insofar as possible, that adoptive or foster parents are suitable, dependable, and responsible.

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.

The principle of ethical practice that requires social workers and other professionals not to disclose information about a client without the client’s consent. The concern of the federal law called Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) that regulates the ways in which an organization must keep medical information confidential and accessible only to authorized personnel.




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




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.

Extended family
A child's relatives (other than parents) such as aunts, uncles, grandparents, and sometimes even close friends.




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.

Fictive kin
People not related by birth or marriage who have an emotionally-significant relationship with an individual.

The final legal step in the adoption process; involves a court hearing during which the judge orders that the adoptive parents become the child's legal parents.

A child placement in which birth parents' rights have not yet been terminated 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.

Foster children
Children who have been placed in the legal custody of the State or county because their birth parents were deemed abusive, neglectful, or otherwise unable to care for them.

Foster parents
State- or county-licensed adults who provide a temporary home for children whose birth parents are unable to care for them.

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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.

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 (GAL)
A person, often an attorney, appointed by the court to represent the interests of a child, a ward, or an unborn infant in a particular court case. The status of guardian ad litem exists only within the confines of the particular court case in which the appointment occurs.




Home study
A process through which prospective adoptive parents are educated about adoption and evaluated to determine their suitability to adopt.

Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)
A federal law (Public Law 95-608) regarding the placement of Native-American children which establishes the tribe's sovereignty as a separate nation over the welfare of children who are tribal members of who are eligible for tribal membership.





  1. Abbreviation for Individualized Educational Plan, a plan for educational support services and outcomes developed for students enrolled in special education programs.

  2. Acronym for Interethnic Placement provisions; refers to Section 1808 of P.L. 104-188, Removal of Barriers to Interethnic Adoption, which affirms the prohibition contained in the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act of 1994 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].


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.

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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).




Legal guardian
A person who has legal responsibility for the care and management of a person who is incapable of administering his own affairs. In the case of a minor child, the guardian is charged with the legal responsibility for the care and management of the child and of the minor child's estate.

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.

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 and/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.




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.

The process of finding prospective families specifically suited to meet the needs of a waiting child, not to be confused with "placement".

Acronym for Multi-Ethnic Placement Act of 1994.

Multi-Ethnic Placement Act
A federal law enacted in 1994 and implemented through State policy. The Multi-Ethnic Placement Act 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 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.

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Non-recurring adoption costs
One-time adoption expenses, which may be at least partially reimbursed by States up to a maximum limit of $2,000 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.




Occupational therapy
The science of using everyday activities with specific goals, to help people of all ages prevent, lessen, or overcome physical disabilities.




Parens patriae
Legal term that defines the State's legal role as the guardian to protect the interests of children who cannot take care of themselves. For example, in an abuse or neglect case, this concept is used to explain the State's duty to protect minor children who lack proper care and custody from their parents.

Permanency planning
The systematic process of carrying out (within a brief, time-limited period) a set of goal-directed activities designed to help children live in permanent families. This process has the goal of providing the child continuity of relationships with nurturing parents or caretakers and the opportunity to establish lifetime family relationships.

Photolisting book
A publication that contains photos and descriptions of children who are available for adoption.

Placement date
The time at which the child comes to live with the adopting parents.

Post-institutionalized child
Children adopted from institutional, hospital, or orphanage settings. The term is used to describe an array of emotional and psychological disturbances, developmental delays, learning disabilities, and/or medical problems resulting, in part, from their stay in institutions.

Post-legal adoption services
Services provided subsequent to legal finalization of the adoption. There are primarily four types of post-legal service providers: social service agencies, private therapists, mental health clinics and self-help groups.

Post-placement supervision
The range of counseling and agency services provided to the adopted parents and adopted child subsequent to the child's adoptive placement and before the adoption is legally finalized in court. Social worker reports of this required supervisory period are forwarded to the court.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
A condition in which victims of overwhelming and uncontrollable experiences are subsequently psychologically affected by feelings of intense fear, loss of safety, loss of control, helplessness, and extreme vulnerability and in children the disorder involves disorganized or agitated behavior.

Psychological parent
A person, though perhaps not biologically related to a child, whom the child considers as his parent; sometimes called a "de facto" parent.

Putative Father
Legal term for the alleged or supposed father of a child.

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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).

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.




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.

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.




Termination of Parental Rights (TPR)
The legal process which involuntarily severs a parent's rights to a child.

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.

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.



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.

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