Foster care has its own confusing language.

We've got you.

You're not alone if you don't know the words below: most young people — even many adults — don't know them, either.

Next time you experience someone using confusing or unknown words, don't be afraid to stop the conversation and ask for a definition. Better yet, encourage adults to use youth-friendly language and reduce their use of acronyms (words like NYTD and ILP and TPR).

You deserve to know what's going on.

Click a word below to show it's definition.


The failure of a parent to provide adequately for the financial support for a child and an unjustified failure to maintain, or attempt to maintain, contact or a parental relationship with the child. Abandonment is judged over a period of time which varies in different states, but the time period to prove legal abandonment is usually between 6 months and one year.

The use or treatment of someone or something that is seen as harmful. Abuse of a person can be physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, or a combination of any or all of those. Abuse of a substance may involve alcohol or drugs.

The use or treatment of someone or something that is seen as harmful. Abuse of a person can be physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, or a combination of any or all of those. Abuse of a substance may involve alcohol or drugs.

The use or treatment of someone or something that is seen as harmful. Abuse of a person can be physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, or a combination of any or all of those. Abuse of a substance may involve alcohol or drugs.

The use or treatment of someone or something that is seen as harmful. Abuse of a person can be physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, or a combination of any or all of those. Abuse of a substance may involve alcohol or drugs.

A mental health condition that makes the body and brain need more and more drugs/alcohol, things, or activities to feel satisfied and happy.

A mental health condition that makes it hard to pay attention/concentrate or stay focused, either with or without hyperactivity.

To take voluntarily (a child/young adult of other parents) as one's own child, especially in compliance with formal legal procedures. Once this happens, there is no legal difference between a child who is adopted and a child who is born into a family. Adoption can happen at any time, from baby to teenager (or even beyond). Adoption can be by a relative, foster parent, or a completely new family. An adoptive family might be a single parent, a couple, or a family with kids.

A person who speaks up on behalf of themselves or someone else in an effort to gain services or things, or who publicly supports a particular cause or change in policy (such as laws).

In many cases is the first court hearing after entering the system to see why a child was been removed from the home. An adjudication hearing may be held to determine whether there was legal cause to remove a child from their home.

The organization responsible for providing services while a child or youth is in foster care. Agencies may use abbreviated names such as CPS, DHS, or CFS and may be run by the county, state or by a private organization.

Leaving foster care at 18 years or older (age at which a youth ages out varies by state).

Someone asks for a hearing to change the court’s decision. Any court decision is subject to an appeal. Appeals can take several months to resolve.

The court gives an individual a chance to admit or deny the crime or to let the judge decide.

A professional appointed to act for another in business or legal matters. Also known as a lawyer.


The person(s) who gave birth, or fathered the child.


Person(s) temporarily serving as a parent for a child who has lost or been removed from a parent's care.

A plan that the foster care agency, along with the youth and family, makes and updates regularly. It includes the services provided to the youth and family, and makes clear the expectations and progress made toward reaching the goals for the child or youth. 

Caseworkers investigate reports of safety concerns for children and families in their state or county. This includes conducting child safety assessments of alleged child abuse or neglect, evaluating whether a child is at risk of being harmed and, if needed, determining appropriate services to ensure childs safety.

The John H. Chafee Foster Care Program for Successful Transition to Adulthood provides support for education, employment, housing, and other programs and resources for youth in foster care as they transition to adulthood.

A government agency that steps in and works with children, youth, and families to assess, investigate, and provide ongoing social services to families where abuse and or neglect of a young person has been reported.

The child welfare system is a group of services designed to promote the well-being of children by ensuring safety, achieving permanency, and strengthening families. Foster care is one of the programs provided by the child welfare system.

The legal requirement to keep certain information private. A young person can ask caseworkers, attorneys, and others involved with their case about whether information that is shared will be kept confidential (private), or if it will be shared with others.

A house or facility that allows unrelated people in need of care, support, or supervision to live together. This is a model sometimes used as a placement for young people in foster care. 

A CASA is a volunteer that supports, represents, and elevates the wants and needs of a young person in court.

The right and responsibility to provide care and supervision over a youth/young person. This includes major decisions affecting the best interest of a minor child, including but not limited to, medical, religious, and educational decisions.


A child who has been placed in the legal custody of either the state or the county foster care system by the courts, usually due to the abandonment, abuse or neglect of the child by a parents or other caregiver.

A physical or mental impairment which can limit a young person’s ability in the following areas: self care, language skills, learning, personal mobility, self-direction, potential for independent living and potential for economic self-sufficiency as an adult.

The decision about where the youth should live (such as in state custody), as well as what the parents, agency and the youth must do to change the current situation. Sometimes court hearings are continued and changed to another date for various reasons. For instance, someone may not show up, or everyone at court may feel it’s a good idea to delay the hearing.


Funding to support higher education (including vocational or job training) for youth from foster care. In most cases, funds can help pay for a Trade or Vocational school, housing, transportation, books, fees and other costs related to education. Funding is provided as part of the Chafee Program.

A youth who is legally declared an adult (by a court) prior to age 18. A youth in foster care who emancipates is no longer a ward of the court (or in foster care).

Emotional abuse can be difficult to pin down because there may not be physical signs. Emotional abuse happens when yelling and anger go too far or when an individual is criticized, threatened, or dismissed until their self-esteem and feelings of self-worth are damaged. Emotional abuse can hurt and cause damage just as physical abuse does.


Family preservation services are short-term, family-focused services designed to assist families in crisis by improving parenting and family functioning while keeping children safe.

Refers to certain birth defects and impairments that may be suffered by a child as the result of heavy alcohol consumption by its mother during pregnancy. Symptoms may include significant learning and behavioral disorders (including ADHD), poor social judgment, and impulsive behaviors.

Refers to individuals that are unrelated by either birth or marriage, who have an emotionally significant relationship with another individual that takes on the characteristics of a family relationship.

A temporary service provided by States for children who cannot live with their families. In this case, the State agency temporarily gains custody of a minor.

A home which is licensed by the state or an agency to take in children and youth who have been placed in foster care.


A person who looks after and is legally responsible for someone who is a minor or unable to care for oneself independently.

A person who is appointed by the court in order to advocate for the best interest of a child.


People who supervise and provide care to young people in a group home or residence.


ILP is a program designed to provide support and services to young people preparing to transition from foster care to life on their own. Services often include training for employment, education, housing, relationships, health and other daily living skills.

A Federal law that gives Native American Indian Nations and Tribes, including the Alaskan Aleuts, the right to control foster care and adoptions that involve their tribal members, the children of their tribal members and those individuals that could become tribal members.

A written plan for educational support services and their anticipated outcomes. An IEP is developed for students who are enrolled in special education programs or are behind in their education.

ICPC are laws which control the lawful movement of children from one state to another for the purposes of foster care placement and adoption.


The person who has oversight of the court hearing which determines what is in the best interest of a young person in foster care. The judge issues court orders, reads reports, hears arguments and decides whether the youth should be placed in the custody of the state (into foster care).


Placement of a foster child in the home of someone who is related to the child by family ties or by a significant prior relationship connection.


Problems that affect the brain’s ability to receive, process, analyze, or store information which can make it difficult for a student to learn as quickly as someone who isn’t affected by learning disabilities. A learning disability doesn’t have anything to do with a person’s intelligence.

Placement with a person who is charged with the legal responsibility for the care and management of the child. A legal guardian will be under the supervision of the court and will be required to appear in court to give periodic reports about the status of the child and its estate.

Since a child can have only one set of legal parents at a time, when the parental rights of a child’s biological parents are legally terminated, the child becomes legally “free” to be adopted by someone else who then becomes the legal parent.

A lifebook is a recording of a child's memories, past and present mementos, photos, drawings, and journals. These are preserved in a binder, photo album, or book. A child uses the lifebook to record history and goals for the future. Written stories by the child and others are the heart of the lifebook.

Abilities that are helpful to a young person to possess or gain to ensure a successful transition to adulthood. These include skills and knowledge pertaining to employment, housing and home life, money management, health and self care, relationships, education, and daily living.


Physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse of a child or youth.

The successful performance of the mind, leading to productive activities, fulfilling relationships with other people, and the ability to adapt to change and to cope with adversity.

A disorder of the mind that causes unusual behavior.

Somebody, usually older and with more experience, who can offer guidance, friendship, reinforcement and be a positive example.

Unwanted sexual attention forced on a child or young person.


When parents or guardians don’t take care of the basic needs of the children who depend on them. Neglect occurs when a child or teen doesn’t have adequate food, housing, clothes, medical care, or supervision. Neglect is not when a parent doesn’t give a kid something he or she wants, like a new computer or a cell phone. Neglect is one form of abuse, but probably the hardest type of abuse to define.

This document contains details about when and where a foster care court hearing will take place and provides notice to people who may wish to appear or have something to say at court. This notice must be delivered to certain individuals such as attorneys, biological parents, foster parents and caregivers. In some cases, a foster child or youth may receive notice automatically or by special request from the judge or young person.


An 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, but are more frequently found in other countries.

OCD is a type of anxiety disorder. People with OCD become preoccupied with whether something could be harmful, dangerous, wrong, or dirty — or with thoughts about bad stuff that might happen. With OCD, upsetting or scary thoughts or images, called obsessions, pop into a person’s mind and are hard to shake.

A child who has no living parents, or whose parents have disappeared, abandoned, or are no longer able or willing to adequately support a child.

A regular pattern of negative, defiant, disobedient, and hostile behavior toward authority figures that goes on for at least six months. May include 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, use of obscene language, and other misbehaviors.


All of the legal rights, and corresponding legal obligations, that go along with being the parent of a child. These include: the right to legal and physical custody of the child, the right to physical access or visitation with the child, the right to inherit property from the child and to have the child inherit property from the parent,the right to consent to medical care and treatment for the child, the right to consent to the marriage of the child or its enlistment in military service, the ability to contract on behalf of the child, the obligation to provide financial support for the child, the responsibility to provide a legal defense of the child in legal proceedings, the obligation to care for, direct and supervise the child, the obligation to be legally liable for certain damages caused by the child, the obligation to see that the child attends school, and the obligation to protect the child and provide a safe living environment for the child.

The identity of the biological father of a child.

To have an enduring kin-like relationship that is safe and meant to last a lifetime.

An agreement between a young person and a supportive adult which defines the scope of a relationship which is intended to provide permanence and specific support for the youth.

Permanency planning involves decisive, time-limited, and goal-oriented activities to maintain children within their families of origin or place them with other permanent families.

Physical abuse is often the most easily spotted form of abuse. It may be any kind of hitting, shaking, burning, pinching, biting, choking, throwing, beating, and other actions that cause physical injury, leave marks, or produce significant physical pain.

This term is used to describe the point in time when a young person goes to live in a foster home, group home, or other temporary living arrangement.

A very strong stress reaction that can develop after a traumatic event. Abuse, witnessing or experiencing any type of personal or environmental disaster, or being threatened with an assault can lead to PTSD. Symptoms may include: strong emotions, jitters, and trouble sleeping, eating, or concentrating. A person with PTSD might experience frequent thoughts and images of what happened, nightmares, or fears. The right care and support can reduce or eliminate these symptoms and allow a person to move on.

After an agency finds that a child is experiencing or in danger of abuse or neglect, the agency will initiate a court action. To protect the child, the court can issue temporary orders placing the child in shelter care during the investigation, ordering services, or ordering certain individuals to have no contact with the child.

A person who is believed to be the father of a child, or who claims to be the father of a child, at a time when there may not be enough evidence or information available to determine if it is true.


A condition that generally appears in children before age five, and is thought to result from a lack of consistent care and nurturing in early years. The disorder is characterized by the inability of a child or infant to establish age-appropriate social contact and relationships with others.

When a birth parent voluntarily gives up his or her parental rights, often so that someone else can adopt the child.

A structured care facility with highly trained staff that provides services to young people to overcome behavioral, emotional, mental, or psychological problems that have had harmful impacts on family life, school achievement, and peer relationships.

Another term for a foster parent, house parent, or other caregiver. 

Temporary care for a youth in foster care, intended to give either the youth or foster parent (or provider) a break.

Reunification is the process of returning children in temporary out-of-home care to their families of origin. When children must be removed from their families to ensure their safety, the first goal is to reunite them with their families as soon as possible.


The act of speaking up for yourself, making your own decisions about your own life, learning how to get information so that you can understand things that are of interest to you, finding out who will support you in your journey, knowing your rights and responsibilities, problem solving, listening and learning, reaching out to others when you need help and friendship, and learning about self-determination.

Sexual abuse is any type of sexual contact between an adult and anyone younger than 18, or between a significantly older child and a younger child. If a family member sexually abuses another family member, this is called incest.

Temporary housing for a young person who needs an immediate safe place to live.

Brother or sister. May include biological siblings, step siblings, foster siblings, or other close relatives or nonrelatives with whom they live or have lived. It is also possible they have siblings they have never met.

A licensed professional who gives children and families support. Social workers play a key role in the recruitment of qualified foster parents, placing children in supportive homes, and coordinating available resources for families.

A person (usually a foster parent or care provider) who is appointed by the Department of Education to make sure that a youth’s special education needs are being met.


If family reunification has been ruled out and adoption is a possibility for the child, the agency may petition (request) for termination of parents’ rights to the child. If the court terminates parental rights it means the child is legally free for adoption. It also means that your biological parents have no legal rights pertaining to the child anymore.

A foster home in which the foster parents or caregivers have specialized training to provide care for children and adolescents who may have higher emotional or behavioral needs. Also referred to as a “Treatment Foster Home.”

A person who provides supportive services such as counseling, goal planning and advocacy for youth and families. A therapist has received specialized training and may be a Social Worker, Psychologist or Psychiatrist.

When a young person leaves foster care, whether through reunification, adoption, or emancipation. See also Emancipation and Aging Out.

A Transition Plan is a document that outlines what a young person wants and needs in ordered to be prepared for adulthood. A Transition Plan covers every aspect of a young adult’s life, including education, employment, housing, finances, health, and more. Agencies are required by law to develop a Transition Plan with youth no later than 90 days prior to the youth aging out of foster care. 

A service, usually including housing, provided to young people who are in the process of aging out of foster care or have recently emancipated from the system.

A program provided by some states that allows current and former foster youth to attend publicly funded colleges and higher education institutions without paying (or with a substantial reduction of) tuition and fees.


When a parent or guardian makes a decision on their own to place a child in foster care. Voluntary placement also occurs when a young person over the age of 18 chooses to voluntarily remain in foster care.


A child or youth who has a guardian appointed by the court to care for and take responsibility for them. A governmental agency may take temporary custody of a young person if the child is suffering from parental neglect or abuse, or has been in trouble with the law.


A group of young people who have experienced foster care. The group generally works on issues to improve the system, raise public awareness, or to provide peer support to other foster youth. Sometimes called a Youth Advisory Council.