Glossary of Terms

The following are definitions to some commonly used terms in kinship care and by agencies

Abuse, or child abuse: An injury or pattern of injuries to a child that is nonaccidental and the result of acts or omissions of a child’s caretaker. Types of abuse include physical abuse, sexual abuse and denial of critical care including medical or psychiatric care.

Access card: In Allegheny County, this is another name for the Medicaid program, which provides access to medical care for children in foster care.

Adoption: The creation of a new, permanent legal family for a child or youth. The adoption process involves the termination of the parents’ rights and the creation of parental rights for a new caregiver(s). Adoptive families may or may not be related to the child or youth before the adoption.

Advocate, or child advocate: In this handbook, this term is used to describe the attorney assigned to represent the child or youth in all legal matters and court proceedings related to the case.

Adjudication or adjudicatory hearing: A hearing to determine if the allegations in a petition presented to the court are true.

Agency: An organization that has met certain standards and is allowed by law to provide services to children and families. In Allegheny County, private agencies, also called “provider agencies,” share many responsibilities with ACCYF for the care, protection and supervision of children and youth in care.

Aging out: When a youth leaves foster care because they have reached a certain age (18 in most cases in Allegheny County) without obtaining permanency through returning home, adoption or SPLC.

Amachi mentoring: The mission of Amachi Pittsburgh is to empower young minds to overcome the challenges of parental incarceration and to reach their full potential through one-on-one mentoring, family strengthening and reunification support, leadership development and youth organizing. It is nationally recognized and award-winning as the only organization in the Pittsburgh area with a distinct focus on children of promise.

Appeals: Someone asks for a hearing to change the court’s decision. Any court decision is subject to an appeal.

Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA): A federal law passed in 1997 with many provisions related to the safety, permanency and well-being of children in foster care, including timelines states must follow, with some exceptions, related to termination of parents’ rights and securing permanent homes for children.

ASCI: A Second Chance, Inc.

Biological parents or birth parents: The child/youth’s family of origin: the person(s) who gave birth to or fathered the child.

Caregiver: A person responsible for the day-to-day care of a child or youth.

Case assessment and case plan: A plan that ACCYF and the provider agency, along with the youth and family and their legal advocates, develop and update every six months. It includes the services provided to the youth and family and makes clear the expectations and progress made toward reaching the goal of permanent placement of the youth.

Child: In this handbook, the terms “child,” “children” and “youth” are all used to describe individuals ages 0 to 18. The term “child” is frequently used to describe younger children (birth to age 12), while the term “youth” is frequently used to describe adolescents (ages 12 to 18).

Child Protective Services (CPS): The portion of ACCYF charged with investigating abuse or neglect allegations and providing ongoing social services to families where abuse and/or neglect of youth have been reported.

ChildLine: Pennsylvania’s toll-free telephone number—800-932-0313—to report suspected abuse or neglect of a child. A “ChildLine clearance” documents that a person, such as a prospective kinship caregiver, has not been found guilty of abusing a child in Pennsylvania. This clearance is required for kinship caregiver certification.

Confidentiality: Protection of information related to a child’s identity, life and circumstances, and that of the family, from inappropriate disclosure to other parties. A release of information may be signed to give permission to professionals and others for access to that information, if appropriate.

Custodian: A person or agency designated by the court with the rights and duties to provide for all the child/youth’s needs for protection, food, clothing, housing, education and medical care.

Dependency case: This is the term used to describe the court case related to a child in foster care.

Detention hearing: The hearing at which the court determines whether it is necessary to place or keep a child in out-of-home care. In Allegheny County, this hearing must be held within 72 hours of a child’s removal from his or her home.

DHS: Abbreviation for Department of Human Services, the agency that oversees foster care in Pennsylvania.

Disposition: This is the decision about where a child or youth should live (such as in state custody), as well as what the parents, ACCYF and the youth must do to address the problems that first brought the youth into care.

Emancipation: 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).

EPSDT: The Medicaid Early, Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment Program. This program requires regular check-ups and screenings for physical and mental development. Services related to the diagnosis and treatment of any abnormalities, delays or diseases discovered must also be provided.

FACT: Family & Children Together is a confiding program designed to assist birth parents in meeting their Family Service Plan (FSP) goals and with reunification with their children. FACT is an 8-week program focusing on various topics.

Family court: In Allegheny County, this is the court that hears most cases related to children and youth in foster care. The Family Division, also referred to as Family Court, is one of the three major divisions of the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas. The Family Division is made up of two branches, the Juvenile Division and the Domestic Relations Division. Most of the court hearings related to children and youth in foster care take place in the Juvenile Division and are referred to as dependency cases.

Family Service Plan (FSP): A written plan prepared by ACCYF in coordination with the child’s family, which describes the family’s strengths, needs, goals and services that will help the family address the problems that brought a child into foster care and move toward creating safe permanency for the child in a timely manner.

Foster care: Temporary care provided to children or youth who are removed from their family’s custody and are placed in state custody. Foster care is 24-hour care with a person or agency that is approved by the state to provide this care and includes placement with relatives, foster families, group homes, shelters and other placements for children under the age of 18.

Foster family or kinship parent: A family or parent who has been approved by the state to provide temporary 24-hour care and protection to a child or youth who has been removed from their family, generally for reasons of abuse or neglect. Foster families can be either relatives or non-relatives of the child being placed.

Foster home: A temporary home where a youth may live while in the custody of the county.

GED: General Equivalency Diploma, a diploma that is equivalent to a high school diploma and demonstrates that a person has shown satisfactory competence through testing in a variety of subjects including literacy, math and social and natural sciences.

Group home: A home that cares for several youth, often using social workers for supervision instead of kinship caregivers.

Guardian, or guardianship: A person who is not the parent of the child or youth but has been appointed by the court to have responsibility for the youth, including certain legal rights and duties.

Individual Education Plan (IEP): A written plan for a child receiving special-education services through the schools. The plan is developed with the participation of the child/youth, parents, school and others familiar with the child’s educational needs. The plan must be periodically reviewed and updated, and must include specific goals and objectives.

Individual Service Plan (ISP): A written document developed by the child/youth and the provider agency, describing long-range goals and short-range objectives for the child/youth.

Judge: The judge decides what is best for the child/youth. The judge issues court orders, reads reports, hears arguments and decides whether the child/youth should be placed or continued in the custody of the state, as well as make final decisions on permanency plans.

Kinship or kinship care: 24-hour care for children and youth provided by relatives such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, older (adult) siblings or even fictive kin. This may also be called relative care. In Allegheny County, kinship caregivers are required to be approved by the same standards as non-relative caregivers when providing care for a child in ACCYF custody.

Kinship Youth Advisory Board: Youth leaders (16-21 years old) currently or formerly in kinship care advocate for the safety, permanency and well-being of their peers. KYAB meets once monthly.   

Medicaid: A federal- and state-funded medical and health care assistance program for which all children in foster care are eligible. In the five-county region, Medicaid is a managed care program and includes special assessments and services for children under the EPSDT program.

My Best Self Program: Ward Home’s My Best Self Program ensures that foster youth—girls and boys ages 12-21—have access to hair care services and products. Through the My Best Self Program, foster youth also have the opportunity to participate in social-skills workshops with the goal of enhancing each foster youth to look good, feel good and be their best selves.

Neglect: The failure of the person caring for a child to provide adequate food, shelter, clothing, medical care and/or supervision necessary for the child’s health and welfare.

Notice of hearings: Everyone involved in a child/youth’s case must be served with a notice telling them when and where there’s going to be a court hearing. People required to receive notice include the child/youth, parents, kinship caregivers, the agency with custody and legal advocates assigned to all parties. A kinship caregiver has a right to notice but is not considered a “party” to the case and therefore, does not have an assigned legal advocate.

Opportunity Passport: The Opportunity Passport is a matched-savings program that provides young people with financial literacy training, a bank account and the ability to match their savings to purchase assets. Young people work with trusted adults in their communities to build savings and make purchases—such as cars, books for school and initial housing-related costs—to help achieve their goals. The program gives them the developmental experience of managing money and making sound spending decisions—skills that are key to their economic success and that they may not otherwise get while in foster care.

Permanency hearing: A court hearing to consider a child/youth’s need for secure and permanent placement in a timely manner. The hearing must be held within 12 months of a child’s placement in foster care and revisited thereafter until permanency is achieved.

Permanency planning: Planning for a child/youth to have a permanent legal home and family. The preferred permanency options are reunification, adoption and SPLC. Other legally available permanency options include place­ment with a fit and willing relative or another planned, permanent living arrangement (APPLA), although these last two are not as desirable as they do not provide the same level of emotional and legal security as the first three.

Subsidized Permanent Legal Custodianship (SPLC): Makes another person, often a family member, the permanent legal guardian and is intended to be a permanent arrangement, but, unlike adoption, does not involve termination of the parents’ rights. Under SPLC, the parents may retain certain rights, such as visitation, that they would not have under adoption. The guardian receives a stipend equal to a foster care payment.

Profile: A comprehensive summary of the child/youth’s life history. This is a unit of service offered through the SWAN program.

Respite care: Temporary care for a child/youth intended to give either the youth or caregiver (or both) a break or provide short-term care in emergency situations such as illness, hospitalization, etc.

Reunification: Services that can bring a youth back to the family from which they were removed by working on the problems that caused the separation. Most often, reunification involves the child’s birth family, but in cases where a child was removed from an adoptive family, SPLC or other legal guardian, reunification can also occur.

Services to children in their own homes (SCOH): A home-based family program designed to stabilize a family and prevent placement in foster care when a child can be safely cared for in their own home.

Sibling or sibling group: A sibling is the brother or sister of a child/youth. A sibling group is a group of two or more siblings. ACCYF’s policy is to keep siblings together when in foster care, and for the purpose of permanency planning.

Special-needs child: Within foster care, this term usually refers to a child who is over the age of 5, a member of a minority racial group, a member of a sibling group and/or a child with a physical, mental or emotional disability. Children with special needs are generally eligible for special services and also for adoption assistance if they are adopted from foster care.

Social worker: A person who works with children/youth and their families to provide services and support, with the goal of helping the children/youth achieve permanency. Children/youth in Allegheny County typically have both a provider agency caseworker and an ACCYF caseworker involved with their case. These workers are sometimes called social workers as well.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI): Funding provided through the Social Security Administration (SSA) to eligible children and adults with disabilities.

Surrogate parent: A person who is appointed by the Department of Education to make sure that a child/youth’s special-education needs are being met.

Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network (SWAN): Pennsylvania’s program for expediting and supporting the adoption of children in foster care.

Termination of parental rights (TPR): If family reunification has been ruled out and adoption is a possibility for the child, DHS may petition for termination of the parents’ rights to the child. If the court termi­nates parental rights it means the child is free for adoption. It also means that the parents no longer have legal rights to the child/youth.

Transitional Living Services:

  • Leadership development
  • Career prep
  • Communication skills
  • Global & cultural awareness
  • Developing sense of self
  • Service to others
  • Wellness
  • Appreciation of the arts
  • Past events include career fairs, local college tours, financial aid workshops, resume workshops, job readiness training and paid opportunities personal development.

Y.E.S.: Youth Empowerment Services are offered to all youth ages 14 and above to assist them in setting and reaching life goals. Each youth is given an opportunity to attend weekly support groups, during which a curriculum is designed to teach and reinforce life skills, promote self-advocacy and provide an opportunity for positive peer engagement.  

Y.E.S./crossover youth one-on-one meetings:

  • Empowerment planning
  • Time management
  • School-life balance
  • Permanency support

Y.E.S. teen group: Weekly discussions about current situations youth are facing, such as bullying, coping with grief and loss, rejecting stereotypes, building strong friendships, healthy dating relationships, exploring careers and more.