Helpful Terms for Adults
Dealing with Children
A legal term which refers to a child who is endangered; who
exhibits evidence of any non-accidental injury, trauma, or
death which is at variance with the history of the event; or
is the victim of sexual activity.
The initial phase of the court proceeding, wherein the court
must find, by clear and convincing evidence, that the child
is an abused, neglected, or dependent child. Only if the court
so finds does it have the power to change custody or to order
the parents to participate in services.
The creation of parental rights and responsibilities by a
probate court after the termination of all rights and responsibilities
of the birth parents or any other person holding legal rights
to the child. Children become available for adoption in the
United States through one of two routes: parental rights are
terminated by the court due to abuse, neglect, or dependency
adjudication, and permanent custody is given to an agency who
is then is responsible to find a permanent family for the child;
or the individual holding parental rights of a child signs
a permanent surrender to an agency without adversarial proceedings.
In many states, the court must approve of the signing of a
voluntary surrender for children over the age of six months.
A process by which adoptees, adoptive parents, or birth parents
secure information about each other and the circumstances surrounding
the adoptive process. While some adoptees search for information
about birth parents, searches for siblings often motivate the
individual to find out more about their early histories.
The legal process by which a party who has lost her/his case
at trial level petitions a higher court for a review of the
case, claiming that a lower court erred in its judgment. Following
a decision by the court to terminate parental rights, the parent
has thirty (30) days to file an appeal with the District Court
of Appeals, requesting a reversal of the lower court's decision.
Children placed with an adoptive family during the appeal process
are said to be in a legal-risk placement. This implies that
the child could be returned to the birth family based on the
A CASA is a Court Appointed Special Advocate who is a volunteer
child advocate appointed by the court to act as guardian ad
litem for a child who is the subject of a dependency, neglect,
and/or abuse complaint. The CASA is responsible for conducting
an independent investigation of the case, and for presenting
the court with reports and recommendations concerning the course
of action they believe to be in the best interest of the child.
A written document that is designed collaboratively by all
parties, including the caseworker, the supervisor, the parent,
the child, the CASA or guardian ad litem and the kinship or
foster caregiver. The case plan is filed with the court as
evidence of the agreement between all parties. Evidence that
the following items are addressed must be in the plan: assessments,
services, time frames, visitation arrangements, contact with
the caseworker and the foster parent or kinship care provider,
permanency goals, and level of financial support (as applicable).
Culture refers to a system of values, beliefs, attitudes,
traditions, and standards of behavior that govern the organization
of people into social groups and regulate both group and individual
behavior. Culture is created by groups of individuals to assure
the survival and well-being of group members. Culture is learned
and is more complex than either ethnicity or race.
A legal term, defined in ORC Section 2151.04 which refers
to the status of a child who is homeless, destitute, or without
proper care of support, through no fault of the parents, guardians,
or custodians; who lacks proper care or support due to the
mental or physical condition of the parents, guardians, or
custodians; or, whose condition or environment is such as to
warrant the state assuming custody.
The second phase of the court proceeding, which follows the
adjudication, and which focuses on the issue of custody and
the best interest of the child.
EMERGENCY DETENTION HEARING
May be the first court hearing held in an abuse, neglect,
or dependency case. The county agency files a complaint in
juvenile court asking for emergency custody of a child who
is alleged to be in imminent danger of physical or emotional
harm if not removed from his/ her home environment.
EX PARTE COMMUNICATIONS
Literally means "one side only". This term refers
to discussion held between a party (or interested individual)
in a court proceeding and the judge or referee, when the other
party is not present. Such communications are often considered
unfair, and for this reason judges and referees avoid discussing
a pending case with any of the interested parties except in
a court proceeding where all interested parties are present.
However, ex parte placement orders are considered appropriate
in the most extreme circumstances such as abandonment, severe
medical conditions of a parent, or other incapacitation of
FAILURE TO THRIVE SYNDROME
A serious medical condition usually seen in children under
one year of age. The child's height, weight, and motor development
fall significantly short of the average growth rates of normally
developing children. In the majority of cases, no medical cause
can be found in children with this syndrome. The syndrome appears
to be caused by a disturbed parent/child relationship which
results in the parent being unable to meet his/her child's
emotional and physical needs, including, most often, failure
to feed the infant.
Court hearing at which the probate court terminates custody
by the agency and awards full custody, including all parental
rights and responsibilities, to the adoptive family. Finalization
can take place after the child has resided with the prospective
adoptive family for six months.
GUARDIAN AD LITEM or GAL
A special guardian appointed by the court to represent the
best interest of the child. In some counties a GAL may be either
an attorney or a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). A
GAL must be appointed to every case alleging abuse, neglect,
or sexual abuse.
A) Process: Also called family assessment. A process through
which potential foster or adoptive parents educates themselves
about the rewards and challenges of foster and/or adoptive
parenting and through which they make a decision about the
types of chidren they feel they can parent. The process through
which individuals, with the help of an assessor/social worker,
looks at their skills, life experiences, strengths, and limitations
to determine if foster care and adoption are right for them.
It is also the asessor’s responsibility to assure basic
child safety will be assured in the home—through collection
of police checks, references, physical examination reports,
and home safety audits.
B) Document: The written document on which all information
gathered throughout the homestudy process is recorded. This
document will also indicate the status of the application to
foster/adopt (pending, approved, denied). The completed homestudy
document is often used for matching approved/licensed families
with children in need of placement. Court personnel sometimes
see this document.
“Independent living” is an arrangement in which
a child of sixteen years or older resides and is partially
or fully responsible for his individual living environment.
An “independent living arrangement” is any living
environment provided by an agency which includes service programs
and activities to assist youth sixteen years of age or older
to make the transition from substitute care to independent
LEGAL RISK PLACEMENT
This is usually the placement of a child into a dually approved
(foster/adopt) home. The child enters the home officially as
a foster child. However, certain clinical factors at the time
of placement lead the agency to believe that reunification
of the child and birth parent is unlikely and that the child
will at some future point be in need of an alternativve permanent
placement (adoption). The placement into a “legal risk” family
indicates the agency’s and family’s intent to have
that foster family adopt the child in question should parental
rights be terminated. (Some-times parental rights have been
terminated, but the case is under legal appeal.)
A scrapbook, diary, or log kept for or by the child, which
recreates the child's personal history, including birth, placements,
important persons in his/her life, personal achievements, and
information about the child’s experiences in foster care
MINIMUM COMMUNITY STANDARDS
Community standards are developed by the juvenile court and
the county agency with input from other community sources.
These state the minimum level of acceptable child care practices
in that particular community. The standards should take into
account cultural norms and practices, as well as accurate information
about child development. The standards are used to make decisions
about what constitutes sufficient risk to warrant CPS (Child
Protective Services) agency involvement. Standards may also
affect placement decisions. This is not the same standard as "the
best interest of the child".
A legal term defined in ORC Section 2151.03 which refers to
a child who is abandoned; or who lacks proper parental care
and support because of parental faults or habits; or whose
parents neglect or refuse to provide him/ her with proper education,
or medical care; or, whose parents neglect or refuse to provide
the child with the special care required because of a psychological
NEXT FRIEND REPORT
A written report prepared by a social worker for the Probate
Court which recommends the finalization of the adoptive placement.
OBJECTION (TO THE DECISION OF A REFEREE OR MAGISTRATE)
A legal action by a party who has lost a case in juvenile
court which was heard by a referee or magistrate. This party
may then file an Objection with the juvenile court judge, arguing
that the judge should overrule the recommendation made by the
magistrate or referee who decided the case.
The practice of providing information to a child’s birth
parents, adoptive parents, and/or the child as the child matures.
Most adoptions in the United States have some degree of openness,
from very little written information to full disclosure and
face to face contact before, during and after the adoption.
Those persons who are deemed necessary by law to be participants
in a court action. In a dependency, neglect, and/or abuse case,
the parties include the child, legal parents or guardians,
and any other individual who appears to the Court to be proper,
or necessary to the court proceedings. All parties are entitled
to legal representation at all stages of the proceedings, and
if indigent, are entitled to a court-appointed attorney.
A legal status created by the court, granted to a county child
protection agency following the termination of all parental
rights, privileges and obligations from the birth or custodial
family or guardian. This gives the agency full authority and
responsibility to provide a permanent, safe, and nurturant
family for the child.
POST LEGAL SERVICES
Services offered to an adoptive family following legalization
of the adoptive placement. Many adoptive families of children
with special needs require continued support and services from
the agency. Examples of these services are information and
referral, education, group counseling, respite care, residential
treatment, parent support groups and advocacy.
In either foster care or adoption, a series of visits are
made by the child to the prospective home, in order to prepare
the child for the eventual move and lessen the trauma to the
child. In foster care, one visit, at a minimum, must occur
prior to the final move into the home. In all adoptive placements
and where possible in foster care, there should be a series
of visits designed to familiarize the child with the home,
family, and surrounding community. The younger the child, the
more frequent the visits and the quicker the move; the older
the child, the slower and longer the pace of the visits. However
the pace and frequency vary from case to case and must take
into consideration the child's needs and developmental level.
An informal hearing which is scheduled as soon as possible
after an emergency detention hearing. All the parties involved
in the court action discuss the case in an effort to agree
on issues of adjudication (whether the case is dependency,
neglect, or abuse) and the disposition (custody, case plan
contents, visitation, criminal prosecution, etc.). In some
instances the case is settled at this point and court involvement
The persons with whom the child welfare system is working
to reunify a child. This may include birth parents, extended
family members, or others with whom the child has strong prior
attachments. The child’s family should help determine
who is included in their "family", and the child
welfare system should respect this determination.
REFEREE OR MAGISTRATE
The referee (also called a magistrate) is an attorney assigned
by a judge to hear cases on the judge’s behalf. A decision
by a referee is finalized when the judge signs the recommendation.
The decision of a referee following a court hearing. The decision
becomes final only when the judge signs the order, signifying
his/her approval of the decision. A hearing is held by the
judge only if one of the parties files an objection to the
recommendation of the referee.
SERVICE OF PROCESS
Service of process is the delivery of legal documents to a
person who is a party to a legal action. Service must furnish
reasonable notice to the person of the pending legal action,
and afford the person the opportunity to prepare a case and
to appear and be heard before the court. Every party to a dependency,
neglect, and/or abuse case must be served with a copy of the
complaint, which is filed by the county agency with the court.
Sexual activity where the victim is a minor. The perpetrator
may be an adult or a minor. Sexual abuse may include fondling,
intercourse, oral sex, child pornography, forcing the child
to watch others engage in sexual activity, watching the child
masturbate, or inappropriate kissing.
In child welfare, a child with special needs has at least
one of the following needs or circumstances that present barriers
to his placement in a family: part of a sibling group who should
be placed together; a member of a minority or ethnic group;
is six years old or older; has waited for a permanent placement
for more than one year; has a medical condition, physical impairment,
mental retardation or developmental disability; has an emotional
disturbance or behavioral problem; has a social or medical
history or background which places the child at risk of acquiring
a medical condition, a physical, mental, or developmental disability
or disorder; or has experienced multiple placements.
SUPPLEMENTAL PLANNING ( Sometimes Called CONCURRENT CASE PLANNING)
Supplemental planning is the process of developing a contingency,
back-up plan for permanency for a child in case efforts for
reunification with the birth family fail. Many agencies develop
supplemental plans for cases in which the likelihood of the
child’s return home is poor. Birth parents are notified,
either through the case plan or through a supplemental plan
notification form, of the agency’s intent to secure permanency
for the child if reunification is not possible.
A legal status created by court order which grants a county
child protection agency the right and responsibility to provide
physical care and control of a child: to determine where and
with whom the child shall live; to protect, train, and discipline
the child; and to provide food, clothing, shelter, education,
and medical care. This status may be terminated at any time
by the court.
VOLUNTARY AGREEMENT FOR CARE (VAC)
A voluntary agreement between the county service agency and
the parents, under which the county accepts temporary custody
of a child without court involvement, for a relatively brief
and specified period of time. Parents entering into an VAC
agreement are generally cooperative and willing to work with
the agency to complete the case plan. Some families may need
to use a VAC during a period of serious illness of the only
parent in the family, or by a young parent who is contemplating
making an adoption plan for her child.
A voluntary surrender is a legal document signed by parents
to transfer custody of a child to an agency for purposes of