Glossary of terms for Foster care and Adoptive parents

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Terms and acronyms for foster parents and adoptive parents

For seasoned and new foster and adoptive parents, the world of foster care is ever-evolving, requiring constant adaptation. With the continuum of meetings, court hearings, visitations, etc., foster care/adoption has an influx of terminology, and child welfare agencies are always looking for new acronyms to help!

To newly licensed foster parents, terminology can be overwhelming and intimidating. To assist in developing knowledge of foster care and increase your confidence, here is a quick Glossary of commonly used language in foster care/adoption.

The foster care system and support services that help children, families, and young people, from medical urgent care to early care and education, from children arriving in foster care to a permanent family and adoption to a young adult entering into fostering futures program who now, lives children independently in foster care need help. We have many programs to help support all people with disabilities to high achievers. We have financial assistance to help with licensed child care. Here are a lot of the terms you will hear while being a foster parent.

An easy guide to help parents understand the terminology in foster care and adoption in Virginia.

Adoption Assistance 

A money payment and payments for services provided to adoptive parents on behalf of a child with special needs.

Adoption Assistance-Maintenance

That component of the adoption assistance payment to an adoptive parent may be consistent with the basic cost of foster care maintenance.


ACES are stressful and traumatic events, including abuse and neglect. ACES are strongly related to the development and prevalence of many health problems throughout a person’s lifespan.

Children’s Residential Facility

This means any facility, child-caring institution, or group home that is maintained to receive children separated from their parents or guardians for full-time care, maintenance protection, and guidance.

Congregate Care

A placement setting of a group home (a licensed or approved home providing 24-hour care in a small group setting of 7 to 12 children) or institution (a licensed or approved child care facility operated by a public or private agency and providing 24-hour care or treatment typically for 12 or more children who require separation from their own homes or a group living experience). These settings may include childcare institutions, residential treatment facilities, or maternity homes.


CASA volunteers are sworn officers of the court-appointed by a juvenile court judge to advocate for children living in foster care due to abuse or neglect.

Emergency Placement

The sudden, unplanned, unexpected placement of a child who needs immediate care in a foster home and placement occurs before the agency obtains adequate information regarding the child’s needs.

Enhanced Maintenance Payment

The amount paid to a foster or adoptive parent is above the basic care maintenance payment.

Family Assessment and Planning Team (FAPT)

The local team was created through the Children’s Services Act to assess the strengths and needs of troubled youth and families referred to the team. The team identifies and determines the complement of services required to meet these unique needs.

Family Partnership Meeting (FPM)

A team approach for partnering with family members and other partners in decision-making throughout the family’s involvement with the child welfare system. The meeting is facilitated by a trained individual who is not the child's or family's service worker.

Guardian ad litem (GAL)

A GAL in Virginia is an attorney appointed by a judge to assist the court in determining the circumstances of a matter before the court. It is the responsibility of the guardian ad litem to provide independent recommendations to the court about the client’s best interests, which can be different from advocating for what the client wants and bringing balance to the decision-making process.

Independent Living Services

Services provided to a child in foster care 14 years of age or older who was committed or entrusted to a local board of social services. Such services include counseling, education, housing, employment, and money management skills development.

Intensive In-home Services

The intensive in-home program is responsible for addressing the child's and family's clinical needs. It is expected that the clinical staff will have the appropriate skills, training, and supervision to accomplish this responsibility.

Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC)

ICPC allows for the legal transport of a child from one state to another in a foster or adoption placement. Once a child is available for adoption, whether, through birth or the placement of an older child, adoptive parents will typically travel to the child's home state to accept the child's order. In that state, they wait with the child until the paperwork is complete and accepted by both the child’s home state and the adoptive parent's home state.


Payments made on behalf of a child to cover the cost of (and cost of providing) food, clothing, shelter, daily supervision, school supplies, a child’s incidentals, liability insurance concerning a child, and reasonable travel for the child to visit with family or other caretakers and to remain in the school in which the child was enrolled at the time of placement. 


They are allowing children and youth in foster care to experience childhood and adolescence in ways similar to their peers who are not in foster care. Normalcy empowers foster parents, congregate care staff, and other stakeholders in the youth’s life to use reasonable and prudent parent standards when making decisions regarding extracurricular, enrichment, and social activities.

Relinquishment Papers

Legal documents terminate the birth parents' legal rights to their child and transfer them to the adoptive parent(s).

Resite care or Short-term Foster Care

Short-term child care services for parents and other caregivers that offer temporary relief improve family stability and reduce the risk of abuse or neglect. Respite can be planned or offered during emergencies or times of crisis.

Termination of Parental Rights (TPR)

Voluntary or involuntary legal severance of a parent's rights to the care, custody, and control of a child and to any benefits that, by law, would flow to the parent from the child, such as inheritance.

Trauma-informed Practice

A child welfare practice that realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery; recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system; responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and seeks to actively resist retraumatization.

Virginia Enhanced Maintenance Assessment Tool (VEMAT)

VEMAT is Virginia’s standardized tool for assessing a child’s need for enhanced maintenance payments when placed in a foster home. The VEMAT focuses on the following domains: 

  1. Social/emotional care needs 
  2. Behavioral/developmental care needs 
  3. Physical/medical/personal care needs 

Understanding DSS language is key to your success
Understanding DSS language is key to your success


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