Glossary of Terms

The following is a glossary of terms compiled by the Santa Clara County Social Services Agency. It is not meant to be an exhaustive list, it is just a quick reference for you as you work with the child welfare system. The definitions are intentionally worded to be understandable by individuals outside of or new to the child welfare system.

300 Kids:

Children who are “dependents” of the Juvenile Court (victims of abuse, neglect and/or exploitation)

600 Kids:

Children who are “wards” of the Juvenile Court (status offenders and delinquent offenders)

366.26 Hearings:

Also referred to as “26 hearings” are to determine the “Permanency Plan” for the child (i.e. adoption, guardianship, or long-term foster care).



Adoption Assistance Program is a financial support program for families with adopted children.


The process you go through to become a child’s legal parent.

Attachment / Bonding:

A relationship of trust established between two people.


Case Plans:

  • Court Ordered Case Plan: defines objectives and goals for the family to protect the child with the recommendation of appropriate services and an assigned timeline for completion.
  • Voluntary Case Plan: A plan of non-court mandated services provided to a family by DFCS addressing health and safety of children; however, failure to follow through with the case plan may result in court intervention.

Child Advocate:

A person who gets to know the child and advocates for the best interest and the wishes of the child.

Concurrent Planning:

The process of providing services to reunify the birth family while at the same time ensuring the child is with a family who would be willing to provide a permanent home through either adoption, guardianship, or long-term foster care if family reunification does not work.


When there is an unresolved issue in the case, the court may continue services or delay a decision until the issue is resolve.


Mental health services for individuals, families, couples, or other groups of people.

Court Liaison:

The social worker attending uncontested court proceedings on behalf of the child’s social worker.

Court Timeline:

After the dispositional hearing, court hearings are held approximately every 6 months to determine the progress of the birth family, if the children go home or not, and why the case should remain open.


Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS)*: A department within each county that works ensure the safety and protection of children, and whenever possible, help them to remain in their own homes or return home as soon as possible.

Dependency Court:

The part of Superior Court concerned with the safety and protection of children.

Dependent Child:

A child that is a dependent of the court.

Detention Hearing*: If following a child’s removal from the home the child is not released back to the parent, there will be a hearing in Dependency Court within 3 Court days (not including weekends or holidays) to decide whether to return the child to the parent or to keep the child in protective custody.

Director’s Exception

  • Extended court involvement: the DFCS Director can decide to continue services provided to a family past the established legal time frame.
  • Financial/Support exception: the DFCS Director has the discretion to pay for otherwise uncovered services
  • Criminal records for relatives: the DFCS Director has the authority to make an exception regarding past criminal re-cords of relatives, which would otherwise preclude the placement of children.

All exceptions are made on a case-by-case basis.


When the court determines that all protection related issues have been satisfactorily addressed and the court officially discharges the case.

Dispositional Hearing:

A hearing to determine where the child will live while the family receives court-ordered services.



The legal process by which a minor child petitions the court to allow him to become an adult in the eyes of the law before his 18th birthday.



Refers to a place of residence other than a family home. For example, group home or residential treatment facility.

Family Conference:

A group decision meeting to resolve issues such as visitation, placement of children, long term plans, emancipation, and much more.

Family Court:

Deals with family matters such as custody, divorce, child support etc.

Family Maintenance:

Court-ordered services offered by DFCS in an attempt to keep children in their own home.

Family Reunification (FR):

Court-ordered services offered by DFCS in an attempt to return children to their birth parents.


A foster family who requests to be considered to adopt a foster child.

Foster Care:

The formal care and protection of non-relative children.

Foster Care Payment:

The monthly reimbursement payment received by foster parents for the care of foster children. Foster care payments are based on the eligibility of the foster child and may be paid through State or Federal resources depending on the child’s eligibility.

Foster Family Agency (FFA):

A private agency which certifies and supervises foster homes.


Home Study:

An in-depth study of a potential adoptive family and their physical residence. Home studies are conducted by an Adoption Home Study Social Worker when a family has indicated that they want to be considered as an adoptive family.

Home Visit:

Visits that are made in the home where the child lives or the home of the birth parents. Home visit refers to the location of the visit if it takes place in a home.



Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children. This is the Federal process for moving a dependent child from one state to another.

Independent Living Program (ILP):

ILP is a DFCS program that works with foster care youth age 16-21 years on issues such as education, employment, living skills, and much more.


Jurisdictional Hearing:

A hearing to determine if the child will be made a dependent of the Juvenile Court.

Juvenile Court:

Deals with dependent children.



A formal process by which an adoptive family is chosen for a child, based on the needs of the child.


A process in which a neutral person (mediator) helps families, their attorneys, social workers and County Counsel to arrive at a negotiated solution to the problem.


Medical insurance for low-income families and foster children. Each foster child will have a Medi-Cal card unless they are covered under a private insurance policy.

Monthly contact by Social Worker:

Contact with the foster child: The child’s social worker is required to have a face-to-face visit with the child each month.

Contact with the foster parents:

The child’s social worker is required to have contact with foster parents on a monthly basis.


On Duty Social Worker (ODSW):

All social work units have a “duty officer” who handles crises as they arise in the absence of the child’s social worker. If you have a crisis and cannot reach the social worker, you can contact the on duty social worker for immediate assistance.


Parent-Child Visitation:

An established time for parents and children to see each other. Visitation is often court ordered.

Parenting Class:

Classes offered to parents to teach parenting skills and techniques. Often court ordered for birth parents.

Permanency Planning (PP):

Permanency Planning begins when a child enters the child welfare system. All services and interventions are offered with permanency for the child in mind. When a case is in “PP” it means that reunification is no longer a priority in the case plan.

Permanent Placement:

An adoptive home, Guardian home, or long-term foster home that will take care of the child permanently.


A legal document recording the facts of the case and requesting court intervention. A petition is filed in all cases where a social worker determines that court intervention is necessary.

Pre-Approval Training:

A training curriculum for foster care and kinship parents. This training is state mandated and offered by all agencies overseeing placements. (27 hours)



According to the Welfare and Institution code a “relative” means an adult who is related to the child by blood, adoption, or affinity within the fifth degree of kinship, including stepparents, step siblings, and all relatives whose status is preceded by the words: great:, “great-great”, or “grand”, or the spouse of any of these persons, even if the marriage was terminated by death or dissolution.

Relative Visitation:

An established time for relatives and children to see each other. Relative visitation may be court ordered at times.


Settlement Conference*:

An opportunity for all concerned parties to meet and discuss the facts of your case and work out a resolution that is agreeable to all.

Sibling Contact:

Visitation between children in the same family. Often times sibling contact is ordered by the court or set up by the social worker(s).

Sibling Group:

A group of two or more related children who share at least one biological or adoptive parent in common.

Special Needs:

Considered if a child has complex medical, behavioral, emotional needs, or developmental disabilities.

Substance Abuse Treatment:

Generally counseling provided through a reputable treatment program to address drug and alcohol dependency and use/abuse. Often court ordered.

Supervised Visit:

A visit between a child and a birth parent (or birth relative) which is conducted under the supervision of a third party.


Temporary Custody*:

When a child is reported to be in danger, a social worker or police officer will respond to the location of the child to assess the safety of the child(ren). If the child is assessed to be in an immediate unsafe situation, the child will be taken into temporary “protective custody”, usually by the police officer and transported to the Children’s Shelter Care System.


The legal proceeding in which the Court decides if the allegations in the petition are true or not. Each side will present its own witnesses and question the witnesses on the other side. The Court will weigh the evidence and either find the allegations of the petition to be true or not true.

Types of Social Workers:

There are many social workers in DFCS serving different roles. The term “child’s social worker” will generally apply to which ever social worker is presently working with the case. You will likely have contact with the following:

  • Supervisor: Social Work Supervisors generally supervise 8-10 social workers within a particular role.
  • Emergency Response: social workers who take the hotline referral and assess the situation. They make the decision if further intervention is required and if so, they refer the case to Child Protective Services.

Dependent Intake:

  • Dependent Intake: social workers who determine if court intervention is required and if required, they follow through with the initial legal process
  • Placement Resource Worker: a worker in the Placement Resource Unit who helps the child’s social worker (who ever has the case at that point in time) find a foster home.
  • Continuing Social Worker: social workers who are responsible for a case after the Dispositional Hearing until the case is dismissed. The continuing social worker is often referred to as the “child’s social worker”.
  • Adoption Social Worker: social workers who search for families for particular child(ren), matching child(ren) with an adoptive family, conducting home studies, f etc.
  • Foster Care Eligibility Worker: determines what type of payment a foster care parent, adoptive parent, or relative caretaker is eligible for based on the child’s particular situation.
  • Licensing Intake Social Worker: assists foster care and adoptive applicants in completing the application process to become a licensed foster parent.
  • Recruiter: social workers who are in the community looking for and recruiting new foster and adoptive parents.
  • Licensing Social Worker: social workers who work with foster and adoptive families to become licensed and to remain licensed. Licensing social workers educate about regulations and help families remain in compliance with state mandates.


Unsupervised Visit:

Visitation between a child and his/her birth parent or relative without the supervision of a third party.


Wrap Around Services:

Child-centered, family-focused services “wrapped around” the family, whether it be the birth, extended, foster, or adoptive family, to enhance the family’s resources in the safe caring of their children through: socialization, recreational activities, family education, vocational support, mental health services, and much more.

*Definitions derived from the County of Santa Clara’s A Parent’s Guide to Child Welfare Services & Dependency Court Proceedings In Santa Clara County revised 10/03. Contact: Social Services Agency, Department of Family and Children’s Services, 373 W. Julian Ave., San Jose, CA 95110.