The following list defines commonly used medical, psychological, sociological, legal, and educational terms and definitions as they apply to matters of child welfare and the juvenile court system. This information is adapted from the National CASA 2002 CASA/GAL Volunteer Training Curriculum.
Act of a parent or caretaker leaving a child without adequate supervision or provision for his/her needs for an excessive period of time. State statute may define a certain period of time as constituting legal abandonment.
Wound in which an area of the body surface is scraped of skin or mucous membrane.
Defined by state statute. Generally, the child recipient of any physical injury, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse inflicted other than by accidental means by a person responsible for his/her care, custody, and control.
The process of giving a judicial decision as to whether the facts alleged in a petition or other pleading are true.
The full court proceeding in which it is determined whether the allegations of the petition are supported by legally admissible evidence.
The social, emotional, and legal process through which children who will not be raised by their birth parents become full and permanent legal members of another family while maintaining genetic and psychological connections to their birth family.
Adoption Assistance & Child Welfare Act of 1980 (PL 96-272)
Federal law mandating that in order to be eligible for federal funds, states must document that they have when possible made reasonable efforts to provide preventive and reunification services to families when children have been placed out of the home. Removal of children from the home must be pursuant to a judicial determination and there must be periodic reviews of the case. See Chapter 2 for additional information.
A statement of facts, which is sworn to (or affirmed) before an officer who has authority to administer an oath (e.g., a notary public). Before signing this statement, the person signing takes an oath that the contents are, to the best of his/her knowledge, true. It is also signed by the person administering the oath, to affirm that the person signing the affidavit was under oath when doing so. These documents carry great weight in courts to the extent that judges frequently accept an affidavit in place of the testimony of the witness.
Any factor involved in the commission of an act of abuse or neglect that increases its enormity or adds to its injurious consequences, including, but not limited to, abandonment, torture, chronic abuse, or sexual abuse.
An assertion or statement of a party to a legal action, which sets out what he/she expects to prove.
Persistent feelings of apprehension or fear resulting in decreased perception of well-being and ability to function.
The attempt to have a final order of a trial court changed by seeking review of a higher court. Usually appeals are made and decided on questions of law only; issues of fact (e.g., did the minor suffer an accident, or was he intentionally injured?) are left to the trial judge or jury, and seldom can be decided in an appeal.
The bringing of a person accused of a crime before a court to be advised of the charges against him/her and to state his/her answer to the charges.
Intentional or reckless threat of, or actual, physical injury to a person. Aggravated assault is committed with the intention of carrying out a threat of other crimes. Simple assault is committed without the intention of carrying out the threat of other crimes or if the attempt at injury is not complete.
The psychological connection between people that permits them to have significance to each other. An affectionate bond between two individuals that endures through space and time and serves to join them emotionally. A strong and enduring bond of love that develops between a child and the person(s) he/she interacts with most frequently.
Attention-Deficit Disorder with or without Hyperactivity (AD/HD)
A behavioral diagnosis in which children express or exhibit symptoms of inattention, distraction, restlessness, inability to sit still, and difficulty concentrating. Thought to be caused by both inherited and environmental factors. Treatable through behavior management and/or the use of medication.
Autism Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior. Autistic disorder, sometimes called autism or classical ASD, is the most severe form of ASD, while other conditions along the spectrum include a milder form known as Asperger syndrome, the rare condition called Rett syndrome, and childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (usually referred to as PDD-NOS). Although ASD varies significantly in character and severity, it occurs in all ethnic and socioeconomic groups and affects every age group.
A law enforcement officer, usually a deputy sheriff, assigned to a courtroom to keep peace and assist the judge, courtroom clerks, witnesses, and jury. A court attendant whose actual duties vary according to jurisdiction and judge but often include maintaining order in the courtroom.
Battered Child Syndrome
A medical condition, primarily seen in infants and young children. Evidence of the syndrome includes repeated nonaccidental injury to the nerves, skin, or skeletal system. Frequently, the history given by the caretaker does not explain the nature of occurrence of the injuries. Also called parent-infant-trauma syndrome (PITS) or maltreatment syndrome.
Women who are victims of nonaccidental physical and psychological injury inflicted by a partner. There is often a relationship between partner abuse and child abuse, with both occurring in the same family.
Best Interest of the Child
Standard for the court to use in deciding the disposition of a case following an adjudication of abuse, neglect, or dependency, and TPR proceeding. The standard that the CASA/GAL volunteer uses in choosing a course of advocacy for every child.
A personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment.
The psychological attachment of caregiver (usually mother) to child, which develops during and immediately following childbirth. The aptitude for bonding, which appears to be crucial to the development of a healthy parent-child relationship, may be observed immediately following delivery to help identify potential families-at-risk.
Burden of Proof
The duty to prove allegations of a petition in a court hearing. It is the petitioner’s responsibility to prove the case. Neither the child nor the parents have the duty to explain unproven allegations.
The court calendar is the list of cases to be called for hearing before a particular judge.
Any person other than a parent, guardian, or custodian who has responsibility for the health and welfare of a juvenile in a residential setting, including a stepparent, foster parent, an adult member of the juvenile’s household, an adult relative entrusted with the juvenile’s care, or any person such as a house parent or cottage parent who has primary responsibility for supervising a juvenile’s health and welfare in a residential child care facility or residential educational facility.
A volunteer child advocate who works to see that a child’s best interest is served in a court case.
A disability resulting from damage to those parts of the brain that control and coordinate the muscles. This brain damage occurs before or during birth or in the first few years of life. Causes are lack of oxygen to the developing brain, infections or disease, physical injury, premature birth, or maternal-child blood type incompatibility. Cerebral palsy is neither hereditary nor contagious. About seven hundred thousand people in the United States have cerebral palsy. Specific characteristics, which may occur alone or in combination, include spasticity, marked by tense, contracted muscles; athetosis, involuntary exaggerated movements of the arms, legs, and head; and ataxia, poor sense of balance and depth perception. Cerebral palsy may occur with other handicaps.
Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) (PL 93-247)
Act introduced and promoted in Congress by U.S. Senator Walter Mondale and signed into law on January 31, 1974. The act established the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect in the HEW Children’s Bureau and authorized annual appropriations. The purpose of the center is to conduct and compile research, provide an information clearinghouse, compile and publish training materials, provide technical assistance, investigate national incidence, and fund demonstration projects related to prevention, identification, and treatment. See Chapter 2 for additional information.
Strategy for intervention in which a helping person assumes an active role in assisting or supporting a specific child and/or family or cause on behalf of children and/or families. This could involve finding and facilitating services for specific cases, developing new services, or promoting program coordination. The advocate uses his/her power to meet clients’ needs or to promote causes.
Child Protective Services (CPS)
The agency with exclusive power to file abuse, neglect, or dependency petitions in court.
Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome
A pattern of behavior in a child who is being sexually abused. The child victim will progress through five stages: secrecy, helplessness, entrapment and accommodation, delayed and conflicting disclosure, and retraction. Large numbers of children and their parents in proven cases of child sexual abuse exhibit this behavior pattern in order to maintain the child abuse victim within the family. However, such abuse tends to isolate the child from eventual acceptance and credibility within the larger society.
Also called a “civil action.” Includes all lawsuits other than criminal prosecutions. Juvenile and family court cases are civil proceedings.
Clear, Cogent and Convincing
The level of proof sometimes required in a civil case for the plaintiff to prevail. It means the judge (or jury, in some court settings) must be persuaded by the evidence that it is highly probable that the claim or affirmative defense is true. The clear and convincing evidence standard is a heavier burden than the preponderance of evidence standard but less than beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the level of proof needed to grant emergency custody or to terminate parental rights (except in ICWA cases). See also Standard of Proof.
Clerk of Court
An officer appointed by the court to work with the chief judge in overseeing the court’s administration, especially to assist in managing the flow of cases through the court and to maintain court records.
A program providing nonresidential or residential services to a juvenile in the community where his/her family lives. A community-based program may include specialized foster care, family counseling, shelter care, and other appropriate services.
The legal fitness or ability of a witness to be heard on the trial of a case. All persons are presumed to be competent witnesses, including very young children. A person challenging a witness’s competency must show that either the witness cannot communicate information to the judge or jury or doesn’t comprehend the difference between right and wrong.
A permanency planning strategy for assuring an expedient permanent placement for a child. Planning for reunification occurs simultaneously with the development of alternative permanency plans, including adoption, to be used in the event that it is not possible for the child to return to his/her family of origin.
An injury to the soft structure of the brain resulting from violent shaking or jarring.
Protection from public scrutiny of information that must be kept confidential. In child abuse and neglect matters, the CASA/GAL volunteer has access to all records pertaining to the child (unless federally protected), but may release such information to other parties only by court order or as designated by law.
The capacity to resolve conflicts without having to resort to aggression. The process of conflict resolution may be done with the assistance of a neutral third party.
Refers to any physical condition present at birth.
An official agreement by all parties to settle the case upon certain specified terms and submit it to the judge for approval.
Any willful disobedience to or disregard of a court order, or any misconduct in the presence of a court. An action that interferes with a judge’s ability to administer justice or that insults the dignity of the court. Punishable by fine or imprisonment or both.
Continued or Continuance
Instance when a trial, hearing, or other court appearance is postponed to a later date. This is done by order of the court or upon agreement by the parties’ attorneys and approved by the court. In most cases, the new hearing date is set at the time of the continuance.
Physical punishment inflicted directly upon the body.
Directive issued by the court, having the authority of the court, and enforceable by law.
A written document presented to the court by the CASA/GAL volunteer stating the needs of the child and recommendations for disposition that would meet those needs.
Believability of a person, especially a witness.
The process involving the filing of charges of a crime, followed by arraignment and trial of the defendant. Criminal prosecution may result in fines, imprisonment, and/or probation. Criminal defendants are entitled to acquittal unless charges against them are proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Technical rules of evidence exclude many kinds of proof in criminal trials, even though that proof might be admissible in civil proceedings.
The questioning of an opposing party’s witness about matters brought up during direct examination.
A set of attitudes, beliefs, and actions based on continuing exploration of, understanding of, and respect for individual and cultural differences.
A learned pattern of customs, beliefs, and behaviors, socially acquired and socially transmitted through symbols and widely shared meanings. Culture is an organized group of learned responses—a system of ready-made solutions to the problems of people.
The person or agency that has been awarded legal custody of a juvenile by a court. This may also be a person, other than a parent or legal guardian, who has assumed the status and obligation of a parent without being awarded the legal custody of a juvenile by a court.
The right to a child’s care and control, carrying with it the duty of providing food, shelter, medical care, education, and discipline.
A genetic disease characterized by severe respiratory and digestive problems. The disorder involves the body’s inability to regulate salt secretions. This inability leads to damage of the lungs and pancreas. It also limits the child’s ability to conserve salt. Children with cystic fibrosis have chronic lung infections, scarring on their lungs that leads to lung disease, and a pancreas that does not function well. The latter causes juvenile diabetes. The child may also dehydrate quickly during exercise. Children and teens suffering from cystic fibrosis require pulmonary therapy several times a day to clear their lungs.
A method of assessing and treating family or individual problems that focuses on a family’s weaknesses, and sets as the primary goal getting them off public services. In this model, it is the caseworker’s role to find out what is wrong with the family and to decide how best to “fix it.”
Any minor who has been found by a court of law to have committed an act that would be a crime or infraction under state law or under an ordinance of local government, including violation of the motor vehicle laws, if committed by an adult.
A child in need of assistance or placement because he/she has no parent, guardian, or custodian responsible for his/her care or supervision, or whose parent, guardian, or custodian is unable to provide the care or supervision and lacks an appropriate alternative child care arrangement.
The oldest recognized and most prevalent emotional disorder; it afflicts about fifteen percent of adults and many children. Depression can be difficult to diagnose because of its various origins, manifestations, and degrees of severity. Endogenous depression results from biochemical changes in the brain; reactive depression seems to be triggered by a life event such as a death or loss of property. Symptoms include significant emotional changes, including a depressed mood, sadness, gloom; spells of crying; anxiety; irritability; feelings of guilt and remorse; inability to concentrate; indecisiveness and loss of interest; loss of self-confidence and self-esteem; and desire to commit suicide. Unrecognized depression in young children may be characterized by chronic fatigue or boredom; inability to achieve at their intellectual potential; reluctance to leave home to go to school; and hyperactivity. Treatment for both children and adults is typically a combination of psychotherapy and psychoactive drugs. Psychological testing may be needed to identify and treat the disorder.
A severe, chronic disability of a person attributed to a mental or physical impairment or a combination of mental and physical impairments. A developmental disability is manifested before the person is eighteen years old. It is likely to continue indefinitely and results in functional limitations in three or more of these major life activities:
1. Ability to talk and express oneself, ability to understand and follow simple directives;
2. Ability to dress self, brush teeth, use the toilet, etc.;
3. Ability to learn colors, shapes, letters, words, foods, and the like;
4. Ability to walk, run, or sit in a manner that is acceptable;
5. Ability to make decisions or to do what is expected;
6. Ability to live independently; and
7. Ability to partially support self.
Some examples of developmental disabilities are the lifetime conditions of mental retardation, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, autism, and severe dyslexia.
The determination of which of two or more diseases or conditions a patient is suffering from by systematically comparing and contrasting clinical findings.
The process by which an attorney questions his/her own witness in order to present information to the court necessary for that attorney’s case. The questions are usually open-ended: “Tell the court about¼” or “Describe the condition of the home.”
Action by the judge that removes a given case from the court.
In juvenile court, the order that determines a treatment plan for a child already proven to be abused, neglected, and/or dependent. It is the equivalent of a sentence in criminal court.
The juvenile court hearing in which evidence is presented and arguments made to design the most appropriate treatment and choose the most appropriate placement for the child. In many courts, the dispositional hearing immediately follows the adjudicatory hearing. This type of hearing is not bound by the strict rules of evidence required in an adjudication.
An involuntary, natural mechanism present in infancy and continuing throughout adulthood through which a person physically and/or mentally separates himself/herself to guard against unpleasant situations. Because children are limited in their coping abilities, they commonly use dissociation to protect themselves from all or part of their painful experiences. Dissociation may become a preferred or automatic response in children who live in a chaotic, chronically stressful, or traumatizing environment. It is these children’s loss of awareness that enables them to perform, or at least survive emotionally, in their respective environments; however, the use of protective dissociation may become so extreme that it interferes with the child’s functioning and development. Children’s sense of identity becomes fragmented when they regularly cope with stressful situations by disowning parts of their experiences. This fragmentation of the self may solidify into distinct patterns that are perceived by the child and others around him/her as separate personality states, or multiple personality disorder.
The name of one of the courts of the United States. It is held by a judge, called the district judge. Several courts under the same name have been established by state authority.
The “mainstream” culture in a society, consisting of the people who hold the power and influence.
The most prevalent genetic abnormality associated with mental retardation. It accounts for about thirty-three percent of all forms of genetically based mental retardation. Each year in the United States, some seven thousand children of all socioeconomic groups are born with Down’s syndrome, representing an average rate of one in eight hundred births. Down’s syndrome most commonly results from the presence of an extra number twenty-one chromosome.
The rights of persons involved in court proceedings to be treated with fundamental fairness. These rights include the right to adequate notice in advance of hearings, notice of allegations of misconduct, assistance of a lawyer, and the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses.
When a minor achieves legal independence from his/her parents by court order or by getting married before reaching the age of majority.
Residential placement of a child alleged to be abused, neglected, or dependent in a licensed foster home, facility operated by Child Protective Services, or other home or facility approved by the court. The court, pending the adjudicatory hearing, may order such placement if the judge finds that placement with the parents is unsafe.
Emergency Custody Hearing
Hearing to determine if the child’s immediate welfare demands continued placement out of the home.
The systematic diminishment of a child. It is designed to reduce a child’s self-concept to the point where the child feels unworthy of respect, unworthy of friendship, unworthy of the natural birthright of all children: love and protection.
A collaborative family assistance model in which the caseworker assumes that family members know best what their strengths and problems are, and that they will be most successful in accomplishing plans they create to rectify problems. The caseworker’s role is to assist them in recognizing their strengths and challenges, to support that planning process, and to assist the family in implementing their plan. This may require teaching new skills.
Seizures are the primary symptom of all forms of epilepsy, which is characterized by convulsions of the muscles, partial or total loss of consciousness, mental confusion, or disturbances of bodily functions usually controlled automatically by the brain and nervous system. Epilepsy occurs in one percent of the general U.S. population. The disorder occurs more frequently in children than in adults. In about eighty percent of cases, the first seizure occurs within the first decade of life. No one knows for sure why brain cells discharge abnormally and cause the symptoms of epilepsy.
A group classification in which members share a unique social and cultural heritage and pass it on from one generation to the next. However, ethnicity does not have to have a biological or genetic foundation.
The attitude that one’s own cultural group is superior.
Any sort of proof submitted to the court for the purpose of influencing the court’s decision.
Physical evidence used in court. In a child abuse case, an exhibit may consist of x-rays, photographs of the child’s injuries, or the actual materials presumably used to inflict the injuries. See also Evidence.
Latin term that refers to situations in which only one party (and not the adversary) appears before a judge. Although a judge is normally required to meet with all parties in a case and not with just one, there are circumstances where this rule does not apply and the judge is allowed to meet with just one side (ex parte) such as where a plaintiff requests an order (e.g., to extend time for service of a summons) or dismissal before the answer or appearance of the defendant(s). In addition, sometimes judges will issue temporary orders ex parte (i.e., based on one party’s request without hearing from the other side) when time is limited or it would do no apparent good to hear the other side of the dispute. For example, if a wife claims domestic violence, a court may immediately issue an ex parte order telling her husband to stay away. Once he’s out of the house, the court holds a hearing, where he can tell his side and the court can decide whether the ex parte order should be made permanent.
A person who testifies at a trial because he/she has special knowledge in a particular field that might be helpful to a judge (or jury). This person is permitted to state his/her opinion concerning those technical matters even though he/she was not present at the event. Non-expert witnesses are only permitted to testify about facts they observed and not their opinions about these facts. An example of an expert witness is a child psychologist or development specialist who testifies about the best interest of the child when custody or visitation is in dispute.
Failure to Thrive Syndrome (FTT)
A serious medical condition most often seen in children under one year. An FTT child’s height, weight, and motor development fall significantly below the average growth rate of normal children. It is presumed that this failure to thrive is a result of inadequate nurturing, bonding, and attachment.
Family Preservation Services
Intensive, short-term service delivery programs that provide family therapy and skills education/ training and help families obtain basic services, such as food and housing, to prevent removal of the children from the home and keep the family together.
Family Risk Assessment
A written evaluation, often in a checklist format, completed after an investigative report is substantiated and at various other times throughout the case. This assessment is completed to determine the present risk to the child of remaining with or being returned to his/her family.
One of several grave crimes, such as murder, rape, or burglary, punishable by a more stringent sentence than that given for a misdemeanor. An offense punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of more than one year.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)
A condition in infants resulting from heavy alcohol consumption by the mother during pregnancy. Because alcohol easily crosses the placenta, its concentration in fetal blood equals that in maternal blood. Heavy alcohol intake during pregnancy is associated with numerous adverse effects on the fetus, including mental retardation, hyperactivity, irritability, growth deficiencies, poor suck reflex in infants, and behavioral and learning disabilities. Children with FAS often have distinctive facial characteristics, such as small eyes, short noses, a flat, long upper lip area, and flattened mid-face. Following birth, the infant may suffer from alcohol withdrawal. The incidence of FAS in the United States is about one in 750 births. Nearly all of these cases involve mothers who drink heavily—more than 445 drinks per month or more than five drinks on any single occasion (Kruse, J. (1984) “Alcohol Use During Pregnancy,” Journal of Family Practice.). A similar, but less severe manifestation is called fetal alcohol effect (FAE).
Fine Motor Function
Primarily eye-hand coordination—the ability to receive and utilize signals from your eyes to perform tasks employing the fingers (e.g., tying shoelaces, playing electronic games, or building a model). A component of neuromotor functioning.
A form of substitute care, usually in a home licensed by a public agency, for children whose welfare and protection requires that they be removed from their own homes.
A broken bone. One of the most common injuries suffered by battered children.
Fragile X Syndrome
An inherited genetic condition associated with mental retardation. It is identified by a break or weakness on the long arm of the X chromosome. Since this is an abnormality of a sex chromosome, mothers are carriers and their sons are at risk of being affected. Daughters are at risk of being carriers and sometimes of mild infection. The disorder is not transmitted from father to son.
Gross Motor Function
The ability to facilitate and monitor feedback from the body’s large muscles (e.g., during athletic activities). A facet of neuromotor functioning. Also called “large motor function.”
Residential placement in a non-family living arrangement for children with special needs.
Guardian ad Litem
From Latin meaning “guardian at law.” The person appointed by the court to look out for the best interest of the child during the course of legal proceedings.
Secondhand information that a witness only heard about from someone else and did not see or hear directly. Hearsay is not admitted in court because it is not trustworthy, as well as because of various constitutional principles, such as the right to confront one’s accusers; however, there are so many exceptions that hearsay is more often admitted than excluded.
A swelling caused by a collection of blood in an enclosed space, such as under the skin or the skull.
Irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals.
IEP (Individualized Education Plan)
A written, legal document mandated by federal law to be developed for all students identified as needing special education services. It is developed in a team meeting in which parents, teachers, specialists, and the student, if appropriate, participate. The main goal of the IEP meeting is to discuss and review the educational needs of the student and write a program that identifies goals and objectives for the year.
Legal protection from civil or criminal liability. Some states have reporting statutes that confer qualified immunity upon persons mandated to report, if the report was made in good faith, giving them a defense against libel, slander, invasion of privacy, false arrest, and other lawsuits that the accused person might file.
A highly contagious, rapidly spreading skin disorder that occurs mainly in infants and young children. The disease, characterized by red blisters, may be an indicator of neglect or poor living conditions.
Latin term meaning, literally, “in chambers.” A hearing or judicial proceeding conducted in a judge’s chambers or a private place where the public is not present.
In Loco Parentis
Latin term meaning a person, other than parents or legal guardian, who has assumed the status and obligation of a parent without being awarded the legal custody of a juvenile by the court. This term is often used to refer to the court itself taking over what should be parental responsibilities.
A sexual act between two persons who are related. Includes descent by blood or adoption, stepchild (while marriage creating their relationship still exists), brother, half-brother, sister, half-sister, niece, and nephew. Incest may occur between members of the same sex, but the most common form of incest is between father and daughter.
Any unmarried person who is under age eighteen and either (a) is a member of an Indian tribe or (b) is eligible for membership in an Indian tribe and is the biological child of a member of an Indian tribe. (Note: There is another definition in the service provisions that is wider and may give a child the opportunity to access services. This can be important where a child can be enrolled because of failure to meet a residency requirement of a specific tribe but could access culturally relevant services. The third definition is in the notice section of ICWA, which requires that a tribe be notified whenever the court knows or has reason to know the child may be an Indian.)
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (PL 94-142)
A federal law passed in 1975 and reauthorized in 1990, mandating that all children receive a free, appropriate public education regardless of the level or severity of their disability. It provides funds to assist states in the education of students with disabilities and requires that states make sure t