Every profession has its own jargon. It becomes so ingrained in their every day that when they start slinging words around people outside of work, they don’t really take into account the fact the person they are talking to has no idea what they are talking about. Furthermore, different regions have slightly different vocabularies that can change the meaning completely. Foster Care and, specifically, Child Protective Services (CPS) can be especially rife with such things. 

Foster Care Terminology

When I was into foster parenting for a few months, I started using the jargon, assuming the people around me would have any clue what I was talking about. I’ve since learned to be more proactive in figuring out who needs an explanation and who understands what I’m saying. I thought I’d help you out by explaining some of the ones that tripped up my conversations early on. 


First, many different states or even regions in a state have different names for child protective services. Here in my part of Texas, it’s CPS. Another friend deals with DFS for the Department of Family Services. Social services, DCS Department of Children Services, and probably many more I’m missing all mean roughly the same thing. It’s the state-level department that oversees foster care in that region. Their objectives are usually the same. They make sure children and families are living in safe conditions.

They remove children from their homes and place them in foster care when they deem it necessary and oversee family reunification processes. Reunification is the desired outcome of all of these departments. They want the child to be removed long enough for the parent or adult guardian figure to be able to make changes that would make them a safe place for the child again. If that becomes impossible, a judge will determine if the child’s plan should turn toward adoption by either a family member or a hopeful adoptive family. This can be the foster family (but doesn’t have to be). 

Caseworkers are the people who are the most hands-on in the decision-making processes for the child. They perform monthly visits to the house to check and see the following:

  • Is the child being taken care of well
  • Is there enough food in the house
  • Is the home reasonably clean, free of infestations, and safe
  • Do the foster parents have any issues they need to discuss

They also typically discuss the following:

Upcoming court dates

Some judges want to see the child personally to make sure they appear well-fed, safe, and clean. Others do not want children in court, but do want up-to-date pictures and doctors’ records

Behavior issues

Sometimes caseworkers can get authorization for different types of therapy that can help if the foster parent is observing something that could be detrimental to the child. For example, if the foster parent or caregiver noticed the child banging their head repeatedly or walking into walls and door frames, they may recommend occupational therapy. 

Behavior issues can also be them refusing to complete school work- this may mean they need a tutor or different motivation

Parental visitation

The caseworker will often try to accommodate all parties as best as they can. Home visits with you are a good time to sit down and compare calendars. 

Foster Agencies

The state contracts the care of the children out to another entity. It is the job of the entity and the foster parent to abide by all state laws. If you work with an agency you will have two caseworkers: one from the state and one from your agency. That means two separate visits a month and keeping notes for both parties. I was frustrated about this, but it became part of our routine (I realized it gave me an excellent reason to tidy up twice a month or more–so, that was a plus.)

Some states only foster and adopt through the state. Some states only use subcontracted agencies. It will vary from region to region. 

Standard of Care

This is the law by which your home is ruled by as a foster parent. There are details upon details outlining how a child should be cared for. This includes the bedroom size they are permitted to use, the number of children sharing a bedroom, food choices, religious practices, holidays, clothing, and haircuts. You name it, it’s probably in there. They are to keep everyone safe. For instance, you aren’t allowed to take a child to get a haircut without permission from the biological parents while the child is still in foster care. This is to prevent conflict with the biological family and to ensure the child’s religion and customs are being respected. 

Other things you’ll find in the standard of care portfolio that you will end up receiving are the child’s rights. There are a number of people still living with the idea that a child has no rights. That is false. They have rights and if those rights are violated the child is allowed to call the ombudsman, the public advocate responsible for handling complaints toward administration. This phone number should be posted in a visible area. 

As a person who grew up in a high-control environment, this idea grated on me. But the reality is, a child should be able to say if someone is making them feel uncomfortable, unheard, or they are being treated unfairly. 


An ombudsman is a person whose whole job is to make sure people are being treated fairly and correctly by authorities. They work for the state and hold no loyalty to any particular caseworker or judge. 


You will also likely encounter CASA depending on the severity of the children’s case. CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate. Their involvement in your and your foster child’s lives varies from worker to worker. They are meant to be an extra set of eyes on the child to make sure their needs are being met. We had a wonderful CASA who would take our kids out on adventures once or twice a month and advocated for our kids very well in court. He also brought gifts every so often and checked in on us to make sure we were doing okay. 

Attachment Study

Attachment study is another word that may pop up in your life with CPS. This requires a special counselor and the only thing required of you might be transportation to the office. The purpose of the study is to see how parents and children interact. This information can hold sway in court if the children are clearly either unattached emotionally or are fearful. However, as invested in these children’s lives as you may be by this point, you are not allowed to know the results. 

There will be a lot of unknowns. You may never receive updates about how the case is going. Your job in all of this is to care for kids the best you can and accept that sometimes you’re not going to understand what’s going on. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ask about things you don’t understand. If someone says a word that makes no sense to you, make sure you ask what it means.