The Lingo

As I write, or talk to non-foster parents, I realize that Foster Care has A LOT of lingo. Rather than try to explain every term in each blog, I’ve created this handy-dandy PRIMER for you! 🙂 It should also come in handy the next time you’re eavesdropping on foster parents. 😉
The terms are arranged in alphabetical order, and I’ve tried to cross-reference as applicable. I’m going to pin this to the top of my page for future reference.
As you read the blog, please let me know if you come across any unfamiliar terms that aren’t included here – either in the comments, or use the message form on the left side of the page.

A bit of clarification: these are the terms in east Central Florida. Most of the terms are consistent across Florida and many are consistent across the country. But there are some significant differences, both within Florida and particularly across the country. For example, you’ll find  DCF in Florida, CPS in Texas, DCFS in New York, DHS in Iowa… Titles of the front-line workers and the specifics of “normalcy” also vary pretty wildly. I’m working on a separate project to attempt to catalog the differences, but for now – this page is just about terms you’ll find in my blog.

I’ll try to identify Florida-specific terms (where I’m aware) and I’ll do my best to include other states’ terms (where I know them) because I realize not all my readers are lucky (?) enough to live in sunny Florida.

The Department of Children and Families (DCFthe Department) is the Florida state agency charged with providing comprehensive protective services for children who are abused, neglected or at threat of harm. DCF outsources foster care and related services to a statewide network of Community Based Care (CBC) agencies. Our CBC is Community Partnership for Children (CPC). All of our Case Managers and Case Supervisors are employed by CPC. CPC outsources the licensing of foster homes to several Licensing Agencies. Our Licensing Agency is Devereaux. Our Licensing Specialist is employed by Devereux.

Whew! Did you get all that? Good! Now hold on tight, because we’re just getting started!

Advisory hearing (Advisory): first hearing after the Judge has ordered a TPR/Adoption case plan goal. At the Advisory, bio-parents can surrender, contest the TPR, or not show and have their rights involuntarily terminated by default.

Bed: as in “I wouldn’t mind a sibling set – I have plenty of room, but I only have 2 beds.” Each foster home is licensed for a certain number (x) of foster children. We refer to this as “having (or being licensed for) x beds. (see also Medical Bed, Traditional Bed)

Bio-parents/Bio-mom/Bio-dad/Bio-family: biological parents/mom/dad/family of foster child. For the purposes of Starfish Confidential, this refers to families where parental rights are still intact. Once rights have been surrendered/severed/terminated, I switch to Birth-parents/Birth-mom/Birth-dad/Birth-family.

Birth-parents/Birth-mom/Birth-dad/Birth-family: For the purposes of Starfish Confidential, biological parents/mom/dad/family of foster or adopted child whose parental rights have been surrendered/severed/terminated.
Case Manager (CM): legal guardian of a foster child; visits child at home monthly, works with bio-parents to encourage and assist with case plan completion; keeps court updated on bio-parent’s case plan progress and child’s well-being. May be called Case Worker (CW), Child Advocate (CA), Social Worker (SW) or Social Services Worker (SSW) in other states/regions.
Case Plan Goal (Goal, the Goal): the Department‘s goal for the foster child’s case. Almost all (98 out of 100) cases start with a Reunification goal. 
Case Plan: list of tasks that bio-parents need to complete in order to be reunified with their child.
Case Supervisor (CS): Case Manager‘s boss. If things go as they should, foster parents don’t have much contact with the CS.
Children’s Legal Services (CLS): The attorneys who represent CPC/DCF in court proceedings.

Concurrent case plan: See concurrent Reunification/TPR/Adoption.
Concurrent Reunification/TPR/Adoption: the CM‘s final warning shot to the bio-parents. Theoretically, this means the CM continues to work toward reunification, while starting to plan for TPR & adoption. The stated purpose of the concurrent case plan is to shorten the amount of time it takes for a child to achieve permanency. In reality(at least in my area), the CM doesn’t do much with regards to TPR/Adoption; the concurrent case plan is simply used to scare the bio-parents into doing what they haven’t bothered to do in the last 9-or-so months. 
Note: when a child enters care with a concurrent case plan, either due to family history with DCF or the extent of abuse/neglect, it usually means that the circumstances aren’t egregious enough to go for immediate TPR, but CPC doesn’t have a high expectation of reunification. Therefore, while reunification services are offered, CPC wants the child placed in a home that is willing to adopt him/her to avoid a future move if the child is made available for adoption.
Eavesdrop on Foster Parents (EFP): My collection of the absurd conversations that foster parents have – well, absurd to everyone else, the conversations are perfectly reasonable to us. 😉

Family Care Bed: a foster care bed reserved for a child with significant developmental delays.

Family Care: category of foster care, homes and beds for foster children with identified significant developmental delays.

Family Care Home: a foster home with special training and licensure to accept children with significant developmental delays.

Frequently Asked Fostering Questions (FAFQs): My own version of “FAQs”, where I try to answer the questions that people ask foster parents everyday.


Guardian ad Litem (GAL): court-appointed advocate for the foster child. The GAL‘s entire purpose is to speak for the foster child’s best interest. We love our GALs and the kids in care need more – if you can’t foster, please consider becoming a GAL! Certain states/regions call this role a Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), and GAL (or Attorney ad Litem – AAL) refers to an attorney assigned to the child.

Home-study: report that must be completed before a child can be placed into a home. Requirements vary depending on type of home-study (Foster, Adopt, Reunification).

Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC): essentially, the process of an interstate home-studyICPC is a contract among states and US territories authorizing them to work together so that children who are placed across state lines for foster care or adoption receive adequate protection and support services. The ICPC establishes procedures and fixes responsibility for child placement. (Not to be confused with ICP: Insane Clown Posse.)

Judicial Review (JR): periodic court hearing for purposes of updating the Judge on the case. There is a system to the frequency, but I haven’t figured it out yet. I do know that they occur with more frequency as the case ages.
Licensing Specialist (LS): Each foster family’s primary contact with their Licensing Agency. This is the person who visits the house periodically to make sure we are still in compliance with licensing requirements. The frequency of visits varies based on circumstances, but there is always a structured frequency in place. The LS also makes sure my paperwork is up-to-date and conducts my annual relicensure. (I’m pretty sure this term is area-specific.)

Medical Bed: a foster care bed reserved for a child in medical foster care.

Medical Foster Care: category of foster care, homes and beds for foster children with identified special medical needs.

Medical Foster Home: a foster home with special training and licensure to accept children with special medical needs – these can range from broken limbs to g-tubes and ventilators. A medical foster home may have one or more medical beds as well as one or more traditional beds.


Normalcy: buzz word that means even foster children and foster parents deserve the ability to have normal lives. In Florida, Normalcy means that foster parents can authorize sleepovers at a friend’s house or extracurricular activities. The new big change (in Florida) is that foster parents are now allowed to use our own judgement when selecting babysitters – I no longer have to have someone fingerprinted and background-checked before letting them watch my Littles for a few hours so I can have dinner with The Daddy Guy. (To my knowledge, Florida is leading the charge on Normalcy.)

Over-cap: essentially, permission from DCF/CPC to go above the licensed capacity of a home. Our home is licensed for two foster beds. In order to exceed that number, special permission is required.

Permanency: buzz word that means the case is closed – the child has been adopted or reunified.
Reunification: process of returning foster child to their bio-parents. Also a Case Plan Goal.
Staffing: an official meeting to compose the Department‘s recommendation to the Court. Staffings are done for changes in placement, visitation or Goal;  permanency and reunification,

Surrenderbio-parent voluntarily gives up their parental rights.

Termination of Parental Rights (TPR): process by which the Court involuntarily severs parental rights.

TPR trial: bench-trial in which the Department presents it’s case for TPR. This step is skipped in the bio-parents surrender or have their rights terminated by default.

TPR/AdoptionCase Plan Goal. When reunification is no longer seen as an option, the focus shifts to severing parental rights, freeing the child for adoption and locating an adoptive family.

Therapeutic Bed: a foster care bed reserved for a child in therapeutic foster care.

Therapeutic Foster Care: category of foster care, homes and beds for foster children with identified special behavioral needs.

Therapeutic Foster Home: a foster home with special training and licensure to accept children with special behavioral needs.

Traditional Bed: a foster care bed reserved for a child in traditional foster care.

Traditional Foster Care: category of foster care, homes and beds for foster children without identified special medical or behavioral needs.


Have I forgotten anything? Or gotten anything wrong? Let me know in the comments!

edited to address inaccuracies/inconsistencies

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