A guide to common foster care terminology 

What’s it all mean?

Foster care terminology can be confusing at times, especially when your’re just getting started! The following glossary contains common terms and phrases used in foster care.

Adjudicatory Hearing

An adjudicatory hearing is a fact-finding hearing where the details of a child’s case are gathered and a formal decision is made whether to keep the child in out-of-home care until their home situation is deemed safe again.  This hearing is held within 10 days of the initial shelter hearing.  Learn more here.

Child Advocate

A child advocate is a lawyer or legal representative assigned to each child who has been separated from their family to represent them in court and look out for their best interests.

Child Care Information Services (CCIS)

CCIS is a state program connecting families with childcare providers.  CCIS has since been merged under the Early Learning Resource Center.  See the ELRC for more information.

Child Care Works Subsidy Program

The Child Care Works subsidy program is a PA state sponsored financial aid program for low income families and foster parents seeking childcare services. The program is managed by the Early Learning Resource Center.  See the ELRC for more information.

Clothing Allowance

The first time a child enters foster care, they are eligible for a clothing allowance to provide for some basic clothing items. To learn more, see Clothing Allowances on the Finances Guide.

Community Umbrella Agency (CUA)

A CUA caseworker is assigned to each child in foster care to (1) work with the child’s family to meet the goals set forth by the court for reunification and (2) check in on the child regularly to ensure that they are safe in their out-of-home living situation, such as a foster home.  The CUAs are separate from DHS, but work closely with DHS to support and protect families and children. 

CUA Caseworker

The CUA caseworker works with both the foster child and the birth family to ensure the safety of the child and to make progress towards reunification.  

Department of Human Services (DHS)

DHS is a government agency tasked with supporting communities and families in the Philadelphia region.  Services include the child abuse hotline, foster care, and adoption. 

Early Learning Resource Center (ELRC)

The ELRC is a PA state agency tasked with helping families find quality childcare and head start programs as well as providing subsidies for low income families and foster families.  Learn about finding childcare at the School and Daycare Guide or how to apply for subsidies at the Finances Guide.

Family Court

Family court oversees all legal issues related to families, including marriage, divorce, foster care, and adoption.  All formal decisions regarding a child’s placement in foster care and goals which must be met for reunification are made in family court by a judge.  

Foster Care

Foster care is a temporary living situation in which children who cannot live in their own homes live with certified individuals who can provide care and stability for them until a more permanent living situation is available.  The primary goal of foster care is reunification of children to their families.

Foster Care Agency

Foster care agencies are contracted by DHS to certify families who fulfill the proper requirements as foster families.  They provide foster care training, perform home inspections, and support foster families after they receive child placements.

Foster Child Profile

A foster child profile is part of the foster parent application process.  On the profile, you are able to designate which types of children you would feel comfortable supporting.  Considerations include age, medical conditions, and different types of trauma. 

Foster Family

Foster Parent Letter

At the time of placement, or shortly afterwards, DHS or the assigned CUA are responsible for providing a letter stating that the child has been placed under the care of the foster parent. This letter is often required to proove custody of this child.

Medical Assistance (Medicaid)

All foster children are provided full medical coverage through Medical Assitance (Medicaid).  To learn more, see the Healthcare Guide.

Resource Family

Also known as foster families, resource families are certified by a foster agency to care for children In youth who are not able to live in their own homes.

Resource Family Support Worker

Also known as foster agency caseworker, resource family support workers work for a foster care agency and are resposible for certifying and supporting resource parents (foster parents).  A resource parent support worker remains with a foster family even when child placements change.

Respite Care

Respite care is short term care provided when a resource family cannot care for their foster child for a brief period (such as out-of-country travel).  In respite care, another resource family cares for the child until the original family is able to resume care.  Respite care can last a maximum of 10 days.

Shelter Hearing

A shelter hearing is an emergency hearing held within 72 hours of the time a child is removed from their home.  At the hearing, a judge determines if there is enough evidence that a situation is unsafe to warrant keeping a child in out-of-home care.

Statewide Adoption Network (SWAN)

SWAN manages the PA Adoption Exchange for Pennsylvania children who are legally available for adoption. For more information, see the different types of adoption at the Adoption and Permanceny Guide.


WIC is a state-sponsored financial aid program for Women, Infants, and Children.  WIC provides monthly funds to qualifying people, including foster parents, for items like formula and supplements.  See WIC on the Finances Guide to learn more.

To find more foster care terminology, check out our Foster Care Guides or the Blog

Learn More About Foster Care

The following guides can help get you up to speed on several important aspects of foster care in Philadelphia.


Learn about financial support available for foster parents.


Learn about healthcare topics such as doctors visits and insurance.

The Legal System

Learn about family court, hearings, and child custody.

Caseworkers and Visits

Learn about the different types of caseworkers, home visits, and parent visits.

New Placements

Learn about what to ask when receiving a new placement and the first week in care

School and Daycare

Learn more about education, school, and daycare.

Adoption and Permanency

Learn about foster care, adoption, and foster-to-adopt.

Foster Care Policies

Learn about policies like travel and babysitters