Fifth Judicial District of Pennsylvania
County of Allegheny
Child Protection | Glossary of Terms

Aggravated Circumstances - The Juvenile Act defines aggravated circumstances as follows: The child is in the custody of a county agency and either:
  • The identity or whereabouts of the parents is unknown and cannot be ascertained and the parent does not claim the child within three months of the date the child was taken into custody.
  • The identity or whereabouts of the parents is known and the parents have failed to maintain substantial and continuing contact with the child for a period of six months.
  • The child or another child of the parent has been the victim of physical abuse resulting in serious bodily injury, sexual violence or aggravated physical neglect by the parent.
  • The parent has been convicted of a specific list of offenses where the victim is a child or has been convicted of the attempt, solicitation or conspiracy to commit any of said offenses.
  • The parental rights of the parent have been involuntarily terminated with respect to a child of the parent within three years immediately preceding the date of birth of the child.
If one or more aggravated circumstances is alleged at the adjudicatory phase of the dependency proceeding, the court must engage in a three step analysis:
  • First: The court must determine that the child is dependent.
  • Second: The court must determine whether the alleged "aggravated circumstance" has been proven. 42 Pa. C.S. §6341(c.1).
  • Third: If the court determines the child is dependent and one or more aggravated circumstances exists, the court must decide whether or not reasonable efforts to prevent or eliminate the need for removing the child from the home or to preserve and reunify the family should continue in spite of the existence of the aggravated circumstance.
  • If the court determines that reasonable efforts need not be made, the court must schedule a permanency hearing within 30 days. See 42 Pa. C.S. § 6351 (e)(3)(ii).
ASFA (Adoption and Safe Families Act) - An act of Congress passed in 1997 and adopted in Pennsylvania in 1998, the goal of which is to shorten the time between when a child enters the child welfare system and the time that child achieves permanency. ASFA also changed the meaning of reasonable efforts and established that reasonable efforts to return a child home need not be made when aggravated circumstances are found to exist by the Court. Where children have been in foster care for more that 15 of the past 22 months, ASFA requires the county child welfare agency to move to terminate parental rights and seek adoption or other permanent alternatives for the child.

CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) - A CASA's role in dependency proceedings is to present the court with a unique "child- centered" perspective regarding what is in the best interest of the child. To prepare their recommendations, CASA volunteers talk with the child, parents, family members, social workers and all other persons involved in the child's life. Most importantly, CASA volunteers visit with the child at least once a month in order to gain a full understanding of the situation.

Child - Any unemancipated person under 18 years of age.

Conflict Counsel - Attorneys who are appointed by the court to represent parents or children in dependency proceedings when the office of the Parent Advocate or KidsVoice has a conflict of interest with a parent or child and therefore ethically cannot provide representation.

County Solicitor - county employed attorney who represents CYF (Children, Youth and Families) in dependency cases and some TPR cases.

Foster Care - 24-hour substitute care for children placed away from their parents or guardians and for whom the county child welfare agency has placement and care responsibility. This includes, but is not limited to, family foster homes, foster homes of relatives, group homes, emergency shelters, residential facilities, child care institutions, and pre-adoptive homes.

FSP (Family Service Plan) - § 3130.61. of the Pennsylvania Administrative Code Family indicates the following about family service plans:

  • The county child welfare agency shall prepare, within 60 days of accepting a family for service, a written family service plan for each family receiving services through the county agency.
The service plan shall be a discrete part of the family case record and shall include:
  • Identifying information pertaining to both the child and other family members.
  • A description of the specific circumstances under which the case was accepted.
  • The service objectives for the family, identifying changes needed to protect children in the family in need of protection from abuse, neglect and exploitation and to prevent their placement.
  • The services to be provided to achieve the objectives of the plan.
  • The actions to be taken by the parents, children, the county agency or other agencies, and the dates when these actions will be completed.
  • Placement amendments as required by § 3130.67 (relating to placement planning).
  • The results of family service plan reviews and placement reviews as required by § § 3130.63 and 3130.73 (relating to review of family service plans; and recording the results of reviews and hearings).
  • The service plan shall be signed by the county agency staff person responsible for management of the case. The parent or legal guardian and the child, if 14 years of age or older, shall be given the opportunity to sign the service plan. The county agency shall inform the parent or guardian that signing the plan constitutes agreement with the service plan.
  • The county agency shall provide family members, including the child, their representatives and service providers, the opportunity to participate in the development and amendment of the service plan if the opportunity does not jeopardize the child's safety. The method by which these opportunities are provided shall be recorded in the plan.
  • The county agency shall provide family members, their legal counsel, other representatives and agencies or facilities providing services to the child and family with a copy of the service plan, including service plan amendments and results of reviews when the amendments or reviews change the previously agreed upon plan.

G.A.L. (Guardian Ad Litem) - Attorney assigned by the court to represent the best interests of a child involved in dependency, TPR cases (termination of parental rights) and adoption cases in Juvenile Court. A GAL is also assigned to represent parents in a dependency case when that parent is a minor or is mentally incapacitated.

In-home Services - Services provided in the home of a family utilizing the services provided by the county child welfare agency with the goal of accomplishing the requirements of the family service plan.

Kinship Care - The continuous, 24 hour care, supervision, and supportive services provided to a minor child, placed by the county child welfare agency, in the home of a relative related by blood or marriage. The definition is now expanded to include individuals who make up the family support system, i.e. relatives beyond the fifth degree of consanguinity or affinity. This includes godparents, friends of the family, and other adults who have a long-standing and beneficial relationship with the child. Children in kinship care may receive supportive services and supervision by the county child welfare agency to assure that the placement promotes the child's physical, emotional, and intellectual growth and well-being.

Legal Custody - The legal right to make major decisions affecting the best interest of a minor child, including but not limited to medical, religious and educational decisions.

Parent Advocate Attorney - Attorneys who are assigned to represent parents in dependency and TPR proceedings.

Partial Custody - The right to take possession of a child away from the custodial parent for a certain period of time.

Permanency Goal - The stated goal in the Family Service Plan as to what permanent placement of the child that the county child welfare agency and family are working to make possible. Among other things, the goal can be return the child to his family, adoption, permanent legal custodianship, and independent living.

Permanency Review Hearing - In Allegheny County it means a hearing conducted at least every three months in dependency cases where the court reviews the progress that a family is making on its family service plan and determines whether it is appropriate to continue on a course of reunification or whether the case needs to move to some other form of permanency for the children involved in the case. The Juvenile Act, however, only requires permanency review hearings to be conducted every six months.

Physical Custody - The actual physical possession and control of a child.

Shared Custody - An order awarding shared legal or shared physical custody, or both, of a child in such a way as to assure the child of frequent and continuing contact with and physical access to both parents.

Shelter Hearing - When a child is removed form his home pursuant to emergency circumstances, this hearing, which must be commenced within 72 hours, is to determine whether the child can be returned home or should remain in another setting until a full hearing is convened.

Visitation - The right to visit a child. The term does not include the right to remove a child from the custodial parent’s control.