Glossary of Terms

Glossary of Terms

Learning Disabilities (LD)

One or more impairments in reading, mathematics and/or written expression skills which interfere with academic performance in school or in activities of daily living requiring those skills. Performance on standardized tests below that expected for age, schooling and level of intelligence are used as preliminary diagnostic tools to identify areas where children are experiencing problems. Children with learning disabilities may be of average or above average intelligence, but have difficulty learning, sorting, and storing information. Some children find learning in a regular classroom difficult and LD classes may be recommended to help them achieve their potential in school.

Legal Guardian

A person who has legal responsibility for the care and management of a person who is incapable of administering his own affairs. In the case of a minor child, the guardian is charged with the legal responsibility for the care and management of the child and of the minor child’s estate.

Legal Risk Placement

Placement of a child in a prospective adoptive family when a child is not yet legally free for adoption. Before a child can be legally adopted by another family, parental rights of his or her birth parents must be terminated. In a "legal risk" adoptive placement either this termination of parental rights has not yet occurred, or it is being contested. In some cases, termination of parental rights is delayed until a specific adoptive family has been identified.

Legally Free

A child whose birth parents’ rights have been legally terminated so that the child is “free” to be adopted by another family.


An acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning. Life Book A pictorial and written representation of the child’s life designed to help the child make sense of his unique background and history. The life book includes birthparents, other relatives, birthplace and date, etc and can be put together by social workers, foster and/or adoptive parents working with the child.

Long-term Foster Care

The intentional and planned placement of a child in foster care for an extended period of time. After the goal of adoption has been explored and not selected, and relative options are not feasible, a goal of planned long-term foster care may be seen as a viable goal. Increasingly some States’ child welfare systems no longer view long-term foster care as a placement alternative.


In education, a term that typically refers to the planned and sustained placement of a child with special educational needs into a regular education classroom for part or all of the school day.


Physical abuse, child neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse. Federal law provides definitions that identify a minimum set of acts or behaviors that characterize maltreatment. Each State is responsible for providing its own definitions of child abuse and neglect within the State’s civil and criminal context. Child Abuse and Neglect, according to the Federal legislation, is at a minimum:

  • Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation
  • An act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm
  • Child abuse and neglect typically includes physical as well as emotional abuse (which causes psychological or mental injury), in addition to various types of neglect. Sexual Abuse is defined in the Federal definition as:
  • The employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit conduct or simulation on such conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct
  • The rape, and in cases of caretaker or inter-familial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children.

The process of finding prospective families specifically suited to meet the needs of a waiting child, not to be confused with “placement”.

Mental Retardation

Impaired or incomplete mental development characterized by an IQ of 70 or below and characterized by significant functional limitations in at least two of the following skills: communication, self-care, home living, social/interpersonal skills, use of community resources, self-direction, functional academic skills, work, leisure, health, and safety. Onset usually occurs before age 18. More than 200 specific causes of mental retardation have been identified. Degrees of severity reflect the level of intellectual impairment:

  • Mild Mental Retardation – IQ level 50-55 to approximately 70
  • Moderate Retardation – IQ level 35-40 to 50-55
  • Severe Mental Retardation – IQ level 20-25 to 35-40
  • Profound Mental Retardation – IQ level below 20-25

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