Standards for public agencies

2020 Edition

Child and Family Services Definition


Child and Family Services promote child and family well-being, protect children’s safety, stablilize and strengthen families, and ensure permanency.


The Child and Family Services Standards include an array of services needed to promote family stability and ensure child safety, permanency, and well-being. Agency functions typically include the following:
  • Reports of suspected child maltreatment are received, screened, and investigated or assessed.
  • When a case is opened and children are able to remain at home with their families, the agency monitors the safety of children and helps parents stabilize their families and fulfill their parental roles and responsibilities.
  • When necessary, the agency separates children from their families as a protective intervention and arranges for appropriate out-of-home care. Out-of-home care settings include: 
    • Family Foster Care, which is provided by foster parents who volunteer to bring children into their families and give them opportunities for family and community living. Foster parents always care for children in the custody of the agency.
    • Kinship Care, which is the full-time care of children by relatives, members of tribes or clans, or anyone to whom a family relationship is ascribed. Kinship caregivers may provide care through arrangements made privately or informally in the family, or through arrangements made with the involvement and oversight of the agency.  In some jurisdictions or circumstances, kin may serve as foster parents.  
    • Treatment Foster Care, which provides a therapeutic family environment and intensive clinical services for children whose medical, developmental, or psychiatric needs cannot be met by their families or in traditional family foster care. With the support of a multidisciplinary treatment team, specially trained foster parents provide nurturing care and treatment-based interventions.  
    • Residential Treatment Programs, when children are in need of short- or long-term structured medical or behavioral/mental health treatment and no other appropriate and more family-like setting is possible.
  • While children are separated from their homes and families, the agency provides services, supports, and monitoring to ensure that children’s needs are met and facilitate family reunification.
  • When children are separated from their families and reunification is no longer an option, the agency collaborates with children, their families, and resource families to facilitate permanency through adoption or guardianship.


Agencies should be familiar with the relevant legal requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), which govern child welfare proceedings involving American Indian and Alaska Native children in state child welfare systems. To ensure compliance with ICWA, agencies must have established procedures for determining if children are members or eligible for membership in a federally recognized tribe, include tribal representatives throughout all aspects of service delivery in cases to which ICWA applies, and determine their role in the context of tribal-state child welfare agreements, ICWA, and any relevant state laws pertaining specifically to Indian child welfare. 


Viewing: PA-CFS - Child and Family Services


Note: The following definitions apply throughout this section of standards:
  • The term “children” includes infants, toddlers, school-age children, and youth, including youth in care after age eighteen. The term “youth” is used only when standards refer to older children, generally fourteen years old and up. 
  • The terms “parent” and “family” typically refer to a child’s biological parents and/or family of origin, but can also refer to anyone who is the child’s guardian or primary caregiver prior to agency involvement.  For example, while core concepts addressing “Services for Parents” and “Family Reunification” are typically for birth parents, they can also be applicable to other primary caregivers from whom the child was separated due to maltreatment concerns. “Parent” and “family” are also used to refer to adoptive parents and families and legal guardians in the core concepts that refer to expectations and supports for these families. However, the term “family” is typically not intended to include “resource families,” which are defined separately below, except when referencing the extended family that may include related kinship caregivers.  
  • The terms “resource parent” and “resource family” refer to foster parents, formal and informal kinship caregivers, and treatment foster parents, as well as prospective adoptive parents and guardians. When standards address practice requirements relevant only to certain sub-groups of resource parents (e.g., kinship caregivers, or treatment foster parents), this is indicated in the language of the standard.
Note: Please see CFS Reference List for the research that informed the development of these standards. 

​​​​​​Note: For information about changes made in the 2020 Edition, please see PA-CFS Crosswalk.