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Child Protective Services: A Guide for Caseworkers. 2003
Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, Children's Bureau. DePanfilis, D., Salus, M. K.|
|Year Published: 2003|
Chapter Four: Responsibilities of Child Protective Services
According to the National Association of Public Child Welfare Administrators (NAPCWA), the mission of the child protective services (CPS) agency is to:
- Assess the safety of children;
- Intervene to protect children from harm;
- Strengthen the ability of families to protect their children;
- Provide either a reunification or an alternative, safe family for the child.28
CPS is the central agency in each community that receives reports of suspected child abuse and neglect; assesses the risk to and safety of children; and provides or arranges for services to achieve safe, permanent families for children who have been abused or neglected or who are at risk of abuse or neglect. The CPS agency also facilitates community collaborations and engages formal and informal community partners to support families and protect children from abuse and neglect. To fulfill its mission, CPS must provide services, either directly or through other agencies, which are child-centered, family-focused, and culturally responsive to achieve safety, well-being, and permanency for children.29 When families are unable or unwilling to keep children safe, CPS petitions juvenile or family court on the child's behalf either to recommend strategies to keep children safe at home or to be placed in out-of-home care.
This chapter provides an overview of the seven stages of the CPS process, which are described in more detail throughout the manual.
CPS is responsible for receiving and evaluating reports of suspected child abuse and neglect, determines if the reported information meets the statutory and agency guidelines for child maltreatment, and judges the urgency with which the agency must respond to the report. In addition, CPS educates individuals who report allegations of child abuse or neglect (frequently referred to as "reporters") about State statutes, agency guidelines, and the roles and responsibilities of CPS.
Initial Assessment or Investigation
After receiving a report, CPS conducts an initial assessment or investigation to determine:
- If child maltreatment occurred;
- If the child's immediate safety is a concern and, if it is, the interventions that will ensure the child's protection while keeping the child within the family or with family members (e.g., kinship care or subsidized guardianship), if at all possible;
- If there is a risk of future maltreatment and the level of that risk;
- If continuing agency services are needed to address any effects of child maltreatment and to reduce the risk of future maltreatment.
The terms "assessment" and "investigation" are used interchangeably in many States and territories, but they are not synonymous. Investigation encompasses the efforts of the CPS agency to determine if abuse or neglect has occurred. Assessment goes beyond this concept to evaluate a child's safety and risk, and to determine whether and what services are needed to ameliorate or prevent child abuse and neglect.30
The initial assessment or investigation is not just a fact-finding process; it establishes the tone for all future work that may take place with a particular family. During the initial assessment or investigation, CPS must determine whether child abuse and neglect occurred and can be substantiated and whether to conduct an evaluation to determine the risk of maltreatment occurring in the future. CPS also must establish rapport with family members and engage them in the intervention process.
Once a determination of child abuse or neglect has been made and the child's immediate safety has been ensured, the next step is to conduct a family assessment. During this step, the caseworker engages family members in a process to understand their strengths and needs. In particular, the caseworker works with the family to:
- Identify family strengths that can provide a foundation for change;
- Reduce the risk of maltreatment by identifying and addressing factors that place children at risk;
- Help children cope with the effects of maltreatment.
In order to achieve the desired programmatic outcomes of CPS (i.e., child safety, child permanency, child and family well-being), interventions must be well planned and purposeful. These outcomes are achieved through three types of plans:
- A safety plan, which is developed whenever it is determined that the child is at risk of imminent harm;
- A case plan, which follows the family assessment and sets forth goals and outcomes and describes how the family will work toward these outcomes;
- A concurrent permanency plan, which identifies alternative forms of permanency and addresses both how reunification can be achieved and how legal permanency with a new family might be achieved if reunification efforts fail.
All three plans should be developed collaboratively, when possible, among the CPS caseworker, the family, and community professionals who will provide services to the family.
This is the stage during which the case plan is implemented. It is CPS's role to arrange, provide, and coordinate the delivery of services to children and families. When possible, the services that are selected to help families achieve goals and outcomes should be based on an appropriate match of services to goals and should use best practice principles. When needed services are not readily available or accessible, an interim or alternative plan must be made with families.
Assessment is an ongoing process that begins with the first client contact, continues throughout the life of the case, and should incorporate reports from other service providers. When evaluating family progress, caseworkers focus on:
- Ensuring the child's safety;
- Reducing the risk of maltreatment;
- Addressing successfully any of the effects of maltreatment on the child and family;
- Achieving the goals and tasks in the case plan;
- Achieving family-level outcomes.
The process of ending the relationship between the CPS worker and the family involves a mutual review of the progress made throughout the helping relationship. Optimally, cases are closed when families have achieved their goals and the risk of maltreatment has been reduced or eliminated.
Some closings occur because the client discontinues services, and the agency does not have a sufficient basis to refer the situation to juvenile or family court. Other cases are closed, however, when families still need assistance. When this happens, the caseworker should carefully document what risks may still be present so this information is available should the family be referred to the agency at a later time. At the time of closure, workers should involve the family in a discussion about what has changed over time and what goals they may still have. When family needs are still apparent and are outside the scope of the CPS system, every effort should be made to help the family receive services through appropriate community agencies.
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