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A Coordinated Response to Child Abuse and Neglect: The Foundation for Practice
Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, Children's Bureau. Goldman, J., Salus, M. K., Wolcott, D., Kennedy, K. Y.|
|Year Published: 2003|
Chapter Nine: What Does the Child Protection Process Look Like?
This chapter traces the child protection process beginning with the identification and reporting of suspected child maltreatment. As previously discussed, every State has enacted reporting laws. These laws provide guidance to individuals required to identify and report suspected maltreatment, require investigations by specified agencies to determine if a child was abused, and provide for the delivery of protective services and treatment to maltreated children and their families. Reports of maltreatment required under such laws activate the child protection process, which includes:
- Initial assessment and investigation
- Family assessment
- Case planning
- Service provision
- Evaluation of family progress
- Case closure
Exhibit 9-1 presents an overview of the typical child protection process for most locales and is described further below.
The first step in any child protection response system is the identification of possible incidents of child maltreatment. Medical personnel, educators, child care providers, mental health professionals, law enforcement personnel, the clergy, and other professionals are often in a position to observe families and children on an ongoing basis and identify abuse or neglect when they occur. Private citizens, such as family members, friends, and neighbors, also may identify suspected incidents of child maltreatment.
To ensure that community professionals working with children and families recognize possible indicators of child maltreatment, preservice and inservice training must be provided on an ongoing basis. In addition, public awareness campaigns should be planned and implemented to promote understanding of the problem in the community.
The next step in responding to child maltreatment is to report the suspected incident. Although there is tremendous variation in the requirements described in State reporting laws, they typically:
- Specify selected individuals mandated to report suspected child maltreatment;
- Define reportable conditions;
- Explain how, when, and to whom reports are to be filed and the information to be contained in the report;
- Describe the agencies designated to receive and investigate reports;
- Describe the abrogation of certain privileged communication rights (e.g., doctor-patient);
- Provide immunity from legal liability for reporters;
- Provide penalties for failure to report and false reporting.
Key aspects of reporting laws are described in the sections that follow.
To review a summary of reporting laws, visit the State Statutes section of Child Welfare Information Gateway website at www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/index.cfm.
Every State has statutes identifying mandatory reporters of child maltreatment and the circumstances under which they are required to report. This designation creates a legal responsibility to report, which can result in criminal and civil liability for failure to report as required. In approximately 18 States, any person who suspects child abuse or neglect is required to report.124 Most States, however, limit mandatory reporting to professionals working with children. Individuals typically designated as mandatory reporters include:
- Physicians, nurses, hospital personnel, and dentists
- Medical examiners
- Mental health professionals
- Social workers
- School personnel
- Child care providers
- Law enforcement officers
In addition, any person in any State may report incidents of suspected abuse or neglect.
The legal standards used to determine when a mandatory reporter is required to notify authorities of abuse or neglect also vary slightly from State to State. Typically, a report must be made when a reporter has reasonable cause to know, suspect, or believe that a child has been abused or neglected.
Sources of Child Abuse and Neglect Reports in 2000125
|Legal, law enforcement, criminal justice personnel||15.2|
|Social services and mental health personnel||14.4|
|Child day care and substitute care providers||2.0|
|Anonymous or unknown reporters||13.6|
|Friends and neighbors||5.9|
|Based only on sources of "screened-in" referrals in 2000|
Every State has reporting laws specifying procedures that a mandatory reporter must follow when making a report of suspected child abuse and neglect. Generally, these procedures specify how, where, when, and what to report.
How and When to Report
The majority of States require that reports of child maltreatment be made orally—either by telephone or in person—to the specified authorities. Some States require that a written report follow the oral report, while in other States written reports are filed only upon request, and still other States require written reports only from mandated reporters.
Reports of suspected maltreatment are required by statute to be made immediately to protect children from potentially serious consequences that may be caused by a delay in reporting. While an individual may want to collect additional information before reporting, waiting for proof may place the child in danger.
Who Receives the Reports
Each State designates specific agencies to receive reports of child abuse and neglect. In most States, child protective services (CPS) has the primary responsibility for receiving reports. Other States allow reports to be made to either CPS or law enforcement. Some State laws require that certain forms of maltreatment—such as sexual abuse, child pornography, or severe physical abuse—be reported to law enforcement in addition to CPS. The nature of the relationship of the alleged perpetrator may also affect where reports are made. Most alleged cases of child maltreatment within the family are reportable to CPS. Depending on the State, reports of allegations of abuse or neglect by other caregivers, such as foster parents, daycare providers, teachers or residential care providers, may need to be filed with a law enforcement office. Additionally, in some States, allegations of abuse in out-of-home care are reported to a centralized investigative body within CPS at the State or regional level.
In most States, statutes also include requirements for cross-system reporting procedures or information sharing among professional entities. Typically, reports are shared among social services agencies, law enforcement, and prosecutors' offices.
Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect
See Appendix C for a list of State toll-free telephone numbers for reporting suspected child abuse or call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1.800.4.A.CHILD. This hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Contents of the Report
Reporting laws also describe the information that must be contained in the report. Typically, reports contain the following information:
- The name, age, sex, and address of the child;
- The nature and extent of the child's injuries or condition;
- The name and address of the parent or other person(s) responsible for the child's care;
- Any other information relevant to the investigation.
It is essential that reporters provide as much detailed information as possible about:
- The child, the child's condition, and the child's whereabouts;
- The parents and their whereabouts;
- The person alleged to have caused the child's condition and his or her current location;
- The family, including other children in the home;
- The type and nature of the maltreatment, such as the length of time it has been occurring, whether the maltreatment has increased in severity or frequency, and whether objects or weapons were used.
If the alleged maltreatment occurred in an out-of-home care setting, reporters should provide information about the setting, such as hours of operation; number of other children in the facility, if known; and identification of any others in the facility who may have information about the alleged maltreatment. The more comprehensive the information provided by the reporter, the better able CPS staff will be to evaluate the appropriateness of the report for CPS intervention, determine the urgency of the response needed, and prepare for an initial assessment and investigation, if warranted.
While most States allow anonymous reporting, it is preferred that reporters provide their name and contact information. This information will enable a caseworker to ask follow-up questions or obtain clarification. At intake, caseworkers should discuss immunity for reporters, issues of confidentiality, and the extent and nature of follow up with the reporter upon completion of the initial assessment or investigation.
Special Issues, Exceptions, and Penalties Related to Reporting
To encourage reporting of child maltreatment and provide protection for reporters, State statutes include provisions related to privileged communications, immunity for reporters, and penalties for failure to report. The laws also discourage intentionally false reporting through specified penalties.
The law provides special protection to communications in certain relationships. For example, the content of communications between an attorney and client, physician and patient, and clergy and congregant often is protected by a privilege. This means that professionals in such relationships are prohibited from disclosing confidential information communicated to them by their client, patient, or penitent to any unauthorized person. Mandatory child abuse reporting statutes specify when communications are confidential. The attorney-client privilege is most frequently maintained by States. The privilege pertaining to clergy-congregant also is frequently recognized by States. Most States, however, void the physician-patient, mental health professional-patient, and husband-wife privileges in instances of child maltreatment. When a privileged communication is voided, a mandated reporter must report instances of child maltreatment and cooperate in the ensuing investigation.
Immunity to Reporters
Every State provides immunity from civil or criminal liability for individuals making reports of suspected or known instances of child abuse or neglect. Immunity provisions typically apply both to mandatory reporters and permissive reporters (i.e., individuals not required under law to report). These provisions may not prevent the filing of civil lawsuits, but they help prevent, within limitations, an outcome unfavorable to the reporter. Immunity provisions, like other aspects of reporting statutes, vary from State to State. The majority of jurisdictions require that reports be made in good faith. A number of States include a presumption in their statutes that the reporter is acting in good faith. Immunity, therefore, does not extend to reports made maliciously or in bad faith.
Penalties for Failure to Report
To encourage reporting, the majority of States now provide in their reporting statutes a specific penalty for failure to report suspected cases of abuse. Most of these jurisdictions impose penalties on mandatory reporters who knowingly or willfully fail to report suspected abuse. Failure to report is typically classified as a misdemeanor. Sanctions specified in the statutes are generally in the form of a fine or imprisonment.
Penalties for False Reporting
In order to prevent malicious or intentional false reporting, the majority of States impose penalties for false reporting of abuse. Most of these jurisdictions impose penalties on mandatory reporters who knowingly or willfully file a false report of abuse or neglect. False reporting is typically classified as a misdemeanor. Sanctions specified in the statutes are generally in the form of a fine or imprisonment.
Problems in Reporting
Paradoxically, both underreporting and overreporting have been cited as problems in the identification of child abuse and neglect.
Numerous professionals admit that during their careers, they have failed to report suspected maltreatment to the appropriate agencies.126 One possible reason is that professionals still lack training and knowledge about legal obligations and procedures for reporting. The issue of subjectivity also may account for some of the underreporting of abuse. Many laws defining child maltreatment are broadly written with ambiguous requirements, which may result in professionals lacking guidance and clarity regarding when intervention is required.
One of the biggest obstacles to reporting is personal feelings. Some people do not want to get involved. Others have difficulty reporting a person they suspect is an abuser, especially if they know that person well. Still others may think they can help the family more by working with the child or family themselves. Mandated reporters may believe that their professional relationship with the child will be strained if they report their suspicions of abuse. When a professional has established a relationship with a parent or family prior to recognizing maltreatment, reporting becomes a delicate issue.
Some reporters also may be reluctant to report because they have had negative experiences with CPS or they view social services agencies as overburdened, understaffed, or incompetent. At times, professionals become concerned that nothing will be done if they report or that the investigation and service provision will do more harm than good. Consequently, they choose not to report. This reluctance to report, which can have serious consequences for a child in an unsafe situation, underscores the critical need for ongoing communication and feedback between CPS and mandated reporters. It also underscores the need for CPS to function sensitively and competently in the best interests of the child while creating as little disruption as possible.
Professionals must report regardless of their concerns or previous experiences. The law requires it, and no exemptions are granted to those who have had a bad experience. In addition, while reporting does not guarantee that the situation will improve, not reporting guarantees that, if abuse and neglect exists, the child will continue to be at risk of further and perhaps more serious harm.
Only a portion of reports received and investigated by CPS reflect children who are found to be victims of, or at risk for, maltreatment. While the children and families in these reports may be in need of help or services, they frequently do not meet the legal definition of maltreatment in that family's jurisdiction. This apparent pattern of over-reporting raises several concerns. First, children and families who will not receive child welfare services may be subjected to an intrusive public agency investigation. Second, these reports may divert CPS resources from higher risk cases.
Overreporting may occur in a community following a serious case of child maltreatment that receives a lot of media attention. There is often a significant increase in the number of reports of suspected child maltreatment made during such times, in part because the community's awareness has been heightened.
Intake is the point at which reports of suspected child maltreatment are received by the agency designated by the State (typically the CPS agency and sometimes the police department). The agency receiving the report must make two primary decisions at intake:
- Does the reported information meet the statutory and agency guidelines for child maltreatment?
- How urgent is the required response?
The first decision consists of three essential steps:
- Gathering sufficient information from the reporter to allow accurate decision-making;
- Evaluating the information to determine if it meets the statutory and agency guidelines for child maltreatment;
- Assessing the credibility of the reporter based on the relationship of the alleged victim and family, knowledge of the family and circumstances, and apparent motives for reporting.
There will be a check of agency records and State central registries to determine if the family is currently involved in an open case or has a history of involvement in a maltreatment case. (A central registryis a database containing information on all previously substantiated reports of child maltreatment.)
When the agency determines that an initial assessment or investigation is warranted, the report is "screened in"; cases closed without further investigation are referred to as "screened out." While screening rates vary substantially across States, CPS agencies screened in and investigated approximately 62 percent of the nearly 3 million report referrals received nationwide in 2000.127 In some instances, screened out cases will receive referrals to other community services (e.g., substance abuse treatment, mental health services, child care, domestic violence shelters, or income support agencies).
Once the CPS agency determines that an initial assessment is warranted, the immediacy of the response is evaluated. The decision regarding the urgency of the response is based on an analysis of the information gathered to determine if the child is at imminent risk of serious harm. This decision will be based upon a number of factors including:
- The nature of the act or omission;
- The severity of harm to the child;
- The relationship of the child to the person responsible for the maltreatment;
- The access of the perpetrator to the child;
- The child's vulnerability (e.g., due to age, illness, or disability);
- The other known cases of maltreatment by the parent or caregiver;
- The availability of persons who can protect the child.
Some CPS agencies provide guidelines for initial assessment response times, although it is difficult to generalize. Caseworkers are required to respond to reports within a specified time, typically ranging from 24 to 72 hours on more serious cases. If it is determined that the child in a report may not be safe, caseworkers must respond immediately.
Initial Assessment or Investigation
The initial assessment or investigation follows the intake process for those reports that are screened in.
Primary Initial Assessment or Investigation Decisions
The purpose of the initial assessment or investigation of cases of child abuse and neglect is to determine the following:
- Is child maltreatment substantiated as defined by State statute?
- Is the child at risk of maltreatment and what is the level of risk?
- the child safe, and if not, what type of agency or community response will ensure the child's safety in the least intrusive manner?
- If the child's safety cannot be assured within the family, what type and level of care does the child need?
- Does the family have emergency needs that must be met?
- Should ongoing agency services be offered to the family to reduce the risk or address the treatment needs of the child?
CPS agencies and law enforcement are each responsible for conducting initial assessments or investigations in cases of child abuse and neglect. Exhibit 9-3 presents the primary decisions or issues considered at this stage according to the agency that typically considers the decision.
Primary Decisions Considered During Initial Assessment or Investigation
|CPS||Law Enforcement||CPS and Law Enforcement|
Is the child safe? If not, what measures are necessary to ensure the child's safety?
Did the child suffer maltreatment or is he or she threatened by harm as defined by the State reporting law?
Is maltreatment likely to occur in the future? If so, what is the level of risk of maltreatment?
Are there emergency needs in the family that must be met?
Are continuing agency services necessary to protect the child and reduce the risk of maltreatment occurring in the future?
Did a crime occur?
Who is the alleged offender?
Is there evidence to arrest the alleged offender?
Has all physical evidence been obtained, preserved, and/or photographed?
Have all witnesses been interviewed?
Do sources of corroboration or witnesses exist?
Has all physical evidence been obtained or preserved?
Are there any other victims (e.g., siblings)?
Should the child be taken into protective custody?
Major Types of Investigation Dispositions
- Substantiated is an investigation disposition that concludes that the allegation of maltreatment or risk of maltreatment was supported or founded by State law or State policy. This is the highest level of finding by a State Agency.
- Indicated or Reason to Suspect is an investigation disposition that concludes that maltreatment cannot be substantiated under State law or policy, but there is reason to suspect that the child may have been maltreated or was at risk of maltreatment. This is applicable only to States that distinguish between substantiated and indicated dispositions.
- Not Substantiated is an investigation disposition that determines that there is not sufficient evidence under State law or policy to conclude that the child has been maltreated or is at risk of being maltreated.128
Involvement of Other Professionals
In addition to CPS and law enforcement, other disciplines have a role to play in the initial assessment process:
- Medical personnel may be involved in assessing and responding to the medical needs of a child or parent and perhaps in documenting the nature and extent of maltreatment. It is helpful to have medical practitioners in each community who have had specific training in child maltreatment because they will provide a more complete and accurate evaluation than will an examiner without specific training.
- Mental health personnel may be involved in assessing the effects of any alleged maltreatment and in determining the validity of specific allegations. At this stage of the CPS process, referrals to mental health providers are primarily for help in determining whether abuse occurred, whether there is sufficient information to file charges related to child maltreatment, and whether the child is capable of providing valid and reliable information. In addition, referrals to mental health practitioners may be made for assistance in assessing the safety of the child. For example, parents or caregivers may be referred for an evaluation of their mental status, the presence of psychiatric problems, personality disorders, or substance abuse.
- Teachers and child care providers may be involved in providing direct information about the effects of maltreatment and in describing information pertinent to risk assessment. In addition, during the investigative stage, educators provide support for the efforts of CPS and law enforcement. For example, if the CPS caseworker or law enforcement needs to interview the child in the school, the school should provide a private place for the interview.
- Foster care, residential, or child care licensing personnel may participate in the initial assessment if abuse is allegedly committed by an out-of-home caregiver. Each State differs with respect to who is responsible for initially assessing or investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect in out-of-home care. In some States, local CPS staffs have responsibility for investigating certain types of allegations, for example, those in foster care and daycare. Frequently, the investigation of alleged maltreatment in institutional settings is handled by central or regional CPS or licensing staff, rather than by local CPS agencies. Depending on the nature of the allegations, law enforcement agencies also will assume a primary role in investigating these types of cases.
Other community service providers also may have past experience with the child or family and may be used as a resource in addressing any emergency needs that the child or family may have.
Differential Response Systems
Over the past decade, States have begun to enhance CPS practice and build community partnerships in responding to cases of child maltreatment. One area of CPS reform emphasizes greater flexibility in responding to allegations of abuse and neglect. A "dual track" or "multiple track" response permits CPS agencies to respond differentially according to the children's safety, the degree of risk present, and the family's needs for support services. Implementation models vary across States piloting differential response systems. Typically, in cases where abuse and neglect are severe or serious criminal offenses against children have occurred, an investigation will commence. The investigation focuses on evidence gathering and may include a referral to law enforcement. In less serious cases of child maltreatment, where the family may benefit from community services, an assessment will be conducted. In these cases the facts regarding what happened will be obtained, but the intervention will emphasize the comprehensive assessment of family strengths and needs and an appropriate match with community services.
The assessment is designed to be a process where parents or caregivers are partners with CPS, and that partnership begins with the very first contact. In addition, the family's support network is frequently brought into the process. States that have implemented the differential response strategy have shown that a majority of cases now coming to CPS can be handled safely through an approach that emphasizes service delivery and voluntary family participation as well as the fact finding of "traditional" CPS investigations.129
Investigation in Out-of-Home Care Settings
In cases of child maltreatment in out-of-home care (e.g., residential facilities, foster homes), an investigation must be completed by an independent authority designated by the State. For cases involving out-of-home care abuse, there are other decisions and issues to consider:
- Did the reported event occur?
- Are personnel actions indicated and, if so, are they being initiated appropriately by the child care facility?
- What responsibility do others in the facility have for any incident of maltreatment, and is a corrective action plan needed to prevent the likelihood of future incidents?
- Can the problem, if validated, be addressed administratively?
- Is the administrative authority responsible and, if so, in what manner?
- Should the facility's or foster care or other child care provider's license be revoked?
These decisions are made by thoroughly gathering and analyzing information from and about the child, family, or in some cases, the out-of-home provider. Typically, a protocol is employed for interviewing the child victim, family members, the person alleged to have maltreated the child, and others possessing information about the child and the family.
The family assessment is a comprehensive process for identifying, considering, and weighing factors that affect the child's safety, permanency, and well-being. The family assessment is a process designed to gain a greater understanding about the strengths, needs, and resources of the family so that children can be safe and the risk of maltreatment can be reduced. The family assessment is initiated immediately after the decision is made that ongoing services are needed. The following are the key decisions made as a result of the family assessment:
- What are the risks and needs of this family that affect safety, permanency, or well-being?
- What are the effects of maltreatment that affect safety, permanency, and well-being?
- What are the individual and family strengths?
- How do the family members perceive their conditions, problems, and strengths?
- What must change in order for the effects of maltreatment to be addressed and for the risk of maltreatment to be reduced or eliminated?
- What is the parent's or caregiver's level of readiness for change? What is their motivation and capacity to assure safety, permanency, and well-being?
Family assessment should be strengths-based, culturally sensitive, and developed with the family. In addition to gathering information regarding problems, risks, and needs, strengths should be identified that may mitigate the identified concern(s) and the family's stated goals as they relate to each problem. The strengths identified will provide the foundation upon which the family can change.
Assessments should be conducted in a partnership with the family to help parents or caregivers recognize and remedy conditions so children can safely remain in their own home. Family assessments must be individualized and tailored to the unique strengths and needs of each family. When possible, this assessment also should be undertaken in conjunction with the extended family and support network through family decision-making meetings and other processes designed to involve this network in the process.130
The comprehensive assessment of the family's circumstances and conditions is the foundation on which the case plan is built. Armed with this knowledge, CPS caseworkers, other service providers or community professionals, and the family and its support network will determine the best possible strategies for reducing or eliminating the behaviors and conditions contributing to the risk of maltreatment of the child. The purposes of case planning are to identify the strategies with clients that will help address the effects of maltreatment and lessen the risk of further abuse and neglect; to provide a clear and specific guide for the professional and the family for changing the behaviors and conditions that impact risk; to provide a benchmark for measuring client progress toward achieving outcomes; and to provide a framework for case decision-making.
The key decisions made at the case planning stage are:
- What are the client outcomes that, when achieved, will indicate that risk has been reduced and the effects of maltreatment have been successfully addressed?
- What goals must be accomplished to achieve the outcomes?
- What intervention approaches or services will facilitate the successful goal achievement and the accomplishment of outcomes?
- How and when will progress toward achievement of these outcomes and goals be evaluated?
In order to achieve the client outcomes, the case plan must be developed with, not for, the family. Involving the family in planning serves several purposes. It facilitates the family's investment in and commitment to the plan, it empowers parents or caregivers to take the necessary action to change behavior, and ensures that the agency and the family are working toward the same end. Some CPS agencies use models that optimize family strengths in the planning process. These models bring together the family, the extended family, and others important in the family's life—for example, friends, clergy, neighbors—to make decisions regarding how best to ensure the safety of the family members.
The passage of the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) in 1997 has resulted in time limits for permanency for children and termination of parental rights so that children are provided safe, stable, and permanent placements more quickly. Concurrent planning works toward reunification of children in care with their birth families while at the same time establishing a "back-up" permanency plan that will be implemented if the children cannot be reunified with their birth family. The concurrent plan provides a safeguard to assure secure childhood attachments by developing a stronger bond to the birth families and simultaneously supporting ties between the child and other possible permanent families, for example, kin or foster parents. Concurrent permanency plans provide a structured approach to move children quickly from temporary foster care to the stability of a safe and continuous family home.131
Once the case plan has been developed, the CPS caseworker must provide or arrange for services identified in the plan to help family members achieve the outcomes, goals, and tasks outlined in the case plan. Selecting and matching interventions that will support the family in achieving outcomes and goals is a major responsibility in child protection.
The needs of families are often complex. As discussed in Chapter 5, child abuse and neglect is caused by multiple and interacting intrapersonal, interpersonal, and environmental factors. Interventions need to address as many of these contributing issues as possible.132 Research on the effectiveness of child abuse and neglect treatment suggests that successful intervention with maltreating families requires addressing both the interpersonal and concrete needs (e.g., housing, child care) of all family members. Evaluation projects found that programs that rely solely upon professional therapy, without augmenting the service strategies with other supportive or remedial services to children and families, will offer less opportunity for maximizing client gains.133
Therefore, each community must provide a broad range of services to meet the multidimensional needs of abused and neglected children and their families. These may include:
- Services provided to the entire family (e.g., family preservation services, multisystemic therapy for children and families, or family strengthening programs);
- Services provided specifically to parents or caregivers (e.g., sex offender treatment, parent education, substance abuse treatment, or mutual support programs);
- Services provided to children (e.g., counseling, therapeutic preschool, peer-based training, or mentoring programs).
Depending on the assessed needs, strengths, and safety issues, services may be provided either in or out of the family's home. When a child is unsafe because the risk of imminent harm is great or when the child's behavioral and emotional needs cannot be addressed at home, out-of-home placement services, such as foster care, should be considered.
Selection of services in a particular case is based on:
- Assessing factors that contribute to the risk of maltreatment;
- Identifying family strengths;
- Targeting outcomes for change;
- Identifying treatment approaches best suited to the desired outcome, based on any available research evidence;
- Listing resources available and accessible in the community.
The CPS caseworker serves as the case manager, articulating the needs of the family, coordinating services provided to them, and advocating on their behalf.134 The case management functions include: collecting and analyzing information, reaching decisions at all stages of the case process, coordinating services provided by others, and directly providing supportive services. This critical case-management function requires open and continuous communication among CPS, the family, and other service providers; developing a teamwork relationship; clarifying roles and responsibilities in delivering and monitoring services; and reaching consensus on goals and methods for monitoring progress toward goal achievement.
Evaluation of Family Progress
Evaluating whether risk behaviors and conditions have changed is central to case decisions. Monitoring change should begin as soon as an intervention is implemented and should continue throughout the life of a case until appropriate outcomes have been achieved.135
The importance of evaluating family progress is to help answer the following questions:
- Is the child safe? Have the protective factors, strengths, or the safety factors changed, warranting a change or elimination of the safety plan or the development of a safety plan?
- What changes, if any, have occurred with respect to the conditions and behaviors contributing to the risk of maltreatment?
- What outcomes have been accomplished and how does the caseworker know that they have been accomplished?
- What progress has been made toward achieving case goals?
- Have the services been effective in helping clients achieve outcomes and goals and, if not, what adjustments need to be made to improve outcomes?
- What is the current level of risk in the family?
- Have the risk factors been reduced sufficiently so that parents or caregivers can protect their children and meet their developmental needs so the case can be closed?
- Has it been determined that reunification is not likely in the ASFA-required time frames and there is no significant progress toward outcomes? If so, is an alternative permanent plan goal needed?
Since intervention and service provision to families at risk of maltreatment is a collaborative effort between CPS and other agencies or individual providers, the evaluation of family progress must be a collaborative venture. It is the CPS caseworker's responsibility to manage the comparison of client progress based on information reported from all service providers. In some cases, it may be appropriate to convene a team meeting to review the progress in relation to the family assessment and the case plan.
The process of evaluating family progress is a continual case management function. Once the case plan is established, each client contact will be focused on assessing the progress being made to achieve established outcomes, goals, and tasks, and to reassess safety. Formal case evaluations should occur at regular intervals. Good practice suggests evaluation of progress at least every 3 months.
Closure is the point at which the agency no longer maintains an active relationship with the family. The decision to end the agency's involvement must be based on the monitoring and evaluation of the case. ASFA requires decisions regarding case closure to be made in conjunction with the family and individuals important to the family. The preeminent concerns that inform case closure decisions are based on safety and permanency outcomes. The agency should support the family's right to self-determination by ending services when the risks to child safety have been reduced significantly and the family believes they no longer need services.136
For more detailed information on the child protection process, check other manuals in the series at www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/usermanual.cfm.
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