The Use of Safety and Risk Assessment in Child Protection Cases - Alabama

Date: March 2021

Safety Assessment

Citation: Admin. Code § 660-5-34-.06

Protecting children is the primary role of the child welfare program of the Department of Human Resources. The social work practice method is to assess whether children are safe and to intervene when they are not. Children are considered safe when there are no present or impending danger threats or the parent or caregiver's protective capacities control existing threats. Children are unsafe when they are vulnerable to present or impending danger threats and parents or caregivers are unable or unwilling to provide protection. Present danger threats are easily observable, cause imminent concern, and require immediate action to ensure the safety of the child. Impending danger threats are less obvious, more challenging to identify, and require as much information as necessary to determine if safety threats exist.

Safety threshold is a certain point at which the threats become so great that the family situation is unsafe for the child. For a present or impending threat to meet the safety threshold, causing a child to be unsafe, each of the following items must exist:

  • Severity: The threat is consistent with harm that can result in significant pain, serious injury, disablement, grave or debilitating physical health or physical conditions, acute or grievous suffering, terror, impairment, or death.
  • Vulnerability: The child's dependence upon others for protection is based on an assessment of a child's age as well as his or her physical and mental health.
  • Out-of-control: Family conditions are such that nothing within the family can manage the behavior, emotion, or situation causing the safety threat.
  • Specific timeframe: Threats to child safety are present, likely to become active soon, or there is a certainty about occurrence within the immediate to near future that could have severe effects on a child.
  • Observable and specific: Facts obtained indicate that the danger to the child is real.

Parents' or caregivers' protective capacities are assessed. Protective capacities are qualities and characteristics that contribute to a parent or caregiver's ability to protect the child.

Safety Decisions and Safety Planning

Citation: Admin. Code § 660-5-34-.06

After present and impending safety threats are assessed and the parents' or caregivers' protective capacities are assessed, a decision is made whether children are safe. If present or impending safety threats are identified, a safety plan is developed to control and monitor the safety threats.

Safety plans are developed to protect children from safety threats when the parents or primary caregivers' protective capacities are insufficient. Safety plans are based on identifiable safety threats and coupled with diminished parental/primary caregiver protective capacities that place the child at present or impending danger. Safety plans shall use the least restrictive alternative for protecting the child, and any out-of-home placements shall be in the least restrictive, most family-like setting that can offer safety and meet the children's individualized needs. When developing an 'in-home' or 'out-of-home (non-foster care)' safety plan, the person responsible for protecting the children can be either a professional or nonprofessional (e.g., family member, relative, or neighbor) and must be cleared through the central registry when evaluating protective capacities.

There are three types of safety plans that are based on children's living arrangement:

  • In-home is a safety plan designed to provide protection for children living in their own homes. Services are provided in the home to control safety threats by substituting for diminished parental/caregiver protective capacities.
  • Out-of-home (nonfoster care) is a safety plan designed to provide protection for children whose parents, legal custodians, or primary caregivers agree for them to live temporarily with others (e.g., relatives, neighbors, friends). The agreement is made between the parents, legal custodians, or primary caregivers; the child welfare staff; and the person responsible for providing protection. The home of the person providing protection does not have to be approved as a foster family home. As part of the safety plan approval process, child welfare staff shall make a visit to the home prior to the child being placed, except in emergency situations, in which case a home visit is made no later than the next calendar day or with supervisory approval the next working day. The maximum timeframe that an out-of-home, nonfoster care safety plan can be in place without court involvement is 90 days.
  • Out-of-home (foster care) is a safety plan intervention designed to provide protection for children in licensed/approved placements (e.g., foster family homes, shelters) pursuant to a court order granting the department protective or temporary custody. This safety plan intervention is used when children are at imminent risk of serious harm; the parent or primary caregiver is unable or unwilling to provide protection; and it is not possible to protect children through a less intrusive means.

Risk Assessment

Citation: Admin. Code § 660-5-34-.13

When the intake information reveals the children may be at risk of maltreatment, the information is considered a 'Child Protective Services (CPS) Prevention Referral' and an evaluation of the child and family situation is required. The evaluation process is known as a 'CPS Prevention Assessment.' The term 'risk of maltreatment' is defined, for purposes of this policy, as family conditions or circumstances that, if left unchanged, can cause child abuse or neglect. The CPS prevention process is designed to determine if on-going protective services are needed to prevent child maltreatment.

The CPS Prevention Assessment is designed to determine whether family conditions and circumstances are presenting risks that are significant enough to warrant on-going services to prevent child maltreatment. The county in which the children are currently living is responsible for conducting the CPS Prevention Assessment.

Initial contact shall be made with children identified as at risk of maltreatment as quickly as the intake information warrants, but no later than 5 calendar days from the referral's receipt. CPS Prevention Assessments shall be completed within 90 days from the date the intake information is received. In-person interviews shall be conducted with parents and primary caregivers and all children identified as being at risk of maltreatment. Child welfare staff must collect information to determine the safety and well-being of the identified children and whether there is significant risk of maltreatment to warrant on-going protective services.

CPS prevention analysis and decision-making involves analyzing parents' or primary caregivers' protective capacities, determining to what extent parents or primary caregivers are able and willing to control threats and manage risks, and determining if identified risks are significant enough to warrant on-going services in order to prevent maltreatment.

On-going services are provided when the CPS Prevention Assessment reveals a significant risk of maltreatment. Significant risk of maltreatment is defined as conditions or circumstances revealed during the CPS Prevention Assessment that are likely to cause abuse or neglect if ongoing services are not provided to the child and family. The provision of on-going services is voluntary unless a safety threat exists or services have been court ordered. When the CPS Prevention Assessment reveals the children are safe, no significant risks have been identified, and the parents or primary caregivers have protective capacities sufficient to protect the children, the provision of on-going services is not necessary.

Family Strengths and Needs Assessment to Determine Service Needs

Citation: Admin. Code §§ 660-5-47-.04; 660-5-47-.05

Individualized service plans (ISPs) will be completed for all children and families for whom a case is opened for on-going child welfare services and the department is involved in the planning and/or delivery of those services.

The child and family planning team, also known as the ISP team, works in partnership to develop, review, and revise ISPs. The team is responsible for identifying strengths and needs, establishing goals, matching steps and services to needs, monitoring service delivery, and evaluating the ISP's effectiveness. The ISP team shall include, at a minimum, the age-appropriate children, the parents (both custodial and noncustodial), the caseworker, the primary caregiver or the foster care provider (for children in out-of-home care), and other individuals requested by the children or family (e.g., friends, neighbors, or advocates).

Comprehensive family assessments are essential to the development of successful ISPs, which are designed to achieve the desired outcome of safety, permanency, stability, and overall well-being.

Initial ISPs should address, at a minimum, a review of any existing safety plans to determine if they need to be continued or revised to help protect the children in their own home; the desired outcome (permanency goal) for the children and the anticipated timeframe within which the goal will be achieved; any additional assessments needed to facilitate identification of strengths/needs and the timeframes for obtaining those assessments; steps to address the children's basic health, mental health, and educational needs; attachment needs, including visiting and phone or mail contact if the decision is made to move the children; and steps to promote a timely return home or placement with relatives, if either of these is the child's permanency goal.

Ongoing Assessment to Evaluate Progress on the Service Plan

Citation: Admin. Code § 660-5-47-.05

A meeting to review the initial ISP shall be held between the child and family planning team within 30 days of when the initial ISP was developed to determine if implementation is occurring as planned and, if not, what revisions need to be made and to complete an ISP if needed to address additional needs that have been identified and prioritized during the assessment process following the initial ISP.

ISP meetings shall be held to review the ISP and make needed revisions when the following situations, at a minimum, occur:

  • When requested by the parents, the age-appropriate child, or other team members
  • When changes in family members' circumstances warrant review and possible revision
  • Prior to the decision to remove a child from home
  • After an emergency change in a child's out-of-home care placement is anticipated
  • When the ISP is not adequately managing the risks or new risks are identified
  • When the children and/or family are making little or no progress toward the established goal
  • When Medicaid rehabilitation services have been authorized and a treatment plan review is required
  • After any review (e.g., judicial or administrative) recommends or directs that changes be made

Assessment for Reunification and/or Case Closure

Citation: Admin. Code § 660-5-47-.05

The child and family planning team shall meet and review the ISP within 30 days prior to the anticipated date of closing a family's case. The purpose of this review is to determine if the family is able to provide minimally adequate care for the children and if the parents and/or primary caregiver have sufficient protective capacities to function independently of departmental intervention.