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

Date:

Safety Assessment

Citation: Child Prot. Serv. Man. § 2.2.5

From the policy manual : The purpose of an initial assessment is to collect sufficient information regarding the allegations contained in a report to form an assessment of the family, which will then inform decisions and determine if safety interventions are needed. All initial assessments shall be conducted by an Office of Children's Services (OCS) caseworker who has been trained to conduct child abuse and neglect initial assessments and trained in assessing safety.

An initial assessment involves making contact within the assigned response timelines for the following purposes:

  • Gather safety-related information
  • Determine present and impending danger
  • Determine child vulnerability
  • Determine if the parent or caregiver can or cannot and/or will or will not protect the child
  • Determine whether to substantiate or not substantiate child abuse or neglect
  • Determine risk level
  • Determine whether the child may be eligible for membership in an Indian Tribe

The caseworker will meet face-to-face with and interview the alleged victim, his or her siblings, and other children living in the home. The purpose of the interview is to determine the following:

  • Whether or not the child has been abused or neglected
  • Child vulnerability
  • The child's immediate safety
  • Child and family functioning
  • The presence of impending danger

The caseworker will meet face-to-face with and interview the nonoffending parent or caregiver. The purpose of this interview is the following:

  • Gather information related to the safety of the child
  • Determine what the nonoffending parent or caregiver knows about the alleged child abuse or neglect
  • Gather information to determine protective factors
  • Determine if the parent or caregiver can or cannot and will or will not protect the child
  • Gather information about adult and family functioning
  • Assess for domestic violence

The caseworker will meet face-to-face with and interview the other adults living in the home. The purpose of this face-to-face contact and interview is to gather the following information:

  • What the other adults in the home know about the alleged child abuse or neglect
  • The safety of the child
  • Adult, child, and family functioning

The caseworker will meet face-to-face with (whenever possible) and interview the noncustodial legal parent. The purpose of this contact and interview is the following:

  • To gather information about adult, child, and family functioning
  • To gather custody information that may impact the decision-making process
  • To assess for domestic violence
  • To provide notification of the initial assessment

The caseworker will conduct at least one home visit during the initial assessment. During the home visit, the caseworker will observe and discuss the following:

  • The physical condition of the child, including any observable effects of child abuse or neglect
  • The emotional status of the child, including mannerisms, signs of fear, and developmental status
  • The reactions of the parents or caregivers to OCS concerns
  • The emotional and behavioral status of the parents or caregivers during the interviewing process
  • The parents' protective factors
  • The interactions between family members, including verbal and body language
  • The condition of the child's living space, including where the child sleeps
  • The physical condition of the home that affects the safety of the child

If the child is Alaska Native or American Indian, the caseworker will coordinate the home visit with a representative of the child's Tribe, unless the parent has opted to exclude Tribal involvement.

Safety Decisions and Safety Planning

Citation: Child Prot. Serv. Man. § 2.2.5.1

Assessment of safety occurs during the initial assessment and continues during each contact with the family while the case is open for services, regardless of custody or placement. If present or impending danger exists, the caseworker must take action to ensure child safety. A child safety plan must be developed in collaboration with the parents and their supports, including the Tribe for ICWA-eligible children.

If the caseworker determines there are no safety threats in the home, the child is determined to be safe. If the caseworker identifies one or more safety threats, the caseworker must determine whether there is a parent or adult caregiver in the home with sufficient protective factors that can and will protect the child from the threat of danger.

The protective factors that can and will protect the vulnerable child from the impending danger safety threats include the following:

  • Parental resilience
  • Social connections
  • Knowledge of parenting and child development
  • Concrete supports in times of need
  • Social and emotional competence of children

If the caseworker determines there are sufficient caregiver protective factors to ensure the safety threats can be controlled, the child is determined to be safe. If the caseworker determines there are safety threats present, there is one or more vulnerable child in the home, and the parent's protective factors are insufficient to control the impending or present danger safety threats, the child is unsafe.

If the caseworker determines a child is unsafe, the caseworker must work in conjunction with the parent and other adult caregivers in the home to develop a plan to keep the child safe or take custody of the child. Acceptable plans include the following:

  • To keep a child safe in their home when present danger exists, a parent and caseworker can identify a protective adult to come into the home to provide safety and supervision.
  • If a child cannot safely remain in their home, the child may stay at a friend's or relative's home. There must be a protective adult to provide for the safety and supervision of the child, and the parent must consent to an out-of-home child safety plan.
  • If a child cannot safely remain in their home, the child may have to be taken into custody and placed in out-of-home care. Out-of-home care is the last option and will be done in consultation with a supervisor.

To keep a child safe in their home, the following must be present:

  • There is a parent or legal caregiver residing in the home.
  • The home is calm enough and predictable enough to allow for safety actions, tasks, or services to come into the home.
  • The parents and other adult caregivers in the home are willing to allow and participate in an in-home plan.
  • There are resources within the family or community to perform the safety actions, tasks, or services necessary to manage the safety threats.
  • Any people participating in the safety management can be in the home safely and without disruption.
  • The in-home plan can be effective without the results of professional evaluations and monitoring.

If any of the above criteria does not exist, an in-home plan is not appropriate for the family.

Risk Assessment

Citation: Child Prot. Serv. Man. §§ 2.2.5; 2.2.10.2

Initial assessment activities include the following:

  • Determine if present danger exists: The caseworker will identify whether present danger exists and, when applicable, develop a child safety plan.
  • Determine if impending danger exists: After determining whether present danger exists, the caseworker will assess for impending danger, using the Impending Danger Assessment and Analysis (IDAA) instrument.
  • Determining future risk and needs: The caseworker will determine future risk of abuse and neglect by completing the Determining Future Risk and Needs (FRAN) instrument.

After completing the assessment of protective capacities, needs, and future risk of abuse and neglect for substantiated or unconfirmed cases, the caseworker will decide whether to open an ongoing case or close the case. The following two primary criteria are used to structure the transfer or close decision:

  • The ability of protective capacities to address needs
  • The family's risk level

Family Strengths and Needs Assessment to Determine Service Needs

Citation: Child Prot. Serv. Man. § 2.9.3

OCS will develop a case plan, using the Family Services Assessment (FSA) process, for each parent, legal guardian, or Indian custodian who is subject to an open family services case, with or without custody, in home or out of home. The agency will work with the parent, guardian, or custodian individually in developing their own case plan. Tribal representatives will be included, when applicable, in the initial and ongoing development of the case plan. Each case plan will be written using language that the parent, guardian, or custodian can understand and include services they request to meet their identified needs.

The needs assessment for each individual will include an exploration of the five protective factors: parental resilience, concrete supports in times of need, social connections, knowledge of parenting and child development, and social and emotional competence of children. The identification of desired services will include an exploration of the available traditional wellness practices, cultural activities, and Tribal services.

Ongoing Assessment to Evaluate Progress on the Service Plan

Citation: Child Prot. Serv. Man. §§ 2.2.5.1(H); 2.9.3

The caseworker must ensure the child safety plan is sufficient to keep the child safe until the initial assessment is completed. Before the expiration of the plan, the caseworker must reassess the present and impending danger situation and adjust the plan if needed. If a new or different action is needed, the caseworker, in collaboration with the parents, will develop a new plan.

The case plan evaluation process will occur every 6 months after development of the case plan and when a significant change occurs with the family that would require a case plan evaluation. The case plan evaluation is intended to provide a standardized approach for measuring progress related to case plan achievement.

During regular monthly caseworker visits with parent, guardian, or custodian, the caseworker should take some time to discuss case plan goals and activities with the parent, guardian, or custodian. During these visits, the caseworker should discuss the following:

  • Progress towards one or more goals and what is needed to continue progress or to improve progress
  • Service provision and whether it is meeting the family's needs and addressing their case goals
  • The status of children, needs, and family contact schedules
  • Any other pertinent issues, as needed

The caseworker will contact each service provider prior to the completion of the case plan evaluation to review status of services, engagement by the parent, guardian, or custodian and progress in meeting their case plan goals. The caseworker will contact other collaterals who are familiar with the family to gather information for the case plan evaluation. These collaterals could include safety plan participants, extended family members, Tribal representatives, family contact supervisors, or educational and/or child care staff. The caseworker also will re-evaluate safety, as follows:

  • Describe the current status of impending danger or why OCS continues to not place the child in the nonremoval parent, guardian, or custodian home
  • Re-evaluate assessment of in-home safety plan
  • Make any necessary adjustments to the safety plan
  • Determine if child's placement needs to change based upon completion of a new safety analysis

Assessment for Reunification and/or Case Closure

Citation: Child Prot. Serv. Man. § 3.7.2

While OCS has custody of a child, a placement in the child's own home following an out-of-home placement is considered a trial home visit for the first 6 months (or for a different time period, if ordered by the court). If a trial home visit lasts for longer than 6 months or if custody is released, the child is considered to have returned home.

Prior to placing a child at home for a trial home visit an evaluation will be completed to determine whether the household is a safe environment. The caseworker should use the following guidelines to decide when to place a child in their own home for a trial home visit in preparation for a permanent return home:

  • The safety threats that led to the need for out-of-home care have been mitigated by a change in the parent's behavior or a sustainable safety plan already exists or can be put in place to mitigate the threat of harm.
  • The parents, guardian, or Indian custodian are residing in the home and have demonstrated that they are able to provide the necessary minimum level of care in their home.
  • The home is calm/consistent enough to allow for safety services to come into the home.
  • The parents, guardian, or Indian custodian are willing to allow and/or participate in an in-home case plan, and services and resources are available to participate in an in-home case plan.
  • There has been a specific change in family circumstances and/or protective factors that allows for the use of an in-home plan.
  • The parents, guardian, or Indian custodian have been consistent and responsive with respect to family contact opportunities and interact positively with their child during supervised visits; or the family contact plan has moved to unsupervised visits, and the issues that brought the child into custody have not manifested during the unsupervised visits.
  • The parents, guardian, or Indian custodian have asked for help during crises.