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

Date: March 2021

Safety Assessment

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 8-455; DCS Pol. & Proc. Man., Ch. 2, §§ 4, 5

The Department of Child Safety (DCS) shall operate and maintain a centralized intake hotline to receive communications concerning suspected abuse or neglect. The hotline is the first step in the safety assessment and investigation process and has the responsibility to determine the proper initial priority level of investigation based on the report screening assessment and direct the DCS report to the appropriate part of DCS based on this determination.

From the policy manual: A present danger assessment shall be completed for all reports where a field investigation is completed and shall be documented in the Family Functioning Assessment (FFA). Upon contact with the child and family, the DCS specialist will determine whether any child in the home where the abuse or neglect was alleged to occur is in present danger.

Upon contact with the child and family, the DCS specialist will determine whether any child in the home where the abuse or neglect was alleged to occur is in present danger. A child is in present danger when there is an immediate, significant, and clearly observable family condition, child condition, or individual behavior that obviously endangers a child right now or threatens to endanger a child at any moment. Such circumstances require immediate action to protect the child before the comprehensive FFA can be completed.

In present danger, the dangerous situation is in the process of occurring, just happened, happens all the time, or requires an immediate protective action because the alleged abuse or neglect cannot be immediately ruled out and if the allegation is true, the child is in present danger.

Safety Decisions and Safety Planning

Citation: DCS Pol. & Proc. Man., Ch. 2, §§ 4, 5

A child is unsafe when present danger and/or impending danger exists.

If any child in the home is in present danger, the DCS specialist must implement a present danger plan that controls the present danger prior to leaving the child or family. A present danger plan provides the child with responsible adult supervision and care so that the child will be safe while the DCS specialist completes the FFA, which assesses impending danger and protective capacity. A present danger plan is immediate, short term, and sufficient to control the present danger.

The DCS specialist works with the family to determine what protective action is necessary to control the immediate present danger condition and who, if needed, will serve as the responsible adults to protect the child when the danger threats are present or likely to be present.

In-home, combination, and out-of-home present danger plan options are available. The DCS specialist shall work with the family to identify the least intrusive plan that is sufficient to control the present danger conditions. The DCS specialist works with the family to select one or more of the following present danger plan options, which are listed in order from least to most intrusive:

  • The threatening person leaves the home.
  • The protective parent and child leave the home and go to a safe environment.
  • A responsible adult is in the home at predetermined specific times.
  • A responsible adult routinely monitors the home.
  • A responsible adult moves into the home seven days a week, 24 hours per day.
  • The child is cared for outside the home periodically.
  • The child lives with someone in the family network part-time.
  • The child lives with a responsible adult for seven days per week, 24 hours per day.
  • The child is placed in the temporary custody of DCS by a voluntary placement agreement.
  • The child is placed in the temporary custody of DCS.

For each alleged child victim, the DCS specialist, in consultation with a DCS program supervisor, must determine whether the child is safe or unsafe, as follows:

  • A child is safe if there is no threat of danger to the child.
  • A child is safe if an existing threat of danger to the child is being effectively controlled and managed by a parent, guardian, or custodian in the home.
  • A child is unsafe when there is a threat of danger to a child that meets all five safety threshold criteria, including that the parent or guardian does not have sufficient protective capacity to effectively control and manage the danger without DCS intervention and oversight.

Risk Assessment

Citation: Rev. Stat. § 8-457; DCS Pol. & Proc. Man., Ch. 2, § 5

In determining if a case should be open for ongoing services, DCS shall consider as the primary factors whether there exists a present or future risk of harm to any child in the family and if services can mitigate the identified risks. Based on the investigation of the case and the results of the risk assessment, DCS shall determine whether to close the case, offer voluntary child safety services, or open a case for ongoing services.

In policy: Once an assessment of present danger is complete, the DCS specialist shall proceed with the FFA to determine whether any child is unsafe due to impending danger. The functioning of the following individuals must be assessed during the FFA:

  • The identified child victim
  • Any other children living in the home
  • The alleged perpetrator
  • The parent, guardian, and custodian of the child victim living in the home
  • A parent, guardian, or custodian of the alleged child victim living in a different household, if the whereabouts can be reasonably determined
  • Other adults living in the home (including the spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, significant other, etc.) who have caregiving responsibilities

The DCS specialist will conduct interviews, in-person observations, and document reviews to gather the following information to assess family functioning, threats of danger, and parent or caregiver protective capacities:

  • Extent of child maltreatment
  • Circumstances surrounding the maltreatment
  • Child functioning on a daily basis
  • Adult functioning on a daily basis
  • General parenting practices
  • Discipline and behavior management

Impending danger refers to a child being in a continuous state of danger due to caregiver behaviors, attitudes, motives, emotions, and/or situations posing a specific threat of severe harm to a child. Impending danger is often not immediately apparent and may not be active and threatening child safety upon initial contact with a family. Identifying impending danger requires thorough information collection regarding family and parent or caregiver functioning to sufficiently assess and understand how family conditions occur.

Protective capacities are personal qualities or characteristics that contribute to vigilant child protection. They are personal and parenting characteristics that specifically and directly can be associated with being protective of one's children. They are 'strengths' that are explicitly associated with one's ability to perform effectively as a parent in order to provide and ensure a consistently safe environment.

Assessment of a parent or caregiver's capacity to protect a child begins with identifying and understanding how specific safety threats are occurring within the family system. At this point in the assessment process, the DCS Specialist determines whether each parent or caregiver has demonstrated the specific protective capacities associated with the identified threats of danger to a child.

The following behavioral, cognitive, and emotional parental protective capacities must be considered when gathering information for the FFA:

  • Behavioral protective capacity: Specific action, activity, or performance that is consistent with and results in protective vigilance
  • Cognitive protective capacity: Specific intellect, knowledge, understanding, and perception that results in protective vigilance
  • Emotional protective capacity: Specific feelings, attitudes, identification with a child, and motivation that results in protective vigilance

Family Strengths and Needs Assessment to Determine Service Needs

Citation: DCS Pol. & Proc. Man., Ch. 2, § 3

In response to allegations of abuse or neglect, DCS shall assess, promote, and support the safety of a child in a safe and stable family or another appropriate placement. While a child is assessed as unsafe and a safety plan is active, DCS shall complete the FFA€”Ongoing to continue to assess safety and to develop a change strategy and case plan for the family. Without compromising child safety, DCS shall coordinate services to achieve and maintain permanency on behalf of the child; strengthen the family; and provide prevention, intervention, and treatment services.

If the child is a registered or eligible member of a Native American Tribe, DCS shall do the following:

  • Involve the child's Tribe as soon as possible in the assessment and planning process
  • If the child is a temporary or adjudicated court ward and the Tribe has not been notified, immediately notify the Tribe of the child's legal custody status
  • Explore available services of the Tribe that may address the safety and cultural needs of the child
  • Assist the Tribe in determining the Tribe's ability to assume custodial care or offer services or placement assistance for the Tribe

Ongoing Assessment to Evaluate Progress on the Service Plan

Citation: DCS Pol. & Proc. Man., Ch. 2, § 3

The DCS specialist conducts the FFA€”Ongoing to identify enhanced and diminished protective capacities that are directly related to the identified impending danger threats. The DCS specialist conducts the FFA€”Ongoing to assess the following:

  • Whether or not the safety plan is sufficiently managing impending danger threats in the least intrusive way possible
  • The relationship between the identified impending danger threats and currently diminished protective capacities
  • The perspective or awareness of the parent, guardian, or custodian regarding danger threats and their relationship to diminished protective capacities
  • The parent, guardian, or custodian's readiness for change
  • The areas of disagreement between the parents, guardians, and/or custodians and DCS regarding what needs to change
  • How existing protective capacities can be built upon to make needed behavioral changes
  • The change actions, services, and activities that will be used to enhance diminished protective capacities

The DCS specialist conducts the ongoing assessment through contacts with the parents, guardians, and/or custodians to guide a mutual understanding of what must change for the parents to regain responsibility for the care and safety of the child.

While the child is assessed as unsafe and the safety plan remains active, the DCS specialist will actively manage child safety and continuously gather information to assess progress made toward enhancing diminished protective capacities and eliminating the impending danger threats identified in the FFA. The DCS specialist gathers the information through contacts with the parents, the children, extended family, the out-of-home provider, case participants, and other service team members.

Assessment for Reunification and/or Case Closure

Citation: DCS Pol. & Proc. Man., Ch. 2, § 7.1

If a child is assessed as unsafe due to impending danger and an out-of-home safety plan is implemented, DCS shall identify the conditions for return of the child to the parent. The conditions for return shall be provided in writing to the parent, guardian, or custodian, any child who is age 12 or older, and the out-of-home caregiver. Progress toward meeting the conditions for return shall be assessed in conjunction with the FFA--Ongoing and the FFA--Progress Update.

Conditions for return are written statements of specific behaviors, conditions, or circumstances that must exist before a child can return and remain in the home with an in-home safety plan. The conditions for return are directly connected to the specific reasons why an in-home safety plan could not be put into place. Conditions for return describe the caregivers' behaviors and family circumstances that would need to exist for a sufficient, feasible, sustainable in-home safety plan to be implemented.

At any time the safety plan is reassessed, the DCS specialist will assess whether current circumstances still indicate the need for an out-of-home safety plan and whether any or all of the conditions for return have been met. When the in-home safety analysis indicates that a sufficient, feasible, and sustainable in-home safety plan can be implemented, the DCS specialist will engage with the family and service team to develop a reunification transition plan.

When the conditions for return are met and a child can return to the home of a parent, guardian, or custodian with an in-home safety plan, the family's DCS ongoing services case will remain open until the children are determined to be safe with no need for a safety plan (threats of danger are no longer present or a parent, guardian, or custodian has demonstrated an enhancement of identified diminished protective capacity to consistently manage all threats of danger).

Prior to identifying the conditions for return, the DCS specialist will identify, discuss, and analyze the following:

  • How each identified impending danger threat is manifested in the family
  • The safety threshold criteria, particularly the observable and specific family condition and the out-of-control nature of the threat
  • Caregiver protective capacity, attitude, and awareness
  • The potential for threatening caregivers or persons to leave the home

The DCS specialist should consider the following when determining specific conditions for return to the family:

  • The original reason for an out-of-home safety plan
  • Whether the child is fearful of returning home
  • That there are adequate services and/or supports (responsible adults) that can substitute for all diminished caregiver protective capacities to control the impending danger within the home
  • That the level of supervision necessary to ensure child safety has been determined
  • That the times, days, or under what circumstances responsible adults or safety services must be available to ensure child safety have been determined
  • That the stated conditions for return address all the issues that made an out-of-home safety plan necessary
  • If the stated conditions for return are met, whether a sustainable in-home safety plan is possible
  • That the stated conditions for return include conditions related to the parent demonstrating the willingness and consistent ability to support an in-home safety plan
  • That meeting the stated conditions for return will confirm the parent is willing and able to continue working toward completion of the case plan and identified treatment goals