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

Date:

Safety Assessment

Citation: Ann. Code § 12-18-601(2)(d); DCFS Pol. & Proc. Man. § II-D8; App. 9

The Department of Human Services shall assess the safety of a child upon the receipt of an accepted child maltreatment report. The assessment shall include each underlying issue or additional child maltreatment concern that may not have been identified in the original child abuse hotline report.

From the Division of Child and Family Services policy manual: The family service worker will do the following:

  • Identify any safety factors that may contribute to the immediate danger of the child's health or physical well-being
  • Complete the health and safety checklist within 2 business days for each child in the family by identifying the presence or absence of any safety factors of any safety factors by checking 'yes' or 'no'
  • Provide narrative documentation on the health and safety checklist for each safety factor identified

Health and safety factors are described as follows:

  • The caregiver's behavior toward children is violent or out of control.
  • The caregiver describes or acts towards the child in predominantly negative terms or has extremely unrealistic expectations.
  • The caregiver caused serious physical injury to the child or made a plausible threat to cause severe physical injury.
  • The caregiver's explanation for the injury is unconvincing.
  • The family refuses access to the child and there is reason to believe that the family is about to flee or the child's whereabouts cannot be ascertained.
  • The caregiver has not, cannot, or will not provide supervision necessary to protect the child from potentially dangerous harm.
  • The caregiver is unwilling or unable to meet the child's needs for food, clothing, shelter, and/or medical or mental health care.
  • The child is fearful of the caregiver, other family members, or other people living in or having access to the home.
  • The child's physical living conditions are hazardous and immediately threatening, based on the child's age and developmental status.
  • Child sexual abuse is suspected, and circumstances suggest that child safety may be an immediate concern.
  • The caregiver's current substance use seriously affects his or her ability to supervise, protect, or care for the child.
  • The caregiver fails to protect the child from serious physical or threatened harm.
  • The caregiver's emotional stability seriously affects his or her current ability to supervise, protect, or care for the child.
  • The caregiver has previously maltreated a child and the severity of the maltreatment or the caregiver's response to the previous incidents suggest that child safety may be an immediate concern.

Safety Decisions and Safety Planning

Citation: DCFS Pol. & Proc. Man. §§ II-D; II-D9

Safety planning requires specific actions to be taken to ensure a child's safety during an investigation. If a safety factor is identified, there are only two options to implement during the safety planning process:

  • Develop a protection plan to mitigate the identified safety factors to allow the child to remain safely in the home
  • Remove the child from the home and take protective custody

The worker will make the appropriate child protecting decisions if the child's health or physical well-being are in immediate danger. If a safety factor is not identified on the health and safety checklist, but it is determined that services or other actions can be put in place to address risk factors or otherwise strengthen the family during the investigation, the worker will implement the services or other actions accordingly.

If all the statements on the health and safety checklist screen are selected 'no,' then the default decision will be 'safe,' indicating that there are no children whose health or physical well-being are likely to be in immediate danger. If safety factors are identified, the worker shall establish the appropriate protecting intervention for each identified safety factor.

For all safety factors with a 'yes' response, there should be corresponding documentation indicating whether either of the following apply:

  • A written, supervisor-approved protection plan was developed with and provided to the family, thereby allowing the child to remain safely in the home. The safety decision will then be 'conditionally safe,' meaning a protection plan has been implemented and interventions outlined in the plan have resolved the unsafe situation for the present time.
  • The child was removed from the home. The safety decision will then be 'unsafe,' meaning a protection plan could not be established so removal is the only protecting intervention for the children (i.e., without it, the children's health or physical well-being are likely to be in immediate danger).

If a protection plan can be put into place to mitigate the identified safety factors, the worker must do the following:

  • Determine the suitability of the person or persons responsible for carrying out the protection
  • Ensure that the protection plan is sufficient to manage and control identified safety factors and prevent subsequent dangers to the child by meeting the following criteria:
    • Does not rely on promises from caregivers or court orders prohibiting behaviors
    • Focuses on enhancing caregiver protective capacities as the highest priority for change
    • Includes immediate supports and/or services that have an impact on controlling identified safety factors
    • Is individualized to the needs and dynamics of the family and the specific safety factors identified
    • Has a mechanism for ongoing oversight and monitoring that allows the worker to provide feedback to the family and problem solve with the family, as needed
    • Is time limited, noting when each activity must be completed and when the plan should expire

Before leaving the home, the worker shall obtain supervisory approval of the protection plan developed with the family and a copy of the plan to the family.

Risk Assessment

Citation: DCFS Pol. & Proc. Man. § II-D

All reports of known or suspected child maltreatment are promptly investigated and immediate steps are taken to protect a maltreated child and any other child under the care of the same alleged offender who may also be in danger of maltreatment. The health and safety of the child are always of paramount concern.

The investigation risk assessment is designed to do the following:

  • Assess the family's level of risk during the child maltreatment investigation
  • Establish a baseline level of risk for a family
  • Identify the factors and circumstances that indicate the child may be at risk of future abuse or neglect
  • Indicate the necessary level of involvement to ensure the child's well-being
  • Provide a structured decision-making tool in case planning

The investigation risk assessment informs the case plan, if a case is opened after the completion of the investigation. The investigation risk assessment must be completed by the investigator within 30 calendar days of receipt of the hotline report and must receive supervisory approval within 45 calendar days of receipt of the hotline report.

Levels of risk are classified as intensive, high, moderate, and low. The higher the score, the higher the risk of future harm. The level of risk determined during the investigation risk assessment will be considered the baseline level of risk for any subsequent case that is opened, if applicable.

Family Strengths and Needs Assessment to Determine Service Needs

Citation: DCFS Pol. & Proc. Man. § IV-B

Case plans will be developed after a thorough assessment of a family's strengths and needs. The strengths and needs identified via the Family Advocacy and Support Tool (FAST) will inform the development of the case plan for supportive and in-home services case plans. The strengths and needs identified via the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS) functional assessment will inform the development of the case plan for out-of-home cases. Using the information from the FAST or CANS, as applicable, to help identify priority needs and strengths, the case plan will then be developed with the involvement of family, the age-appropriate children, the foster parents (if applicable), the attorney ad litem (if there is court involvement), the family service worker, and any other involved parties. The case plan will be updated as necessary following updates to the FAST and/or CANS.

Ongoing Assessment to Evaluate Progress on the Service Plan

Citation: DCFS Pol. & Proc. Man. § II-D

All protection plans will be monitored via an initial face-to-face contact with the family, including alleged victim(s), alleged offender(s), and any other children in the home, within at least 72 hours and then via a minimum of weekly face-to-face contact for the remaining life of the protection plan.

While the health and safety of the child is always assessed each time DCFS comes into contact with the child, the health and safety of the child and any corresponding protection plan will be formally reassessed within 30 days of the date on which the protection plan was implemented. If after this formal reassessment is performed, DCFS determines that a substantial risk of harm to the health and safety of the child remains and that the protection plan must stay in place to ensure the health and safety of the child, then DCFS will file a petition for dependency-neglect, unless the parent, guardian, or custodian is not the alleged offender or alleged to have failed to protect the juvenile.

Assessment for Reunification and/or Case Closure

Citation: DCFS Pol. & Proc. Man. § VI-G

At the permanency planning hearing, the court shall determine whether to return the child to the home of the parent, guardian, or custodian from whom the child was removed. A plan to place custody of the child with a parent, guardian, or custodian may be authorized only if the court finds that the parent, guardian, or custodian is complying with the established case plan and orders of the court, making significant progress toward achieving goals established in the case plan, and diligently working toward reunification.

Regardless of when the effort was made, the court shall consider all evidence of an effort made by the parent, guardian, or custodian to remedy the conditions that led to the removal of the child from the home and give the evidence the appropriate weight and consideration in relation to the safety, health, and well-being of the child. The burden is on the parent, guardian, or custodian to demonstrate genuine, sustainable investment in completing the requirements of the case plan and following court and that the parent, guardian, or custodian is making significant and measurable progress toward remedying the conditions that caused the child's removal from the home, the child's continued removal from the home, or prohibits placement of the child in the home.