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

Date: March 2021

Safety Assessment

Citation: Gen. Stat. § 17a-101g; CPS Pol. Man. §§ 22-2-1; 22-2-1PG

In response to a report accepted for a family assessment response (FAR), the Department of Children and Families (DCF) shall conduct a comprehensive family assessment that shall include a safety and risk assessment and an assessment of family strengths and needs. The assessment shall include personal interviews with the child and the child's parent or primary caretaker, an evaluation of the home environment, and the performance of criminal background checks on all adults residing in the same household. The assessment may include, as appropriate, personal interviews with other children or adults residing in the same household as well as any other caregivers, family members, and collateral contacts. In conducting the assessment, DCF shall consider the age and vulnerability of the child, family functioning, family history of abuse and neglect, and family history of involvement with DCF. DCF shall, upon securing any necessary releases, request any relevant out-of-state history of child abuse or neglect involving any adults residing in the same household.

In policy: The social worker shall be responsible for assessing child safety during the initial face-to-face contact with the family, utilizing the SDM Safety Assessment tool. The assessment results shall be documented in the data system within 5 days of the initial face-to-face contact with the family and reviewed and approved by the supervisor no later than at the close of an investigation or within 45 days of receipt of new information on an active case. A new safety assessment shall be completed whenever new information becomes available that suggests a change in the child's safety status.

The SDM Safety Assessment tool is used by social workers to help assess whether children are in immediate danger of serious harm. It assesses families on 12 specified conditions that potentially represent a threat to child safety and identify the interventions needed to control or remediate unsafe conditions. Because the allegations in the CPS report must meet the statutory definition of abuse or neglect to be accepted, a thorough assessment of child safety and risk is required.

The social worker shall be responsible for assessing child safety during the initial face-to-face contact with the child and family, utilizing the safety assessment tool. Ongoing assessment of the child's well-being is required throughout the FAR. Consideration of safety factors shall be incorporated into each contact with the family.

Safety Decisions and Safety Planning

Citation: Gen. Stat. § 17a-101g; CPS Pol. Man. §§ 22-2-1; 22-2-2PG

Prior to referring a report to an appropriate community provider, DCF shall develop a service plan designed to meet the family's immediate needs for services and supports and to guide the community provider's development of a long-term plan of care for the family.

In policy: A safety decision may be designated as follows:

  • When found to be 'safe,' the family shall continue to receive FAR services.
  • When found to be 'conditionally safe,' the family shall be evaluated with the supervisor regarding appropriateness for continued FAR services.
  • A finding of 'unsafe' shall immediately result in a track change to investigations.

The FAR protocol shall be completed no later than 3 business days from the decision to switch tracks. Consideration shall be given to the duration and severity of the safety factor to determine the appropriate continued response.

The safety plan consists of strategies and interventions identified by the family and their community partners which, when implemented immediately, safeguard the children in the home.

If the conditions or behaviors do not meet the threshold of a safety factor, as indicated by the safety assessment and the worker's professional judgment, the child shall be considered 'safe.' A service agreement may be established in partnership with the family and community resources to address issues or concerns relative to the report, to minimize risk factors, or to address the needs of the family.

Risk Assessment

Citation: CPS Pol. Man. §§ 22-2-1; 22-2-2PG

To enhance planning and service delivery to families, DCF shall utilize the SDM Risk Assessment tool to identify potential risk factors that influence future risk of harm. The risk assessment shall be completed by the social worker prior to the end of the FAR process and shall be approved by the supervisor within 45 days of the hotline report.

The social worker shall engage the family to gather sufficient information to assess potential safety factors. The assessment includes, but is not limited to, the following information:

  • The nature, type, duration, and intensity of any type of maltreatment
  • The parents' explanations and responses
  • Living conditions
  • The presence of alcohol or substance abuse
  • The parents' behaviors toward the child
  • The parents' physical and mental health
  • The child's functioning (relationships, school status, social connections, community activities, etc.)
  • The child's physical and mental health, including behavioral and psychological safety
  • The parent and child relationship
  • Trauma history and symptoms
  • The parents' capacity to care for the child

Family Strengths and Needs Assessment to Determine Service Needs

Citation: Gen. Stat. § 17a-101g; CPS Pol. Man. § 22-2-2PG

Following a referral, a community provider shall schedule an in-person meeting with the family and shall develop a plan of care. Such plan of care shall be developed in consultation with the family and shall include the following:

  • A review of the department's family assessment and service plan and any services and supports the family is currently receiving
  • An identification of the family's ongoing needs and the services and supports that may be available to meet such needs
  • The family's strengths and needs and a description of the services and supports to be offered to do the following:
    • Address the family's needs
    • Build upon the family's strengths
    • Increase the health, safety, and well-being of the child

The provider shall monitor the family's participation and progress with the plan of care.

The social worker shall collaborate with the family and its partners to identify the strengths and needs of the family and to help identify resources and supports to address identified needs. Broader family and community participation elicits support and promotes child well-being.

The social worker shall discuss the protective factors with the family to help identify their strengths and needs to inform service delivery. Protective factors are conditions in families and communities that, when present, increase the health and well-being of children and families. Working with families to increase their protective factors helps families build and draw upon their natural support networks within their families and communities. These networks are critical to families' long-term success.

In policy: The five protective factors include the following:

  • Nurturing and attachment: Building a close bond helps parents better understand, respond to, and communicate with their children.
  • Knowledge of parenting (child and youth development): Parents learn what to look out for at each age and how to help their children reach their full potential.
  • Parental resilience: Recognizing the signs of stress and enhancing problem-solving skills can help parents build their capacity to cope.
  • Social connections: Parents who have an extensive network of family, friends, and neighbors have better support in times of need.
  • Concrete supports: Parents with access to financial, housing, and other concrete resources and services that help them meet their basic needs can better attend to their roles as parents.

During the social worker's initial visit, the Family Protective Factors Worksheet shall be completed jointly with the family. Utilizing the worksheet, the social worker will gather information from the family to assess their strengths and needs. The social worker shall review each protective factor with the family and document the discussion from both the perspective of the family and the social worker's assessment of the family's strengths and needs based on observations and information collected through interviews and collateral contacts.

Ongoing Assessment to Evaluate Progress on the Service Plan

Citation: Gen. Stat. § 17a-101g; CPS Pol. Man. § 23-1

The community provider shall maintain ongoing contact with the family through in-person meetings, visits to the home, child and family team meetings, and phone calls. If at any time following the referral or during the implementation of the plan of care, the provider has reasonable cause to suspect or believe that any child under age 18 has been abused or neglected, has suffered a nonaccidental physical injury or an injury that is at variance with the history given for such injury, or is placed at imminent risk of serious harm, the provider shall report or cause a report to be made in accordance with the provisions of §§ 17a-101b through 17a-101d.

In policy: If after the completion of an investigation, a determination is made that the case should be opened, the case shall be transferred to ongoing services. The area office ongoing services staff handles both in-home and out-of-home placement cases. A safety assessment shall be completed on any ongoing services case when new information becomes available that indicates a threat to the safety of a child.

The risk level for cases opened for ongoing services should be considered by social workers and supervisors throughout the life of the case when prioritizing casework activities.

When neglect or abuse is no longer noted, the protective services intervention should cease. The worker may find it helpful to review the following steps with the family when considering a case closing:

  • Review the presenting problem (the reason for protective services) with the parent
  • Evaluate with the family the progress that has been made, including work to solve the presenting problem
  • Discuss how the parent has become responsive to the presenting problems
  • Discuss how the family can handle problems in the future
  • Encourage the family to seek help from DCF if a need should arise in the future
  • Allow for parental feelings of concern and bring these feelings out in the open and discuss them

Assessment for Reunification and/or Case Closure

Citation: Gen. Stat. § 17a-101g; CPS Pol. Man. § 23-1

The community provider shall schedule an in-person meeting with the family prior to the end of services. The determination to end services shall be based upon the family's preference and progress in meeting the goals outlined in the plan of care. The community provider shall submit individual child and family specific data and administrative service data to DCF no later than 30 days after ending services. Such data shall identify the needs of the family; the services and supports made available to address those needs; the family's met and unmet treatment goals; the final disposition at the time of ending services; and the reasons for the family's discharge from services, including, but not limited to, met treatment goals, family relocation, the receipt of a new report by DCF, or transfer of the family to another provider.

In policy: A safety assessment is completed prior to returning a child to the home during the investigation, whether protectively placed by DCF or prior to the end of an arrangement the caregiver made for care outside of the home as a protective intervention.

The case closing process must begin several weeks before the last home visit. When deciding to close a case, the worker and supervisor shall consider if the following apply:

  • The agreed-on treatment plan goals are completed.
  • The family has had any new reports of abuse or neglect during DCF's intervention.
  • The client is functioning at an acceptably improved level and is better able to cope.
  • The parents or guardian have demonstrated a willingness and an ability to use others in time of need.
  • Problems and situations are resolved or under adequate control.
  • The parents have realistic expectations of the child.
  • The family is functioning marginally, but the risks to the child are too slight to justify court action and the family refuses to utilize services.
  • The case has been opened for 6 months or longer with no court involvement.

An essential part of the planned review will be considering the following points:

  • Is the child now in a permanent and adequate environment?
  • If the family has any continuing needs, can these be adequately met by another agency?
  • Will the child and family follow through in working with such an agency without the impetus of protective services authority?
  • Is there an appropriate agency that will accept the child and family for service?
  • Are there additional ongoing safeguards that can be arranged for the child in the family?