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

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Safety Assessment

Citation: SDM Pol. & Proc. Man.

From the policy and procedure manual: The purpose of the safety assessment is 1) to help assess whether any child is likely to be in immediate danger of serious harm/maltreatment, which requires a protecting intervention, and 2) to determine what interventions should be initiated or maintained to provide appropriate protection.

Safety versus risk assessment: Safety assessment differs from risk assessment in that it assesses the child's present danger and the interventions currently needed to protect the child. In contrast, risk assessment looks at the likelihood of future maltreatment.

For a new report, the safety assessment process is completed before ending the initial contact with the family. The process is also completed prior to a child returning to the home during the investigation if the child was out-of-home due to concerns about safety.

The safety assessment consists of the following sections:

  • Safety threats: This is a list of critical threats that must be assessed by every worker in every case. These threats cover the kinds of conditions that, if they exist, would place a child in danger of immediate harm.
  • Protective capacities: This section is completed only if one or more safety threats were identified and include any of the listed protective capacities that are present for any child or caregiver.
  • Safety interventions: This section is completed only if one or more safety threats are identified. The safety intervention list contains general categories of interventions rather than specific programs. The worker should consider each potential category of interventions and determine whether that intervention is available and sufficient to mitigate the safety threat(s) and whether there is reason to believe the caregiver will follow through with a planned intervention.
  • Safety decision: In this section, the worker records the result of the safety assessment. There are three choices:
    • Safe: No safety threats are identified. The child may remain in the home for the present.
    • Safe with agreement: One or more safety threats are identified, but with sufficient protective interventions the child may remain in the home for the present time.
    • Unsafe: The child cannot be kept safely in the home even after considering a complete range of interventions.

Safety Decisions and Safety Planning

Citation: SDM Pol. & Proc. Man.

Safety interventions are actions taken to specifically mitigate any identified safety threats. They should address immediate safety considerations rather than long-term changes. Agency policies apply whenever selecting any of the following safety interventions:

  • Intervention or direct services by the worker
  • Use of extended family, neighbors, or other individuals in the community as safety resources
  • Use of community agencies or services as safety resources
  • Have a nonoffending caregiver appropriately protect the victim from the alleged perpetrator
  • Have the alleged perpetrator leave the home, either voluntarily or in response to legal action
  • Have a nonoffending caregiver move to a safe environment with the child
  • Planned or initiated legal action with the child remaining in the home
  • Have the child temporarily reside with an alternate care provider identified by the family with the worker monitoring

The safety assessment provides structured information concerning the danger of immediate harm/maltreatment to a child. This information guides the decision about whether the child may remain in the home with no intervention, may remain in the home with safety interventions in place, or if out-of-home interventions are necessary.

The possible safety decisions include the following:

  • Safe: No safety threats were identified at this time. Based on currently available information, there are no children likely to be in immediate danger of serious harm.
  • Safe with agreement: One or more safety threats are present. Without effective preventive services, the planned arrangement for the child will be out-of-home care (e.g., foster family, group home). Safety interventions have been initiated and the child will remain in the home as long as the safety interventions mitigate the danger.
  • Unsafe: One or more safety threats are present, and the child leaving the home is the only protecting intervention possible for one or more children. Without an out-of-home intervention, one or more children will likely be in danger of immediate or serious harm.

A child safety agreement is required when either of the following circumstances apply:

  • For a child to remain in the home when one or more safety threats are present
  • When a child is placed out of home with an alternate care provider identified by the caregiver

Each child safety agreement should be feasible and effective, meaning that the worker has confidence it will be completed as planned and that it will be successful in providing for the child's safety. However, each child safety agreement also should utilize the skills of the caregiver and family to the fullest extent possible.

Risk Assessment

Citation: SDM Pol. & Proc. Man.

The risk assessment is composed of two indices: the neglect index and the abuse index. Both indices must be completed, regardless of the current allegation. The neglect index examines the ability of the caregiver to provide consistent and appropriate care, the number of children in the home and their characteristics and needs, the caregiver's physical and mental health and use of alcohol and other substances, and whether the family has safe and stable housing.

The abuse index looks at the following characteristics of the household:

  • The number of prior screened-in reports for abuse
  • Whether the household has previously received ongoing child protection services
  • Whether there has been prior injury to a child resulting from abuse or neglect
  • Whether the caregiver blames child for abuse or neglect or justifies the abuse or neglect
  • Whether there has been any domestic violence between any adult household members in the past year
  • Whether caregiver provides insufficient emotional/psychological support to the child or employs excessive/inappropriate discipline
  • Whether the caregiver has a history of abuse or neglect as a child
  • Whether any of the following characteristics apply to any children in the household:
    • Delinquency behavior
    • Developmental or learning disability
    • Mental health or behavioral problem

Risk assessment identifies families with low, moderate, high, or very high probabilities of future abuse or neglect. By completing the risk assessment, the worker obtains an objective appraisal of the likelihood that a family will maltreat their child in the next 18 to 24 months.

Family Strengths and Needs Assessment to Determine Service Needs

Citation: SDM Pol. & Proc. Man.

The family strengths and needs guide (FSNG) is used to evaluate the presenting strengths and needs of each family. This guide is used to systematically identify critical family needs and plan effective interventions. The FSNG serves several purposes, as follows:

  • It ensures that all social workers consistently consider each family's strengths and needs in an objective format when assessing need for services.
  • It provides an important family service planning reference for workers and supervisors.
  • The initial FSNG, when periodically recompleted, permits social workers and their supervisors to assess changes in family functioning and thus assess the effect of services on the case.
  • In the aggregate, FSNG needs data provide management with information on the problems families face. These profiles can be used to develop resources to meet client needs.

The FSNG must be completed prior to the initial family service plan or within 6 weeks of transfer to treatment. It must be reviewed every 90 days and within 5 days of each change in the child's placement.

The FSNG identifies the three highest-priority needs of caregivers and all of the child's needs that must be addressed in the family service plan. Goals, objectives, and interventions in a family service plan should relate to one or more of the priority needs.

An initial risk statement summarizes the main worries about the household in clear, behaviorally based language that describes the caregiver actions (or inactions) that constitute a threat to the safety of the child or risk to child safety, permanency, or well-being and the anticipated impact of these actions (or inactions).

Prior to assessing individual household members, the worker must consider information about the family that will assist in planning. The worker should have a conversation with the family about their perspective on the connections they see between their culture, identity, and caregiving and how their culture influences their parenting styles and techniques.

Increasingly, the field of child protection is becoming aware of the impact that trauma has on the functioning of caregivers, children, and family systems. Discuss any possible history of trauma with the family and help them to consider how it affects their roles and relationships.

Caregiver strengths and needs are assessed across a number of domains related to the caregiver's ability to provide appropriate care for the child. For each domain, the caregiver's behaviors are characterized as falling in one of the following categories:

  • Are strengths and are actively helping to create child safety, permanency, or well-being
  • Are neither significant strengths nor barriers for the child
  • Are barriers to the child's long-term safety, permanency, or well-being
  • Contribute to imminent danger of serious physical or emotional harm to the child

After discussing FSNG findings with the family and finalizing the scoring, workers should begin prioritizing the barriers and using family strengths identified in this process to create the family service plan. There is no expectation that all caregiver barriers will be addressed at once, although all items as an imminent threat must ultimately be addressed at some point in a family service plan. Objectives, tasks, and use of services should be selected with the caregiver in collaborative conversations.

Ongoing Assessment to Evaluate Progress on the Service Plan

Citation: SDM Pol. & Proc. Man.

The child safety agreement must be reviewed every 30 days during investigation or treatment. This is the maximum period before review, and the child safety agreement may be reviewed sooner as needed.

A case cannot be closed by investigation or treatment when there is an active child safety agreement. A child safety agreement review must be done to determine which of the following apply:

  • The current child safety agreement should continue.
  • The current child safety agreement should be modified.
  • A new child safety agreement should be developed.
  • A child safety agreement is no longer needed.

The family risk reassessment combines items from the original risk assessment with additional items that evaluate a family's progress toward family service plan goals. Unlike the initial risk assessment, which contains separate indices for risk of neglect and risk of abuse, the risk reassessment is comprised of a single index.

Risk reassessment must be completed for all open treatment cases in which all children remain in the home or cases in which all children have been returned home and family services will be provided. The assessment must be completed 90 days after the initial family service plan and every 90 days thereafter. The assessment must be completed sooner if there are new circumstances or new information that would affect risk.

The risk reassessment guides the decision to keep a case open or to close it.

Assessment for Reunification and/or Case Closure

Citation: SDM Pol. & Proc. Man.

The purpose of the reunification reassessment is to structure critical case management decisions for children in placement who have a reunification goal by doing the following:

  • Routinely monitoring critical case factors that affect goal achievement
  • Helping to structure the case review process
  • Expediting permanency for children in substitute care

The assessment must be completed 90 days after the first family service plan after placement and every 90 days thereafter until the child is reunified with his or her family or has a change in permanency goal.

The reunification reassessment is completed in conjunction with each appropriate household and begins when a case is first opened. The family service plan should be shared with the household at the beginning so that the household understands what is expected. The Assessment for Reunification and/or Case Closure form should be shared with the household at the same time so that the household understands exactly what will be used to evaluate reunification potential and the threshold they must reach.

A reunification safety assessment examines how safe the child would be if they were to be returned home. It considers current conditions in the home, current caregiver characteristics, child characteristics, and interactions between the caregiver and child during visitation.

The reunification safety assessment consists of examining the following:

  • Safety threats
  • Protective capacities
  • Safety threat resolution

A section on safety interventions is completed only if one or more safety threats are identified. If one or more safety threats are present, it does not automatically follow that a child must remain in care. In many cases, it will be possible to initiate a temporary agreement that will mitigate the safety threat(s) sufficiently so that the child may return home and receive continuing family maintenance services.

In a final section, the worker records the result of the safety assessment. There are three possible safety decisions:

  • Safe: No safety threats are identified; the worker can recommend that the child return home.
  • Safe with agreement: One or more safety threats are identified and the worker is able to identify sufficient safety interventions that lead them to believe the child may return home once interventions are in place. A child safety agreement is required prior to returning the child home.
  • Unsafe: The child cannot be safely returned home even after considering a complete range of interventions.

The following must be included in any child safety agreement:

  • Evidence of any protective capacities and family strengths that can be used to address safety threats (e.g., positive relationships, community affiliations, supports, achievements)
  • The conditions or behaviors in the home that place any child at imminent threat of serious harm, using language the family understands
  • What needs to happen to keep the children safe and who will assume responsibility for the actions needed, as follows:
    • How each of the safety threats will be contained
    • Who will take action
    • When the task needs to be accomplished
    • How long the intervention will continue
  • A description of how the family and the worker will know everyone is completing their assigned tasks