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

Date: March 2021

Safety Assessment

Citation: CFSA Investigations Proc. & Ops. Man.

From the operations manual: To support the goal of the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) of safety, permanency, and well-being for children and their families, two assessments are completed during every child protective services (CPS) investigation: (1) safety and (2) risk.

Safety deals with present or imminent danger. The caseworker will assess a family for safety every time he or she interacts with a child or family throughout the investigation.

The SDM Danger and Safety (DAS) Assessment: The purpose of the SDM DAS is to help assess whether any child is likely to be in imminent danger of serious harm or maltreatment and to determine whether a safety plan can be created to provide appropriate protection from that danger or if the child needs to be removed from the home.

The DAS is a household-focused assessment through which the caseworker will arrive at an individual decision for each child. The caseworker is required to complete the DAS on all open CPS referrals at the first contact with the child and caregiver and document this contact in in the CFSA data system within 24 hours.

Safety Decisions and Safety Planning

Citation: CFSA Investigations Proc. & Ops. Man.

The three assessment decisions include the following:

  • Safe: No danger indicators are present for the child; the child is safe.
  • Safe with a plan: One or more danger indicators are present; however, the child can safely remain in the home with the use of a safety plan.
  • Unsafe: One or more danger indicators are present and cannot be controlled through a safety plan for the child.

A safety plan is a written arrangement between caregivers and CPS that establishes how impending danger threats will be managed. The safety plan is implemented and active as long as impending danger threats exist, and caregiver protective capacities are insufficient to assure a child is protected. The safety plan specifies what impending dangers exist; how the impending danger will be managed using identified safety services; who will participate in those safety services; and under what circumstances and agreements and in accordance with what specification of time requirements, availability, accessibility, and suitability of those involved.

A signed safety plan is an effective tool to facilitate and promote the family's efforts to keep children safe. A safety plan may be developed and executed with the parent or legal custodian and other family members of a child who is in danger of harm, and the following conditions exist:

  • The specific danger or safety issue can be immediately addressed and ameliorated with family's agreement, cooperation, and action so the child does not need to be removed from the home.
  • The safety plan participants have the protective capacity, resources, and support to carry out and follow through on the specific actions outlined in the plan.

Within a safety plan, specific actions will be outlined, and the parent or caregiver will be held accountable for the fulfillment of those actions to protect the child in the home. The safety plan is designed along a continuum of least-to-most intrusive intervention: in-home safety options, a combination of in-home and out-of-home safety options, and out-of-home safety options.

A safety plan is used when the worker has identified specific indicators of danger to the child. The plan must clearly describe any immediate threats to the child's safety and detail how the threats will be managed to mitigate or eliminate the child's risk of being unsafe. Safety plans are time-limited and require consistent re-evaluation among the participants in the plans.

The safety plan must be reviewed with the family at least once per week with all the participants to measure progress and address barriers. The plan is developed collaboratively with the family with realistic actions that are feasible and sustainable for the family over time. It can frame and facilitate ongoing engagement between the family members and help keep children safe.

Intervention plans are used when there are identified high-risk situations that in the judgment of the worker should not lead to removal but can be mitigated by linking the family to services within the community. Intervention plans must include some behaviors that the parent can do to show that they are able to keep the child safe. Ideally, the intervention plan also teaches the parent how to sustain the child's safety.

Risk Assessment

Citation: CFSA Investigations Proc. & Ops. Man.

Risk is the likelihood that a child may be abused or maltreated in the future. The Structured Decision Making (SDM) risk assessment tool assesses families for low, moderate, high, or intensive probabilities of future abuse and neglect. These risk levels, along with the worker's clinical judgment, guide the decision whether to open a case, whether to refer the family to services, or whether to close an investigation with no further services.

The SDM risk assessment must be completed toward the end of the investigation but within 30 days from the receipt of the report at the child abuse hotline. The result is based upon a full assessment of the family and thorough knowledge of the strengths and challenges therein.

Family Strengths and Needs Assessment to Determine Service Needs

Citation: CFSA Investigations Proc. & Ops. Man.; Bus. Proc. Pol.: FTM

An at-risk (preremoval) family team meeting (FTM) is designed to assist the family in making a family plan that will resolve crises and prevent the removal of the children. The at-risk FTM also allows various family members to express their concerns and, with the help of the FTM facilitator and CFSA social worker, come up with a plan to ensure the safety of the children and the stabilization of the family.

From FTM policy: Participants shall decide on a plan for safety, risk reduction, well-being, and permanence in accordance with any court orders, according to the following guidelines:

  • Action steps shall be developed that identify who is to do what and by when that maximizes involvement of informal supports.
  • The initial steps in the plan should be readily achievable and support opportunities for early successes.
  • The plan may include steps that address needed changes in family behavior or functioning and do not focus solely on attendance or completion of activities.
  • Steps shall be measurable and have set time limits.
  • The plan may include the provision of services through CFSA, District, or Federal government community programs or through flexible funds that the social worker may be able to access on behalf of the client. The family members may also utilize their own formal and informal resources to secure services.
  • The plan may include the resolution of practical family issues such as school attendance, transportation, and appointments for medical visits.
  • All plans shall comply with court orders, when applicable.
  • For children in foster care, the plan may also include arrangements for family visits, as appropriate.
  • The plan shall address transition planning, including visits for children, if necessary.
  • The plan shall identify the child's medical, behavioral, and educational strengths and needs.
  • The plan may include a recommendation to request a hearing at the family court to modify the court order to integrate FTM recommendations (such as changes of legal status, visitation, or services). The plan shall identify who will make the request.
  • If a decision is made to place the child with kin, the temporary licensing process shall be included in the plan and shall include licensing action steps for those involved.

The family team shall ensure that the assigned social worker takes the lead with monitoring the implementation of the plan. The family shall identify an additional individual from the team to monitor the implementation of the plan as well.

Ongoing Assessment to Evaluate Progress on the Service Plan

Citation: CFSA Investigations Proc. & Ops. Man.; Bus. Proc. Pol.: FTM

Safety is assessed on an ongoing basis throughout the life of an investigation or CFSA case. Since the caseworker assesses safety every time the child or family is seen, the DAS allows for updates. Every safety assessment update should be documented in the data system within 24 hours of the change in assessment or changes in the household composition.

From FTM policy: Prior to a child's permanency goal change, an FTM shall be held to solidify a plan and identify informal and formal supports. The social worker shall indicate in the FTM referral the agency's efforts to achieve reunification, guardianship, or adoption.

Assessment for Reunification and/or Case Closure

Citation: CFSA Standards for Safe Case Closure

From the Standards for Safe Closure: CFSA opens a permanency or in-home case to protect children and work with families to overcome identified risk and safety issues. The CFSA maintains the open case and works with the family to expediently address and ameliorate those issues so that the children can be returned and/or maintained safely in their homes. CFSA's goal is to ensure the safety of the children and to end formal involvement with the family as soon as the safety and risk of harm issues have been addressed.

Given the complexity of family needs, child welfare cases can remain open beyond the time when the risk and safety issues have been resolved and continued involvement of the child welfare agency is no longer in the family's best interest. If a family demonstrates protective capacities so that risk of future harm to the child(ren) is low or moderate, and there are no unresolved safety concerns, then CFSA is to take action to close the case safely.

It is CFSA's policy to initiate safe case closure when CFSA's established criteria have been met, which include the following:

  • The whereabouts of the children who are part of the open case are known and their safety in their place of residence has been confirmed through either direct observation or through the report of a credible source, as determined by the case management team.
  • There are no open CPS investigations involving the family, and no parent or caretaker was the subject of a substantiated report of abuse or neglect within the past 60 days.
  • The family has no open neglect case with the family court.
  • All the goals identified in the family case plan that pertain to child safety and risk have been achieved.
  • There is a determination by the case management team, supported by the results of evidence-based assessments, that the children will be safe without further CFSA involvement in the care of parents or caregivers who had been substantiated for abuse or neglect.

Prior to initiating safe case closure, CFSA shall develop a sustainability plan with the family to address family functioning following case closure.