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

Date: March 2021

Safety Assessment

Citation: Ann. Stat. §§ 39.01; 39.301; Child & Fam. Oper. Proc. Man. # 170-01, Ch. 2

The following definitions apply to this section:

  • 'Present danger' means a significant and clearly observable family condition that is occurring at the current moment and is already endangering or threatening to endanger the child. Present danger threats are conspicuous and require that an immediate protective action be taken to ensure the child's safety.
  • 'Impending danger' means a situation in which family behaviors, attitudes, motives, emotions, or situations pose a threat that may not be currently active but that can be anticipated to become active and to have severe effects on a child at any time.

Upon commencing an investigation, the child protective investigator shall assess the safety and perceived needs for the child and family in a manner that is sensitive to the social, economic, and cultural environment of the family. This assessment must include face-to-face interviews with the child, other siblings, parents, and other adults in the household and an onsite assessment of the child's residence.

The investigator also shall do the following:

  • Complete an assessment of immediate child safety for each child based on available records, interviews, and observations with all household members and appropriate collateral contacts, which may include other professionals
  • Document the present and impending dangers to each child based on the identification of inadequate protective capacity through utilization of a standardized safety assessment instrument

In policy: The family functioning assessment (FFA) is the process by which information is gathered, analyzed, and assessed to determine child safety in the household where the alleged maltreatment occurred. The essential mission of the Department of Children and Families is to identify and protect children who need safety management and to support the enhancement of caregiver protective capacities. The family assessment process provides a current analysis by the caseworker at different points in time, beginning with the FFA-Investigation.

The role of the caseworker is to evaluate and describe in the FFA-Investigation, FFA-Ongoing, and Progress Updates how the household functions, including a clear understanding of who provides any care, parenting, quality time, and/or discipline for the children. Every type of assessment serves the purpose of identifying family conditions, how the children are vulnerable to those conditions, and whether the parent and other significant caregivers in the household can care for and protect the children (caregiver protective capacities).

The completion or updating of the FFA at any point during a child welfare case requires caseworkers to obtain sufficient, current information about six information domains:

  • The extent of the maltreatment
  • Circumstances surrounding the maltreatment
  • Child functioning
  • Adult functioning
  • The parent's approach to parenting
  • The parent's and methods of discipline and managing their child's behavior

The information domains for adult functioning, parenting, and discipline/behavior management will be developed separately for each parent or caregiver in the household with significant responsibilities for the care and protection of the children. The information domain for child functioning will be developed separately for each child in the household.

Safety Decisions and Safety Planning

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 39.301; Admin. Code § 65C-29.003; Child & Fam. Oper. Proc. Man. # 170-05, Ch. 20

If present or impending danger is identified, the investigator must implement a safety plan or take the child into custody. If present danger is identified and the child is not removed, the investigator shall create and implement a safety plan before leaving the home. If impending danger is identified, the investigator shall create and implement a safety plan as soon as necessary to protect the safety of the child. The investigator may modify the safety plan if he or she identifies additional impending danger.

The safety plan must be specific, sufficient, feasible, and sustainable in response to the realities of the present or impending danger. A safety plan may be an in-home plan or an out-of-home plan, or a combination of both. A safety plan may include tasks or responsibilities for a parent or caregiver. However, a safety plan may not rely on promissory commitments by the parent who is currently not able to protect the child or on services that are not available or will not result in the safety of the child. A safety plan may not be implemented if for any reason the parents lack the capacity or ability to comply with the plan. If the Department of Children and Families is not able to develop a plan that is specific, sufficient, feasible, and sustainable, the department shall file a shelter petition.

In regulation: For every report received in which a danger threat has been identified, the following actions shall be completed:

  • The caseworker shall determine if, with the provision of safety management services and the implementation of an in-home safety plan, the child can safely remain at home.
  • If the child cannot remain in the home without safety management, the caseworker must develop an out-of-home safety plan. If the family has not made a family-made arrangement prior to the department's intervention or the family-made arrangement is inappropriate due to the circumstances surrounding the danger threat(s) in the home, the caseworker shall take the child into protective custody and determine from the following list the least intrusive protective actions to ensure the child's safety:
    • Release of the child to the other parent shall be the first safety action considered.
    • When the other parent is unavailable or not an appropriate placement option, the next least intrusive action is placement of the child with a relative.
    • When a relative is unavailable or not an appropriate placement option, the next least intrusive action is placement of the child with a nonrelative who is known to the family, has an established relationship with the child, and is able to provide for the health and safety of the child.
    • When nonrelatives are not available or are not appropriate placement options, the child shall be placed in licensed care.

In policy: The caseworker must determine a caregiver's ability to protect his or her child from negative family conditions in the home. The parent either does or does not have sufficient protective capacity to protect the child, as follows:

  • If a negative family condition is identified in the home but the parent is effectively controlling the family behavior, condition, or situation and keeping the safety threshold from being breached, the child is safe.
  • If a negative family condition is identified in the home but it is determined the condition is unrestrained, unpredictable, and chaotic and cannot be controlled by a parent, the impending danger threat is identified and the child is unsafe.

The determination of unsafe will automatically require the investigator to do a safety analysis to determine if an in-home safety plan can effectively control the danger threat to allow the child to remain in the home and transfer the case for ongoing case management services.

Risk Assessment

Citation: Child & Fam. Oper. Proc. Man. # 170-05, Ch. 21

Risk assessment determines a child's risk of future maltreatment. The identification of high and very high risk families during a child protective investigation is critical to the State's effort to target resources to those families most likely to benefit from family support services. The caseworker must be able to explain to the parents the difference between unsafe and at-risk. Motivating the parent to be proactive and participate voluntarily in services designed to develop protective factors that promote safe and supportive families and resilience in children results in reduced maltreatment and promotes safe Florida families.

While low and moderate risk families also should be provided information on programs designed to reduce the risk of maltreatment, it is essential that investigators become proficient in helping parents in higher risk households acknowledge the concerns the caregiver already likely recognizes and to leverage the parent's protective instincts to willingly participate in family support services.

A risk assessment must be completed for all investigation intakes with a 'safe' determination. There can only be one risk assessment per investigation.

The risk assessment should only be completed after the caseworker has obtained sufficient information through review of available case records and conducted interviews with all family members and has completed the safety analysis and reached a determination of safe or unsafe. The risk assessment should never be scored based solely on a review of written historical case material. Both indices (i.e., abuse and neglect) are scored regardless of the type of allegation reported or investigated.

When the FFA-Investigation child safety determination is 'safe' but the overall risk assessment score is 'very high,' a 2nd tier consultation shall be conducted to review the sufficiency of the information within the FFA to ensure that the assessment of the family was thorough and accurate, resulting in the correct safety determination.

The caseworker shall meet with the parent or legal guardian in person to explain the high degree of correlation between high- and very high-risk scores and future maltreatment. The caseworker shall engage the parent or legal guardian in a discussion on the importance of participating in a family support program designed to reduce the risk of future maltreatment.

Family Strengths and Needs Assessment to Determine Service Needs

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 39.301; Child & Fam. Oper. Proc. Man. # 170-01, Ch. 2

The caseworker shall collaborate with the community-based care lead agency in the development of the safety plan as necessary to ensure that the safety plan is specific, sufficient, feasible, and sustainable. The caseworker shall identify services necessary for the successful implementation of the safety plan.

In policy: 'Caregiver protective capacity' means the personal and caregiving behavioral, cognitive, and emotional characteristics that specifically and directly can be associated with being protective to one's children. When the responsible caregivers can effectively manage negative family conditions in the home for the long term, the child is safe. Protective capacities are personal qualities or characteristics that contribute to vigilant child protection, as follows:

  • The characteristic prepares the person to be protective.
  • The characteristic enables or empowers the person to be protective.
  • The characteristic is necessary or fundamental to being protective.
  • The characteristic must exist prior to being protective.

Caseworkers will determine whether each of the protective capacities is adequate or inadequate when completing an FFA-Investigation.

Case managers will gather additional information in the information domains to more precisely assess and rate caregiver protective capacities using a four-point scale when completing the FFA-Ongoing or Progress Update. Case managers may change the protective capacities identified in the FFA-Investigations. Caregiver protective capacities that are not adequate will become the primary focus of case plan outcomes and measuring parent progress with achieving change.

Ongoing Assessment to Evaluate Progress on the Service Plan

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 39.301; Child & Fam. Oper. Proc. Man. # 170-09, Ch. 6

The caseworker shall monitor the implementation of the plan to ensure the child's safety until the case is transferred to the lead agency at which time the lead agency shall monitor the implementation.

The department may file a petition for shelter or dependency without a new child protective investigation or the concurrence of the caseworker if the child is unsafe but for the use of a safety plan and the parent or caregiver has not sufficiently increased protective capacities within 90 days after the transfer of the safety plan to the lead agency.

In policy: Evaluating family progress is a collaborative review and conclusion about enhanced caregiver protective capacities and child needs. The evaluation includes information from the case manager, parents, temporary caregivers, treatment providers, and others who are a part of the remediation process. The evaluation of family progress should be continuous and result in timely modifications to safety plans and case plans as progress, or lack thereof, is made. Sufficient evaluation of family progress is critical to achieving permanency goals for children in accordance with established timeframes.

The case manager must complete the following actions to evaluate the current status of caregiver's protective capacities and to confirm the sufficiency of any safety plan. These actions will be a combination of in-home visits, parent contacts for the child in an out-of-home plan, and on-going communication with any current safety plan providers:

  • Have face-to-face contact with the parent and any nonmaltreating parent or alternate caregivers that a child has been released to or placed with
  • Provide the parent with information as to their progress towards achieving case plan outcomes
  • Explore the caregiver's perception as to the quality of treatment services, including any barriers, interpersonal conflicts, or other safety management or case management challenges
  • Assess whether there have been any changes in the parent's conditions, attitude, ability, or willingness to support the current in-home plan or to create an in-home plan to achieve reunification
  • Determine whether the parent continues to be cooperative, or would now be cooperative, with safety services necessary for an in-home safety plan as evidenced by the following:
    • The parent is agreeable to the safety services necessary for an in-home safety plan.
    • The parent is cooperative with all participants in the safety plan.
    • The parent is participating as expected in the actions and the time requirements of the ongoing safety and case plan.
    • The parent is meeting the expectations detailed in the ongoing safety plan.
  • Determine whether the home environment continues to be, or has become, stable enough for safety service providers to be in the home and be safe
  • Determine whether the condition of the child is satisfactory and danger threats to the child are being actively managed

A new progress update will be completed at a minimum every 90 days. A new progress update will be created sooner when fundamental decisions are being made for the child or when critical events are occurring that necessitate a formal reevaluation of protective capacities and child needs. Such times include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • When safety management has resulted in a decision to remove a child from home
  • At the birth or death of a sibling
  • Upon the addition of a new family member, including intimate partners
  • Before changing the case plan to include unsupervised visits
  • Before recommending or implementing reunification as conditions for return are met
  • Before a recommendation for case closure
  • When a case has been dismissed by the court

Assessment for Reunification and/or Case Closure

Citation: Ann. Stat. §§ 39.521; 39.701

If the court finds that an in-home safety plan prepared or approved by the department will allow the child to remain safely at home or that conditions for return have been met and an in-home safety plan prepared or approved by the department will allow the child to be safely returned to the home, the court shall allow the child to remain in or return to the home after making a specific finding of fact that the child's safety; well-being; and physical, mental, and emotional health will not be endangered.

The FFA must provide the court with the following documented information:

  • Evidence of maltreatment and the circumstances accompanying the maltreatment
  • Identification of all danger threats active in the home
  • An assessment of the adult functioning of the parents
  • An assessment of the parents' general parenting practices, disciplinary approach, and behavior management methods
  • An assessment of the parents' behavioral, emotional, and cognitive protective capacities
  • An assessment of child functioning
  • A safety analysis describing the capacity for an in-home safety plan to control the conditions that result in the child being unsafe and the specific actions necessary to keep the child safe
  • Identification of the conditions for return that would allow the child to be placed safely back into the home with an in-home safety plan and any safety management services necessary to ensure the child's safety
  • The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference
  • A listing of appropriate and available safety management services for the parent and child to prevent the removal of the child from the home or to reunify the child with the parent after removal, and an explanation of the following:
    • If the services were or were not provided
    • If the services were provided, the outcome of the services
    • If the services were not provided, why they were not provided
    • If the services are currently being provided and if they need to be continued
  • If the child has been removed from the home and there is a parent who may be considered for custody, a recommendation as to whether placement of the child with that parent would be detrimental to the child

The court shall retain jurisdiction over a child returned to his or her parents for a minimum period of 6 months following the reunification, but, at that time, based on a report of the social service agency and the guardian ad litem, if one has been appointed, and any other relevant factors, the court shall determine whether supervision by the department and the court's jurisdiction shall continue or be terminated.