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

Date: March 2021

Safety Assessment

Citation: DHW Assessment Std.

From the Standard for Comprehensive Safety, Ongoing, and Re-Assessment: A comprehensive safety assessment includes robust information collection, identification of safety factors and application of the safety threshold, a child safety determination, and safety plan and safety plan analysis, if required. The safety assessment includes the following components:

  • Making face-to-face contact with the child(ren) named in the report
  • Collecting sufficient information to make a child safety decision through interviewing the following individuals:
    • The child and the child's the parents or caregivers
    • Relevant collateral contacts, such as extended family members, law enforcement, school staff, medical professionals, and service providers
  • Reviewing the family's history with child protective services, if any
  • Arranging a visit to the home of the child and family
  • Assessing the home environment for safety and appropriate accommodations

During the comprehensive safety assessment, the social worker must gather sufficient information to complete an analysis of the family along the following six domains:

  • The extent of the maltreatment, including the facts and evidence that supports the presence of maltreatment, which summarizes the allegations and documents all the evidence/facts supporting a worker's determination as to whether maltreatment occurred
  • The nature of maltreatment and history, including an examination of any past involvement with child protection and how past reports may influence the current report
  • Adult functioning, separate from parenting and discipline
  • Parenting practices, including the overall parenting styles, perception of the child, tolerance as a parent, interactions patterns with the child, ability to meet the child's basic needs, ability to put the child's needs before their own, parenting knowledge and skills, support and concern for the child, ability to protect, etc.
  • Disciplinary practices, including methods, concept and purpose of discipline, context when discipline occurs, cultural practices, and the child's description of discipline
  • Child functioning, including the daily functioning of every child in the home

Safety Decisions and Safety Planning

Citation: DHW Assessment Std.

'Present danger' means that immediate, significant, and clearly observable severe harm or threat of severe harm is occurring to a child in the present requiring immediate CPS protective response.

'Safety threats' are risk factors that have crossed the safety threshold to become present or emerging danger(s). When safety threats are identified within a family, the children are living in a state of danger.

'Safety threshold' refers to the point at which a family condition (or risk factor) reaches the level of a safety threat. The safety threshold is met when the following five criteria are assessed to apply to a family condition:

  • Severity: Harm that can result in significant pain, serious injury, disablement, grave or debilitating physical health or physical conditions, acute or grievous suffering, terror, impairment, or death.
  • Immediate to near future: A belief that threats to child safety are likely to become active without delay and/or a certainty about an occurrence within the immediate to near future that could have severe effects.
  • Out-of-control: Family conditions that can affect a child and are unrestrained; unmanaged; without limits or monitoring; not subject to influence, manipulation, or internal power; and/or are out of the family's control. No responsible adult in the home can prevent the emerging danger from happening even if they want to do so.
  • Observable/describable: Danger is real; can be seen or understood and can be reported; and/or is evidenced in explicit, unambiguous ways.
  • A vulnerable child: The child is dependent on others for protection.

Children are considered safe when there are no present or emerging danger threats, or the caregivers' protective capacities control existing threats. Children are considered unsafe when there are present or emerging danger threats, and caregivers are unable or unwilling to provide protection.

When a child is found to be unsafe, a safety plan is required. Safety plans are actions taken that control present or emerging danger rather than changing the conditions that cause it. A safety plan must control or manage the present or emerging danger, have an immediate effect, be immediately accessible and available, and contain safety services and actions only; the services are not designed to effect long-term change. It must be sufficient to ensure safety. Safety plans may be done in the home or may include out-of-home plans when child safety can only be assured through temporary placement with relatives or in substitute care.

Risk Assessment

Citation: DHW Assessment Std.

'Emerging danger' refers to a family circumstance in which a child is living in a state of danger, a position of continual danger. Danger may not exist at a particular moment or be an immediate concern (like in present danger), but a state of danger exists. Emerging danger to child safety or this state of danger is not always obvious or occurring at the onset of intervention by Child and Family Services (CFS) or in a present context, but these can be identified and understood upon more fully evaluating individual and family conditions and functioning.

'Ongoing assessment' is an ongoing formulation process conducted by the social worker throughout the life of a case. Working with families is a constantly changing process that calls for frequent and flexible decision-making as new information becomes available. Each time a social worker meets with a family or child, he or she is gathering and evaluating information to determine the child's current safety and the family's progress in enhancing their protective capacities and/or reducing safety threats. Assessment begins with the first contact with a family and does not end until a case is closed. Safety is assessed continuously throughout the life of the case.

'Risk of maltreatment' refers to the likelihood (chance, potential, prospect) for parenting behavior that is harmful and destructive to a child's cognitive, social, emotional, and/or physical development, and those with parenting responsibility are unwilling or unable to behave differently. Risk occurs along a continuum from low to high. All safety threats are risks, but not all risks are safety threats.

Family Strengths and Needs Assessment to Determine Service Needs

Citation: DHW Assessment Std.

'Protective capacities' are personal and caregiving, behavioral, cognitive, and emotional characteristics that specifically and directly can be associated with being protective to one's young children. Protective capacities are personal qualities or characteristics that contribute to vigilant child protection. A detailed protective capacity assessment must be completed prior to service planning for a family.

There are two parts to conducting a safety plan analysis:

  • First, the social worker must understand how safety threats operate in the family. What is being done and to whom? When is it occurring? What precipitates the threat? How often does it occur? How long has it been going on? How pervasive is it? Who is creating and allowing the threat to continue?
  • Second, the worker must determine if an in-home or out-of-home safety plan is needed by answering these four questions:
    • Is there at least one parent or caregiver in the home?
    • Is the home calm enough to allow safety provider to function in the home?
    • Are the adult(s) in the home willing to cooperate with and allow an in-home safety plan?
    • Are there sufficient, reliable, and appropriate resources to provide the available and necessary safety services?

If a social worker can answer 'yes' to all four of these questions, then an in-home safety plan should be developed. If any of the questions are answered 'no' then an out-of-home safety plan must be developed.

A safety plan must include the following elements:

  • Use a well-thought-out approach
  • Use the most suitable people
  • Provide the right safety actions at the right times
  • Control and manage the safety threats
  • Remain in effect as long as safety threats exist
  • Control and manage present or emerging danger
  • Have an immediate effect
  • Be immediately accessible and available
  • Contain safety services and actions only
  • Contain no promissory commitments

Ongoing Assessment to Evaluate Progress on the Service Plan

Citation: DHW Assessment Std.

The reassessment of safety is a formal assessment tool that is a continuation of the initial comprehensive safety assessment. The reassessment of safety reassesses the last four domains in information collection (adult functioning, parenting practices, disciplinary practices, and child functioning), the safety threats and safety threshold initially identified, the safety plan and safety plan analysis, and includes an assessment of the parent/caregiver's protective capacities for service planning. The reassessment of safety is to be completed by the social worker at key decision points in a case to guide and document case decisions.

The results of the reassessment should be compared with previous assessments to assess the family's progress toward protecting and meeting the child's needs. It will indicate whether the family's situation has improved, worsened, or has remained the same.

A reassessment also may be completed if there are any significant changes in the family's situation or circumstances. The reassessment can help direct the worker in making decisions regarding any changes to the family service plan.

Assessment for Reunification and/or Case Closure

Citation: DHW Assessment Std.

The reassessment tool must be completed prior to reunification, termination of parental rights, and case closure. Social workers also may use the reassessment tool to assess a family's progress when there have been significant changes in the family's circumstances or dynamics.