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

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Safety Assessment

Citation: Proc. Man. § 300, App. G

From the procedure manual: The Child Endangerment Risk Assessment Protocol (CERAP) safety assessment is used within the larger protocols of child welfare practice. It is a 'life-of-the case' protocol designed to provide workers with a mechanism for quickly assessing the potential for moderate to severe harm immediately or in the near future and for taking quick action to protect children. Workers utilize the protocol to help focus their decision-making to determine whether a child is safe in their home environment and, if unsafe, decide what measures or actions must be taken to ensure the safety of the child.

The CERAP is a process whose purpose is to identify the likelihood of moderate to severe harm, i.e., safety threats, in the immediate future. When immediate risk to a child's safety is identified, the protocol requires that action be taken, such as the implementation of a safety plan or protective custody. CERAP safety assessments must be conducted on the child's home environment when the assigned worker contacts the family, at a minimum, at the following case milestones:

  • Within 24 hours of seeing the children, but no later than 5 working days after assignment of a referral
  • Before formally closing the referral if the case is open for more than 30 calendar days
  • Whenever evidence or circumstances suggest that a child's safety may be in jeopardy

At the initial CERAP safety assessment conducted during the child abuse and neglect investigation, the following persons are included in the assessment:

  • All alleged child victims must be seen and, if verbal, interviewed out of the presence of the caregiver and alleged perpetrator.
  • All other children residing in the home must be seen prior to the conclusion of the formal investigation, and, if verbal, interviewed out of the presence of the caregiver and alleged perpetrator.
  • Noninvolved children who are present during the initial CERAP safety assessment must be included in the assessment.
  • All adult members of the household and anyone listed as a case member shall be included in the CERAP safety assessment to consider what effects they have on the children's safety.

Safety threats are behaviors or conditions that may be associated with a child or children being in danger of moderate to severe harm immediately or in the near future. When completing the CERAP, the worker must consider the effect any adult or other member of the household could have on a child's safety.

The following criteria must be considered when assessing the presence of a safety threat:

  • Child vulnerability
  • Severity of the behavior or condition
  • History of safety threats

When no safety threats are identified, the worker shall summarize the available information that indicates that no child is likely to be in immediate danger of moderate to severe harm.

Safety Decisions and Safety Planning

Citation: Proc. Man. § 300, App. G

'Safe' means that, after considering all reasonably available information or evidence concerning the presence potential safety threats, taking into account the vulnerability of the child, and considering the caregiver(s)'s displayed ability/action to mitigate any identified threats, it is determined that a child in a household or in custodial care is not likely to be moderately or severely harmed immediately or in the near future.

'Unsafe' means that, after considering all reasonably available information/evidence concerning the presence of potential safety threats, and taking into account the vulnerability of the child, and considering the caregiver(s)'s displayed ability/action to mitigate any identified threats, it is determined that a child in a household or in custodial care is likely to be moderately or severely harmed immediately or in the near future.

Once a safety assessment has determined that a child is not safe, the worker shall identify the following:

  • All children affected
  • The caregiver(s) responsible for creating or allowing the safety threat
  • The source of information identifying the safety threat

Most often when a safety threat has been identified as present, children must be assessed as unsafe. When families are themselves able to control behaviors or conditions that would otherwise render their children unsafe, the safety threat is mitigated.

For a family strength or action to constitute mitigation, it must take place on the initiative of family members and not at the suggestion or instigation of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). When DCFS suggests or instigates an action in response to an identified safety threat, the action is part of a safety plan.

For each safety threat identified, the worker must describe in detail any family strengths or actions that mitigate the identified behavior/condition. If one or more safety threats have been identified and all identified safety threats are adequately controlled by family strengths or actions, all involved children must be assessed as safe.

Safety threats may be mitigated when the following apply:

  • Caregivers, acting on their own initiative, take reasonable action(s) to correct dangerous behaviors or conditions.
  • There is an adult caregiver residing in the home who is willing and able to control the identified behavior or condition.
  • The caregiver(s) responsible for the safety threat are removed from the home.

The worker shall identify the safety decision as safe or unsafe based upon the assessment of all safety threats and any pertinent mitigating family strengths and/or actions, as follows:

  • If no safety threats are identified, all involved children must be assessed as safe.
  • If one or more safety threats have been identified and all identified safety threats are adequately controlled by family strengths or actions, all involved children must be assessed as safe.
  • If one or more safety threats have been identified and all identified safety threats are not controlled (mitigated) by family strengths or actions, all children affected by the unmitigated safety factor must be assessed as unsafe.

When a decision is made that a child is unsafe, a safety plan must be developed or protective custody must be taken to avoid immediate danger to a child.

Safety plans are voluntary, temporary, and short-term measures designed to control serious and immediate threats to children's safety. They must be adequate to ensure the child's safety and be as minimally disruptive to the child and family as is reasonably possible.

Risk Assessment

Citation: Proc. Man. § 300, App. G

Safety threats are restricted to the essential criteria of immediacy and severity or potential degree of harm. Since risk allows a broader concept for evaluation of the family, safety threats are depicted within the broader meaning of risk. The purpose of the broader area of risk is not control, but rather to decrease the risk of future maltreatment and resolve problems that cause risk. Safety threats must be controlled, and risk factors may be resolved or reduced.

The primary purpose of the CERAP is to immediately control the situation to prevent harm from occurring in the short-term. The primary purpose of risk assessment is to reduce or resolve the problems that lead to risk. Safety and risk both require intervention to prevent harm, however safety must always be assessed quickly, while risk may be assessed over a longer period of time.

Safety and risk are different in two important ways:

  • Time element:
    • Safety considers danger of harm now or in the very near future.
    • Risk considers a longer-term threat, e.g., a child may be at risk months into the future.
  • Potential degree or severity of harm:
    • Safety is concerned with the potential for moderate to severe harm.
    • Risk is concerned with the full range of severity of harm, i.e., from low to severe.

Family Strengths and Needs Assessment to Determine Service Needs

Citation: Proc. Man. § 300, App. G

The safety plan will indicate which safety threat or threats have led to the need for a safety plan according to the completion of the CERAP. The safety plan will require a written description of what will be done or what actions will be taken to protect children, who will be responsible for implementing the components of the safety plan, and how to/who will monitor it. It is important that safety plans be developed with the family to control specific threats and that the family understands the mechanism for ending each safety plan. Under no circumstance is a safety plan to serve as the solution to a long-term problem. A family may request at any time to modify or terminate the safety plan.

Some safety plans may be implemented with family members remaining together. When in-home safety plans adequately ensure child safety, they are preferable because they are less disruptive to the lives of children and families. Required factors for in-home safety plans include all the following:

  • The caregivers are willing to implement the in-home safety plan and be reasonably cooperative with those persons participating in carrying out the safety plan.
  • Steps outlined in the safety plan must be immediate.
  • The safety plan must be action-oriented and contain specific changes needed to control identified safety threats.
  • Safety plans must never be based on promissory commitments from caregivers, e.g., an abuse perpetrator promises to attend counseling or not to use excessive corporal punishment or a neglectful perpetrator promises not to leave children unsupervised.
  • The safety plan must be reasonable and sustainable for the family.
  • Consideration should be given to the involvement of those individuals the child identifies as a person with whom he or she feels safe and trusts.

In-home safety plans may include the introduction of a protective caregiver into the home. The DCFS or private agency worker must work with the family to identify someone willing and able to fulfill the protective caregiver role. The protective caregiver is to oversee and supervise all child care activities whenever the children are present.

Some in-home safety plans may include the voluntary removal of the caregiver responsible for the safety threat. Safety plans also may include stipulations that children be temporarily and voluntarily moved to the home of a protective caregiver, e.g., the home of a relative or friend.

Ongoing Assessment to Evaluate Progress on the Service Plan

Citation: Proc. Man. § 300, App. G

Every safety plan must specify the conditions under which the safety plan is to be terminated and a timeframe when this can be expected to occur. Though safety plans are voluntary and developed in cooperation with the family, the safety plan also must explain the consequences if the caregiver does not agree to implement or fails to carry out the terms of the safety plan. Failure to agree to or carry out the safety plan may result in a reassessment of the home, possible protective custody, and/or referral to the State's attorney's office for a court order to remove the children from the home. The worker developing the safety plan must stress with the protective caregiver that the safety plan is a voluntary, short-term agreement and the legal parent retains all his or her rights.

DCFS staff must ensure that the caregiver responsible for the safety threat has not returned to the home. DCFS staff may seek assurances that a caregiver responsible for a safety threat has not returned to the home by talking with children or other adults in the home, discussing with neighbors, visiting where the alleged perpetrator currently resides, speaking to school staff, etc.

A new CERAP safety assessment must be completed every 5 working days following the determination that any child in a family is unsafe and a safety plan is implemented. Such assessment must continue until either all children are assessed as being safe, the investigation is completed, or all children assessed as unsafe are removed from the legal custody of their parents/caregiver and legal proceedings are being initiated in juvenile court. This assessment should be conducted considering the child's safety status as if there was no safety plan, i.e., would the child be safe without the safety plan? This CERAP safety assessment will determine the point at which a safety plan may be terminated or its conditions modified.

Assessment for Reunification and/or Case Closure

Citation: Proc. Man. § 300, App. G

For cases with a reunification goal, CERAP safety assessments must be conducted considering children's safety as if they are to be returned to the caregivers from whom they were removed. At a minimum, the safety of children placed in substitute care must be assessed at the following case milestones:

  • Within 5 working days after a worker receives a new or transferred case, when there are other children in the home of origin
  • Every 90 calendar days from the case opening date
  • When considering the commencement of unsupervised visits in the home of the parent or guardian
  • Within 24 hours prior to returning a child home
  • When a new child is added to a family with a child in care
  • Within 5 working days after a child is returned home and every month thereafter until the family case is closed
  • Whenever evidence or circumstances suggest that a child's safety may be in jeopardy

Safety plans are terminated when the following apply:

  • When the family no longer wishes to participate voluntarily in the safety plan
  • When the safety threats are no longer present, and the safety plan is no longer needed
  • At the conclusion of the investigation, regardless of the final finding of the case, unless there is an open service case
  • When the safety plan implemented is not sufficient to control safety threats and an alternate safety plan must be developed