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

Date: March 2021

Safety Assessment

Citation: Child Welf. Pol. Man., Ch. 4, §§ 18; 19

From the policy manual: The Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) will complete an initial safety assessment (including a response and decision) within 24 hours of the initiation of every assessment. When child safety concerns are identified, DCS will consider the viability of informal and community support services to ensure the child's safety prior to considering involuntary removal of the child.

The case manager will do the following:

  • Complete an initial safety assessment within 24 hours of assessment initiation to determine if there are any safety threats present
  • Identify protective factors (e.g., nurturing and attachment to the child, knowledge of parenting and of child and youth development, parental resilience, social connections, and concrete supports for parents) that may mitigate the safety threats
  • Work with the family and the child and family team (CFT) to identify safety responses
  • Document safety responses and individuals included by completing a safety plan
  • Take necessary actions to remove the child if the child cannot remain safely in the home
  • Document the results of the safety assessment, decisions, and actions taken in the case management system within 1 business day

The purpose of the safety assessment includes the following:

  • To help assess whether any child is likely to be in immediate danger of serious harm/maltreatment that requires a protecting intervention
  • To determine what interventions (protective factors/safety responses) should be initiated or maintained to provide appropriate protection

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.

Case managers must consider protective factors when ensuring safety. Protective factors are characteristics in families that, when present, increase the safety, stability, permanency, and well-being of children and families. Protective factors are directly connected to the strengths of the family and can be used as a resource to learn new skills and solve problems.

When completing an assessment or a safety plan, the case manager must consider the following protective factors as part of an evaluation of the family's ability to ensure the safety of the child:

  • Nurturing and attachment to the child
  • Knowledge of parenting and of child and youth development
  • Parental resilience
  • Social connections
  • Concrete supports
  • The social and emotional competence of the child

Safety Decisions and Safety Planning

Citation: Child Welf. Pol. Man., Ch. 4, § 19

DCS will assist the child's family with the development of a safety plan when a child's safety is dependent on defined actions. A safety plan will be developed in the following situations:

  • A safety decision of 'conditionally safe' has been determined through the initial safety assessment.
  • An assessment finding of 'substantiated' is reached, but DCS will pursue no further direct intervention.

When domestic violence has been alleged, DCS will create a safety plan for the child and all family members upon initiation of the assessment. The purpose of this plan is to do the following:

  • Achieve immediate safety for the child and nonoffending parent
  • Begin planning for the long-term safety of the child and the nonoffending parent
  • Provide safety options for the nonoffending parent and the child
  • Address behaviors demonstrated by the alleged domestic violence offender that pose a risk to the child's safety

The safety plan is a written agreement specifying family supports and/or community services that will be utilized and identifies interventions that address the immediate safety of the child. The plan should contain clearly defined action steps and a deadline for completion of each action step. All actions should relate directly to the child's immediate safety. The safety plan is a voluntary, non-legally binding agreement with the family that cannot contradict any existing court orders, including, but not limited to, child support and child custody orders.

DCS will partner with the nonoffending parent and child to create a safety plan in all assessments where domestic violence has been identified. The safety plan should address the following:

  • Safety for the nonoffending parent and child until the parent is able to meet with a domestic violence advocate
  • Referrals to domestic violence programs
  • Financial assistance
  • Other community services that are available
  • What will happen after DCS is no longer involved

The plan should include strategies to reduce the risk of physical violence and harm by the alleged domestic violence offender and enhance the protection of the child and nonoffending parent. Specific planning may include the following:

  • Engaging the nonoffending parent in a discussion about the options available to keep him or her and the child safe, including what has been tried before
  • Exploring the benefits and disadvantages of specific options and creating individualized solutions for each family
  • Utilizing the criminal justice and civil court systems to hold the alleged domestic violence offender accountable
  • Developing a written list of phone numbers of neighbors, friends, family, and community service providers that the nonoffending parent can contact for safety, resources, and services

The child should be engaged in safety planning. The child, however, is not responsible for his or her own safety and should not be responsible for implementing the safety plan. If during the initial interview, the child is unable to identify whom he or she would call or where to go in an emergency, work with the child to develop a basic plan for safety.

Risk Assessment

Citation: Child Welf. Pol. Man., Ch. 4, § 23

DCS will conduct an initial family risk assessment to assess the future probability of child abuse and/or neglect on all substantiated assessments. the initial family risk assessment is an assessment tool used by the case manager to assess the probability of both abuse and neglect.

Both scales of the initial family risk assessment, abuse and neglect, are completed regardless of the type of allegation or substantiated type of maltreatment. The case manager must make every effort during the assessment to obtain the information needed to answer every question.

The initial family risk assessment identifies families with low, moderate, high, or very high probabilities of future maltreatment. By completing the initial family 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. The difference between risk levels is substantial. Families with high risk have significantly higher rates of subsequent allegations and substantiations than families with low risk, and they are more often involved in serious maltreatment incidents.

The purpose of the initial family risk assessment is to assess the probability of child abuse or neglect. When risk is clearly defined and objectively quantified, the choice between serving one family or another is simplified. DCS resources are targeted to families with higher risk because of the greater potential to reduce subsequent maltreatment.

The initial family risk assessment is based on research of cases with substantiated maltreatment. The researchers examined the relationships between family characteristics and the outcomes of subsequent substantiated child abuse or neglect. The tool does not predict recurrence, but simply assesses whether a family is more or less likely to have a future incident without intervention.

It is important to keep in mind the difference between safety and risk when completing the initial family risk assessment. The safety assessment assesses the child's present danger and the interventions currently needed to protect the child. In contrast, the risk assessment looks at the likelihood of future maltreatment.

Different family dynamics are present in abuse situations than in neglect situations. Therefore, separate scales are used on the initial family risk assessment to assess the future probability of abuse and neglect.

Family Strengths and Needs Assessment to Determine Service Needs

Citation: Child Welf. Pol. Man., Ch. 4, § 19

The case manager will do the following:

  • Collaborate with the family and CFT to develop a safety plan
  • Discuss with the family, in detail, the implementation of any of the interventions that are chosen to be a part of the safety response, as follows:
    • The family uses extended family resources, neighbors, or other individuals in the community to ensure the child's safety.
    • The family receives services through community providers.
    • The family is referred for services through a contracted DCS service provider.
    • Efforts to ensure the child's safety in all settings must be considered (e.g., school, extracurricular activities, and home), and the plan should describe in detail how, when, and by whom each intervention will be implemented.

Involvement of the family in the development of a safety plan is imperative. The greater the family's participation in this process, the more ownership they will have in a successful outcome. For this reason, it is critical that the case manager focus the discussion on the safety of the child and not on the allegation. When developing the plan with the family, the case manager should speak in such a way as to develop a common understanding that the safety of the child is contingent on the family's ability and willingness to follow the terms of the plan. If the family is hesitant or unwilling to create a plan and/or commit to abiding by the plan's terms, remind the family that the child may not be safe under present circumstances.

Community services are an appropriate intervention if they help the family control or mitigate the identified safety factors. Examples of community services include, but are not limited to, routine or emergency medical or mental health care (outpatient), alcohol or substance use services, in-home health care, day care, respite care, child-oriented activities (e.g., Brownies or Boy Scouts), home management and/or life skills development, parenting skills training, individual or family crisis counseling, financial services, housing services, transportation services, and food and clothing assistance.

Ongoing Assessment to Evaluate Progress on the Service Plan

Citation: Child Welf. Pol. Man., Ch. 4, §§ 18; 19

A subsequent safety assessment will be completed when the following apply:

  • Changes in family circumstances
  • Changes in information known about the family
  • Changes in changes in the family's ability to utilize protective factors to mitigate safety threats
  • Changes at the point of a case juncture

Following the completion of the initial safety assessment, a safety plan will be created as quickly as necessary to protect the safety of the child. Child safety will be reassessed regularly, and the safety plan will be reviewed and modified as needed throughout the assessment phase. The case manager will specify how DCS will monitor and support the family's compliance with the plan until the completion of the assessment and the consequences if an intervention is not followed.

DCS should engage the child, family, and CFT to develop a safety plan that includes intervention strategies that ensure the child's safety and assist the family to transition toward sustainable changes. Throughout the assessment, safety must be reassessed regularly, and adjustments of the safety plan may be required. If service referrals are completed, follow-up may be required.

Assessment for Reunification and/or Case Closure

Citation: Child Welf. Pol. Man., Ch. 5, § 12

The following are indicators that may be relevant in assisting the case manager and CFT in deciding to close a case:

  • The parent, guardian, or custodian have a good understanding of their child's safety needs and have demonstrated their ability to provide for their child's safety once the case is closed.
  • The parent, guardian, or custodian have developed a plan and identified resources and formal and informal supports to assist them in managing their child's safety.
  • The case manager and CFT has observed positive changes in the parent's protective capacities, behavior, and circumstances, as verified by progress reports from service providers and visitations with the child and family.
  • The case manager has received input from the CFT and service providers indicating that the family has made sustainable improvements that alleviate DCS involvement.
  • Identified safety concerns are no longer occurring or are consistently managed by the parent.
  • The risk and safety reassessment indicates the child is 'safe' and indicates a low or moderate level of risk for abuse or neglect.
  • The family has achieved case goal outcomes.
  • Family functioning has improved to a minimally acceptable level. This is evidenced by the ability of the person responsible for the child's health, safety, and well-being and other family members to demonstrate a commitment to protect the child and the presence of effective protective behaviors within the family.