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

Date: March 2021

Safety Assessment

Citation: DHS Employees' Man., Tit. 17, Ch. B(3)

From the policy manual: The safety assessment is a decision-making and documentation process that evaluates safety threats, present danger, child vulnerability, and family protective capacities to determine the safety response. Safety assessments will occur at critical points throughout the course of the involvement of DHS with a family.

To the extent that information is available from the intake, history checks, or initial contacts, the following three safety constructs are used when evaluating immediate safety:

  • Threats of maltreatment, including the following:
    • Severity of the incident or condition
    • Circumstances contributing to the abuse, such as loss of employment, death in the family, illness of family member, domestic violence, mental illness, or substance abuse
    • Chronicity of the incident or condition
  • The child's vulnerability to maltreatment, including the following:
    • Age, medical condition, mental and physical maturity, and functioning level of the child
    • Access of the person allegedly responsible for the abuse to the child
  • Caregiver's protective capacities, including the following:
    • Protectiveness of the parent or caregiver who is not responsible for the abuse
    • Attitude of the person allegedly responsible for the abuse regarding its occurrence
    • Current resources services and supports

The initial safety assessment requires a face-to-face contact with the child and family and supervisory consultation. It is completed at the initial visit with the child victim and followed by supervisory consultation within 24 hours. The safety assessment tool provides a list of behaviors or conditions that may be associated with a child being in danger of moderate to severe harm.

The case manager will conduct multiple interviews to gain sufficient information and a variety of perspectives on the child and family. The primary purpose of any interview conducted is to determine the safety of and risk to the child named in the report and any other children in the care of the person alleged responsible for the abuse. The secondary purposes are to do the following:

  • Address the concerns about the child and family
  • Assess credibility
  • Assess the strengths and needs of the child, the child's parent, the home, the family, and the community
  • Develop a suggested plan of action

The following persons should be interviewed:

  • The child victim
  • Siblings and other children in the care of the alleged abuser
  • The parent not alleged to have abused the child
  • The person allegedly responsible for the abuse
  • Collateral contacts or other sources

Safety Decisions and Safety Planning

Citation: DHS Employees' Man., Tit. 17, Ch. B(3)

A safety analysis focuses on the current situation. A child is considered 'safe' when the evaluation of all available information leads to the conclusion that the child will not be abused in the current living arrangement. The safety assessment must document the following:

  • The worker's assessment of the immediate safety of the child
  • The safety plan that is developed with the family
  • Any actions taken to address safety issues

A 'safety plan' is a specific, formal, concrete strategy for controlling threats of maltreatment or harm or supplementing protective capacities. It is implemented immediately when a family's protective capacities are insufficient to manage immediate threats of maltreatment or harm and is designed to manage the foreseeable danger in the least restrictive manner to allow child protective intervention to proceed.

Safety plans and case plans are analogous to safety and risk. Safety and safety plans are about immediate issues, while risk and case plans are about conditions that may require treatment or intervention, but do not pose an immediate threat of harm.

If the child is conditionally safe, and the case manager is considering whether safety can be secured by conditions or family actions to prevent the need for removal of the child, the reasonable efforts options should include the consideration of the following:

  • Obtaining support from family resources, neighbors, or individuals in the community
  • Obtaining support from community agencies or services
  • Having the alleged perpetrator leave the home
  • Having the nonabusing caregiver move to a safe environment with the child
  • The family agreeing to participate in safety plan services

When any of these reasonable efforts are used to protect the child, a safety plan must be completed reflecting the conditions and caregiver's agreement. The safety plan is a specific, formal, concrete strategy for controlling threats of maltreatment or harm or supplementing protective capacities.

When a family's protective capacities are insufficient to manage immediate threats of maltreatment, the case manager will immediately develop a safety plan to manage the foreseeable dangers in the least restrictive manner.

Risk Assessment

Citation: DHS Employees' Man., Tit. 17, Ch. B(3)

Risk assessment refers to the assessment of probability or likelihood a child will suffer maltreatment in the future. This process looks primarily at caregivers' stressors as well as functioning concerns that affect behaviors that research has shown correlate to the risk of maltreatment.

The identification of risk helps determine the focus of the change process. Some risk factors identify what needs to change for the family to reduce the risk of child maltreatment.

The first formal risk assessment in the life of a case is during a child protective services assessment of an abuse allegation. The risk factors are discussed between the child protective worker and the case manager when the case transfers to DHS services. The identified safety and risk factors guide discussions at the family team meetings for initial family case plan development.

Family Strengths and Needs Assessment to Determine Service Needs

Citation: DHS Employees' Man., Tit. 17, Ch. B(3)

Family involvement in the development of the safety plan is imperative. Family-centered principles support the premise that the greater the family's participation, the more ownership the family has in successful outcomes. The case manager must consider the family strengths and resources that can be built upon to reach a mutual agreement that reflects the shared goal of keeping the child safe.

DHS uses using five family functioning 'domains' to provide a common lens through which to collect and analyze information concerning children and families in the child welfare system. These domains are child behavior, family safety, family interactions, parental capabilities, and home environment. These family functioning domains are used to collect and present information both in the beginning of a case (in the child protective assessment phase) and during the ongoing child welfare case management process.

When making referrals for services, the case manager must carefully consider the case information concerning child and family strengths and areas of concern within each of the family functioning domains. This information is used to do the following:

  • Identify the key family issues and concerns within the domains that are the foundations of why DHS is involved in the case
  • Identify issues and levels of improvement that must be reached before DHS involvement can be terminated
  • Communicate these key areas that require service intervention to contractor staff during the referral and case transition process

The family's participation in the assessment is essential. Arrange to have the family household members available to participate in the gathering and identifying of strengths, possible rehabilitation needs of the child and family, and development of the plan of action.

As part of the assessment of family strengths and needs, the case manager must do the following:

  • Engage with the family and enlist the family's cooperation to complete an evaluation of the family's functioning, strengths, and needs
  • View the assessment as the beginning or continuation of the case planning process for children and families
  • Gather additional information identifying strengths, needs, and family functioning from the following sources:
    • Collateral contacts
    • Other reports
    • DHS records, including all previous assessments, rejected intakes, and DHS services
    • The case manager's observations during the assessment process

Ongoing Assessment to Evaluate Progress on the Service Plan

Citation: DHS Employees' Man., Tit. 17, Ch. B(3)

DHS practice is to conduct formal safety assessments to determine if a child is safe at key decision points throughout the life of the case, as follows:

  • During the assessment, as follows:
    • At the worker's initial visit with the child and family
    • At the completion of the child abuse assessment
  • Throughout the life of the case

Risk reassessment provides the case manager with a framework to identify critical factors that indicate changes in a child's threat of maltreatment. Risk levels change and need reevaluation throughout the life of the case. Using the same risk questions or tool at the beginning and during the life of the case can produce errors. The rating on the reassessment tool reflects changes occurring in the family functioning.

The case manager completes the family risk reassessment at critical decision-making times during the life of the case, such as at case permanency plan updates. The risk reassessment tool guides future interventions and services and helps make critical decisions. The risk reassessment is compared to the original risk assessment completed by the child protection worker.

Informal risk reassessment is required when a child is placed in an out-of-home placement and is completed informally and documented in the case notes. The case manager will complete the assessment during face-to-face contact with a child, the child's caregiver, or the child's future caregiver.

Assessment for Reunification and/or Case Closure

Citation: DHS Employees' Man., Tit. 17, Ch. B(3)

DHS practice is to conduct formal safety assessments to determine if a child is safe at key decision points throughout the life of the case, as follows:

  • Before initiation of unsupervised visitation
  • Before family reunification
  • Before case closure for a voluntary case or recommending case closure in a court-supervised case

The case manager must assess the following:

  • Whether the family can manage any remaining risks (i.e., are the family's protective capacity and community supports adequate to address any remaining risks)
  • Whether the child's needs for permanency and stability have been addressed
  • Whether any well-being issues that brought the child to the attention of DHS have been resolved

The case manager also will complete the family risk reassessment before case closure.