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

Date: March 2021

Safety Assessment

Citation: Rev. Stat. § 620.040; Admin. Regs. Tit. 922, § 1:330; Stds. of Prac. Online Man., § 2.11

Based upon the allegations in a report alleging abuse or neglect, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services shall immediately make an initial determination as to the risk of harm and immediate safety of the child. Based upon the level of risk determined, the cabinet shall investigate the allegation or accept the report for an assessment of family needs and, if appropriate, may provide or make referral to any community-based services necessary to reduce risk to the child and to provide family support.

In regulation: The term 'initial determination' means an evaluation of risk factors to determine immediate safety and risk of harm resulting in a decision whether to proceed with an investigation or assessment.

In policy: The child's safety is always the paramount concern for the caseworker. The following are two key decision points during which the child's safety is evaluated:

  • At the first contact with the child and family, when the caseworker must decide whether the child will be safe during the investigation (i.e., is the child in danger right now?)
  • At the conclusion of the investigation, when the caseworker determines the validity of the report and the level of risk for further maltreatment

Safety refers to a current condition within a home or family and considers whether there is an immediate threat of danger to a child. A threat of danger refers to a specific family situation that is out of control, imminent, and likely to have severe effects on a child.

Throughout the investigation, the caseworker is responsible for assessing for safety threats and imminent risk by considering the following:

  • Children with serious injuries from physical abuse
  • Children age 5 and younger
  • Children suffering from acute untreated medical conditions whose parent or caregiver is refusing to obtain treatment or cannot be located
  • Self-referral from a parent or caregiver who states he or she is currently unable to cope or feel he or she may harm their children
  • A child who expresses fear of their current circumstances
  • Sexual abuse allegations in which the perpetrator is suspected to have immediate access to the alleged victim or other children in the home
  • Physical abuse or neglect appears imminent
  • A child who is presently receiving bizarre forms of punishment
  • A child at risk of immediate harm from a parent or caregiver who is behaving in a bizarre manner
  • Abandoned children who are currently without supervision of a responsible adult
  • Children who are currently without supervision by a responsible person who are at risk of harm based on their age, environment, or other factors
  • Situations involving weapons
  • Other situations related to the caregiver's high-risk behaviors that may constitute immediate risk to the child

In the following sequence whenever possible, the caseworker shall conduct face-to-face interviews with the following persons:

  • All household members, including the following:
    • The alleged victim
    • All other children in the home
    • The nonoffending parent or caregiver
    • All adults living in the home
  • Collateral contacts, including the following:
    • School personnel when the child is of school age
    • Other collaterals who can assist in the determination of the incident and provide information to assist with a safety and risk assessment, as necessary
  • The alleged perpetrator/caregiver

Safety Decisions and Safety Planning

Citation: Admin. Regs. Tit. 922, § 1:330; Stds. of Prac. Online Man., § 2.11

The term 'services needed' means a low-risk finding with no perpetrator that indicates a family needs to be linked to community services.

In policy: A child is assessed to be safe when there is no threat of danger within the family or home, or, if such a threat does exist, the family has sufficient protective capacities to protect the child and manage the threat.

When the determination is made that a child is at an immediate safety threat or that a safety threat exists risk at any point during contact with the family, the caseworker shall do the following:

  • Negotiate a safety prevention plan with the family that clearly documents the provisions and tasks needed to protect the child, as agreed upon by the family, and preventive services and interventions agreed upon with the family
  • Utilize the family preservation program and other in-home services to prevent removal whenever possible and documents why less restrictive alternatives were not utilized in the assessment
  • Consider filing a petition (removal or nonremoval) in court
  • Assess other services that may be of assistance to the family to prevent removal, which may include the following:
    • Preventive assistance
    • A food bank referral
    • Child care assistance
    • Other supportive services, as outlined 922 KAR 1:400

Risk Assessment

Citation: Admin. Regs. Tit. 922, § 1:330; Stds. of Prac. Online Man., § 2.11

The term 'assessment' means the collection and analysis of information to inform decision making about or service provision to a child or a family, including the following:

  • An observable threat or threatening condition to the child's safety
  • A factor present that increases the likelihood of child abuse, neglect, or dependency
  • Child or family strengths and protective capacities

In policy: Risk refers to the likelihood of maltreatment occurring in the future. An assessment of risk includes the identification of risk factors, which are family behaviors and conditions that create an environment or circumstances that increase the chance that parents or caregivers will maltreat their children.

Examples of factors that have been associated with increased risk of child maltreatment include parental substance abuse, domestic violence, and parental childhood history of abuse. Young children and children with disabilities have also been found to be at greater risk for maltreatment because of their greater dependency on others for care.

The caseworker will collect the following information about the family:

  • The identity of every household member and their relationships to one another
  • A summary of each interview to include the subject's version of the sequence of events, their account of any observable impact on the child, and details relevant to a safety and risk integrated safety assessment
  • Environmental information, particularly as it relates to the allegations
  • References to photographs taken or other information collected from collateral sources, including medical records as necessary
  • Clinical consultations with other professionals as warranted by the case circumstances, i.e., mental health professionals, medical personnel, etc.
  • The prior history with the family, including past agency and/or criminal history, and its significance when determining their level of intervention for the current report and findings
  • An assessment, during each interview, for risk factors related to domestic violence, substance misuse, mental health issues, cognitive delays, or learning disabilities
  • Visits to the child's residence as often as necessary to ensure the child's safety in that setting

The caseworker continuously evaluates for safety threats and risk throughout the course of the investigation through interviews and contacts with the family to determine if there are safety threats or risk factors issues that require intervention.

The caseworker must do the following:

  • Integrate a safety assessment into the investigative narrative that considers the following:
    • The age of the child
    • Harm or threats of harm and severity
    • Vulnerability and protective capacities of the child
    • Capacity of the parent or caregiver to protect the child
    • The caregiver's high-risk behaviors
    • Family interactions and support systems
    • Features of the family or individuals that add stressors to the family
    • The perpetrator's access to the child
    • The household composition
    • The physical household environment
    • The attitude and level of cooperation exhibited by household members
  • Determine the likelihood of future maltreatment to the child based upon the risk factors identified during the assessment

Family Strengths and Needs Assessment to Determine Service Needs

Citation: Stds. of Prac. Online Man., § 7.4

The cabinet is statutorily mandated to offer services to protect children from abuse, neglect, and dependency. Prevention planning is utilized to address risk factors identified during an investigation and/or during ongoing casework as well as to provide information regarding service provisions. Prevention planning is voluntary, and the content of the plan should be negotiated and agreed upon with the family and all involved parties. Additionally, the plan should be specific, detailed, and practical in addressing identified risk factors.

A caseworker who determines that a child can remain safely in the home with his or her family or caregiver will conduct a comprehensive family assessment with the family to determine the services needed to minimize both the risk of child maltreatment and the factors that contributed to this risk.

Prevention plans should be utilized when nonimminent safety and/or risk factors are identified during an investigation or during ongoing casework as a plan for service implementation for the child(ren) and/or family when the following are true:

  • An investigation indicates a family needs services or abuse or neglect is substantiated.
  • During ongoing casework and the risk indicates that a plan is needed but needs to be put in place prior to the scheduling and development or modification of a case plan.

The caseworker will do the following:

  • Negotiate the prevention plan with the family and other relevant individuals involved
  • Utilize a prevention plan when nonimminent safety and/or risk factors are identified during an investigation, including, but not limited to, the following:
    • Medical, dental, or mental health intervention
    • Drug testing
    • Hygiene and physical environmental intervention
    • Educational neglect/truancy intervention
    • Food intervention
    • Some supervision or discipline intervention
    • Service implementation
  • Ensure the prevention plan does the following:
    • Includes services that can assist the family to prevent abuse or neglect and maintain the children in the home
    • Includes clear and concise tasks with start and end dates
    • Does not substitute for filing a petition with the family court when there are long-term protection needs
    • Includes monitoring by those who participated in the planning process
  • Incorporate the agreed upon tasks that the family will follow to address maltreatment concerns and service delivery into the case plan or aftercare plan, as appropriate
  • Ensure that the prevention plan is signed and dated by all involved parties and file a hard copy of the prevention plan in the case file
  • Renegotiate the prevention plan every 30 working days if risk remains that requires renegotiation or whenever a significant change occurs

Ongoing Assessment to Evaluate Progress on the Service Plan

Citation: Admin. Code Tit. 922, § 1:430; Stds. of Prac. Online Man., § 3.12

An assessment shall be completed at least every 6 months prior to each periodic case plan and include the following:

  • Information gathered during contacts with the family and service providers
  • Considerations of the level of cooperation and efforts made by the family members to reduce threat and address the high-risk behaviors that brought the family into contact with the department
  • The family's progress towards case plan objectives

If a child continues to reside in the home of a parent or guardian, the cabinet shall have monthly contact with the family to evaluate the family's progress. The cabinet shall make a monthly in-home, face-to-face visit with the child to do the following:

  • Observe the interaction between parent, child, and siblings
  • Determine the appropriateness of interactions, such as the parent's ability to address the child's needs, attachments, and cooperation among caregivers
  • Determine if parenting skills need improvement
  • Identify the protective capacity of the parent, including the parent's response to service provision and abilities to recognize the child's needs, control impulses, and express positive attachment to the child

If the home environment was indicated as an issue in the case plan, an in-home visit to assess the home shall be conducted.

In policy: The caseworker must perform an ongoing case plan evaluation/ongoing assessment at least every 6 months, prior to the periodic case planning conference, and prior to case closure that does the following:

  • Considers the high-risk behaviors that brought the family into contact with the agency
  • Utilizes information gathered during contact with the family and contact with the service providers
  • Considers the level of cooperation and efforts made by family members to reduce risk and address high-risk behaviors
  • Assesses whether risk has been reduced in the home
  • Assesses whether the family has achieved their case plan objectives
  • Assesses whether the child is at serious or imminent risk of placement in foster care
  • Outlines the services or case actions necessary to achieve the case plan objectives and case closure

Assessment for Reunification and/or Case Closure

Citation: Admin. Code Tit. 922, § 1:430

A new assessment shall be completed before an in-home case is closed. The decision to close a case shall be based on documentation that the original factors resulting in abuse, neglect, or dependency or the risk of the abuse, neglect, or dependency has been resolved to the extent that the parent or guardian is able to protect the child and meet the needs of the child.

Consideration for closure of a child protective service case shall occur if the following conditions are met:

  • The child is no longer in need of protection.
  • The case planning or permanency goals have been achieved.