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

Date: March 2021

Safety Assessment

Citation: Child Welf. Pol. Man. § 4-516

From policy § 4-516: The safety assessment is a structured process used to determine whether a child is at danger of substantial harm from abuse or neglect. It is initiated during the first contact with the alleged victim and the parent/caregiver and continues throughout the investigation.

Staff shall assess the safety of all the children residing in the home. Safety is assessed informally at every investigation contact and formally through completion of the safety assessment tool. The process includes assessing threats of danger, child vulnerability, and the parent/caregiver protective capacities.

To conduct a safety assessment, the worker must gather sufficient information to assess safety for all children in the case, including agency history, an assessment of family functioning, interviews, observations, and supporting documentation to complete a thorough safety assessment.

Threats of danger refers to the caregiver's behavior or family situation that indicates serious harm to a child and may include the following:

  • A caregiver has a history of violent, dangerous, and/or impulsive behavior.
  • A caregiver holds an unrealistic perception or extremely negative behavior towards child.
  • A caregiver has caused significant harm to a child or threatened the child's safety.
  • A caregiver is unable or unwilling to meet a child's basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, or medical or mental health care.
  • A caregiver is unable or unwilling to provide necessary supervision, protection, or care for the child.
  • A caregiver refuses access to a child, whereabouts cannot be determined, and/or there is reason to believe family may flee and circumstances indicate child safety is of serious concern.
  • Sexual abuse or exploitation is suspected, and circumstances indicate that child safety is of serious concern.
  • Current circumstances combined with history of abuse or neglect (child welfare agency and/or law enforcement involvement) indicate that child safety is of serious concern.

Child vulnerability refers to the extent that a child can protect him- or herself from identified threats of danger or risk of repeat maltreatment. The worker must consider factors such as dependence on others to meet basic needs; physical, medical, behavioral, or mental condition; ability or inability to communicate their needs; and previous exposure to trauma.

Caregiver protective capacities refers to the strengths in the way a caregiver thinks, feels, and/or acts that prevents or controls threats of danger, including the following:

  • Has a history of protecting the child from harm and unsafe conditions
  • Recognizes threats and has the ability to implement a plan to protect the child
  • Demonstrates impulse control to protect and provide for child's overall care
  • Understands, has the skills needed, and takes action to meet parenting responsibilities
  • Prioritizes the safety and well-being of the child over their own needs
  • Demonstrates love, empathy, and tolerance of the child and is positively attached
  • Understands child development and has realistic expectations of a child's capabilities, needs, and limitations
  • Can meet their own needs, including basic daily and emotional needs
  • Has ability to handle every day, unexpected stressors/crises and has an accurate perception of reality
  • Demonstrates the ability to obtain concrete supports needed such as food, clothing, housing, social services, and transportation
  • Can and will access family and/or friends who are ready, willing, and able to help the family

Safety Decisions and Safety Planning

Citation: Child Welf. Pol. Man. § 4-516

A child is safe when there are no threats of danger, they are not vulnerable to threats of danger, or the caregivers possess sufficient protective capacity to manage any threat of danger. A child is unsafe when there are identified threats of danger, they are vulnerable to a threat of danger, and any caretaker does not possess sufficient protective capacities to manage any threat of danger.

When a threat of danger is identified that the child is vulnerable to and there are not sufficient caregiver protective capacities to manage the threat, a safety plan shall be developed and implemented immediately.

When a child is determined to be unsafe, a safety plan analysis is conducted to determine what type of safety plan is possible. The analysis consists of the following:

  • Is an in-home safety plan feasible?
    • Do the caregivers have a living situation that is calm/consistent/stable enough where an in-home safety plan and services can be implemented?
    • Are the caregivers willing to accept, be cooperative with, and comply with an in-home safety plan and services?
    • Is there a suitable safety monitor who believes that a safety plan is needed and can place the child's safety and needs above their relationship with the caregiver?

If the answer is yes to all three above, then an in-home safety plan can be implemented. If the answer is no, then a court-ordered safety plan should be the next option.

  • Is a court-ordered safety plan feasible?
    • If there is a suitable alternative caregiver or safety monitor, but at least one of the caregivers is not willing or able to cooperate with an in-home safety plan, can a court-ordered safety plan be implemented?
    • If an in-home safety plan or court-ordered safety plan is not possible, is transfer of provisional custody or foster care the safety plan?

Safety monitors/providers are suitable individuals who provide oversight of the in-home safety plan to assure the provisions of the plan are followed and the safety threats to the child/children are being controlled. A safety monitor/provider may be professionals, paraprofessionals, volunteers, or individuals who are part of the family network such as extended family, church members, friends, etc. Judging the suitability of those who can potentially participate in the safety plan must occur with expedience and is a continuing process. An agency clearance should also be conducted on all safety monitors.

The following checklist should guide the development of the safety plan:

  • The parent/caregiver's perceptions about the threat of danger
  • The parent/caregiver's understanding of the need for a plan to control the situation
  • Acknowledgment of the parent/caregiver's rights, options, and choices
  • Efforts to involve the parent/caregiver in creating a safety plan that utilizes people and resources available to them
  • Identification of the people and resources that available to the parent/caregiver and are suitable for implementing a safety plan
  • Confirmation of the parent/caregiver's willingness and capacity to cooperate and participate in identified areas of responsibility given them as part of the safety plan
  • Confirmation that the identified resources and individuals are in agreement and available at the times needed

Risk Assessment

Citation: SDM Pol. & Proc. Man., § 1

From the SDM policy manual: Initial risk assessment identifies families who have low, moderate, high, or very high probabilities of future abuse or neglect. The initial risk assessment does not predict recurrence; it assesses whether a family is more or less likely to have another incident without intervention by the agency. The difference between risk levels is substantial. High risk families have significantly higher rates of subsequent referral and substantiation than low risk families and are more often involved in serious abuse or neglect incidents.

The initial risk assessment is completed no later than 30 days from the referral date in every CPS investigation. If the CPS investigation is closed prior to 30 days after the referral, the SDM risk assessment must be completed prior to closing. The initial risk assessment is completed based on conditions that exist at the time the incident is reported and investigated as well as on the prior history of the family.

Workers must gather information and/or engage the family in a discussion of each characteristic included on the initial risk assessment. Some characteristics are very objective (such as prior history of child abuse or neglect or the age of the child). Others require the worker to use professional judgment based on the information available at the time of assessment. Sources of information used to determine the worker's endorsement of an item may include statements by the child, caregiver, or collateral persons; worker observations; reports; or other reliable sources.

Family Strengths and Needs Assessment to Determine Service Needs

Citation: Child Welf. Pol. Man. § 4-516

The worker in consultation with the supervisor develops the safety plan with the parents/caregivers and the safety monitor providers. Managing safety is crucial with the development and implementation of a safety plan.

Safety management is the intervention used to control or manage threats of danger to a child. Safety management includes in-home or out-of-home actions. Safety management must be capable of having an immediate effect, be available immediately, and be accessible and sufficient to control the danger or threat of danger. Safety management is concerned with controlling danger and threats of danger only and cannot include any promissory commitments or restrict a legal parent/caregiver's access to their child.

Safety management includes five safety management actions that can be applied alone or in combination. They may include behavioral management, crisis management, social connection, separation, and resource support/concrete services, as follows:

  • Behavioral management, which may include the following options:
    • Out-patient or in-patient medical treatment
    • Substance abuse intervention
    • Routine and emergency medical or mental health care
    • Supervision and monitoring
  • Crisis management, including crisis intervention and counseling
  • Social connection, which may include the following services:
    • Friendly visitor
    • Basic parenting assistance and teaching
    • Home management/life skills
    • Supervision and monitoring
    • Social/emotional support
    • In-home babysitting
  • Separation, which may be addressed as follows:
    • Planned absence of caregivers from the home (by protective order/restraining order)
    • Day care, after-school care, or respite care
  • Resource support and/or concrete services, including the following:
    • Transportation services
    • Employment assistance
    • Housing assistance
    • Food/clothing assistance

Ongoing Assessment to Evaluate Progress on the Service Plan

Citation: SDM Pol. & Proc. Man., § 3

The in-home risk reassessment combines items from the original initial risk assessment with additional items that evaluate a caregiver's progress toward case plan goals. The risk assessment must be completed every 90 days from the date the case is open for family services or supervision. This should occur in conjunction with the mandatory supervisory review conference and within 30 days prior to closing a case.

The in-home risk reassessment must be reviewed and updated prior to any court hearing or review if either of the following applies:

  • It has been more than 30 days since the last in-home risk reassessment or initial risk assessment.
  • Family circumstances have changed significantly, and they impact the in-home risk reassessment.

The in-home risk reassessment guides the decision to maintain services or close a case, as follows:

  • All cases in which risk is reduced to low or moderate should be considered for closure unless special circumstances exist.
  • High- or very high-risk cases should remain open unless special circumstances exist.

Assessment for Reunification and/or Case Closure

Citation: SDM Pol. & Proc. Man., § 4

The out-of-home reunification reassessment consists of five parts that are used to evaluate risk, visitation compliance, and safety issues; describe permanency plan guidelines; and record the permanency plan goal. Results are used to reach a permanency placement recommendation and to guide decisions about whether to reunify a child.

The assessment is required for any out-of-home placement case in which at least one child is in out-of-home placement with a goal of 'reunification.' When parents live separately and each has a case plan with reunification as a goal, separate reunification reassessments are required.

Reunification assessments are required as follows:

  • At the quarterly supervisory review, which occurs within 90 days of the case acceptance staffing, and every 90 days thereafter until the court changes the goal from reunification or all children have been reunified
  • At any time a child is being considered for immediate reunification, if more than 30 days has passed since the most recent reunification reassessment
  • Prior to court hearing hearings, if more than 30 days has passed since the most recent reunification reassessment

The reunification risk reassessment, the visitation plan evaluation, and the reunification safety reassessment inform the decision of reunifying a child with their parent, continuing reunification efforts, or changing the permanency goal.

The visitation plan evaluation determines the level at which the caregiver has participated in the visitation plan. If there is no visitation plan, the appropriate reason is identified. If there is a visitation plan, evaluate the caregiver's participation is evaluated based on the quality of interaction and their compliance with the visitation schedule for each child.

The reunification safety reassessment reviews the threats of danger at the time of the child's removal and how those threats are being addressed and or have been resolved. The assessment also must indicate whether there are new threats of danger and how they are being resolved and/or addressed.