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

Date: March 2021

Safety Assessment

Citation: Child & Fam. Services Policy Man., § IV.D

From the policy manual: The following definitions apply to this section:

  • Child vulnerability: These are factors specific to each child that increase their risk of being a victim of child abuse and/or neglect. These include the following:
    • A child who is younger than age 6
    • A child with diminished developmental and/or cognitive capacity
    • A child with a significant diagnosed medical or mental health disorder
    • A child who is not readily accessible to community oversight
    • A child with diminished physical capacity
  • Fact-finding child interview: A forensically sound method of conducting interviews with a child suspected of being abused and/or neglected to support decision-making in a child welfare investigation. This includes a fact-finding interview with the child to investigate child abuse or neglect and signs of safety, risk, and safety threats in a developmentally sensitive, unbiased, and truth-seeking manner.
  • Safety assessment tool: A tool that determines the level of safety for each child based on factors that influence child vulnerability, safety threats, and safety planning capacities and interventions. This tool assists caseworkers in identifying whether children are safe, unsafe, or safe with a plan if they remain in the care of their parents in order to match child welfare interventions to the needs of the child and their family.
  • Safety factors: The presence of parent/caregiver conditions or actions of protection that decrease the likelihood that child abuse and/or neglect will occur in the future.
  • Safety threats: Immediate risk of serious harm to a child due to the presence of parent/caregiver concerns, child behaviors, conditions, or past history.

All initial interviews with the children must be done using the fact-finding interviewing protocol. If a child is nonverbal, a physical observation of the child must be completed.

All interviews with adult critical case members must be done using forensic and motivational interviewing techniques that promote engagement and exploration and seek to ensure the parents understand why the Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS) is investigating their family. Each parent must be interviewed separately, unless doing so would increase the likelihood of potential harm to the child or an adult parent, for example in reports involving domestic violence. The goals of the interview include the following:

  • Determine the parent's understanding of and explanation for the allegations in the report
  • Understand the family system, including background history; current family relationships; any concerns related to domestic violence, substance use or mental health; current medications; and rules/discipline
  • Gather information about the family's relatives and other supports

The caseworker must conduct a home visit where each child primarily resides and the home where the allegations were alleged to have occurred to determine if the environment is safe.

Safety Decisions and Safety Planning

Citation: Child & Fam. Services Policy Man., § IV.D

The preliminary safety decision (PSD) determines the initial level of safety for each child in the home and are to be made in the field prior to returning to the office. PSDs are made by the caseworker in consultation with their supervisor by phone. The caseworker and supervisor shall review the Structured Decision Making (SDM) Safety Assessment Tool to determine the following:

  • Factors influencing child vulnerability
  • Safety threats
  • Safety planning capacities and safety interventions
  • Safety decisions

The following determinations may be made:

  • Safe: No safety threats were identified at this time. Based on currently available information, there are no children likely to be in immediate danger of serious harm.
  • Safe with plan: One or more safety threats are present, and safety interventions have been planned or taken. based on interventions, the child will remain in the parent/caregiver's care and custody. An OFCS plan for safety signed by the parent/caregiver is required.
  • Unsafe: One or more safety threats are present and a petition for a preliminary protection order (PPO) will be sought. The filing of a PPO is the only safety intervention possible for one or more children. Without a PPO, one or more children will likely be in danger of immediate risk of serious harm. If any child remains in the home, an OFCS plan for safety is required.

After completing the safety assessment tool with the supervisor, and the safety assessment decision is unsafe or safe with plan, a team decision-making (TDM) meeting will be convened. If the outcome of the TDM is to develop a plan for safety, the caseworker will complete the plan with the family and their supports in a family team meeting held that same day.

Planning for safety is designed to create, increase, and support immediate child safety and to manage the safety threats that are placing the children in such harm. To plan for safety, the following must be in place:

  • The parent/caregiver is able to participate in the plan for safety.
  • The parent/caregiver is willing to participate in a plan for safety.
  • The parent/caregiver has at least one supportive, safe adult who was not involved in the allegation and is willing and able to participate in a plan for safety.

The plan will identify the safety threats and specific interventions that will be taken immediately to ensure the following:

  • Child safety within the home while the investigation continues
  • Who is responsible for monitoring compliance with the plan
  • The anticipated completion dates

The plan for safety may only be in effect for 30 days, at which time it must be reviewed and a determination made if the investigation will be closed or opened as a service case or a court case due to court action being initiated. At that time, elements of the plan for safety may be incorporated into the family plan.

Risk Assessment

Citation: Child & Fam. Services Policy Man., § IV.D

The following definitions apply to this section:

  • Risk assessment tool: A tool that determines the risk level for families, including identifying the family's probability of future system involvement related to abuse and/or neglect. This tool assists caseworkers in identifying the family's risk level and then matching the family with the appropriate level of intervention to achieve the goal of reducing the recurrence of maltreatment.
  • Risk factors: The presence of parent/caregiver concerns, child behaviors, conditions, or past history that may increase the likelihood that child abuse and/or neglect will occur in the future.

The following activities must be completed before the investigation may be closed:

  • The caseworker, in collaboration with their supervisor, must determine, based on the facts gathered during the investigation and the results of SDM Safety Assessment Tool and SDM Risk Assessment Tool, whether child abuse and/or neglect occurred. This determination can be made any time prior to, or at the end of, the 35-day investigation period.
  • The risk assessment tool is used to determine the likelihood of future maltreatment and whether a case will be opened considering conditions present at the start of the investigation period and those that emerged or occurred during the investigation period.
  • The risk assessment tool must be completed by the caseworker at the conclusion of the 35-day investigation period and prior to any decision to open a service case or court case or to close the investigation with no additional services.
  • The caseworker and supervisor determine the final risk level based on the scored risk level and any overrides approved by the supervisor. Policy overrides and discretionary overrides are only used to increase the risk level.

Family Strengths and Needs Assessment to Determine Service Needs

Citation: Child & Fam. Services Policy Man., § IV.D

The family plan is a plan focused on the child's best interests and safety needs. This plan is developed by the caseworker in collaboration with the family and their team when there is an open child welfare service case or court case. The plan outlines the safety and risk factors requiring intervention, action steps to remediate the safety concerns as well as progress toward the permanency goals for the child. The plan consists of expectations that are outlined in Federal and State law.

Safety planning capacities are based on an assessment completed by the caseworker to determine if the parent/caregiver is capable and willing to participate in the development of a plan for safety and has at least one supporting safe adult who was not involved in the allegation and is willing and able to participate in the plan for safety. This assessment is based on information from the report of abuse and/or neglect, caseworker observations, interviews with the children, interviews with parents/caregivers and collateral contacts, and a review of records.

Ongoing Assessment to Evaluate Progress on the Service Plan

Citation: Child & Fam. Services Policy Man., § IV.E

The provision of case management is defined as services that assist eligible individuals in gaining access to needed medical, social, educational, and other services. The term 'eligible individuals' refers to vulnerable populations, such as children and families in the child welfare system.

Case management includes the following:

  • Assessing the child's needs
  • Coordinating the delivery of appropriate services as defined in the assessment
  • Assisting the child and family in accessing appropriate services
  • Monitoring the child and family's progress by making referrals, tracking appointments, following up on services rendered, and periodically reassessing the child and family's needs
  • Advocating on behalf of the child and family
  • Consulting with service providers or collateral contacts to determine the status or progress of the child and family's plan
  • Arranging for crisis assistance, such as coordinating needed emergency services
  • Continually assessing for safety, risk, and danger

Assessment for Reunification and/or Case Closure

Citation: Child & Fam. Services Policy Man., § VII.D

Every 3 months, rehabilitation and reunification agreements shall be reviewed by the parents and caseworker and revised as needed. At each review, the feasibility of family reunification shall be reassessed.

The reassessment shall include the caseworker and parents (if possible). Other departmental people working with the family or community representatives involved with the family may be invited as appropriate. The reassessment will concentrate on circumstances of jeopardy to the child's health and welfare if he or she were returned home. The reassessment will reflect the progress made, if any, and the tasks yet to be accomplished.

The caseworker will update the case record and record the case plan in the child's record, document the basis for decisions, discuss the plan with the parents if they were not present at the reassessment, and send them a letter outlining the revised plan.

When the factors causing jeopardy are corrected, the child may be returned home.