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

Date: March 2021

Safety Assessment

Citation: CPS Man., PSM 713-11

From the CPS Manual: During the involvement of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) Child Protective Services (CPS), assessments may need to occur at various points. Assessments include structured decision-making tools that assist caseworkers with meeting goals to promote safety and well-being of children and their families.

The safety assessment is a structured decision-making tool designed to classify and identify the following:

  • Safety concerns for a child
  • Protective interventions initiated
  • An overall safety decision

The safety assessment must be completed at or near the end of the investigation when sufficient evidence and information has been collected to accurately complete the tool.

For each safety factor, the caseworker must identify the presence or absence of each factor by checking either yes or no. If the response is yes, an explanation is required within the narrative to provide facts from the investigation relating to the factor. The safety factors that are evaluated include the following:

  • The caregiver caused serious physical harm to the child and/or made a plausible threat to cause serious physical harm.
  • The caregiver has previously maltreated a child in their care, and the maltreatment or the caregiver's response to the previous incident and current circumstances suggest that child safety may be an immediate concern.
  • The caregiver fails to protect child from serious physical harm or threatened harm.
  • The caregiver's explanation for the injury is unconvincing, and the nature of the injury suggests that the child's safety may be of immediate concern.
  • The family refuses access to the child, there is reason to believe that the family is about to flee, or the child's whereabouts cannot be ascertained.
  • The child is fearful of caregiver, other family members, or other people living in or having access to the home.
  • The caregiver does not provide supervision necessary to protect child from potentially serious harm.
  • The caregiver does not meet the child's immediate need for food, clothing, shelter, and/or medical or mental health care.
  • The child's physical living conditions are hazardous and immediately threatening, based on the child's age and developmental stage.
  • The caregiver's current substance use seriously affects his or her ability to supervise, protect, or care for the child.
  • The caregiver's behavior toward child is violent or out-of-control.
  • The caregiver describes or acts toward child in predominantly negative terms or has extremely unrealistic expectations.
  • Child sexual abuse is suspected, and circumstances suggest that child safety may be an immediate concern.
  • The caregiver's emotional stability seriously affects his or her current ability to supervise, protect, or care for the child.

Safety Decisions and Safety Planning

Citation: CPS Man., PSM 713-11

A safety decision is computed based on responses from the safety factors. Possible safety decisions include the following:

  • Safe: Children are safe; no safety factors exist.
  • Safe with services: At least one safety factor is indicated, and at least one protecting intervention has been put into place that has resolved the unsafe situation for the present time.
  • Unsafe: At least one safety factor is indicated, and the only possible protecting intervention is the removal of the child from the family.

A protecting intervention is a safety response taken by staff or others to address the safety of the child. These interventions help protect the child from present or imminent danger. A protecting intervention must be in place if any safety factor is indicated.

If one or more safety factors are present, it does not necessarily indicate that a child must be placed outside the home. In many cases, a temporary plan will mitigate the safety factor sufficiently so that the child may remain in the home while the investigation continues. The caseworker should consider the relative severity of the safety factors, the caregivers' protective capacities and response to the investigation/situation, and the vulnerability of the child when identifying protecting interventions.

For each safety factor identified, the caseworker should consider the resources available in the family and the community that might help to keep the child safe. The caseworker must indicate in the case record each protecting intervention taken to protect the child and explain how each intervention protects (or protected) each child. Some possible interventions include the following:

  • Monitoring or direct services by the caseworker
  • Using family resources, neighbors, or other individuals in the community as safety resources
  • Using community agencies or services as safety resources, including the following:
    • Intensive home-based services
    • Other community services
  • Recommending that the alleged perpetrator leave the home, either voluntarily or in response to legal action
  • Recommending that the nonmaltreating caregiver move to a safe environment with the child
  • Recommending that the caregiver voluntarily allow the child to stay outside the home
  • Taking legal action, which may include a recommendation to place child outside the home

If CPS is initiating legal action and placing the child, the caseworker must note the following in the case record:

  • Explain why other responses could not be used to keep the child safe
  • Describe the discussion with the caregivers regarding placement
  • If services were recommended but caregivers refused to participate, briefly describe the services that were offered

Risk Assessment

Citation: CPS Man., PSM 713-11

The risk assessment determines the level of risk of future harm to the children in the family. Interviews with the family should be structured to allow the caseworker to discuss all risk and safety issues with the caregivers and complete the risk assessment following the conclusion of contacts with the family. Risk levels are intensive, high, moderate, or low, based on the scoring of the scale.

The risk assessment calculates risk based on answers to the abuse and the neglect scales. The risk level is based on the higher score of either the abuse or neglect scales.

The neglect scale includes the following factors:

  • Whether the current complaint and/or finding includes neglect
  • The number of prior assigned neglect complaints and/or findings
  • The number of children in the household
  • The primary caregiver's social support
  • Whether any of the following apply to the primary caregiver:
    • Is unable/unwilling to control impulses
    • Provides inadequate physical care and/or inadequate supervision of the child
    • Currently has a mental health problem
    • Is involved in harmful relationships
    • Currently has a substance abuse problem
    • Is unable to put child's needs ahead of his or her own
  • Whether the family is homeless or housing conditions are unsafe for children

The abuse scale includes the following factors:

  • Whether the current complaint and/or finding includes mental injury
  • The number of prior assigned abuse complaints and/or findings
  • The age of youngest child
  • The number of children in the household
  • Whether any of the following applies to either caregiver:
    • Was abused and/or neglected as a child
    • Has low self-esteem
    • Is domineering and/or employs excessive and/or inappropriate discipline
    • Is currently experiencing or has a history of domestic violence
  • Whether a child in the household has one or more of the following characteristics:
    • A diagnosed developmental disability
    • A history of delinquency
    • A mental health issue
    • A behavioral issue
  • Whether all caregivers are motivated to improve parenting skills
  • Whether the primary caregiver views the incident less seriously than the department

Family Strengths and Needs Assessment to Determine Service Needs

Citation: CPS Man., PSM 713-11

In most cases where a preponderance of evidence of child abuse or neglect is found to exist and ongoing services are provided to a family, a family assessment of needs and strengths (FANS-CPS) and a child assessment of needs and strengths (CANS-CPS) need to be completed. These assessments are completed with family input and are used to identify areas which the family needs to focus on to reduce risk of future maltreatment. These assessments are used to do the following:

  • Develop a service agreement with the family that prioritizes the needs that contributed most to the maltreatment, as identified by the FANS-CPS and CANS-CPS
  • Identify services needed for cases that are opened for service provision or closed and referred to other agencies for service provision
  • Identify gaps in resources for client services
  • Identify strengths that may aid in building a safe environment for families

Ongoing Assessment to Evaluate Progress on the Service Plan

Citation: CPS Man., PSM 713-11; PSM 714-4

Risk reassessment must be completed on ongoing protective services cases. The assessment examines the primary caregiver's progress in the service plan and reduction of prioritized needs. It also evaluates the primary caregiver's overall effort to reduce or resolve the needs identified and scored on the family assessment of needs and strengths. The evaluation is based on worker assessment of the caregiver's engagement in the plan and the caregiver's behavior in priority needs areas, as determined by observing appropriate caregiver behaviors in caring for children in the home and/or interacting with children, service providers, and others as well as reports from collateral sources.

The updated services plan (USP) consists of the risk reassessment, reassessments of the family assessment of needs and strengths (FANS-CPS) and the child assessment of needs and strengths (CANS-CPS), the safety reassessment, and the service agreement. The first USP must be completed within 60 days after the date the investigation was submitted for supervisory approval. Additional USPs are due every 90 days thereafter or more frequently, if necessary.

A risk and safety reassessment and reassessments of the FANS-CPS and CANS-CPS must be completed at times other than the 90-day USP intervals if either of the following apply:

  • There is a new complaint of abuse or neglect that is found to exist by a preponderance of evidence.
  • There are other significant changes in case status.

A safety reassessment must be completed at key decision points. For any safety reassessment questions answered yes, the accompanying explanation, the safety response-protecting interventions entered, and the safety decision will pre-fill into the USP. The CPS worker must update the safety assessment narrative to reflect what child safety planning occurred.

After the reassessment of the FANS-CPS is completed, the caseworker must update the case record to provide a narrative regarding each service provided, including the following:

  • The family's progress toward achieving service goals and activities in that need area
  • Information from service providers
  • Any revisions to the services provided in that need area

If the case will remain open, the case record must be updated with the following information:

  • A summary of the reasons why the case was opened
  • The family's overall progress toward achieving service goals and activities
  • Specific examples of changes in behaviors or other conditions that explain a reduction in risk to the child
  • Any revisions in the service agreement, including changes in services
  • A summary of any new complaints investigated during the report period
  • Any new safety issues and how the service agreement has been amended to address them
  • Any other information relevant to the risk to and safety of the child

Assessment for Reunification and/or Case Closure

Citation: CPS Man., PSM 713-11; PSM 714-4

Ongoing protective services must be provided in cases with a preponderance of evidence of child abuse and/or neglect so long as the child needs protection. Cases that have an intensive or high-risk score on the risk assessment or reassessment must be kept open until the risk level is moderate or low or supervisory approval is obtained to close.

Before an ongoing case may be closed, the caseworker must complete a new USP and document the following:

  • A summary of the reasons why the case was opened
  • The current family situation and the present danger to the child of abuse or neglect
  • The progress or lack of progress made as a result of the provision of protective services and the reasons for closure of the case, including the impact of services on the risk and needs items scored on prior assessments
  • The necessity of providing follow-up or further services to the family by other agencies

At closure, the case must be assessed for referral to Prevention Services. A referral must be made if active child abuse and/or neglect no longer exists and there is a continued need for services to prevent a recurrence of child maltreatment and a new complaint to CPS.