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

Date: March 2021

Safety Assessment

Citation: SDM Pol. & Proc. Man.

From the SDM manual: The purpose of the safety assessment is to help assess whether a child(ren) is likely to be in immediate danger of serious physical harm which may require a protecting intervention and to determine what interventions should be maintained or initiated to provide appropriate protection.

Safety assessment differs from risk assessment in that the safety assessment measures the child's present danger and determines the interventions immediately needed to protect the child for the duration of the investigation period. In contrast, the family risk assessment looks at the likelihood of future maltreatment.

Safety assessments must be completed for all CPS maltreatment reports assigned for an assessment that involve a family caregiver. This tool also may be used to determine if immediate danger of harm is present in a nonlicensed living arrangement, such as noncustodial parent. The caseworker assigned to the case must complete the assessment.

The safety assessment process is completed prior to allowing the child to remain in the household. The written documentation must be completed and entered into the family's case file as soon as possible, but no later than within 3 working days of making the initial face-to-face contact to assess safety.

The safety factors are to be considered throughout the life of the case, from the point of report through case closure. At any point that an unsafe factor becomes operant, a new safety assessment should be completed. If the unsafe factor requires removing a child from the home, a new safety assessment should be completed.

The safety assessment has three sections: safety assessment, safety response, and safety decision. Each section is preceded by instructions for appropriate completion. The list of safety factors are behaviors or conditions that may be associated with a child being in danger of serious harm. The vulnerability of each child needs to be considered throughout the assessment. Children who are younger than age 8 cannot protect themselves. For older children, an inability to protect themselves may result from diminished mental capacity or repeated victimization. The caseworker must complete the assessment based on most vulnerable child.

The safety assessment has two parts. The first part consists of factors that describe behaviors or conditions that may be associated with a child being in immediate danger of serious harm. The caseworker identifies the presence or absence of each factor by selecting either 'yes' or 'no.' The caseworker also considers conditions that were present at the time of the alleged incident and the current impact on child safety, always using item definitions to determine whether each factor is present or not. If yes, an intervention is required to support the child's safety for the duration of the assessment period.

In the second part, for all safety factors selected, the caseworker must note the applicable safety factor number and then briefly describe the specific individual's behaviors, conditions, and/or circumstances associated with that particular safety factor.

Safety Decisions and Safety Planning

Citation: SDM Pol. & Proc. Man.

The safety assessment is used to guide decision making in the removal and return of children to families. It also guides decision making on factors that, if not addressed, threaten immediate harm to children. A safety plan is required for all children assessed unsafe on any safety factor. A safety intervention is any action taken by staff or others that remediate the unsafe condition identified in the assessment while services are provided to the family.

The caseworker must identify a safety decision based on the assessment of all safety factors and any other information known about the case. The safety decision should reflect the situation at the time the safety assessment is being completed, as follows:

  • Safe: There are no children likely to be in immediate danger of serious harm (to be selected only if no safety factors were indicated).
  • Conditionally safe: Controlling safety interventions have been implemented since the report was received, and those interventions will adequately provide for the child's safety for the immediate future.
  • Unsafe: A child is likely to be in danger of immediate harm and must be removed from the home.

Risk Assessment

Citation: SDM Pol. & Proc. Man.

Risk assessment identifies families with high, moderate, or low probabilities of future child abuse or neglect. By completing the risk assessment, the caseworker obtains an objective appraisal of the likelihood that a family will maltreat their children in the next 18 to 24 months. The difference between the risk levels is substantial. High risk families have significantly higher rates of subsequent referral and substantiation than low risk families, and they are more often involved in serious abuse or neglect incidents.

The risk indices are based on research on cases with determined abuse or neglect that examined the relationships between family characteristics and the outcomes of subsequent abuse and neglect. The indices do not predict recurrence, but simply assess whether a family is more or less likely to have another incident without intervention by the agency. One important result of the research is that a single instrument should not be used to assess the risk of both abuse and neglect. Different family dynamics are present in abuse and neglect situations. Hence, separate indices are used to assess the future probability of abuse or neglect.

Risk assessments must be completed for all CPS maltreatment reports assigned for an investigation or family assessment that involves a family caregiver. The risk assessment is to be finalized prior to determining the disposition of the investigation/assessment.

The risk assessment identifies the level of risk of future maltreatment and guides the decision to close a report or open a case for ongoing services. Low and moderate risk cases should be considered for closure unless there are unresolved safety concerns that require continued services or there is an agreement between the family and the agency for the family to receive family support services.

Family Strengths and Needs Assessment to Determine Service Needs

Citation: SDM Pol. & Proc. Man.

The family strengths and needs assessment is used to evaluate the presenting strengths and needs of each family. This tool is used to systematically identify critical family strengths and needs, and it helps plan effective service interventions. The assessment serves several purposes, as follows:

  • It ensures that all caseworkers consistently consider each family's strengths and needs in an objective format when assessing need for services.
  • It provides an important case planning reference for workers and supervisors.
  • The initial strengths and needs assessment, when followed by periodic reassessments, permits caseworkers and their supervisors to easily assess changes in family functioning and thus assess the impact of services on the case.
  • In the aggregate, strengths and needs assessment data provide information on the issues facing families served by the department. These profiles can then be used to develop resources to meet client needs.

The family strengths and needs assessments shall be completed within the following timeframes:

  • For family assessments, within the 45-day family assessment period
  • For family investigations, within the 45-day family investigation period or within 30 days of case opening for ongoing services, prior to development of the initial service plan

Ongoing Assessment to Evaluate Progress on the Service Plan

Citation: SDM Pol. & Proc. Man.

The family risk reassessment is used to assist the caseworker in determining risk of child abuse and/or neglect. Together with the family strengths and needs reassessment and the progress made in the service plan, it assists the caseworker in determining the required service level intensity.

Reassessments are performed at established intervals throughout the life of the case. Case reassessment ensures that both risk of maltreatment and family service needs will be considered in later stages of the service delivery process and that case decisions will be made accordingly.

At each reassessment, caseworkers reevaluate the family using tools that help them to systematically assess changes in risk levels. Case progress will determine if a case should remain open or if the case can be closed.

While the initial risk assessment has separate indices for abuse and neglect, there is only one risk index for reassessment. The focus at reassessment is the impact of services provided to the family or whether certain events in the family have occurred since the last assessment. Many items on the reassessment are those strongly related to the probability of subsequent abuse and/or neglect and generally do not change from the initial assessment. Other items relate to events that did or did not occur since the last assessment or reassessment. The final item specifically relates to the caregivers' use of treatment or training programs.

The first review must occur no later than 90 days after completion of the first service plan. Reassessments occur quarterly thereafter. The reassessment may be completed whenever there is a significant change in the case.

The risk reassessment is used to guide decision making following the provision of services to clients. While the initial assessment projects a risk level prior to agency service provision, the reassessment takes into account the provision of services. The reassessment of each family provides an efficient mechanism to assess changes in family risk due to the provision of services. At reassessment, a family may have their case remain open and continue with services or the case may be closed.

The caseworker may consider case closure for low and moderate risk cases unless there are any unresolved safety concerns or there is agreement between the family and agency for the family to continue receiving family support services. The risk level following reassessment can also inform the intensity of resources for the family.

Assessment for Reunification and/or Case Closure

Citation: SDM Pol. & Proc. Man.

The reunification assessment is used to evaluate risk, parental engagement with the visitation plan, safety issues, and the appropriateness of the permanency plan goal. Results are used to reach a permanency placement recommendation and to guide decisions about whether to return a child home.

The reunification assessment must be completed for all CPS cases with at least one child in placement with a goal of return home. The first assessment must occur no later than 90 days after completion of the first service plan. Thereafter, reassessments must occur as follows:

  • At least quarterly
  • Prior to court hearings
  • At any time the child is being considered for return home

Results from the reunification risk reassessment and engagement with visitation sections indicate if a child is eligible to return home or if a new recommendation should be made. If a family has effectively reduced risk to low or moderate and achieved an acceptable rating on engagement with the visitation plan, a reunification safety assessment is conducted and the results used to determine if the home environment is safe. The permanency plan guidelines and recommendation sections of the assessment tool guide decisions to return a child home, to continue with the permanency plan, or to initiate a legal permanency plan petition.

Following the principles of family-centered practice, the reunification assessment is completed in conjunction with each appropriate household and begins when a case is first opened. A family should be engaged in the developed objectives of the case plan from the beginning so that the household understands what is expected. The reunification assessment form should be shared with the household at the same time, so that the household understands exactly what will be used to evaluate reunification potential. The family must demonstrate that no safety threats are present, or a plan must be in place to address any identified safety threats.