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

Date: March 2021

Safety Assessment

Citation: Code of Rules § 18-006-102

Risk and safety are not interchangeable terms. Safety applies to the need for action based on an immediate threat. Risk refers to the likelihood of future maltreatment even when the immediate safety threats are not present and is seen on a continuum from low to high.

The term 'threat' refers to the caregiver's underlying condition or contributing factor and insufficient protective capacities that led to serious harm or threatened serious harm. To assess the safety threat, the seriousness of the harm must be assessed.

The term 'protective capacities' refers to individual or family strengths or resources that reduce, control, and/or prevent threats of serious harm from arising or having an unsafe impact on a child. Protective capacities must be accessible and actionable and fall under the following categories:

  • Personal
  • Behavioral
  • Cognitive
  • Emotional characteristics and/or resources

'Imminent danger' describes a clearly observable behavior or a situation that is actively occurring, is about to occur, or is likely to occur in the present time and cause serious harm. 'Emerging danger' is a safety consideration that arises when the underlying conditions and contributing factors associated with a danger-related risk element in the family are escalating and/or protective capacities are diminishing.

A safety assessment is completed in all situations when the report has been assigned to a level two or level three investigation. Safety applies to the need for action based on an immediate threat and must be assessed at the initial contact with the children and staffed with the supervisor immediately.

Documentation should include results of the safety assessment, addressing any safety, environmental, or health issues and protective capacities of the parent or caregiver. The documentation of the safety assessment tool must be completed and submitted to the supervisor within 25 days of the report date and time. The safety assessment addresses the following areas:

  • Physical harm or injury
  • Neglect of basic needs
  • Family strengths and needs
  • Prior history of abuse, neglect, exploitation, or domestic violence
  • Protective capacity of the parent or caregiver

Safety Decisions and Safety Planning

Citation: Code of Rules § 18-006-102

A child is 'safe' when there are no immediate threats of serious harm due to the caregivers' actions or inactions, or the protective capacities of the family can mitigate these threats. A child is 'unsafe' when the caregivers' actions or inactions present immediate threats of serious harm to a vulnerable child, and the family's protective capacities are diminished.

Safety planning is a part of the Division of Family and Children's Services (DFCS) making reasonable efforts to maintain children with family. Family-centered practice€”engagement, relationship building, and problem solving€”is put immediately into action by the caseworker with the family during the initial phases of the investigation to develop and implement a plan for the family in which the child is safe from harm. This process, including the utilization of family team meetings (FTM), is safety planning. Safety planning constitutes a process in which the family and the caseworker can jointly develop a plan for the child and family in which identified issues or factors of safety and risk are recognized, acknowledged, and analyzed in relation to the strengths and protective capacities of the family for the purpose of ensuring the safety of the child and the preservation of the family.

Safety plans should be short term and developed only when a decision of 'unsafe' has been determined and caseworkers, with supervisory approval, assess that without the plan, the child cannot remain safely in the home. A safety plan should be in place to prevent removal and allow a child to remain with his or her family.

In circumstances where safety issues are identified, a safety plan will be developed with the family and will be implemented immediately. The safety plan incorporates all safety interventions designed to maintain children safely within their own families whenever possible and is developed by the caseworker with family input and with supervisory approval.

The following shall be identified and documented on the safety plan:

  • Identification of specific serious harm or the threat of serious harm, as identified in the safety assessment
  • The actions have been or will be taken to protect each child in relation to the current safety concern
  • Whether the plan will involve either in-home services or an alternative caregiver
  • If an alternate caregiver is identified, whether background checks have been completed on all household members over age 14
  • The persons responsible for implementing the plan
  • How the plan will be monitored and evaluated and by whom
  • The time frames that have been imposed by the plan
  • Under what conditions the safety plan will be terminated

Risk Assessment

Citation: Code of Rules § 18-006-102

In cases in which no safety issues are identified, the report requires a risk assessment prior to the completion of the investigation. The results of the risk assessment and the report findings will be used to determine if a case should be opened for services. A child is at risk when there is a likelihood that maltreatment will occur in the future.

The risk assessment shall be addressed simultaneously with the safety assessment but must be completed within 25 calendar days of initial intake. During this assessment, the caseworker should be assessing the well-being of the child and the risk factors for abuse and neglect.

The following shall be identified and documented during the risk assessment:

  • The exact nature of the abuse and/or neglect, including any injuries
  • The parent or caregiver's initial response
  • If abuse and/or neglect is found, how long it been going on and its impact on the child
  • How the parents and the children view their current situation
  • The caregiver's ability to provide basic needs
  • The caregiver's level of functioning and ability to address issues related to the maltreatment
  • Any mental or physical health concerns of household members and whether any of these concerns pose danger to the child
  • Each child's functioning ability as it relates to such things as age, communication skills, school performance, physical and behavioral health, and fear of harm
  • The family's support system, including what kinship resources are available to the family
  • Caregiver and family strengths and protective capacities
  • Family and caregiver-child relationships, including parenting style, parenting knowledge and skill, and discipline techniques

Family Strengths and Needs Assessment to Determine Service Needs

Citation: Code of Rules, §§ 18-006-102; 18-006-103

Family-centered practice identifies family strengths, support systems, and community services that will assist families in acquiring the resources, taking action, making decisions, and developing the skills they need to safely take care of their children and reduce the risk of future maltreatment. Strength-based assessment is an assessment protocol that looks at families' capabilities, strengths, and resources throughout the life of the case, supporting the development of strategies built on competencies, assets, and resources.

In providing services to the family or child, DFCS, in collaboration with the family members, and based on assessment information, should recommend services that are determined to be the most beneficial and least intrusive to the family while maintaining the child's safety. This recommendation should include consideration of the ability of family members to access services as needed, provision of needed services in the home and/or community in which the family members live, and providers that can best meet the family members' needs.

The decision to mobilize services should be based on the safety and risk assessment and parental protective factors. Cases with active safety concerns requiring a safety plan or protective custody must be opened for services. Services with no active safety concerns but assessed to have a moderate or high level of risk may be opened for services. In those situations, the caseworker should do the following:

  • Make decisions with the family regarding the identification of services needed, appropriate providers, and locations of services
  • Make prompt referrals to service providers
  • Follow up to help ensure prompt service initiation

If the case is opened for services, the caseworker should use the Comprehensive Family Assessment (CFA) and FTM to identify services that need to continue or to be initiated based on the goals, assessment, and case plan. If the case is not opened for service, but the caseworker and family determine that services would benefit the family, the caseworker shall assist the family with referrals to community-based resources.

An FTM is a planned, structured, facilitated decision-making process to which members of the family are invited along with required DFCS staff and any other support system identified by the family and DFCS. FTMs allow for the gathering of information critical to the assessment process, developing the case plan, monitoring of the case plan, and involving the family and other pertinent individuals in key decision making. An FTM is required during an investigation when safety and risk factors are identified, and a safety plan is needed.

Family engagement is an on-going process of involving the family from the initial investigation throughout the life of the case. The caseworker must engage the family and formal and informal support networks through FTMs to assist them in planning for the child to remain safely in the home. The family should be considered the experts of their situation and should identify the problems and solutions to these problems with the assistance of the caseworker and their support systems.

The caseworker will work with the family to develop a family service plan (FSP), which lists tasks and goals that need to be achieved. The FSP is a goal-oriented service focused on behavior outcomes. The FSP should describe, at a minimum, 1) the problems the family is facing, 2) risks to the children, 3) the strengths of the family and child, and 4) the services and actions needed to achieve desired outcomes.

Ongoing Assessment to Evaluate Progress on the Service Plan

Citation: Code of Rules § 18-006-103

As service provision is monitored, the caseworker must ensure that on-going service provision matches the referral requests and continues to address the family's needs. If the case is not opened for service, but the caseworker and family determine that services would benefit the family, the caseworker may assist the family with referrals to appropriate resources.

Continued assessment and evaluation are required and must be documented in the case record regarding progress or lack of progress within 90 calendar days of case opening. At the end of 6 months, the caseworker will document whether services need to be continued, whether safety concerns are still present, or that outcomes have been met and the case should be prepared for closure.

The Review FSP is an assessment of progress toward the goals identified in the Initial FSP. The Review FSP is submitted and approved every 90 calendar days. The CFA is updated each time the FSP is reviewed. The goals and tasks may be changed or updated at any time there are changes in the family's circumstances. The parent(s)/guardian shall sign this FSP upon agreeing to the listed goals and tasks in it.

Assessment for Reunification and/or Case Closure

Citation: Code of Rules §§ 18-006-103; 18-006-104

A Final FSP is completed only when the case is being closed. Prior to completing the Final FSP, a FTM must be held with the family. All direct services must be closed, and a CFA completed prior to submitting the Final FSP for approval.

If there is an active safety plan in place, a Final FSP cannot be completed. Safety plans must be resolved prior to case closure.

When the child's permanency goal is reunification, DFCS shall identify in the service plan and make available directly or through referral those services DFCS deems necessary to address the behaviors or conditions that resulted in the child's placement in foster care and to help the parents develop strategies to facilitate permanency for the child. Caseworkers will monitor the provision of services through visits and updating of service plans.

For a child with a permanency goal of reunification, the child's assigned caseworker shall meet with the child's parent(s) with whom the child is to be reunified at least monthly to assess service delivery and achievement of service goals, to keep the family informed and involved in decisions about the child, and to remain current about the family's circumstances.

When selecting a permanency goal of reunification, the caseworker must perform the following tasks:

  • Complete an ongoing CFA prior to reunification
  • Identify and assess the problems that led to the need for foster care, the actions needed to correct the problems, and activities to be performed by all parties involved
  • Complete with the family the FSPs for children and parents within 30 calendar days of the child's entry into custody