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

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Safety Assessment

Citation: Admin. Regs. § 432B.185; Statewide Pol. Man. MTL #0510-091708

The child welfare agency shall assess the safety of a child who is the subject of a report of child maltreatment at each phase of intervention in which child welfare services are provided. Those phases include, without limitation, the following:

  • The initial intake for protective services performed by the agency
  • The initial face-to-face contact with the child
  • Any time the agency is considering removal of the child from the custody of his or her parents

In policy: A safety assessment is the systematic collection of information about threatening family conditions and current, significant, and clearly observable threats to the safety of a child. The purpose of assessing safety is to determine whether a child is likely to be in immediate or imminent danger of serious physical or other type of harm that may require a protective intervention.

The term 'caregiver protective capacities' refers to a parent's or caregiver's strengths or abilities to manage existing safety threats, prevent additional safety threats from arising, or prevent risk influences from creating a safety threat. Protective capacities may be grouped into three different categories that include cognitive, emotional, and behavioral (both personal and parenting).

'Impending danger' refers to a family situation or household member's behavior that is determined to be out-of-control and will likely result in serious harm to a child.

'Information collection standard' refers to the six critical areas that are used for assessing and analyzing family strengths, risk of maltreatment, and child safety. These assessment areas include the following:

  • Circumstances accompanying the maltreatment
  • Child functioning on a daily basis
  • Adult functioning with respect to daily life management and general adaptation (including mental health functioning and substance use)
  • Disciplinary approaches used by the parent
  • Overall parenting practices
  • The extent of maltreatment

The Safety Assessment consists of 12 standardized indicators of present and impending danger (threat of serious harm) that are used to analyze the information related to the six assessment areas. When assessing the 12 safety threats, the caseworker must consider how specific case information relates to the following four safety threshold criteria:

  • Out-of-control
  • Severe (serious harm)
  • Imminent
  • Observable and specific

The assessment also measures child vulnerability. A vulnerable child is one who is unable to protect him- or herself and is dependent on others for protection. This determination requires justification for why a child is not considered vulnerable to each indicated safety threat.

Safety Decisions and Safety Planning

Citation: Statewide Pol. Man. MTL #0510-091708

The safety assessment conclusion is a critical determination based on an evaluation of each of the 12 standardized safety threats. A child is considered safe if there are no safety threats present, or, if there are safety threats present and there are sufficient caregiver protective capacities to assure that safety threats are controlled. A child is not safe if there are safety threats present and caregiver protective capacities are insufficient to assure that safety threats are controlled.

Safety plans are intended to be temporary interventions and should only be instituted when a determination has been made that children are unsafe. The safety plan must be completed and signed by the caregiver(s) prior to the worker leaving the identified child(ren) with the caregiver after a safety threat has been identified. The purpose of a safety plan is to control and manage present (impending) danger and/or safety threats. The use of an in-home safety plan or placement is intended to substitute for diminished or absent caregiver protective capacities by controlling and managing identified safety threats until such time as the caregiver can ensure child safety. Safety plans recognize and use caregiver's strengths and abilities to manage existing safety threats, prevent additional safety threats from arising, and/or prevent risk influences from becoming safety threats.

Safety planning is designed along a continuum from the least to most intrusive intervention to ensure child safety. A family's ability to sufficiently manage safety on its own is the least intrusive response for controlling identified safety threats. If caregiver protective capacities cannot independently control safety threats, then consideration should be given to the use of an in-home safety plan. If it is determined that an in-home safety plan is not feasible or appropriate, then out-of-home placement must be pursued. In cases where children are legally removed from the home, documentation of a safety plan is not required.

To be effective, all safety plans must meet the following criteria:

  • It must be action oriented.
  • Safety responses must be readily accessible and available at the level required to ensure safety.
  • Safety responses must have an immediate impact on controlling safety threats.
  • Intervention should be the least intrusive response for ensuring safety.
  • The plan must describe the frequency of the activity to address child safety.
  • The plan does not include promissory commitments.
  • The plan must identify each person participating in specific activities.
  • The plan must identify a safety provider.
  • The plan must delineate timeframes for each activity and the plan.
  • The plan must describe agency activities to oversee the plan, to include changes in the caseworker contact requirement and safety plan monitoring responsibilities during the timeframe the safety plan is in place.

Risk Assessment

Citation: Admin. Regs. § 432B.180; Statewide Pol. Man. MTL #0511

An assessment of risks to a child must be conducted and considered as part of each significant decision made in a child welfare case. Those decisions include the provision of child welfare services for the child, from intake through case closure. The assessment must be future-oriented rather than based solely on the child's injuries or current condition.

In policy: The risk assessment (based on the Children's Resource Center and California Structured Decision Making Model) identifies families that have low, moderate, high, or very high probabilities of future abuse or neglect. This assessment does not predict recurrence but assists the caseworker in assessing whether a family is more or less likely to have another incident without intervention.

The term 'risk of maltreatment' refers to the likelihood of future maltreatment based on the current condition of the family. Risk indicates conditions and/or circumstances in a family that contribute to the likelihood of occurrence or reoccurrence of maltreatment.

Risk assessment identifies the level of risk of future maltreatment. The level of risk may guide the decision to close a case or promote ongoing services.

The risk assessment is completed based on conditions as they existed at the beginning of the investigation and any risk-related problems that develop or emerge during the course of the investigation. The item scoring should use any information gathered during the investigation, unless specifically stated otherwise in the item definition. Each household in which the child resides for whom an allegation of abuse or neglect is being investigated should be assessed using separate forms.

The risk score reflects the risk of maltreatment for all children in the home. A score for each assessment item is derived from the worker's observation of the characteristics it describes. Some characteristics are very objective and easily derived from case file information (such as prior maltreatment history or the age of the child). Other characteristics, such as the quality of care provided by the primary caregiver, require the worker to use discretionary judgment and determine a conclusion based on his or her assessment of the family. Sources of information used to determine the worker's endorsement of an item may include use of statements by the child, caregiver, or collateral persons; worker observations; reports; or other reliable sources to assist in the assessment of each item.

Family Strengths and Needs Assessment to Determine Service Needs

Citation: Statewide Pol. Man. MTL #0510-091708

Safety intervention analysis follows the decision that a child is not safe. Safety intervention analysis is the process of further engaging a family in the safety planning process to promote family self-determination. The results of safety intervention analysis, which includes the development of a safety plan, should not be implemented without supervisory consultation. The family, caseworker, and supervisor should consider how safety threats are manifested in the family and the time of day when safety threats are active. This will assist in determining the type of safety plan that is required and the level of effort needed to control existing safety threats.

The safety assessment form collects information regarding a parent or caregiver's strengths or abilities to manage existing safety threats, prevent additional safety threats from arising, and/or prevent risk influences from creating a safety threat. The assessment of protective capacities of a caregiver includes the consideration of behavioral, cognitive, and emotional characteristics, such as intellectual skills, motivations to protect, positive attachments, and social connections.

Safety plans recognize and use caregiver's strengths and abilities to manage existing safety threats, prevent additional safety threats from arising, and/or prevent risk influences from becoming safety threats. The purpose of a safety plan is to control and manage present or impending danger and/or safety threats. A safety plan must be developed with the child's caregiver immediately upon determining a child is unsafe if the child is going to remain in the home while the safety threat is being addressed.

Ongoing Assessment to Evaluate Progress on the Service Plan

Citation: Admin. Regs. § 432B.185; Statewide Pol. Man. MTL #0510-091708

The child welfare agency shall assess the safety of a child in the following situations:

  • Before any unsupervised visitations between the child and his or her parents
  • Before returning the child to the custody of his or her parents
  • Any time a significant event or change occurs that affects the household of a parent of the child, including, without limitation, a birth, marriage, death, or major illness
  • Before each court review
  • Any time, as determined by the agency, there is an indication that the safety of the child may be jeopardized

In policy: Once a safety plan is established, it becomes a primary responsibility of the caseworker to assertively supervise the safety response plan and monitor child safety. Continued safety management involves remaining well informed about the status of the safety plan. At the inception of the initial safety plan a date to review the safety plan will be agreed upon and noted on the safety plan form. Prior to the safety plan review, a caseworker and supervisor staffing must occur.

The safety plan review includes a face-to-face contact with the child, caregivers, and with out-of-home care providers (if involved). The review includes a personal contact with all other safety plan participants who are responsible for protecting the child. The review verifies that all parties remain informed, active, and committed. The review concludes whether the safety plan is effectively managing safety threats and if less intrusive methods are possible and feasible.

Caseworker documentation needs to reflect that safety threats are addressed at each contact until safety threat is mitigated and safety plan is no longer needed.

Safety assessment, analysis, and planning must occur throughout ongoing agency involvement with a family. Specific, ongoing case milestones requiring a safety assessment are delineated in regulation, however every encounter with a family during ongoing agency involvement should consider threats to child safety.

Assessment for Reunification and/or Case Closure

Citation: Admin. Regs. §§ 432B.185; 432B.310(4); Statewide Pol. Man. MTL #0510-091708

The child welfare agency shall assess the safety of a child after reunification of the child with his or her family and before the closure of a case for the provision of child welfare services to a child.

After an assessment of safety and an assessment of risks of future harm to a child have been completed and if it has been determined that the child is safe, the risk of future harm to the child is minimal, and the parent is protecting the child, the case may be closed.

In policy: Safety is assessed at the following milestones on all children in the home:

  • Before returning the child to the custody of his or her parents
  • Before each court review
  • After reunification with the family of the child (30 days after reunification, if the case remains open)
  • Prior to supervisory approval for closure of a case for the provision of child welfare services to a child