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

Date: March 2021

Safety Assessment

Citation: DCYF Pol. Man. § 1192

In policy: The immediate safety of the victim is of paramount importance. The safety assessment tool is completed before deciding to leave a child in the home and before returning a child to the home during an assessment. The safety assessment must be completed on all assessments assigned a response priority level within 24 hours of face-to-face contact with the alleged victim to guide decisions such as the following:

  • Whether or not the child may safely remain in the home
  • The need for interventions to eliminate the threat of immediate harm
  • Whether the child must be removed from the home or remain in foster care placement

It is important to keep in mind the difference between safety and risk when completing the safety assessment. Safety assessments look at the child's present danger and the interventions currently needed to protect the child. Throughout the assessment period, and for open cases, whenever new information becomes available that threatens the safety of the child, a safety assessment is completed immediately upon receipt of the new information. Risk assessments look at the likelihood of future abuse and/or neglect.

The caseworker also must assess for the existence and/or the extent of underlying conditions that co-occur with the alleged child abuse or neglect, such as domestic violence, substance abuse, and mental health issues.

Safety Decisions and Safety Planning

Citation: DCYF Pol. Man. § 1508

Initially, the term 'safety' means the absence of danger to a child. Once danger has been identified, safety means protective actions taken by the caregiver that mitigate the danger and are demonstrated over time.

When danger is identified, the use of a safety plan must be considered and implemented if appropriate. Safety plans shall include the following:

  • Be a voluntary agreement made between the parents or caregivers and the Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF)
  • Be an immediate, short-term strategy that provides children with appropriate adult supervision and care to ensure safety
  • Be clear, detailed, and specific as to what the danger is and what actions will be taken or what actions or behaviors will cease in order to ensure safety
  • Be created with parents or caregivers in language and terminology the family understands so it is clear to them why danger has been identified and what must be done about it
  • Be reviewed with all participants, with consensus as to who will be doing or not doing what and for how long
  • Include one or more individuals and/or services as a safety network
  • Have a plan for follow-up

When it is determined that an alternative caregiver is needed to ensure the safety of the child, parents must be able to identify an appropriate alternative caregiver. Alternative caregivers must understand the presenting danger, agree to follow the safety plan, and be clear as to what action they will take if safety issues arise.

Risk Assessment

Citation: DCYF Pol. Man. § 1208

The risk assessment is a tool that obtains an objective appraisal of the likelihood that a family will maltreat their children in the next 12 to 18 months. This tool does not predict recurrence but assesses whether a family is more or less likely to have another abuse or neglect incident without intervention.

The following requirements apply to the family risk assessment:

  • It is completed on all child abuse and neglect assessments in which a response priority level is assigned.
  • It is completed at the conclusion of the assessment, but no later than 60 days from the receipt of the referral by the district office.
  • It is based on conditions that exist at the completion of the assessment.
  • It is completed on the household that provides the majority of the child care. If the child resides equally in both households, the caseworker will select the household in which the maltreatment occurred.

The caseworker must make every effort throughout the assessment to obtain the information needed to answer each question on the family risk assessment form. Both the neglect and abuse scales are completed regardless of the type of allegations reported or assessed. A discretionary override to increase the risk level can be requested by the caseworker and approved or performed by the supervisor. The risk level is used to guide the interventions that occur with the children and families.

Family Strengths and Needs Assessment to Determine Service Needs

Citation: DCYF Pol. Man. § 1210

When recommendations for services have been made, they must be discussed with the family and involved community providers. In considering the causes of abusive and neglectful behavior on the part of the parents or caregivers and the various forms of family dysfunction, the caseworker and supervisor must explore the underlying dynamics of the harmful behavior. Any intervention offered must address these identified issues by providing targeted services and interventions, such as the following:

  • When the causes of child maltreatment or neglect are mental illness, mental retardation, or physical handicap or illness, assistance for the family from a behavioral health or medical service provider must be sought.
  • When the causes of child maltreatment or neglect are inadequate parenting or stress, intervention consists of guidance provided by the caseworker and a referral may be made to a child health support agency.
  • When the causes of child maltreatment or neglect are emotional illness, marital conflict, family conflict, or alcohol/drug abuse, the decision to refer for treatment or to provide guidance by the caseworker is based on the severity of the condition, as follows:
    • If the condition is severe and directly impacting the child's safety, a referral must be made to a behavioral health service provider.
    • If the condition is moderate or mild, and in the supervisor's judgment the caseworker has the skills to intervene, the caseworker may provide the direct services.

When domestic violence is occurring or is the cause of the child maltreatment, the caseworker must refer the victim to the domestic violence specialist located within the district office. When documenting any information specific to the children's or alleged victim of domestic violence safety, relative to identified domestic violence, the caseworker must not include locations of potential 'safe places' that the child and nonoffending parent might use in a crisis situation.

Ongoing Assessment to Evaluate Progress on the Service Plan

Citation: DCYF Pol. Man. § 1508

The caseworker shall continually assess for danger relevant to all children in the home throughout the course of his or her involvement with a family. The caseworker also shall conduct ongoing assessment of the appropriateness of a safety plan so long as it remains in effect.

Assessment for Reunification and/or Case Closure

Citation: DCYF Pol. Man. § 1262

The caseworker and supervisor must continuously assess for child safety and risk factors within the family throughout the course of a case. When a family is demonstrating that they are meeting case plan objectives and can maintain safety within the home, the caseworker and supervisor shall begin to explore the appropriateness of closing the case. This exploration must include consultation with the following prior to the decision to close the case being made:

  • The family
  • Any community agencies involved
  • The court-appointed special advocate (CASA) or guardian ad litem (GAL) on all court-involved cases

Once the decision to close the case has been made, the caseworker shall do the following:

  • Meet with the family to discuss case closure and the process involved
  • Establish clear timeframes with the family and service providers for when case activities will be completed
  • Review with the family the progress made during the case process, emphasizing their efforts that were essential for the resulting changes
  • Work with the family and community to identify resources and supports that are available to the family after DCYF has closed the case
  • Work with the staff attorney to motion the court for closure when necessary
  • Notify all professionals involved with the case, such as attorneys, CASAs, GALs, and community resources, prior to the date of case closure regarding the status of the case and any follow-up services in place
  • Complete the in-home risk review as well as the strengths and needs assessment