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

Date: March 2021

Safety Assessment

Citation: DCF Pol. Man., § CPP-III-B-6-600

In policy: The safety assessment meets the following purposes:

  • To determine whether any child is likely to be in immediate or imminent danger of serious harm that requires immediate safety intervention
  • To determine what specific safety intervention (a safety protection plan or out-of-home placement) needs to be implemented or maintained to provide appropriate protection, if needed

All investigation and permanency cases open because of reported child abuse or neglect, shall be documented on the SDM Safety Assessment. Safety assessments shall be completed throughout the life of a case, using the following timeframes:

  • An initial assessment is completed during the first face-to-face contact following receipt of the report.
  • If new information changes what was previously scored as threats to safety, or changes the safety decision, a safety assessment review document shall be created upon completion of the safety assessment. It is not necessary to create a safety assessment review document if there are no changes or changes only to vulnerabilities, protective actions, and strengths or which in-home interventions are being used in the immediate safety protection plan.
  • Before closing a case open for on-going services, the caseworker must assess child safety and create a closing safety assessment document. If threat to safety is still present, the case shall remain open.
  • A closing safety assessment shall be completed only if a previous safety assessment was unsafe or safe with safety protection plan and the case is not transferred for on-going services.

Form 22-22, Safety Assessment (In-Home Cases) is used to assess child safety. If a safety factor is checked 'yes,' which indicates that the child is not safe, the caseworker immediately consults his or her supervisor. The caseworker will determine with the supervisor what the appropriate course of action is to ensure the child's safety and if removal is warranted or the child may remain home with a safety protection plan.

Safety Decisions and Safety Planning

Citation: DCF Pol. Man., § CPP-III-B-6-600

The possible safety decisions include the following:

  • 'Safe' applies when the assessment finds no immediate threats to safety. No safety protection plan is needed.
  • 'Safe with a safety protection plan' is selected when the following apply:
    • One or more immediate threats to child safety are indicated, but the family is found to have the ability to implement a safety protection plan.
    • When safety protection is needed, the child can remain at home with a safety protection plan. The plan shall be monitored and adapted if necessary or if the safety decision changes.
  • 'Unsafe' is selected when one or more immediate threats to safety cannot be controlled with a safety protection plan. The child shall be moved to a safe placement.

If one or more threats to safety are selected, and the family is willing and able to develop and follow a safety protection plan that would allow the child to remain at home, the caseworker will work with the family and the safety team to develop a detailed plan.

A safety team consists of individuals (family, friends, or professionals) who meet the following criteria:

  • They acknowledge the threat to safety.
  • They are engaged and willing to participate as safety team members.
  • They have the ability and capacity to perform or support the specific responsibility detailed in the safety protection plan.

Risk Assessment

Citation: DCF Pol. Man., § CPP-III-B-6-600

The purpose of assessing risk is to determine the likelihood of future maltreatment within the next 18 to 24 months. Risk assessment is based on the following:

  • The conditions that exist at the time the incident is investigated
  • The prior history of the family

The family risk assessment tool is composed of a neglect assessment index and an abuse assessment index. Levels of risk include low, moderate, high, or very high.

The caseworker will assess only one household per risk assessment tool. If two households are involved in an incident, the caseworker must complete separate risk assessment tools for each household.

Risk assessments must be completed for the following:

  • All families for which a child abuse or neglect investigation has been initiated, including new investigations on currently open cases
  • Noncustodial parents who are being provided with reunification services

The caseworker must assess risk throughout the life of a case whenever conducting a child abuse or neglect investigation. This applies for a new case, a reopened case, or when investigating a case with ongoing services. The risk assessment shall be completed once every 3 months.

For new cases, the risk assessment guides the decision of whether to close a case after investigation or transfer a case to ongoing intervention based on the family's assessed risk level. The case opening or closing guidelines for all cases, regardless of finding, are as follows:

  • Low and moderate risk level: Close, unless there are one or more unresolved threats to safety
  • High and very risk level: Transfer to ongoing services

Family Strengths and Needs Assessment to Determine Service Needs

Citation: DCF Pol. Man., CP&P Form 26-81

From Form 26-81: The case plan assessment documents the risk factors identified and specifies services or actions needed to resolve identified problems and achieve the case goal. As part of the case plan assessment, a determination must be made as to whether the child is in serious or imminent risk of removal if the preventative services defined in the plan are not implemented. The following preventative services may be implemented:

  • Safety protection plan
  • Family preservation services
  • Strengthening families services
  • Homemaker services
  • Substance use services
  • Home health aides
  • Nursing services
  • Services provided by the children's system of care to prevent placement

This determination must be reviewed at least every 6 months. If the services are discontinued due to a reduction in risk, the case plan should be updated.

The case plan assessment is prepared as follows:

  • Within 60 calendar days of assigning a child maltreatment report to the field office for investigation or response
  • Within 30 calendar days for in-home cases in which there is imminent risk of removal of the child from home
  • Within 30 calendar days of a child entering or (re-entering) out-of-home placement
  • Every 6 months thereafter

Ongoing Assessment to Evaluate Progress on the Service Plan

Citation: DCF Pol. Man., § CPP-III-B-6-600

Each individual safety protection plan details how it is monitored. The caseworker monitors the parent's compliance with the plan and the parent's improved functioning or progress toward changing negative behavior.

A threat to safety is present when current circumstances meet the definition. Once selected, a threat to safety remains until it is resolved or ruled out. The following options apply when describing the status of a safety threat:

  • Resolved: Protective actions have been consistently demonstrated over time and the family has established new behaviors that keep the child safe.
  • Ruled out: New information establishes that the threat to safety was not present in the first place. For example, new medical information indicates that a previously assessed serious injury was accidental.
  • Controlled: A previously identified threat to safety has not been resolved but is being controlled through a safety protection plan or child placement.
  • Discovered: A new threat to safety has been identified after a previous safety assessment.

The caseworker will reassess child safety as follows:

  • Assess child safety throughout the life of the case
  • Complete a reassessment once every 3 months
  • Consider safety factors at each contact with a family
  • When closing an ongoing permanency case or at the completion of an investigation when the family is not receiving services, document in the case narrative how each identified safety factor was resolved

A case cannot be closed if any safety factors have not been resolved.

The risk reassessment involves evaluation of the caregiver's progress toward attaining case plan goals. Information gathered for the initial risk assessment and the family's current progress help the caseworker evaluate a family's progress toward achieving case plan goals.

The risk reassessment must be completed on all families with ongoing services whose children remain in the home. Risk reassessments must be completed as follows:

  • Three months after transfer to ongoing services and every 3 months thereafter
  • Whenever circumstances in a case change that warrant a reassessment, such as a change in family structure or dynamics or a new allegation of child abuse or neglect
  • No more than 30 days prior to case closure

If a new referral is received while the case is open, the caseworker must complete an initial risk assessment as part of the investigation. The caseworker will then continue to complete the risk reassessments based on the original schedule of every 3 months.

Assessment for Reunification and/or Case Closure

Citation: DCF Pol. Man., § CPP-III-B-6-600

The reunification assessment consists of six components that are used to evaluate risk, visitation compliance, safety, and permanency planning decisions. The results are used to reach a permanency plan recommendation and to guide decisions about whether to return a child home.

The assessment is completed for the following families:

  • A household with an open child protective services or child welfare case in which at least one child is in placement (including placements with a relative) and has a permanency plan goal of reunification
  • The household of a nonremoval parent if the parent is being considered as a reunification resource

If more than one household is receiving reunification services, a separate reunification assessment is completed for each household. The assessment is completed according to the following timeframes:

  • No later than 3 months from the date of placement and every 3 months thereafter
  • Prior to any court hearing at which the permanency goal or progress toward case plan goals and objectives is being reviewed

The reunification assessment guides the decision of whether to recommend reunification or to change the permanency plan goal. If a family has effectively reduced their risk level to low or moderate and has achieved acceptable visitation, a reunification safety review is conducted, and the results are used to determine whether the home environment is safe to facilitate reunification.