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

Date: March 2021

Safety Assessment

Citation: SDM Pol. & Proc. Man.

In policy: The purpose of the safety assessment is to (1) help assess whether any child is likely to be in imminent danger of serious harm/maltreatment that requires a protective intervention and (2) determine what interventions should be initiated or maintained to provide appropriate protection.

It is important to keep in mind the difference between safety and risk when completing this assessment. A safety assessment differs from a risk assessment in that it assesses the child's danger of imminent and serious harm and the interventions currently needed to protect that child. In contrast, a risk assessment looks at the likelihood of any future maltreatment.

Cases that require a safety assessment include the following:

  • All referrals assigned for in-person response
  • All cases in which there is a change in household circumstances
  • All cases in which there is a change in supervised visitation and/or a planned home visit
  • All cases prior to case closure

The safety assessment provides structured information concerning the danger of imminent, serious harm or maltreatment to a child. This information guides the decision about whether the child may remain in the home with no intervention (safe), may remain in the home with safety interventions in place (safe with plan), or must be protectively placed (unsafe).

The worker assigned to the case or referral is responsible for completing the safety assessment. The safety assessment must be completed within the following timeframes:

  • In an investigation, the assessment is completed on first contact and needs to be documented within 48 hours.
  • For a child who has already been protectively placed by law enforcement or other means, and for whom no safety assessment has been completed, the caseworker will complete a safety assessment and document the findings within 2 working days of the referral.
  • If a safety plan was created, an updated safety assessment must be completed and documented within 21 days.

Safety Decisions and Safety Planning

Citation: SDM Pol. & Proc. Man.

The possible safety decisions include the following:

  • Safe: No danger indicators were identified at this time. Based on currently available information, no children are likely to be in imminent danger of serious harm. The worker will continue to the risk assessment and complete the investigation as required.
  • Safe with plan: One or more danger indicators are present, however, the child can safely remain in the home with a safety plan. In-home protective interventions have been initiated through a safety plan, and the child will remain in the home so long as the safety interventions mitigate the danger indicators.
  • Unsafe: One or more danger indicators are present, a safety plan was considered but could not be created, and out-of-home placement is the only protective intervention possible for one or more children. Without placement, one or more children will likely be in danger of imminent or serious harm.

Any time the decision on a safety assessment is 'safe with plan,' a safety plan must be created. The only time a safety plan should be created is when there is a 'safe with plan' finding on the safety assessment. A safety plan can last up to 21 days.

The following must be included in all safety plans:

  • Each identified danger indicator and a description of the conditions or behaviors in the home that place any child at imminent threat of serious harm
  • Detailed action steps to address the danger indicator(s), as follows:
    • Explain how danger indicator(s) will be mitigated
    • Actions the family will take to keep the child safe
    • What people outside the family will do
  • A written statement of what a responsible party will do (in terms of actions or behaviors) that will keep the child safe in the current conditions
  • Who is participating in the plan and the role of each participant
  • Information that describes how the safety plan will be monitored (e.g., who is responsible for each intervention action)
  • The timeframe in which each intervention will remain in place
  • Signature lines for family members, the worker, and the worker's supervisor

Risk Assessment

Citation: SDM Pol. & Proc. Man.

The risk assessment classifies families into low-, moderate-, or high-risk groups based on the group's overall probability of experiencing future involvement with the Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD). By completing the risk assessment, the worker obtains an objective appraisal of the likelihood that a family will have repeat system involvement in the next 18 to 24 months. The difference between risk levels is substantial. Families classified as high risk have significantly higher rates of subsequent referral and substantiation than families classified as low risk.

The risk assessment is based on research on families investigated for abuse/neglect that examined the relationships between investigation and family characteristics and the outcomes of subsequent CYFD involvement for abuse and neglect. The tool does not predict maltreatment recurrence for each individual family; rather, it uses investigation and family characteristics with demonstrated relationships to outcomes to classify families into risk level groups that correspond to the likelihood of each group having subsequent CYFD involvement.

Risk assessment is required for all investigations. This includes new investigations on open cases. The caseworker completing the investigation must always assess the household in which the child abuse or neglect incident is alleged.

The risk assessment is completed after the safety assessment has been completed and prior to the decision to open a case or close without continuing services. This must be done no later than 30 days from the first face-to-face contact.

The assessment decision identifies the level of risk of future maltreatment. The risk level, along with the findings from the safety assessment, guides the decision of whether to close after investigations or open a case. The risk assessment also can help determine the intensity and type of community service referral.

Family Strengths and Needs Assessment to Determine Service Needs

Citation: Admin. Code §§;;;

'Family assessment' is a collaborative effort between Protective Services Division (PSD) workers and the family to assess the family's needs and protective capacities based upon identified safety threats and risk factors.

The 'family plan' is a plan developed by PSD in collaboration with each household member, based on the information collected through the family assessment, which identifies the specific changes in behaviors and circumstances that are expected as a result of the in-home services intervention.

'In-home services' (IHS) are services provided without court intervention that are expected to enhance the family's ability to function independently of PSD, improve safety for children, create stability within the home, and develop healthy and supportive on-going community relationships.

A family may be eligible to receive IHS when either of the following apply:

  • The child has been determined to be conditionally safe, and the risk of child abuse or neglect has been determined to be moderate or high.
  • The child has been determined to be unsafe, and the risk of child abuse or neglect has been determined to be very low, low, moderate, or high.

Services are provided to the family based on assessment of safety of the child and risk of abuse or neglect to the child by the parent, guardian, or custodian. Services provided to the family utilize family strengths, family resources, community resources, and PSD resources.

In collaboration with the family, the IHS practitioner must do the following:

  • Complete a family assessment and develop a safety plan and family plan
  • Review and update the family's safety plan, with all individuals in the family addressed

Ongoing Assessment to Evaluate Progress on the Service Plan

Citation: SDM Pol. & Proc. Man.

The purpose of the risk reassessment is to help assess whether risk has been reduced sufficiently to allow a case to be closed, or whether the risk level remains high and services should continue. This is accomplished through evaluating whether behaviors and actions of the family have changed as a result of the case plan.

The family risk reassessment combines items from the original risk assessment with additional items that evaluate a family's progress toward case plan goals. Unlike the initial risk assessment, which contains separate indices for risk of neglect and risk of abuse, the risk reassessment is composed of a single index.

The first six items are those strongly related to the probability of subsequent abuse and/or neglect and generally do not change from the initial assessment. The next four items relate to events that did or did not occur since the last assessment. The final two assessment items specifically relate to the caregiver's use of treatment services provided by the agency, as detailed in the case plan.

The caseworker must complete risk reassessments for all voluntary family services cases, family preservation cases, protective supervision cases, and legal cases until the permanency hearing occurs and as long thereafter as the plan is either to maintain the child at home or return the child home. Reassessments may be conducted at the discretion of the caseworker any time there is a significant change in the case.

The risk reassessment, along with the safety assessment, guides the decision to keep a case open or close a case. For cases that remain open following reassessment, the new risk level guides minimum contact standards that will be in effect until the next reassessment is completed. For high- and very high-risk cases with no danger indicator, it is recommended that workers hold a case consultation to determine what service will meet the family's needs.

Assessment for Reunification and/or Case Closure

Citation: Admin. Code §; SDM Pol. & Proc. Man.

IHS cases may be closed with no further intervention from PSD when the structured decision-making instruments are completed and any of the following apply:

  • The safety assessment instrument documents that the child is safe or conditionally safe.
  • The safety assessment and risk assessment instruments document either no escalation of risk or a decrease in the risk level.
  • The goals of the family plan have been achieved.
  • The family withdraws from services.

In policy: Before closing a case, a safety assessment must be completed and documented within 14 days prior to closure. (If a judge orders the case closed, staff need to complete the safety assessment prior to case closure.) Note: A case cannot be closed if a danger indicator is present in the household.