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

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Safety Assessment

Citation: Soc. Serv. Law § 427-a; Code of Rules, Tit. 18, §§ 432.1; 432.13; CPS Pol. Man., Ch. 5, § E; Ch. 14, § N

For reports assigned to the family assessment and services track, the local department of social services (LDSS) shall be responsible for ensuring that the children are safe in their homes. The safety assessment shall be commenced within 24 hours of receipt of the report and completed within 7 days. Based on the initial safety assessment, the district shall determine if the report shall continue under the family assessment and services track. This safety assessment must be documented in the manner specified by the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS).

In regulation: Preliminary assessment of safety means an evaluation of safety factors to determine whether the child named in the report and any other children in the household may be in immediate danger of serious harm, and, if any child is assessed to be unsafe, undertaking immediate and appropriate interventions to protect the children.

In a family assessment response (FAR), there is an ongoing assessment of the safety of children without a determination of whether the report of alleged abuse or maltreatment should be indicated or unfounded. Reports are addressed by engaging the family in a comprehensive assessment of child safety, risk of subsequent harm, and family strengths and needs.

The initial 7-day safety assessment should be completed using the following guidelines:

  • Child protective services (CPS) conducts the initial safety assessment by assessing, with the family, the physical health and well-being of all the children in the family, the safety of the children's living conditions, and the existence of any other safety factors in the home. All children named in the report or living in the home must be seen, and all children who are developmentally capable should be engaged in the assessment process. The CPS worker applies the safety criteria designated by OCFS to determine if one or more safety factors place a child in immediate or impending danger and makes a decision regarding the child's safety status.
  • CPS may obtain information from collateral contacts including, but not limited to, hospitals, family medical providers, schools, police, social services agencies, other agencies providing services to the family, relatives, extended family members, neighbors, and other persons who may provide information on the status of the child's safety, should that information be needed to determine the presence of safety factors within the family. FAR staff should ask the parents/caretaker for their recommendations regarding collaterals who can supply this information and should not routinely make collateral contacts without first asking the family.

In policy: The term 'safety' refers to whether there is immediate or impending danger of serious harm to a child's life or health as a result of the actions or inactions of the child's parents, guardians, or persons legally responsible for the care of the child.

The decision to continue a family on a FAR track can only be made after the completion of the initial safety assessment. Unless case circumstances dictate otherwise, districts are strongly encouraged to use the full 7-day period to engage the family and obtain as much information as possible to decide about safety. Sources of information to complete a 7-day safety assessment must be documented and include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Contact with and observation of the children and discussion with the family
  • Discussion with the source and evaluation of information provided
  • Relevant information available from collateral contacts
  • Review of previous reports associated with one or more caretakers named in the current report

Safety Decisions and Safety Planning

Citation: Code of Rules Tit. 18, § 432.13; 432.2; CPS Pol. Man., Ch. 5, § E; Ch. 14, § N

To confirm the assignment of a CPS report to the FAR track, the initial safety assessment must contain a finding that no child in the home is in immediate or impending danger of serious harm.

For CPS reports that are assigned to the investigative track, risk assessment must be employed by the child protective service when key case decisions are made concerning a child named in the report, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Whether controlling interventions that would provide safety and protection to the children, including, but not limited to, intensive home-based preservation services or foster care placement, must be immediately instituted
  • Whether to keep an indicated case open for the provision of services after the determination of whether the report is indicated or unfounded is made
  • Which outcomes that are intended to facilitate behavior change and/or alter the conditions affecting a family should be developed
  • Whether there is a need to reassess a family's progress toward reducing the risk to children in the family
  • Whether an open child protective case may appropriately be closed

In policy: The LDSS must use the safety criteria designated by OCFS to determine if there are one or more safety factors that present an immediate or impending danger of serious harm to any child and make a decision regarding the children's safety status.

Possible safety decisions include the following:

  • One or more safety factors are present.
  • Any of the identified safety factors place the child in immediate or impending danger of serious harm.
  • There is a need to develop a safety plan to effectively remove the immediate or impending danger of serious harm to the child.

Only cases with the following safety decision ratings are eligible to continue the FAR track:

  • No safety factors were identified now. Based on currently available information, there are no children likely to be in immediate danger of serious harm. No safety plan and/or controlling interventions are necessary now.
  • Safety factors are present, but do not rise to the level of immediate or impending danger of serious harm. No safety plan and/or controlling interventions are necessary now. However, identified safety factors have been or will be addressed with the parent, caregiver, or person legally responsible for the child and reassessed.

Risk Assessment

Citation: Code of Rules Tit. 18, §§ 432.1; 432.13; CPS Pol. Man., Ch. 5, § E; Ch. 14, § N

The term 'risk assessment' means an evaluation of elements that pertain to and influence a subject of the report, other persons named in the report, and any other children in the household in order to assess the likelihood that such children named in the report or in the household will be abused or maltreated in the future.

In conducting a FAR, CPS must complete the Family-Led Assessment Guide (FLAG). FAR staff must engage the family in an examination of the issues that concern CPS as well as the family's strengths, concerns, and needs. The assessment must be conducted using FLAG, as specified by OCFS. The family-led assessment should be initiated as soon as possible after receipt of the CPS report, but no more than 30 days following receipt of the report. The assessment should be conducted in accordance with the principles and practices of FAR.

In policy: The term 'risk' refers to the probability that a child will be subjected to future abuse or maltreatment. The purpose of a risk assessment in FAR is to identify the family's need for services to decrease the likelihood of future abuse or maltreatment.

The LDSS is required to conduct ongoing, periodic risk assessments for all families participating in the FAR track. Risk is assessed in conversation with the family, including conversations about family history and current struggles. The LDSS observes family interactions and solicits and discusses the family's concerns. These discussions also should include children who are able to participate.

While the FLAG was designed to document family needs and strengths, the topics addressed in this tool are similar to those in risk assessment instruments, so the FLAG can be helpful in generating conversations about the potential for future maltreatment and how to reduce risk. The LDSS also should use other engagement tools, taught in FAR training, to help generate conversations with family members, including children.

The risk of future maltreatment and solutions to reduce that risk are a central focus of FAR work with a family, and risk is assessed in a manner congruent with the FAR philosophy. The FAR worker must complete at least one FLAG, which indicates that risk assessment has been addressed, and may complete more than one. The thorough exploration with the family of family functioning, strengths, and needs should be clearly documented in the case record to demonstrate the assessment of future risk. Contacts with parents must include an exploration of any safety and risk concerns.

A general assessment of the risk of future abuse or maltreatment must be completed for each FAR family. The FLAG is designed to help inform assessment discussions with the family by identifying risk and strengths. It is also instrumental in spurring discussion about planning with the family about what assistance or services might be helpful in reducing any identified risk and in supporting child well-being.

Family Strengths and Needs Assessment to Determine Service Needs

Citation: Soc. Serv. Law § 427-a; Code of Rules, Tit. 18, §§ 432.1; 432.13; CPS Pol. Man., Ch. 5, § E; Ch. 14, § N

When the LDSS has determined that a case is appropriate to be included in the family assessment and services track, LDSS activities shall include, at a minimum, the following:

  • An examination, with the family, of the family's strengths, concerns, and needs
  • Where appropriate, an offer of assistance that shall include case management that is supportive of family stabilization
  • The planning and provision of services responsive to the service needs of the family
  • An on-going joint evaluation and assessment of the family's progress, including ongoing, periodic assessments of risk to the child

In regulation: In a FAR, the family and CPS jointly participate in a comprehensive assessment of the family's strengths, concerns, and needs and plan for the provision of services that are responsive to the family's needs and promote family stabilization, for the purpose of reducing risks to children in the family.

The FLAG is a tool used in a FAR by all members of the family and CPS staff to jointly identify the family's individual and family strengths, needs, and concerns. The contents of the FLAG are specified by OCFS.

The FAR approach seeks to minimize future risk of abuse or maltreatment of a child or children by engaging the family in the development and implementation of solution-focused plans to address identified needs to support the family's ability to care for its children.

In policy: The concept of family-led assessment is fundamental to the entire FAR process. It begins upon first contact and spans through closure of a FAR case. The family-led process does not eliminate the need to point out and explore the presence of concerns identified by the LDSS with the family. Transparency, in this regard, is key to the FAR process.

There should be documentation in progress notes that demonstrates a family-led process. This includes, but is not limited to, the family's identification of the following:

  • Individual and family strengths
  • Individual needs and/or concerns as well as those of the family unit
  • Safety and risk concerns
  • Family-proposed solutions to family and county concerns
  • Sources of natural and/or informal support (e.g., extended family, friends, neighbors, or church community)
  • Sources of formal support (e.g., mental health services, educational support, employment services, or parenting education)

Documentation must demonstrate caseworker efforts to explore and elicit information pertaining to each of the following areas of the FLAG:

  • Family functioning, resources, and relationships (including areas of concern related to safety and risk, e.g., domestic violence or substance abuse)
  • Children's development, strengths, and needs
  • Caregiver's functioning, strengths, and needs
  • Caregiver's ability to advocate for child and family needs

Ongoing Assessment to Evaluate Progress on the Service Plan

Citation: Code of Rules Tit. 18, § 432.13; CPS Pol. Man., Ch. 5, § E; Ch. 14, § N

After completing the initial safety assessment, CPS remains responsible for continually monitoring the presence or emergence of safety threats throughout their work with the family, until the FAR case is closed.

In policy: After completing the initial, 7-day safety assessment, the LDSS is responsible for continually monitoring the safety of the children throughout their work with the family, until the FAR case is closed. To comply with this requirement, the LDSS must continue to assess child safety in each interaction with the family.

Multiple FLAGs can be completed. If a significant change takes place during the agency's involvement with the family, the FLAG should be revised, if it is still open. If the original FLAG has been finalized, then a new FLAG should be completed.

Assessment for Reunification and/or Case Closure

Citation: Code of Rules Tit. 18, §§ 432.13; 432.2

FAR is a short-term child protective service. The case should be closed if the family is assessed as providing adequate care for their children, the children are safe, and the family has no requests for services or supports. The decision to close a family assessment response case must be made in conjunction with the family, whenever possible.

When needs have been identified, the family should be given information about available community resources to meet those needs. To the extent possible, a FAR caseworker should be present with identified service providers and appropriate family members at their first meeting to facilitate a 'warm handoff' and introduce them.

If the FAR caseworker believes the family has unmet needs but the family declines additional services, and there is no current maltreatment or immediate danger of serious harm, the case must be closed.

The following timeframes apply to closing a FAR case:

  • A FAR case should usually be closed within 60 days.
  • Addressing family needs may necessitate keeping a FAR case open for up to 90 days. A case that remains open for more than 60 days should be kept open only for the specific purpose of assisting a family to meet specific needs.
  • If a family requires more assistance in meeting its needs than can be provided within 90 days, CPS will assess the family's eligibility for preventive services and, if the family is eligible and consents, open a preventive services case.
  • In extraordinary circumstances, a FAR case may be kept open for more than 90 days. When such an instance occurs, the following steps must be completed:
    • A FAR worker and supervisor must document in progress notes the reason for keeping the case open, including specific goals and steps to achieve those goals.
    • A FAR worker must make contact with the family no less than once every 2 weeks during the period past 90 days and must document each contact.

In considering closing a case, the CPS worker shall do the following:

  • Review events, correspondence, and summaries of conversations included in the family and children's case record
  • Review assessments of the family, including risk analyses, made by all service providers
  • Review the accomplishments made by the family in achieving the outcomes set forth in the family and children's service plan
  • Discuss with the family and children directly, or with other service providers, the family's response to the termination of protective services for children