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

Date: March 2021

Safety Assessment

Citation: Child & Fam. Serv. Man. §§ 607-05-35-10; 607-05-70-30

From the manual: At the onset of the Child Protective Services (CPS) assessment or at any point of child welfare agency involvement with families when there is a reported crisis or a new report, the CPS worker or case manager will begin a safety assessment by focusing on whether there are present danger threats to a vulnerable child's safety.

Present danger threats are the primary basis for assessing child safety at the onset of the initial CPS assessment. While it is possible to begin gathering information at first contact with families that may reveal indications of impending danger (e.g., prior involvement at either CPS assessment or during case management), typically impending danger can only be identified through the collection of information about the family/family member functioning.

The CPS worker or case manager completes a Present Danger Assessment at critical points identified within this section. Present danger threats are usually identified at initial contact by a CPS worker, but may also occur during the CPS assessment or while the family is receiving case management services.

CPS must assess and evaluate the family and home situation to determine whether a child is in present danger at the following critical points:

  • Information gathering and triage at CPS intake
  • Making the initial face-to-face contact with the child
  • Making the initial face-to-face contact with the parents/caregivers

The 'danger threshold' refers to the point at which family behaviors, conditions, or situations rise to the level of directly threatening the safety of a child. The danger threshold criteria include family behaviors, conditions or situations that are observable, specific, and justifiable; occurring in the presence of a vulnerable child; out-of-control; severe/extreme in nature; imminent; and likely to produce severe harm. This includes situations in which the parent/caregiver is able to control conditions, behaviors, or situations but is unwilling or refuses to exert control.

Impending danger is the belief that dangerous family behaviors, conditions, or situations will remain active or become active within the next several days to a couple of weeks and will have an impact on the child within that timeframe.

To determine if a child is in impending danger, information is gathered around the following 14 distinct impending danger threats:

  • Living arrangements seriously endanger the physical health of the child.
  • One or both parents intended to seriously hurt the child and do not show remorse.
  • One or both parents cannot or do not explain the child's injuries and/or conditions.
  • The child is profoundly fearful of the home situation or people within the home.
  • One or both parents are violent (including domestic violence).
  • One or both parents' emotional stability, development, mental status, or cognitive deficiency seriously impairs their ability to care for the child.
  • One or both parents' behavior is dangerously impulsive, or they will not/cannot control their behavior.
  • The family does not have or use resources necessary to ensure the child's basic needs.
  • No adult in the home will perform parental duties and responsibilities.
  • One or both parents have extremely unrealistic expectations or extremely negative perceptions of the child.
  • One or both parents fear they will maltreat the child and/or request placement.
  • One or both parents lack parenting knowledge, skills, and/or motivation necessary to ensure the child's basic needs are met.
  • The child has exceptional needs that the parents cannot or will not meet.

Safety Decisions and Safety Planning

Citation: Child & Fam. Serv. Man. §§ 607-05-35-25; 640-01-10-30; 640-01-10-35

If impending danger threats are identified, then a child may be unsafe. The safety determination analysis must be completed to determine whether a child is safe or unsafe through the following:

  • Identifying how impending danger threats are occurring in this family
  • Assessing the parent's ability and capacity to provide protection

In most situations, the same day a child has been determined to be unsafe, the CPS worker must develop and put in to place a safety plan to control danger to child safety. That present danger plan remains in place until such time as the safety plan is fully established.

If the CPS assessment indicates that a child may be unsafe, a safety determination analysis is completed to further examine specifically how the impending danger identified in the CPS assessment is occurring in a family and evaluate the capacity of the parents to ensure child safety. A child is unsafe when the safety determination analysis concludes that the protective capacities of the parent are insufficient to manage or mitigate impending danger and ensure protection.

If a child is unsafe, a determination needs to be made regarding the degree of intrusion required to control and manage impending danger threats, including the need for an in-home safety plan, an out-of-home safety plan, or a safety plan that combines in-home and out-of-home options.

A safety plan is only required when a child is determined to be in impending danger.

A safety plan is a written arrangement between parents and CPS that establishes how impending danger threats will be managed. The safety plan is implemented and remains active if impending danger threats exist and parent protective capacities are insufficient to ensure a child is protected.

The safety plan must describe in detail the following:

  • The specific impending danger threats
  • The safety services that will be used to manage impending danger threats
  • The names of formal and informal providers that will provide safety services
  • The roles and responsibilities of the safety services providers, including a description of the availability, accessibility, and suitability of those involved
  • The action/services needed, including frequency and duration
  • How CPS will manage/oversee the safety plan, including communication with the family and providers

CPS should consider the least intrusive means possible to control impending danger and involve the parents in a discussion about the results of the safety analysis and the need for a safety plan. CPS should inform parents about their rights related to accepting and cooperating with the safety plan as well as any alternatives or consequences.

Risk Assessment

Citation: Guide for Assessments of Safety, Strength, and Risk

From the guide: A child safety concern is a specific family situation or behavior, emotion, motive, perception, or capacity of a family member that is likely to have severe effects or result in imminent harm on a vulnerable child, is out-of-control, is specific and observable, and is happening now or is certain to happen in the present or near future.

Risk of future child maltreatment is the likelihood for parenting behavior, conditions, situations, beliefs, or perceptions to be harmful and destructive to a child's cognitive, social, emotional, and/or physical development.

The Family Assessment Instrument is designed to provide child welfare staff with an assessment instrument that requires the documentation of specific factors. These factors provide the basis for assessing safety and the risk of future child maltreatment, while noting the strengths of the family.

The following 21 identified factors were selected as areas that provide information on child safety, family strengths, and risk of future maltreatment. These 21 factors are grouped into child factors, maltreatment factors, and family/caregiver factors, as follows:

  • The child's ability to protect and care for self
  • The child's mental health, including stress level, mental coping ability, and resiliency
  • The child's behavior
  • The severity and/or frequency of abuse
  • The severity and/or frequency of neglect
  • The location of any injury
  • The condition of the home, including the yard and immediate neighborhood
  • The caregiver's alcohol and drug use
  • The caregiver's parenting skills
  • The caregiver's methods of discipline and punishment of the child
  • The caregiver's supervision of children under age 10
  • The caregiver's level of cooperation
  • The caregiver's ability to problem-solve and access services
  • The strength of the family system, including family functioning
  • The strength of family support systems
  • The family's income and financial resources
  • Previous history of abuse and/or neglect
  • The caregiver's physical, intellectual, and emotional abilities
  • The caregiver's anti-social, violent, or criminal activity, including domestic violence
  • The subject's access to the child
  • The presence of any parent substitute, including any 'significant other' of the parent, a stepparent, or grandparents

Family Strengths and Needs Assessment to Determine Service Needs

Citation: Guide for Assessments of Safety, Strength, and Risk

The term 'family strengths' refers to family/caregiver capacities, supports, resources, values, and coping strategies that are used to ensure a child's safety and/or to reduce risk of future maltreatment or to prevent child maltreatment.

The term 'strengths' refer to the set of relationships and processes that support and protect families and family members, especially during times of adversity and change. Family strengths help maintain family cohesion while also supporting the development and well-being of individual family members.

The Family Assessment Instrument is used to determine the strengths of the family that, along with any necessary service intervention, may be the key to amelioration of child maltreatment in a particular family.

Ongoing Assessment to Evaluate Progress on the Service Plan

Citation: Child & Fam. Serv. Man. §§ 607-05-35-45; 607-05-70-30

The Protective Capacities Progress Assessment (PCPA) is an ongoing comprehensive assessment process that utilizes specific criteria to evaluate progress toward case plan goals. The PCPA assesses the following two major areas to evaluate parent/caregiver progress toward enhancing protective capacities:

  • Specific indicators of change
  • Parent/caregiver readiness to change

The PCPA consists of information collection that occurs during change-focused contacts and/or any meaningful contact with the family, the child and family team, service providers, and safety service providers. The PCPA analyzes measurement of progress toward the achievement of case plan goals and changes in behaviors and conditions. The case manager and supervisor should consult to confirm objectives and strategies prior to each assessment to strategize how to best engage the family and effectively facilitate change.

The PCPA conversations should be change-focused and consist of the following:

  • Identifying what progress parents have made toward enhancing protective capacities
  • Assessing the parent's motivational readiness by monitoring changes in behaviors and conditions
  • Reassessing the child well-being indicators to determine whether the child's needs have changed and/or require direct, ongoing, or formal services as part of the case plan
  • Reviewing the safety determination analysis questions to review sufficiency of the treatment plan and whether intervention that is more or less intrusive is required to control the danger

The PCPA process is required until case closure.

As part of monitoring an in-home or out-of-home safety plan, the case manager must conduct a case progress evaluation every 90 days after the initiation of the case plan to evaluate the effectiveness of the case plan and measure progress and change. The PCPA will be completed at the first child and family team meeting following development of the case plan and reviewed and updated at every subsequent child and family team meeting.

The goals in the case plan are used as the basis for evaluating progress and change in enhancing parent protective capacities related to impending danger threats. When the PCPA indicates that the goals and/or tasks/change strategies need to be modified due to changes in parent capacities or threats to safety, the case manager, in collaboration with parents and the child and family team, must revise the case plan or create a new case plan within the PCPA.

Impending danger threats must be assessed at these times in the life of a case:

  • At the conclusion of the CPS assessment
  • At changes in the home situation
  • Upon receipt of a new report of suspected maltreatment
  • When completing the protective capacities progress assessment
  • Prior to reunification
  • Prior to disengaging an in-home safety plan
  • Prior to closing a case

Assessment for Reunification and/or Case Closure

Citation: Child & Fam. Serv. Man. §§ 607-05-35-55; 607-05-35-60

Reunification represents a specific event within child welfare safety management. It is possible to reunify after parents have made progress related to addressing issues associated with safety threats and parent protective capacities.

Prior to a child being reunified, the following safety criteria must be met:

  • The child can safely be maintained within the child's home.
  • The circumstances and behavior that resulted in removal can now be managed through an in-home safety plan.
  • A judgment can be made that an in-home safety plan can be sustained while services continue.

When the results of the PCPA indicate that diminished parent protective capacities are sufficiently enhanced to manage threats to child safety, the child welfare agency initiates the process to reunify the child with his or her family. As part of this process, the case manager must do the following:

  • Conduct the safety plan determination within the PCPA, which includes a safety assessment and analysis, before completing the reunification process
  • When a child is unsafe, create an in-home safety plan to be implemented when the child is reunified

When the family has made significant progress in achieving the expected outcomes of the case, child safety is being sustained in the child's home and/or the safety threats have been eliminated or mitigated, and the child's safety can be sustained without the ongoing intervention of safety service providers, the case is nearing closure. The case manager continues to be responsible for managing child safety until the case is closed.

Prior to closing the case the case manager must do the following:

  • Increase the frequency of contact with the family whenever possible
  • Observe firsthand the changed behaviors, conditions, or circumstances in the family and the changes in parent protective capacities
  • Review the progress the family has achieved, as reported and documented in written reports by service providers
  • Review the progress the family has achieved, as reported by child and family team participants
  • Interview the parents to determine their understanding of ensuring child safety and their ability to sustain safety over time
  • Interview and observe the child to determine whether the child remains safe in the home
  • Confirm that the identified safety threats that occurred at the beginning of the case are no longer occurring or are consistently managed by the parents
  • Confirm that the parents have developed a plan and identified resources to manage child safety over time (e.g., the family has a plan if there is a relapse in alcohol use or the primary parent becomes ill or loses a job)
  • Confirm that the parents understand and accept responsibility to care for and keep the child safe over time

The requirements to end an in-home safety plan are confirmation that the child is safe through the following:

  • Case manager observations of the child and the parents in the home
  • Receipt of evaluations and reports from service providers
  • Reports from participants in the safety plan
  • Measured progress on the extent the expected outcomes have been achieved
  • The reduction or elimination of a safety threat
  • Consultation with others who may be participating with the family to sustain child safety

The case manager should work with the family to ensure formal and informal supports are in place prior to case closure. These supports include arrangements and connections within the family network or community that can be created, facilitated, or reinforced to provide the parent resources and assistance once agency involvement ends.