The Use of Safety and Risk Assessment in Child Protection Cases - South Carolina

Date: March 2021

Safety Assessment

Citation: Pol. & Proc. Man. §§ 719; 719.02

From the policy manual: The purpose of the assessment includes efforts to identify safety concerns and ensure both the immediate safety and the safety throughout the investigation/assessment of all children in the household and under the control of the alleged perpetrator and to plan for agency service intervention.

The caseworker must complete the assessment on the child, parent, family, and environmental factors by doing the following:

  • Reviewing all written information, records, and documents
  • Contacting the family to inform them of the assessment, its purpose, and how it will be completed
  • Interviewing every involved member of the immediate family, including any sibling in out-of-home placement
  • Interviewing and observing the family together, particularly observing children under age 3 for developmental delays
  • Interviewing extended family and other significant individuals as appropriate

To adequately assess the safety to the child and the degree of intervention necessary for protection of the child, the caseworker must consider the following:

  • The danger to the child
  • The child's vulnerability
  • The parent's protective capacities
  • Parent behaviors that are out of control
  • The availability of another responsible adult to protect the child during the investigation

For children belonging to federally recognized Native American nations or Tribes, this will include members of the nation or Tribe, as designated by the nation or Tribe.

Safety Decisions and Safety Planning

Citation: Pol. & Proc. Man. § 719.02

A safety plan is a specific and concrete strategy for controlling threats of imminent harm to a child and/or supplementing protective capacities of parents. The safety plan is implemented immediately when parents' protective capacities are not sufficient to manage immediate safety threats during the completion of the investigation. A safety plan is a short-term solution to ensure the child's safety and is not intended to remain in place past the immediate safety threat or 90 days from the initiation of the safety plan. The safety plan is created in an effort to provide reasonable adult supervision and provide for the safety of the child and to allow the child, when possible, to remain in their home or the home of a relative or friend during the completion of the investigation.

Once the decision is made that child's imminent safety is in question, a safety plan is immediately developed and implemented or the Department of Social Services (DSS) must take action to secure emergency custody of the child. A safety plan is not necessary for every investigation of reported child abuse and/or neglect, only those where threats of safety are identified that are immediate or when serious harm has occurred to the child, the parents' behaviors are out of control, or their parental capacity is such that they cannot protect the child from further harm. The safety issue may be identified at the initial contact or at any point during the investigation.

The safety plan must include the following items:

  • The specific present or impending harmful/dangerous behaviors to be controlled
  • The parents' willingness to cooperate
  • Contact information for the child protector
  • A description of the protective actions that will control the threats
  • Any special skills or knowledge the child protector needs to know regarding the child's care (e.g., medical conditions or behavioral issues)
  • Visitation/contact with the birth parent if the child is in relative's home or if the perpetrator leaves the home
  • Oversight/ monitoring by DSS to ensure compliance

The types of safety plans include the following:

  • In-home safety plan:
    • The child remains in the home and a perpetrator, if one parent, leaves the residence, allowing the nonoffending parent and the child protector to live in the home with the child. In this situation, the safety plan must provide the name of a child protector, other than the nonoffending parent, who will ensure compliance with the perpetrator leaving the home or will contact DSS if the perpetrator returns during the investigation.
    • A third-party child protector (e.g., grandmother, aunt, or friend) moves into the home of the child during the investigation to prevent the child from having to leave their home. An example is the child protector is in the home to ensure an adult with protective capacities is available to supervise and care for the children.
  • Out-of-home safety plan:
    • The child and parent move into the home of another relative or friend who will act as the child protector during the investigation.
    • The child is moved to a relative or fictive kin, without the parent, during the investigation.

The safety plan should employ the least restrictive (least disruptive to the children) strategies possible while providing for the child's safety.

Risk Assessment

Citation: Pol. & Proc. Man. §§ 719; 710

The purpose of the assessment includes determining the future risk of maltreatment. To assess for safety or high-risk factors, the DSS Child Safety Assessment and Comprehensive Risk Assessment tools must be initiated for every family referred to DSS within 2 working days of the first face-to-face contact with the family (this includes all caretakers and all children in the family home). The assessment must be completed within 30 calendar days of the initial face-to-face contact with the family to better determine the level of risk that exists and appropriate services to assist family. The assessment tools must be updated in 3 months.

Family Strengths and Needs Assessment to Determine Service Needs

Citation: Pol. & Proc. Man. § 730

The purpose of the family assessment is to ensure the ongoing safety of all children in the home of the alleged victim and/or under the control of the alleged perpetrator and to assist the family in identifying risk factors and underlying causes of behavior that contributed to the abuse and/or neglect. The family assessment includes the following elements:

  • It is an in-depth study of the family's current situation and history.
  • It is individualized for each family member.
  • It focuses on better understanding the reasons that the family is functioning in ways that contribute to their child being unsafe and on strengths and needs for individuals and the family group.
  • It determines resources within the family.
  • It is geared toward development of ongoing plan and delivery of services.

A family assessment must be completed even if child has been diverted to a relative under a safety plan. Family assessments must include all family members if they are accessible and do not pose a threat to other family members.

Ongoing Assessment to Evaluate Progress on the Service Plan

Citation: Pol. & Proc. Man. § 719.02

As the caseworker completes a full assessment of the family and allegations of abuse or neglect, the safety plan can and should be modified whenever necessary. This may occur for many reasons as a result of changes in the situation, including because the plan has been proven to be insufficient or because a less restrictive safety plan may now be appropriate.

The caseworker will monitor weekly for the compliance with the safety plan by all parties. If a family team meeting did not successfully gain the support of extended family members to assist in monitoring the safety plan, the caseworker must increase their frequency of unannounced visits and other professional contacts such as school or day care providers to ensure the child is safe during the investigation.

Assessment for Reunification and/or Case Closure

Citation: Pol. & Proc. Man. § 730

The caseworker may consider a case for closure when the plan has been achieved, desired outcomes reached, and there is little to no risk to the child. The caseworker must complete a safety assessment and a reassessment of risk using the Family Centered Risk Assessment and Case Planning tool to determine if the child is now safe and if the likelihood of future maltreatment has been reduced. Case closure requires that the parental behaviors that led to the child being unsafe have been changed and the agency can articulate the reasons that support the belief that the child is now safe in the parent's care. This requires intensive planning, cooperation, and communication between DSS, the family, and treatment providers.

To close a CPS treatment case with the child in the home when parents have been abusing, are dependent on alcohol and other drugs, and/or when any other factors such as domestic violence or mental health problems have caused the child to be unsafe, there must be documentation in the agency record of either of the following:

  • The parent in question must be involved in a treatment program designed to change the behaviors that made the child unsafe, and the following are true:
    • The parent has demonstrated significant progress on the treatment plan goals.
    • There is a second person in the home who is the protective caregiver.
    • DSS case consultation has taken place with the treatment providers.
    • Sufficient changes in behavior have been made that eliminate the safety threats and reduce risk of future harm.
  • The parent has completed treatment, and the following are true:
    • The caregiver has demonstrated observable behavioral changes in their ability to keep the child safe.
    • DSS case consultation has taken place with specific treatment providers.
    • Sufficient changes in behavior have been made that eliminate the safety threats and reduce risk of future harm.