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

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Safety Assessment

Citation: DCS Pol. Man., Ch. 14, FAST Protocol; FAST Tool

From the protocol: The purpose of the Family Advocacy and Support Tool (FAST) is to help identify safety concerns, underlying risks, needs and strengths of families involved with the Department of Children's Services (DCS). The FAST assesses the family unit to determine child safety, identify risks and needs, and assist workers in identifying protective factors. All children and caregivers in the household, regardless of age, are included in the FAST assessment.

The FAST is completed by gathering information from multiple sources including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Interviews with the children and family
  • Observations
  • Records checks
  • Collateral and/or witness interviews or reports
  • Evaluations
  • Medical records
  • Educational records
  • Pictorial tools (e.g., genogram, timeline, family map, photographs)
  • Other assessment tools

The safety assessment component is comprised of 16 items of the FAST. These 16 items focus on immediate safety for the child and once addressed, will recommend if immediate intervention may be needed. The outcome to the safety assessment is designed to be used as a decision-making tool to support planning and/or protective measures implemented for the children. The 16 items included in the safety assessment include the following:

  • The family situation, including the following:
    • The physical condition of the home
    • Home maintenance
    • Family conflict
    • Family safety
    • Caregiver characteristics, including the following:
      • Developmental status
      • Mental health
      • Substance use
      • Criminal activity
      • Supervision of the child
      • Discipline practices
      • Involvement in caregiving functions
      • Knowledge of youth and family needs
    • Youth characteristics, including the following:
      • Sexual abuse status
      • Physical abuse status
      • Emotional abuse
      • Neglect

From the FAST Tool: There are four levels of rating for each item with specific anchored definitions. Each FAST rating suggests different pathways for service planning. These item level definitions, however, are designed to translate into the following action levels:

  • 0: No evidence of need; this may also indicate a strength. No action is needed; strength can be leveraged in a service/treatment plan.
  • 1: Significant history or possible need that is not interfering with functioning; this may be an opportunity for strength building. Watchful waiting, prevention, or additional assessment is advised.
  • 2: Need interferes with functioning. Action/intervention is required.
  • 3: Need is dangerous or disabling. Immediate action/Intensive action is required.

Items identified as a '0' are often strengths that can be used in strength-based planning. Items rated a '1' should be monitored and preventive efforts might be indicated. Items rated a '2' or '3' are 'actionable' and should be addressed in the intervention plan.

Safety Decisions and Safety Planning

Citation: DCS Pol. Man., Ch. 14, FAST Protocol

Based on the ratings given in each section, the safety assessment will result in one of two outcomes: 'immediate intervention recommended' or 'immediate intervention not recommended.' The worker will consider the outcome and, if necessary, address protective factors or safety concerns requiring intervention within the justification sections of the assessment tool. Each item of the safety assessment that is rated as a 2 or 3 requires a justification. The exception is home maintenance, which will require a justification regardless of the rating.

Risk Assessment

Citation: DCS Pol. Man., Ch. 14, FAST Protocol

The risk and service need assessment component of the FAST is comprised of 15 items. These items identify strengths, risks, needs, and possible service planning for the child and family. Once the 15 items are rated, the worker will be provided a level of risk associated with the family. This outcome will assist the worker in the type of service provision needed. The outcome to the risk and service need assessment is designed to be used as a decision-making tool to support plans or services identified for the child and family.

The risk and service need assessment include the following elements:

  • The family situation, including the following:
    • Financial resources
    • Residential stability
    • Natural supports
    • Resiliency
  • Caregiver characteristics, including the following:
    • Adjustments to any trauma experience
    • Physical health
  • Youth characteristics, including the following:
    • Traumatic grief
    • Witness to family, school, or community violence
    • Relationship with primary caregiver
    • Education
    • Physical health
    • Developmental status
    • Mental health
    • Substance use
    • Engagement in high-risk behavior
    • Runaway status

Family Strengths and Needs Assessment to Determine Service Needs

Citation: Ann. Code § 37-5-604(d); DCS Pol. Man., Ch. 14, FAST Protocol

Upon completion of the assessment of the child and family, DCS shall consult with the family about available community-based public or private services to address the family's needs. When appropriate, families shall be offered services through DCS, other public agencies, or community-based private agencies, which may include faith-based organizations, to promote meeting the needs of the family.

In policy: After evaluating child safety, risks, needs, the FAST then guides the case manager in identifying any needed planning and/or service provision. The initial FAST should be completed prior to or during any child and family team meetings to assist with this service planning.

Based on the ratings given in each section, the risk and service needs assessment will result in one of four service intensity levels, as follows:

  • No service intensity: Services are not recommended, and the caseworker will continue to complete required tasks for case closure.
  • Low service intensity: The caseworker may proceed to case tasks or closure contingent on supervisor approval and no new safety or risk concerns.
  • Moderate service intensity: The caseworker may initiate referrals for appropriate services that have been identified for any family member's needs. If services are initiated, a plan should address the identified items from the assessment that led to the outcome (items rated 2 or 3). A case conference with the supervisor should be held to assess progress and to ensure identified needs are being addressed. If the caseworker proceeds without initiating services, the supervisor will review and determine if the decision is appropriate or will advise for additional needs of the family.
  • High service intensity: The caseworker may initiate immediate referrals for appropriate services that have been identified for any family member's needs. A plan should be created to address the identified items that scored 2 or 3. A case conference with the supervisor should be held to assess progress and to ensure identified needs are being addressed. Case closure is not likely to occur until identified services have been put in place and progress can be observed.

Ongoing Assessment to Evaluate Progress on the Service Plan

Citation: DCS Pol. Man., Ch. 14, FAST Protocol

The FAST should be reassessed throughout the life of the case to evaluate implemented services and adjust, as necessary, to affect the desired change.

FAST reassessments shall be completed as follows:

  • For CPS investigations, a reassessment of the FAST will be completed at case transfer or closure, unless the previous FAST assessment was completed within the last 30 calendar days. A reassessment of the FAST also may occur at any time during the life of the case to indicate a change in safety, risk, trauma, or service need.
  • For CPS assessments, a reassessment of the FAST will be completed at a minimum every 90 calendar days and/or at case closure (unless a previous FAST was completed within 30 calendar days of closure) to track progress and service efficacy. If the case is being transferred, an updated reassessment will be completed unless the previous FAST was within 30 days of the transfer. A reassessment of the FAST also may occur at any time during the life of the case to indicate a change in safety, risk, trauma. or service need.
  • For all noncustodial cases (i.e., the child is not in DCS custody), caseworkers will reassess the FAST at a minimum of every 90 calendar days following the date of the last FAST completed during the noncustodial case and/or at case closure. A reassessment of the FAST also may occur at any time during the life of the case to indicate a change in safety, risk, trauma, or service need.

Assessment for Reunification and/or Case Closure

Citation: DCS Pol. Man., Ch. 14, FAST Protocol

A reassessment of the FAST will be completed at case closure.