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

Date: March 2021

Safety Assessment

Citation: CPS Handbook, § 2271; Safety & Risk Assessment Resource Guide

From the CPS Handbook: The caseworker assesses child safety during every contact with the family. At a minimum, the caseworker must do the following:

  • Interview all children who are victims or alleged victims of abuse or neglect
  • Interview all caregivers in the household

The caseworker also can get critical information from collaterals, such as professionals and relatives who have direct knowledge of or interaction with the family.

From the Resource Guide: The purpose of the safety assessment includes the following:

  • To help assess, at a point in time, whether any child is likely to be in immediate danger of serious harm or maltreatment, which requires a safety intervention
  • To determine what interventions should be initiated or maintained to provide appropriate protection

Safety assessment is a process that workers use during every contact with a family to help them organize and document their thinking about safety. Although the worker must assess safety during every contact, formal documentation of that assessment occurs at specific points during the case.

For the safety assessment, the worker must assess all household members, including everyone who has significant in-home contact with the child. Each household should have one, and only one, initial assessment. This should be completed during the first face-to-face contact with a household where there are allegations.

The safety assessment includes the following sections:

  • Factors influencing child vulnerability: These factors, including the child's age, physical and mental health, and access to a support network, can influence the child's vulnerability to harm. Vulnerability issues provide a context for assessing the impact of the dangers.
  • Current danger indicators: This is a list of critical indicators that must be assessed by every worker in every case. These indicators cover the kinds of conditions that, if they exist, would render a child in danger of immediate harm.
  • Household strengths and protective actions. This section is completed only if one or more danger indicators were identified and can be described as follows:
    • Household strengths are resources and conditions that increase the likelihood or ability to create safety for a child but do not in and of themselves fully address the danger indicator.
    • Protective actions are specific actions and/or activities that have been taken by the caregiver that directly address the danger indicator and are demonstrated over time. They also can include actions taken by the child in some circumstances.

Safety Decisions and Safety Planning

Citation: Safety & Risk Assessment Resource Guide

For each identified danger indicator, the worker reviews available household strengths and protective actions. Considering the household strengths and protective actions, the worker will consider whether safety interventions will allow the child to remain in the home for the present time. A completed safety plan is required to systematically describe interventions and facilitate follow-through.

Possible family safety interventions include any of the following:

  • Worker-initiated intervention or direct services are provided by the worker.
  • Family, neighbors, or other individuals in the community are used as safety network members.
  • Community agencies or services are used.
  • A protective caregiver will take actions to keep the child victim from the alleged perpetrator's dangerous behavior.
  • The alleged perpetrator will leave or has left the home.
  • A protective caregiver will move or has moved to a safe environment with the child.
  • Family-initiated legal action is planned or initiated. The child remains in the home.
  • The child will temporarily reside with a parental child safety placement (PCSP) caregiver identified by the family, with the worker monitoring.
  • The child is removed from the household when other interventions do not adequately ensure the child's safety.

A safety decision is identified based on the assessment of all danger indicators, safety interventions, and any other information known about the case. One of the following responses must be selected:

  • Safe: No danger indicators identified; no safety plan is needed at this time.
  • Safe with plan: One or more danger indicators are present; a safety plan is required.
  • Unsafe: One or more danger indicators are present; emergency or nonemergency removal is necessary.

A safety plan is used only when there is a specific threat to a child in the immediate or foreseeable future. The plan must be created with the family; must be written in practical, action-oriented language; and must emphasize the family's network of support. The safety plan includes the following elements:

  • The specific situation or action that causes the child to be unsafe
  • The actions that need to be taken right now to keep the child safe
  • The person responsible for ensuring that the actions are taken
  • Timeframe for completing the actions

The safety planning process requirements include the following:

  • The safety plan must include at least one additional person aside from the alleged perpetrator.
  • Over time, the safety plan should be reviewed at least every 30 days or as needed.
  • The responsibility of providing for the child's safety should be transferred back to the caregiver, substituting the family's informal supports for formal and agency-provided supports as the caregiver's ability is developed or better understood.
  • Each safety plan should be feasible and effective, meaning that the worker has confidence it will be completed as planned and that it will successfully provide for the child's safety.
  • Each safety plan also should employ the skills of the caregiver and family.

Risk Assessment

Citation: CPS Handbook, § 2272; Safety & Risk Assessment Resource Guide

The caseworker begins the risk assessment tool as soon as possible after meeting with the family for the following purposes:

  • To identify any concerns of risk
  • To provide the family with services or referrals to address the concerns

The caseworker must recommend transfer of the case to family-based safety services (FBSS) if both of the following apply:

  • The risk assessment tool determines that the risk level is 'high' or 'very high.'
  • The child protection agency has not removed the child from the home.

The caseworker is not required to recommend transfer of the case to FBSS if one of the following exceptions applies:

  • The family has an active support network, is receiving community services that directly address their needs, or a combination of these.
  • The family declined FBSS services, and no legal intervention is possible.
  • The family is already receiving FBSS services.

From the Resource Guide: The risk assessment identifies families who have very high, high, moderate, or low probabilities of abusing or neglecting their children in the future. By completing the risk assessment, the worker obtains an objective assessment of the likelihood that a family will maltreat their child in the next 12 to 18 months. Differences between the risk levels are substantial. High-risk families have significantly higher rates of subsequent referral and validation than low-risk families, and they are more often involved in serious abuse or neglect incidents.

The worker must complete the risk assessment by the conclusion of the investigation, after the safety assessment has been completed. The risk assessment must be completed prior to any decision to open a case for ongoing services or closure of the referral with no additional services.

Households with a high or very high final risk level should be opened for services. All cases with a final risk level of low or moderate should be closed following completion of the investigation unless danger indicators have been identified in the safety assessment.

One important result of the research is that the same set of criteria should not be used to assess the risk of both abuse and neglect because different family dynamics are present in abuse and neglect situations. Hence, different sets of criteria are used to assess the future probability of abuse or neglect, although all items are completed for every family under investigation for child maltreatment.

The scored risk level is determined by answering all questions on the assessment, regardless of the type of allegations, totaling the score in the neglect and abuse columns and taking the highest score from the abuse and neglect scores.

Low- and moderate-risk cases will be opened for ongoing services in some situations. Specifically, if any unresolved danger indicators remain at the end of the investigation and the safety assessment is 'safe with a plan' or 'unsafe' at that time, an ongoing case should be opened to provide services that address child safety and assess needs that may contribute to the parent or caregiver's ability to care for and protect his or her child.

Family Strengths and Needs Assessment to Determine Service Needs

Citation: CPS Handbook, § 2275; Safety & Risk Assessment Resource Guide

The caseworker refers a family to community resources or services whenever the caseworker determines that such resources or services will do any of the following:

  • Reduce danger to a child
  • Reduce a child's vulnerability
  • Support actions to protect a child

From the Resource Guide: Household strengths are resources and conditions that increase the likelihood or ability to create safety for a child, but in and of themselves do not fully address the danger indicator. Protective actions are specific actions and/or activities that have been taken by the caregiver that directly address the danger indicator and are demonstrated over time. These factors should be assessed, considered, and included when building a safety plan to mitigate the danger indicators. The caseworker must evaluate whether household strengths and protective actions apply to at least one caregiver and at least one child in the household, as follows:

  • Caregiver problem solving:
    • At least one caregiver identifies and acknowledges the problem/danger indicator(s) and suggests possible solutions.
    • At least one caregiver articulates specific strategies that, in the past, have been at least partially successful in mitigating the identified danger indicators, and the caregiver has used or could use these strategies in the current situation.
  • Caregiver support network:
    • At least one caregiver has at least one supportive relationship with someone who is willing to be a part of his or her support network.
    • At least one protective caregiver exists and is willing and able to protect the child from future harm.
    • At least one caregiver is willing to work with DFPS to alleviate danger indicators, including allowing caseworkers access to the child.
    • At least one caregiver has a stable support network that is aware of the danger indicators, has been responding or is responding to these indicators, and is willing to provide protection for the child.
  • Child problem solving:
    • At least one child is emotionally or intellectually capable of acting to protect him- or herself from a danger indicator.
    • At least one child, in the past or currently, acts in ways that protect him- or herself from a danger indicator.
  • Child support network:
    • At least one child is aware of his or her support network members and knows how to contact these individuals when needed.
    • At least one child has successfully pursued support, in the past or currently, from a member of his or her support network, and that person was able to help address the danger and keep the child safe.

Ongoing Assessment to Evaluate Progress on the Service Plan

Citation: CPS Handbook, §§ 2271.2; 2274

The caseworker completes the safety reassessment tool at the following times:

  • Before a child returns home from a parental child safety placement
  • Within 24 hours of learning of any situation that may put the child's safety in jeopardy, including any situation that would change any of the following elements related to the safety assessment:
    • Danger indicators
    • Safety interventions
    • Safety plan
    • Safety decision
  • Before transferring an investigation to FBSS if the last safety assessment tool was completed more than 45 days ago, unless all the following applies:
    • The FBSS caseworker has already been working with the family and knows that the child is safe.
    • There have been no changes that might affect child safety.
    • All participants in the safety plan agree that the safety plan is working.

The caseworker's primary responsibility during each investigation is to determine whether the child is safe from abuse or neglect. The caseworker must continually assess safety during the investigation to determine if any child is in danger. If the caseworker is concerned about the child's safety for any reason (such as due to the family's current situation, history, or ability to keep the child safe from danger), the caseworker must immediately take the following actions:

  • Reassess safety in the home
  • Take steps to ensure the child is protected from harm

Assessment for Reunification and/or Case Closure

Citation: CPS Handbook, § 2271.3

The caseworker completes the closure safety assessment tool before closing an investigation if both of the following apply:

  • The family will not receive ongoing services from FBSS or the conservatorship program.
  • One of the following applies:
    • The most recent safety finding was 'safe,' but more than 45 days have passed since the last safety assessment was completed.
    • The most recent safety finding was 'unsafe' or 'safe with a plan.'

A closure safety assessment is not required if either of the following applies:

  • The child protection agency cannot locate the family.
  • The family is uncooperative, and legal intervention is not possible.