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

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Safety Assessment

Citation: Pol. & Proc. Man. § 1120

In policy: A safety assessment is based on comprehensive information gathering and is used to identify safety threats and determine when a child is safe or unsafe throughout the life of a case.

Child safety will be determined by gathering and assessing comprehensive information about a family's behaviors, functioning, and conditions. A safety assessment will be completed at key decision points in a case to determine if safety threats exist and whether a safety plan can be developed with families to control or manage the identified threats.

The caseworker must do the following:

  • Complete and document a safety assessment at the following key points in a case:
    • On all screened in Child Protective Services (CPS) intakes (including new intakes on active cases) no later than 30 calendar days from date of intake
    • During the completion of the comprehensive family evaluation
  • Determine if the child is safe or unsafe by doing the following:
    • Gathering and assessing information through a review of child welfare history that includes prior intakes, service interventions, interviews, and observations
    • Verifying information through source documents and contacts with collaterals. Information collected will include, but is not limited to the following:
      • Nature and extent of the maltreatment
      • Sequence of events that accompany the maltreatment
      • Child functioning on a daily basis
      • Parental disciplinary practices
      • General parenting practices
      • Adult functioning
    • Considering and evaluating each potential safety threat using the Safety Threshold Guide criteria to determine if safety threats exist

Safety Decisions and Safety Planning

Citation: Pol. & Proc. Man. §§ 1120; 1130

When a child is identified as unsafe, the safety plan analysis must be used to determine if an in-home safety plan can manage or control the safety threats or if out-of-home placement is necessary.

A safety plan is a written agreement between the family and Children's Administration (CA) that identifies how safety threats to a child will be immediately controlled and managed in the child's home. Safety plans are effective as long a threat to a child's safety exists and the caregiver's protective capacities are insufficient to protect the child.

Safety plans will be developed to do the following:

  • Control or manage threats to a child's safety
  • Have an immediate effect
  • Include actions that immediately address the safety threats

Safety plans must meet the following requirements:

  • Be developed with participants that are suitable, reliable, and can provide a greater level of protection for the child than the parents
  • Be reviewed and monitored twice monthly as long as the safety threat exists
  • Be revised as threats emerge or are eliminated

Caseworkers must do the following:

  • Develop a safety plan with the parents and other safety plan participants when a child is identified as unsafe and any of the following applies to the child:
    • Remains in the home
    • Is returned home by a court order
    • Is returning home when the safety threats can be managed or controlled in the home
  • Include the following in the safety plan:
    • Activities and tasks that control for safety threats or substitutes for diminished caregiver protective capacities
    • The family's use of suitable, formal, and informal supports in order to manage safety threats
    • Details for monitoring the safety plan
    • Supports, safety services, and actions at critical times when safety threats exist
    • Any protective action taken, if applicable

Risk Assessment

Citation: Pol. & Proc. Man. § 2541

The Structured Decision-Making Risk Assessment (SDMRA) is a household-based assessment focused on the characteristics of the caregivers and children living in that household. By completing the SDMRA following the safety assessment, the worker obtains an objective appraisal of the risk to a child. The SDMRA informs when services may or must be offered.

The SDMRA risk assessment tool is required as part of the investigative assessment and is completed on all screened in CPS intakes requiring a CPS investigation. Based on the results of the assessment, the following actions must be taken:

  • Services must be offered to families with a high SDMRA score.
  • Services may be offered to families with a moderately high SDMRA score.
  • Services are not offered to families when observable, verifiable, and describable changes have been made within the family that reduces the identified risk in the SDMRA.
  • Cases with a high SDMRA score must be staffed with a child protection team (CPT) for identified child victims age 6 or younger.

The caseworker must complete the SDMRA no longer than 60 days after the intake was received, following the safety assessment, and prior to a determination to offer ongoing services or a case transfer to another program area. Based on the results of the assessment, the following service determinations will be made:

  • When the SDMRA score is 'high' and the child is determined unsafe through the safety assessment, then the safety plan policy must be followed.
  • When the SDMRA score is 'high' or 'moderately high' and the child is determined safe through the safety assessment, the following apply:
    • The Department of Children, Youth, and Families will offer services when the SDMRA score is high and both family and individual level concerns exist.
    • The department will consider offering services when the SDM score is moderately high and both family and individual level concerns exist.

Family Strengths and Needs Assessment to Determine Service Needs

Citation: Pol. & Proc. Man. § 1140

An assessment of the family is conducted to gather information that will provide a greater understanding of how a family's strengths, needs, and resources affect child safety, well-being, and permanency. Assessments are completed in partnership with the family to understand what everyday life challenges and individual caregiver patterns of behaviors contribute to child safety threats that will be addressed in case planning.

The family assessment process includes the following elements:

  • Assessments of the family are completed at key decision points in a case.
  • Assessments must identify the enhanced protective and diminished protective capacities directly related to the identified safety threats.
  • Family members must be included in the assessment process.
  • Assessments must include information and input from professionals and other collateral contacts that have knowledge about the child and family.
  • Information contained in the Comprehensive Family Evaluation (CFE) form, Investigative Assessment form, and the FAR Family Assessment form will be used to help develop the case plan.

Ongoing Assessment to Evaluate Progress on the Service Plan

Citation: Pol. & Proc. Man. § 1120

The caseworker must complete and document a safety assessment at the following key points in a case:

  • There has been a change in household members.
  • A child is placed out-of-home and having unsupervised family time in the parent's home.
  • New safety and/or risk factors have been identified since the most recent safety assessment was completed.

Assessment for Reunification and/or Case Closure

Citation: Pol. & Proc. Man. §§ 1120; 1140

The caseworker must complete and document a safety assessment at the following key points in a case:

  • When considering reunification or trial return home
  • When considering case closure and new safety and/or risk factors have been identified since the most recent safety assessment was completed

Caseworkers must assess conditions for return home when updating a CFE. The review must assess the following about any safety threat:

  • Whether the safety is being managed by the caregiver
  • How the parents are incorporating service provisions into their daily life
  • How the safety threat is being addressed in the family home