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

Date: March 2021

Safety Assessment

Citation: CPS Pol. Man. § 4.9

In policy: During a Family Functioning Assessment (FFA), detailed information is collected through interviews, observations, and written materials provided by knowledgeable individuals. The caseworker must conduct interviews with all parents and caregivers, children, and other adults residing in the home; persons allegedly responsible for the maltreatment; and collaterals (e.g., friends, neighbors, relatives, or professionals).

When sufficient information is collected concerning the family, the worker must complete the safety evaluation as soon as possible. The safety evaluation examines the information collected in the FFA to determine if the child is living in impending danger.

Impending danger threats are family behaviors, attitudes, motives, emotions, and/or situations that pose a threat to child safety. Impending danger is indicated when negative family conditions are out of control and likely to result in severe harm to a child, threats are specific and observable, and the danger to child safety can be clearly understood and described.

The danger threshold is the point at which a negative condition goes beyond being concerning and becomes dangerous to a child's safety. Danger threshold is identified by the following criteria:

  • Observable: refers to family behaviors, conditions, or situations representing a danger to a child that are specific, definite, real, visible, and understandable.
  • Vulnerable child: refers to a child who is dependent on others for protection and is exposed to circumstances that she or he is powerless to manage and is susceptible, accessible, and available to a threatening person and/or person in authority over them.
  • Out-of-control: refers to family behavior, conditions, or situations that are unrestrained and result in an unpredictable and possibly chaotic family environment that is not subject to the influence, manipulation, or ability within the family's control.
  • Imminent: refers to 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.
  • Severity: refers to the physical, emotional, or mental injury that has already occurred and/or the potential for harsh effects based on the vulnerability of a child and the family behavior, condition, or situation that is out of control.

There are 11 standardized impending danger threats that are used to assess child safety. The identification of any one of the impending danger threats means that a child is in a state of danger. If an impending danger threat has been identified the child is unsafe. The list of impending danger threats includes the following:

  • Living arrangements seriously endanger a child's physical health.
  • Family does not have resources to meet basic needs.
  • One or both caregivers intended to hurt the child.
  • The child is perceived in extremely negative terms by one or both caregivers.
  • The caregiver is unwilling or unable to perform parental duties and responsibilities.
  • One or both caregivers fear they will maltreat their child and/or are requesting placement.
  • One or both caregivers lack parenting knowledge, skills, or motivation which affects child safety.
  • The caregiver's drug and/or alcohol use is pervasive and threatens child safety.
  • One or both caregivers are violent (including domestic violence and general violence).
  • One or both caregivers cannot control behavior.
  • The child has exceptional needs that the caregivers cannot or will not meet.

Safety Decisions and Safety Planning

Citation: CPS Pol. Man. §§ 4.11; 4.13; 4.14; 4.17

Evaluating the safety of a child is a discrete function within CPS that is separate from determining whether child abuse or neglect occurred. The safety evaluation conclusion must be completed in all FFAs. The safety decision must be based upon a consideration for impending danger threats. The following decisions will be documented in the safety evaluation conclusion:

  • The child is safe (because):
    • No impending dangers were identified.
    • Based on currently available information, there is no child likely to be in danger of serious harm.
    • No temporary protection plan or safety plan needed at this time.
  • The child is unsafe (because):
    • One or more impending danger threats were identified that threaten the safety of a vulnerable child.
    • There are not sufficient caregiver protective capacities to ensure that impending danger can be offset, mitigated, and controlled.
    • The case must be opened for ongoing child protective services (CPS).

Safety analysis and planning must be completed on all cases in which children are identified as unsafe and in need of protection. The safety analysis determines the level of CPS intrusiveness with families to manage impending danger and ensure child safety. The appropriate safety plan must be deployed the same day that children were identified as in need of protection because of the safety evaluation conclusion.

Safety plans are written arrangements between caregivers and CPS that establishes how impending danger threats will be managed. If impending danger threats exist, and caregiver protective capacities are insufficient to ensure a child is protected, the safety plan is implemented. The safety plan specifies what impending dangers exist; how impending danger will be managed using what safety services; and who will participate in those safety services and under what circumstances and agreements, in accordance with specification of time requirements, availability, accessibility, and suitability of those involved.

The in-home safety plan refers to safety services, actions, and responses that ensure a child can be kept safe in their own home and with their parents or caregivers. In-home safety plans include activities and services that may occur within the home or outside the home but contribute to the child remaining primarily in their home. People participating in in-home safety plans may be responsible for what they do inside or outside the child's home. An in-home safety plan primarily involves the home setting and the child's location within the home as central to the safety plan. Depending on how impending danger threats are occurring within a family, periodic separation may be necessary at certain times during a day or week or for blocks of time (e.g., day care, staying with grandma on weekends).

An out-of-home safety plan refers to safety management that primarily depends on separation of a child from his or her home and separation from parents or caregivers who lack sufficient protective capacities to ensure the child will be protected from the impending danger threats. Court oversight is required due to CPS requiring the child be separated from their home and parent or caregiver.

Risk Assessment

Citation: CPS Pol. Man. § 5.3

The concept of caregiver protective capacities is central to the design of the Protective Capacity Family Assessment (PCFA). It is through the understanding and use of the concept of caregiver protective capacities that ongoing CPS social workers and caregivers can formulate family case plans that enhance family/family member functioning and caregiver role performance and, in doing so, reduce impending danger.

The following definitions and examples should be used to assist the caseworker in identifying the specific protective capacities that must be enhanced in the family case plan:

  • Cognitive protective capacities:
    • The caregiver plans and articulates a plan to protect the child.
    • The caregiver is aligned with the child.
    • The caregiver has adequate knowledge to fulfill caretaking responsibilities and tasks.
    • The caregiver is reality oriented and perceives reality accurately.
    • The caregiver has accurate perceptions of the child.
    • The caregiver understands his/her protective role.
    • The caregiver is self-aware.
  • Emotional protective capacities:
    • The caregiver can meet own emotional needs.
    • The caregiver is emotionally able to intervene to protect the child.
    • This refers to mental health, emotional energy, and emotional stability.
    • The caregiver is resilient.
    • The caregiver is tolerant.
    • The caregiver displays concern for the child and the child's experience and is intent on emotionally protecting the child.
    • The caregiver and child have a strong bond and the caregiver is clear that the number one priority is the child.
  • Behavioral protective capacities:
    • The caregiver has a history of protecting.
    • The caregiver acts to complete tasks.
    • The caregiver demonstrates impulse control.
    • The caregiver is physically able and has adequate energy.
    • The caregiver has/demonstrates adequate skill to fulfill responsibilities.
    • The caregiver sets aside her/his needs in favor of the child.
    • The caregiver is adaptive as a caregiver.
    • The caregiver is assertive as a caregiver.
    • The caregiver uses resources necessary to meet the child's basic needs.
    • The caregiver supports the child.

Family Strengths and Needs Assessment to Determine Service Needs

Citation: CPS Pol. Man. § 5.3

Caregiver protective capacities are personal and parenting behavior, cognitive, and emotional characteristics that can be specifically and directly associated with being protective of one's children. Caregiver protective capacities are 'strengths' that are specifically associated with one's ability to perform effectively as a parent or caregiver to provide and ensure a safe environment. When families are opened for ongoing CPS, the PCFA considers caregiver protective capacities that exist and considers how those capacities or strengths might be utilized in change strategies.

Ongoing Assessment to Evaluate Progress on the Service Plan

Citation: CPS Pol. Man. § 5.10

Although child safety is evaluated at each contact with the family and collaterals, there may be times when the safety of the children must be formally evaluated and recorded in the case record. A formal evaluation of safety must occur when a significant change in family circumstances occurs, at CPS ongoing case reviews, and prior to reunification.

During the ongoing CPS case, there will be times when a significant change in family circumstances occurs, such as a formal/informal safety service becomes ineffective, or a caregiver moves in or out of the residence. In these situations, a formalized evaluation of safety must occur to determine if impending danger continues to exist and ensure that the appropriate safety plan is in place. When a significant event or change in circumstances occurs, the caseworker must do the following:

  • Examine and analyze the change in family circumstances to determine the appropriate manner to complete the evaluation of safety
  • Collect all information concerning the significant event or change in circumstances, how child safety may be impacted, and any new information not known during the FFA or ongoing CPS case relating to the six areas of family functioning
  • Determine if impending danger exists by referring to and following the applicable impending danger and the danger threshold criteria
  • If impending danger exists, complete the safety analysis to determine the appropriate safety plan policies and procedures concerning safety analysis and safety planning
  • If impending danger does not exist, begin the process of case closure with the family, considering any current safety or treatment-focused services

Assessment for Reunification and/or Case Closure

Citation: CPS Pol. Man. 5.23; 5.24

Reunification is approached as a safety intervention decision and, as such, the basis for reunification must be associated with the basis and reason for the decision to remove as well as impending dangers that may have been discovered after removal. Reunification must be based on the determination that there has been sufficient change related to caregiver behavior and/or adjustment or change in circumstances identified in the conditions for reunification that will allow for the effective implementation of an in-home safety plan. Conditions for reunification that must be considered are the specific caregiver behavior and/or internal or external circumstances that must exist within a child's home for a child to be reunified.

Reunification represents a formalized process for decision making that applies safety intervention criteria. Prior to a child being reunified, the following must occur:

  • The caseworker must complete a family case plan evaluation, as follows:
    • Conditions for return established at the time of removal must be considered in relationship to the progress being made toward establishing required circumstances that must exist in the home to allow an in-home safety plan.
    • Safety analysis criteria must be applied to reasonably determine the viable use of an in-home safety plan to sufficiency manage child safety.
  • A continuing formal evaluation of safety must be completed to determine that an in-home safety plan is appropriate.
  • An in-home safety plan must be developed with caregiver involvement and implemented prior to reunification.
  • The in-home safety plan must meet all criteria for in-home safety plan sufficiency.
  • The Multidisciplinary Investigative Team (MDT) must be convened, and the results of the case plan evaluation and potential in-home safety plan discussed. The caseworker must explain the reasoning behind the recommendations to the MDT. If the MDT does not agree with the decision to place the children back into the caregivers' home, the caseworker must present a minority report to the court outlining the conditions for return.

When a child is reunified with his or her family, the following must occur:

  • The caseworker must have face-to-face contact with caregiver(s) and children within 24 hours following reunification to assess child safety, respond to immediate needs, and evaluate and adjust the in-home safety plan as indicated.
  • The caseworker must have immediate contact with caregivers and children in the home if there is any indication that an in-home safety plan may not be sufficiently managing child safety.
  • The caseworker must have face-to-face contact with caregivers and children in the home at least one time per week for the first 30 days following reunification.
  • Once it has been determined by the caseworker and confirmed by the supervisor that a child is safe (i.e., no impending danger and/or sufficient caregiver protective capacities), an in-home safety plan may be dismissed and consideration given to case closure.

The case closure decision is based on the determination that children are safe, protected, and in a permanent safe home. Child safety is determined through a case plan evaluation and formal safety evaluation that conclude that there are no impending danger threats and/or caregiver protective capacities have been sufficiently enhanced to ensure the management of child safety.