When a report of possible child abuse or neglect is received, an investigation is initiated. The purpose of the investigation is to learn if a child has been harmed or is at risk of harm, reduce the risk and increase the safety of the child, determine if a criminal action has occurred, and determine the need for services to support the family. Investigations may be conducted by child protective services staff and/or law enforcement and often include a multidisciplinary team. Child protective services investigations must reflect a balance between protecting children and preserving the rights of parents and family members. Child welfare workers and family advocates should work to support families to help provide safe and nurturing environments so that children may remain in the home or in a relative placement when possible.
Children’s advocacy centers offer an evidence-based, trauma-informed, multidisciplinary response to child abuse allegations through multidisciplinary team coordination, forensic interviews, medical exams, evidence-based mental health services, and victim/family advocacy. The forensic interviews conducted with alleged victims of child abuse are often essential to the investigation.
Investigations include interviews of children, parents, and others who may have knowledge of the situation. Child welfare agencies also use safety and risk assessments to evaluate families. On this page, find information about interviewing and safety and risk assessments as part of child abuse and neglect investigations.
Zero Abuse Project
Offers training on forensic interviewing for child welfare workers, law enforcement officers, and others. The training covers child development, memory and suggestibility, testifying in court, legal issues, and preparing children for court.
Best Practices: Interviewing
National Children’s Advocacy Center, Child Abuse Library Online (2019)
Provides a list of resources related to interviewing as part of child abuse investigations, including on forensic interviewing, interviewing victims, recording investigations, and more.
The Forensic Interview: Reducing Child Trauma in Abuse Cases
Center for Child Protection
Explores forensic interviewing during investigations of child abuse and neglect or violent crimes and discusses how to prevent retraumatization of children during the interview process.
Forensic Interview Research and Education
LifeBridge Health, Center for Hope
Offers trainings on how to conduct forensic interviews and best practices of forensic interviewing.
National Children’s Advocacy Center’s Child Forensic Interview Structure (PDF - 394 KB)
National Children’s Advocacy Center (2019)
Provides a model for the forensic interviewing of children who have experienced sexual or physical abuse and describes the purpose of these interviews, ideal locations, documentation, question strategies, and other information child welfare investigators should know.
Safety and risk assessment
Assessing and Responding to Risk (PDF - 73 KB)
Florida Department of Children and Families (2021)
Offers information on safety and risk assessments for Florida investigators and reviews the purpose of assessments during a child abuse investigation, scope of use, identifying caregivers, scoring, the investigative response to high scores, and more.
Assessing Safety and Risk
North Carolina Division of Social Services and the Family and Children’s Resource Program
Practice Notes, 24 (2)
Provides information on the Structured Decision-Making model, tips for strengthening assessments, parent insights, and information on safety mapping to support quality safety and risk assessments.
Child Protective Services Safety Intervention Standards (PDF - 523 KB)
Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (2021)
Presents a guide to child safety decisions and actions for child protective services staff. The resource reviews assessments, safety planning, and the management of child safety throughout a case.
Child Welfare Safety Assessment and Planning During COVID-19 and Physical Distancing
Evident Change (2020)
Describes how to conduct safety and risk assessments during the COVID-19 pandemic while considering physical distancing and the use of technology.
Examination of Using Structured Decision Making and Predictive Analytics in Assessing Safety and Risk in Child Welfare (PDF - 622 KB)
Los Angeles County Office of Child Protection (2017)
Presents the findings of a report on the current use and identified strengths and weaknesses of the Structured Decision Making Tool in Los Angeles County. The report concludes with recommendations for training, improved oversight and monitoring, and policy revisions.
Safety and Risk Assessment Resource Guide (PDF - 528 KB)
Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (2020)
Provides information on safety and risk assessments and reviews cultural considerations for caseworkers, definitions, policies, procedures, and more.
Safety Assessments in Child Welfare: A Comparison of Instruments
Vial, Assink, Stams, & van der Put (2019)
Children and Youth Services Review, 108
Compares 11 safety assessment instruments used by child welfare professionals and examines the child safety aspects that are measured in each.
The Structured Decision Making Model in Child Protection
Describes the Structured Decision Making Model, which uses assessments to help child welfare agencies reduce harm to children and expediate permanency decisions.
Team Decision Making: Key Resources for Assessing Child Risk and Safety
Annie E. Casey Foundation (2019)
Explores the Team Decision Making Model, which is used to assess safety and risk before a child is separated from caregivers. The blog post links to an overview of team decision making, information on meetings, case studies of the model, and related research.