monthly article for June 2005
Being Prepared for Ongoing CPS Safety Management
This month we start a series of safety intervention articles that
will consider ongoing CPS safety management functions, roles, and
responsibilities. We will continue to emphasize concepts and ideas
that we have covered in previous articles since those also serve
as the foundation for ongoing safety intervention and must be understood
and applied by ongoing CPS staff.
This month’s article is concerned with essential understanding
and competence an ongoing CPS worker must possess when assigned
a case involving safety issues.
CPS Intervention Process
Context is everything. To fully understand your role to implement
effective ongoing safety intervention, it can be helpful to consider
what you are responsible for within the context of the entire process
of safety intervention. We use a chart to depict the traditional
CPS case process in order to visualize all the activities and decisions
for safety intervention and to emphasize the ongoing CPS safety
The activities within the CPS process are essentially divided between
two functions: initial assessment (investigation) and ongoing CPS
(ongoing case management). The dotted line that crosses the page
signifies the split between “front-end” intervention
and “ongoing” intervention. This is important in order
to recognize the primary safety tasks for both initial assessment
(investigation) staff and ongoing CPS staff.
Summary of Safety Intervention Tasks within the CPS Process:
The primary concern of CPS staff is to ensure the safety of children.
The primary objective is empowering parents to protect their own
children. When you look at the CPS process, you can see how the
intervention process is intended to accomplish this. The first step
in managing child safety involves safety planning. The use of in-home
or out-of-home safety plans assures that children are safe and protected
as a result of CPS managing and substituting for what caregivers
can not or will not do. Once safety threats are under the control
of CPS, the focus of intervention can begin shifting to include
the achievement of the primary CPS objective: parents protect their
own children. As the chart illustrates, safety intervention begins
with management and continues to include a responsibility and focus
on change (during treatment or remediation). Safety intervention
associated with case planning and treatment addresses caregiver
protective capacities/parenting behavior related to protectiveness.
Assuring child safety and then subsequently treating the reason
children are unsafe are two components of a sequential, integrated
and rational safety intervention system: 1) assess safety factors,
2) control safety factors (safety planning), 3) treat safety factors
(reduce foreseeable danger), 4) achieve parent protectiveness (enhance
caregiver protective capacities), and 5) establish a permanent safe
environment – a safe home.
From the flow of activities above the dotted line (front end) in
the chart, CPS intervention remains generally structured: receive
a case, conduct necessary contacts and completion of the initial
assessment (investigation), make a decision about whether there
is a need to open for services, and then start over again. One might
expect that this repetitive routine contributes to initial assessment
staff becoming more proficient in Safety Assessment and Planning.
Notably, safety intervention has typically been approached as a
“front-end” intervention, with little attention given
to fully explaining what safety intervention must be during ongoing
When conducting training sessions for ongoing CPS staff, it is
common for us to encounter the point of view that safety intervention
– in particular safety assessment and safety planning –
is not a responsibility for which ongoing CPS staff are accountable.
Training participants sometimes believe that being conversant with
terms, definitions and concepts is the business of initial assessment
staff. Times…they are a changin’. The evolution of the
state-of-the-art of safety intervention and federal legislation
have pressed the development and implementation throughout the CPS
process – notably including what is done during ongoing CPS.
Safety intervention is intense, dynamic, and a lot of work.
For more detailed information about the safety intervention within
the CPS process, please refer to The Safety Intervention Process
Ongoing CPS Staff as Experts in Safety Intervention
You, the ongoing CPS worker, have the responsibility to be competent
and proficient in all areas of the CPS Process. Not only must you
take up the reins for safety intervention specific to ongoing case
management, but you must be as savvy as the front end staff about
all the safety tasks required during initial assessment. You need
to know that what happens in safety intervention during initial
assessment keeps coming up when the case passes to you – particularly
in safety assessment and safety planning. Initial assessment staff
assess safety, establish safety plans and manage safety plans. They
should be expert at those safety intervention activities. But you
must as well. Additionally, your safety intervention responsibilities
o Re-assessment of foreseeable danger safety threats at case transfer
o Evaluation of safety plan sufficiency at case transfer
o Evaluation of the suitability and commitment of those participating
in the safety plan
o Routine communication with safety plan participants and continual
o Engagement of caregivers concerning the acknowledgement of safety
issues, their lack of protectiveness, and the need to change
o Assessment of caregiver protective capacities to determine what
o Creation of a case plan that addresses safety concerns and enhances
caregiver protective capacities
o Routine and periodic assessment of safety for of out-of-home placements
o Arrangement of activities, services and service providers for
focused treatment of safety issues – diminished protective
o Reasonable efforts to provide the least intrusive means for assuring
children are safe
o Routine and periodic re-assessment of foreseeable danger safety
o Modification of safety plans as needed and appropriate
o Measurement of progress and change related to diminished caregiver
o Deciding about and conducting reunification
o Judging when caregiver protective capacities are sufficient to
assure child safety and a safe home.
Each of these activities is challenging, both in terms of level
of effort and complexity. Some of these activities are repetitive
and most of these activities continue during case management for
months. It is time for the field to acknowledge what is required
in ongoing CPS safety management. Even without a larger acknowledgement,
you – as the accountable, ongoing CPS worker – will
be well served if you take personal responsibility to acknowledge,
understand, and become as proficient in these safety intervention
activities as you can.
The Basics for Being Prepared at Case Assignment
We’ll be addressing all those ongoing CPS safety intervention
duties that were just listed in future articles. But for now, here
is an emphasis on what you need to bone up on to be ready for getting
busy with those cases being assigned to you that have safety concerns.
At case transfer, you should be expert at knowing and understanding
what family information is necessary in order to fully understand
child safety. You should be conversant with and proficient in the
application of the concept of foreseeable danger safety threats.
You should be sufficiently knowledgeable to judge the sufficiency
of a safety plan.
Knowing and Using Information Standards
How do you know a child is unsafe? How do you have confidence that
the judgments of others about whether a child is safe are correct?
These are relevant questions for an ongoing CPS worker who is assigned
a case whether safety has been identified as an issue or not. The
reason this is so is that you should confirm for yourself whether
a child is safe separate from what an initial assessment worker
has concluded. This isn’t second guessing, it is simply competent
performance. The answer to these questions is: You must have access
to sufficient information about the family and its members which
reveals and confirms the presence or absence of child safety. Embedded
within this answer is the assumption that you must know what that
information is and understand how it reveals child safety.
There are six essential areas of information (offered in the form
of questions) that inform safety assessment, provide a basis for
effective safety management, and form the foundation for understanding
what safety issues must change during ongoing CPS:
1. What is the Extent of Maltreatment?
2. What is the Nature and Surrounding Circumstances Accompanying
3. How Does the Child Function?
4. What are the Parenting- Discipline Practices?
5. What are the General Parenting Practices?
6. How do the Adults Function?
These six questions form the information standard that supports
safety intervention throughout the safety intervention – CPS
process. Initial assessment workers should collect this information
to create “a family data base.” The information or family
data provides the basis for initial assessment conclusions about
safety that pass to you when the case is assigned to you. Therefore
you should know about, understand, and use this same information
standard to begin and continue your work in safety intervention.
At case transfer, the importance of you using the information standard
cannot be overstated. The ideal, of course, is that the information
standard is held in common between initial assessment and ongoing
CPS staff. This promotes and enhances communication, understanding,
use of language and concepts, assessment of issues, concerns, and
rationale concerning what is required within the case going into
ongoing CPS. But even if a commonly held information standard does
exist, you can still use this information standard to seek to understand
from the initial assessment worker the meaning of what is contained
within records and safety instruments and what is not.
Here is an example concerning how you can use this information
standard. Let’s say that the foreseeable danger safety threat
identified by the initial assessment worker is: A Caregiver is Violent.
Let’s say you are highly conversant with the information standard;
know the six questions; fully understand the kind of information
that is related to, pertinent to each question. So you know that
the relevant question in the information standard that reveals whether
a caregiver is violent is how the adults function. Now, in our example,
let’s say that you are unable to understand why the initial
assessment worker identified the safety threat – a caregiver
is violent – within the documentation in the record. Whether
you share the information standard in common with the initial assessment
worker or not, you can easily check things out – can seek
clarification for why violence as a safety threat was identified.
You simply ask the initial assessment worker, “What can you
tell me about Joe Don’s functioning?” See how this gives
you direction? The answer the initial assessment worker gives including
amplifying on what is documented in the record can result in giving
confidence about the safety assessment or stimulate you to do some
information collection of your own in order to fill in the gaps.
We should also mention that the information standard provides a
basis for you to reconsider the sufficiency of the safety plan,
the most reasonable level of intrusiveness, and the need to modify
safety plans established during initial assessment. Additionally,
using the information standard as a guide to the dialogue with the
initial assessment worker can contribute to identifying undetected
foreseeable danger safety threats along with unrecognized caregiver
and family resources not fully identified, explored, or understood
during initial assessment. We have emphasized in our example how
important knowing and using the information standard at case assignment
is but, rest assured, having competence in applying the information
standard is crucial throughout all of ongoing CPS safety intervention.
For more detailed information about the six essential areas of
information, please refer to The Foundation of Safety Assessment
Understanding and Using Safety Threats
Ongoing CPS staff must be as conversant in their understanding
and ability to detect foreseeable danger safety threats as initial
assessment staff is expected to be. The responsibility for understanding
and detecting foreseeable danger safety threats begins for ongoing
CPS staff at case transfer and continues until a case is closed.
It is crucial that you be totally familiar with every safety threat
that forms your agency’s safety model. The familiarity includes
exact and working knowledge of definitions and criteria that qualifies
a particular negative family condition as an actual foreseeable
danger safety threat. You must understand how foreseeable danger
safety threats occur within families and what contributes or influences
that manifestation. Regretfully, we have found that it is not uncommon
for CPS ongoing staff (particularly newer ones) to be generally
unfamiliar with the foreseeable danger safety threats contained
within their agency’s safety model. Would it surprise you
that even larger numbers of folks we’ve encountered feel limited
in their personal facility with definitions for safety threats and
specific case examples? In the absence of working knowledge of foreseeable
danger safety threats that includes definitions and criteria, ongoing
CPS staff likely operate through individual interpretation, values,
and bias. For instance, consider our previous example about the
violent caregiver. We have found it no surprise in a room of 20
training participants to arrive at varied definitions as to the
meaning of “violent” as a safety threat. The day of
accountability for ongoing CPS staff to be competent with respect
to safety threats has arrived. That is so because the state-of-the-art
regarding all of safety intervention and, in particular, safety
threats has evolved to a status of standardization. At our last
count, over 90% of the states have safety models. All of these models
have a list of safety threats. While these lists vary some in number,
every model contains at least ten of the same safety threats. That
means now acceptable case practice regarding safety assessment will
be measured or considered against that common standard.
What are examples of a person being conversant in his or her knowledge,
understanding and use of safety threats?
o Immediate “off the top of the head” recall of the
agency’s safety threats
o Ability to define and explain what each agency safety threat is
o Ability to provide case examples for each agency safety threat
o Recognition of spoken or written information that suggests or
is consistent with an agency safety threat
o Recognition of observed family behavior, attitudes, emotions,
intent, perceptions, motives, and situations that are consistent
with agency safety threats
o Ability to use the safety threshold criteria to evaluate and determine
whether a family condition is a safety threat.
You will be empowered to the extent that you have the capacity
and foresight to consider cases, information about cases, and your
responsibilities from the perspective of the safety threshold criteria.
At the time of case assignment and throughout ongoing safety management,
you should evaluate safety threats and the information that verifies
the safety threats in accordance with this safety threshold criteria.
1. Family conditions are likely to have severe effects on a child.
2. There is a vulnerable child involved.
3. An identified family condition is out of control of caregivers.
4. The anticipated severe effect is imminent – reasonably
could happen in the immediate to near future.
5. An identified family condition (as a threat) is observable and
specific related to the above.
The safety threshold criteria that guide safety assessment and
decision-making generally also can compel ongoing CPS staff to:
o Endeavor to persevere in understanding safety issues during case
o Continue to build on that understanding as a case proceeds further
along the safety intervention process governed by ongoing CPS staff.
For more detailed information about foreseeable danger safety threats,
please refer to Threats to Child Safety (March, 2003). For more
information about the safety threshold, please refer to Considering
the Safety Threshold (October, 2004).
Knowing and Understanding Safety Planning
When it comes to safety plans, the first order of business for
you ongoing CPS workers is to evaluate whether a safety plan that
is in place at case transfer is necessary and, if so, sufficient
to assure child safety. But the beat goes on. As a case continues
along in ongoing CPS, you may have to create a safety plan; you
will have to oversee a safety plan; you will have to continually
evaluate the effectiveness of a safety plan; you will have to modify
a safety plan; and you will have to decide when a safety plan is
no longer required. That’s a lot of stuff to do concerned
with safety plans.
You’ve got to be an expert at safety planning and knowing
what a sufficient safety plan looks like. What does that entail?
You must understand who is responsible for the safety plan. You
must understand the purpose of the safety plan compared to any other
plan with which you might have some involvement (e.g., case plan,
permanency plan, etc.). You must know what the effect of the safety
plan should be and be able to judge that effect. You must understand
the differences between activities, tasks, and the people who perform
them in safety plans compared to other CPS involvement. You must
know how to judge who is suitable, reliable, and committed to participate
in a safety plan. You must understand the range of options and configurations
that are possible in safety planning and how to determine which
arrangement is most suitable.
We want to emphasize to you that, when it comes to safety plans,
a big challenge is judging sufficiency. What that means is that,
whether creating a safety plan or evaluating one that is in place,
you judge that it is the least intrusive yet effective means for
assuring that foreseeable danger safety threats are controlled.
Judging sufficiency requires that you are conversant in the two
previous competency areas we’ve discussed: information standards
and safety threats. You need to know a lot about a family and the
apparent safety threats in order to effectively judge the sufficiency
of a safety plan.
You have to know a thing -- know what it looks like -- before you
can take it apart. This statement refers both to the family and
to existing safety plans. You come to know the family through the
information standard we discussed earlier. Here’s how you
get to know an existing safety plan and, in effect, how you then
can take it apart:
o Know and understand how safety threats are occurring
o Know what is associated with, what contributes to the safety threat
o Know whether caregivers are aware of and acknowledge the safety
o Know the circumstances and daily environment of the home
o Know whether caregivers are willing and accepting of the safety
o Know what specific safety responses/services are necessary (an
effective match) for controlling threats
o Know how selected safety actions are intended to control the identified
o Know the level of effort needed from safety plan participants
to adequately control and manage safety threats
o Know how much of a response is reasonable in order to assure child
o Know how often during the week assistance and supervision is required
in order to assure child safety
o Know how long and in what intervals safety actions and safety
services seem necessary
o Know if there are special periods of time that require specific
o Know who can and will assure effective implementation of the safety
o Know what natural supports and/or community resources are able
o Know whether safety plan participants are suitable, trustworthy,
committed, properly aligned with CPS, supportive and encouraging,
flexible, accessible, and always promptly available
o Know whether necessary safety planning resources are available
and accessible to the family at the level of effort, frequency,
and amount required to assure child protection.
For more detailed information on safety plans, please refer to
The Safety Plan, December 2003.
The objective of this article has been to emphasize the importance
of you as an ongoing CPS worker to understand and accept your role
and responsibilities concerned with ongoing CPS safety intervention.
Such understanding and acceptance must be based on your full awareness
and appreciation for all that is required of you within the safety
intervention process. It is important for that awareness to include
the relationship of your work in safety intervention to others who
encounter the family. In that sense, then, we are promoting that
you view what you do as existing within a systematic safety intervention
process. Additionally, we have emphasized that in order to fulfill
your obligations concerning ongoing CPS safety intervention, you
must be as competent in the fundamentals as initial assessment staff.
Your beginning competency will be evidenced by your knowledge and
skill in applying information standards, safety threats, and safety
planning. Ongoing CPS staff must be as competent as initial assessment
about all aspects of safety assessment, safety planning, and safety
Case Transfer - Immediate Evaluation of the Safety Plan