Action for Child Protection’s foundational work is the Safety Assessment Family Evaluation (SAFE) Model. SAFE is largely considered the first comprehensive safety decision-making model and intervention framework. Numerous states and jurisdictions have adopted versions or components of this strengths-based, family-centered, and trauma-informed model to inform child welfare agency decision-making. Child safety is the primary focus of the SAFE model, and attention is provided to children who may be unsafe based on the presence of uncontrolled danger threats. SAFE uses standardized tools and decision-making criteria to assess family behaviors, conditions, and circumstances, including individual child vulnerabilities and caregiver protective capacities, to make well-founded child safety decisions. The practice model’s approach to safety assessment and management recognizes that issues concerned with child safety change as the child protective services intervention proceeds.
The model involves multiple assessments of child safety throughout the life of the child welfare case, moving seamlessly from intake or screening, into the child protective services investigation or assessment, and then into ongoing services. SAFE supports change-focused case planning, ongoing safety management, and timely reunification and/or case closure when children are in safe, permanent homes. As the child welfare intervention proceeds, the SAFE Models focus shifts to more fully supports a reduction in safety threats and bolstering caregiver/parent protective capacities through change focused intervention assessment and strategies.
The following assessments and intervention strategies are incorporated into the SAFE model:
The Intake Assessment first determines if the information being relayed to a Child Abuse/Neglect Hotline warrants a child protective services response. This assessment process incorporates gathering information related to family behaviors, conditions, and circumstances across six domains including: the Extent of Maltreatment, the Surrounding Circumstances of the Maltreatment, Child Functioning, Adult Functioning, General Parenting Practices, and Disciplinary Practices. When a report is assigned, analysis of potential danger threats then guides the necessary child protective services response time.
In the beginning of a child protective services intervention, safety assessment is directed at understanding the unsafe environment through the identification of present and impending danger threats and a full assessment of caregiver protective capacities. Within the SAFE model, six domains of information collection promote understanding of the family beyond the incident(s) of child maltreatment. Those domains include the extent of child maltreatment; surrounding circumstances accompanying the maltreatment; child functioning; adult functioning; disciplinary approaches; and parenting practices.
The Initial Family Assessment is conducted as part of a systematic decision-making framework to properly identify families in need of ongoing child protective services. This assessment process incorporates information gathering from children, caregivers/parents, and collateral sources related to family behaviors, conditions, and circumstances across the six domains. The Initial Family Assessment is designed to ensure families in which children are unsafe are appropriately identified and provided ongoing services which might include safety management, change-focused treatment services, and other supportive services.
The Safety Plan Analysis is conducted after there is determination children are unsafe. This analysis has structured questions/criteria to determine the least intrusive, sufficient Safety Plan to ensure child safety. These criteria directly align with Reasonable Efforts to prevent the removal of children. The Safety Plan Analysis considers what Safety Plan actions and/or services need to be implemented to manage, mitigate, or substitute for reduced protective capacities and sufficiently control danger threats. Safety plans range from in-home to out-of-home care.
Out-of-home Safety Plans also include development of Conditions for Return Home that are directly based on the findings of the Safety Plan Analysis. These written statements identify and describe the specific behaviors, conditions, or circumstances that must exist within the home environment before a child’s return home. Aligned with Reasonable Efforts, Conditions for Return entail returning a child to the parental home as soon as possible or when active impending danger can be managed.
Ultimately, through ongoing application of the Safety Plan Analysis, the caseworker is focused on development of the least-restrictive and least-intrusive plan that fully ensures child safety while appropriate services are put in place to support caregiver protective capacity enhancement.
The Protective Capacity Family Assessment and the Progress Assessment are two integrated, but distinct assessments within the SAFE model.
The Protective Capacity Family Assessment is initiated after it is determined that a child is unsafe and that a family is in need of ongoing child welfare services. Overall, the Protective Capacity Family Assessment provides a structured interpersonal process for engaging caregivers/parents in conversations regarding what must change to enhance protective capacities and create a safe family environment. The Protective Capacity Family Assessment results in the development of an individualized case plan, which includes SMART goals that target caregiver/parent behavioral change and fully address children's needs.
Ongoing assessment of protective capacity occurs through Progress Assessments. Progress Assessments occur throughout the life of a case and subsequent to the development of a case plan. Specifically, Progress Assessments are completed minimally every 90 days after case plan establishment. The Progress Assessment is intended to determine caregiver/parent progress toward achieving the case plan SMART goals. The Progress Assessment applies standardized criteria and tools for determining case progress.
The Progress Assessment also emphasizes proactive and ongoing safety management decision-making to ensure children remain safe and protected while the change focused intervention proceeds. The status of Impending Danger is reassessed to determine the sufficiency of the Safety Plan and to ensure it continues to be necessary and is least-restrictive and least-intrusive. For children in out-of-home placements, Conditions for Return Home are also reviewed to determine if reunification can occur with the use of an In-Home Safety Plan.
Change Focused Contact is a critical case worker intervention strategy and is used to inform and support decision-making that occurs during Progress Assessments. Progress Assessments rely on information gained during Change Focused Contacts with family members and service providers to determine what is significant for evaluating case status; justifying decisions related to caregiver/parent behavioral change; assessing effectiveness of case plan treatment services; assessing children’s needs; and ensuring ongoing safety management.
Change Focused Contacts should occur every other week and are structured to meet caregivers/parents “where they are at” in the stages of change. Change Focused Contacts primarily focuses on the interpersonal interactions that are necessary for engaging caregivers/parents in a supportive, empathetic helping relationship. Change Focused Contacts are structured to fully involve caregivers/parents and build rapport; promote participation; reduce resistance; increase self-awareness and acceptance regarding the need for change; resolve barriers to service provision; and encourage caregiver progress toward desired change.
Confirming Safe Environments is a safety assessment specific to out-of-home placement providers to ensure children are placed in safe, appropriate out-of-home care settings. This assessment is utilized in relative, kinship, and/or traditional foster home environments. There is specific guidance provided for the safety assessment at the time of initial placement, and then throughout the placement episode. Confirming Safe Environments provides caseworkers a framework to conclude the likelihood of child safety in placement to determine if supports are needed to preserve the placement and/or if a change of placement is warranted to ensure child safety.