Case Plan

Intervention with abused and neglected children and their families must be planned, purposeful, and directed toward the achievement of safety, permanency, and well-being. An essential element of any planned and purposeful intervention is a complete understanding of the factors and conditions contributing to child maltreatment or other circumstances leading to child welfare involvement. A child protective services (CPS) caseworker, particularly when working with other service providers or community professionals, the family, and the family's support network, employs a family assessment to identify safety threats, risks, and problematic behaviors. The caseworker must then work with the family to identify strategies and interventions to facilitate needed changes.

Once the caseworker has completed this process, he or she must then incorporate this information into an effective, thoughtful case plan. The case plan provides a framework for case decision-making and addresses the following questions.

  • What are the family outcomes that, when attained, will indicate that safety threats have been addressed, risk has been reduced, and the effects of maltreatment have been successfully mitigated?
  • What tasks must be undertaken to attain these outcomes?
  • What intervention approaches or services will facilitate the successful attainment of outcomes and achievement of goals?
  • How and when will progress in implementing tasks, attaining outcomes, and achieving goals be evaluated?

Many agencies develop case plans that incorporate family strengths and integrate the extended family and others important in the family’s life, such as friends, clergy, or neighbors, to increase the safety of the children and family members. The case plan itself should provide a clear and specific guide for all involved to either strengthen or reduce the behaviors and conditions that affect safety and risk. It will identify the specific outcomes, goals, and tasks that must be achieved to facilitate those changes and will also establish benchmarks for monitoring family progress.

When children have been placed in foster care, the case plan must also meet certain Federal requirements that address the needs of the child. For example, the case plan must be developed jointly with the parent or parents no later than 60 days after the child has been removed from the home. In addition, the case plan must contain the most recent information provided by the child’s educational and health records and meet the educational stability case plan requirement at the time of each placement change. The caseworker should also consult with the child in a manner appropriate to the child's development regarding the child’s goals and needed services.

The caseworker is responsible for updating or developing the plan at specified times, usually at a minimum of every 6 months or whenever significant events occur in the case. Examples of these might include the location of an absent parent, a change in the child’s placement, successful completion of treatment, or a new maltreatment report. 

Note that the objective of a case plan is not to create a perfect family or a family that matches a caseworker’s own values and beliefs, but to address safety threats and to reduce or eliminate the risk of maltreatment so that children are safe and have their physical and emotional needs met. Involving the family in planning is vital to secure the family’s investment in and commitment to the plan, empower parents or caregivers to take the necessary action to change behavior, and ensure that the agency and the family are working toward the same end. 

Outcomes, Goals, and Tasks

A case plan must include clear outcomes, goals, and tasks designed to facilitate positive changes for the child and family. Positive outcomes indicate that safety and risk threats have been reduced due to changes in the behaviors or conditions that contributed to the child’s maltreatment and the effects of the child maltreatment, and should address issues related to four domains.

  • Child-level outcomes focus on changes in behavior; development; mental health, including emotional well-being; physical health; peer relationships; and education, including, for example, improved behavior control.
  • Parent or caregiver outcomes center on many areas, such as improved mental health functioning, problem-solving ability, impulse control, and parenting skills, including, for example,  improved child management skills as evidenced by establishing and consistently following through with developmentally appropriate rules and limits for children.
  • Family outcomes concentrate on issues such as roles and boundaries, communication patterns, and social support, including, for example, enhanced family maintenance and safety as evidenced by the ability to meet members’ basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, and supervision.
  • Environmental outcomes focus on the environmental factors contributing to the maltreatment, such as social isolation, housing issues, or neighborhood safety (addressed, for example, by using the social support offered by family connections to a church).

Success across each of these domains requires a clear understanding of goals that indicate the specific changes needed to accomplish those outcomes. To be effective, goals should be SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measureable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-limited

Additionally, each goal should clearly indicate the positive behaviors or conditions that will result from the change and not merely highlight the negative behaviors to be changed.

To help families understand what is expected of them and what they can expect from the caseworker and other service providers, each goal should be broken down into small, meaningful, and incremental tasks. These tasks should:

  • Include the specific services and interventions needed to help the family achieve the goals and outcomes
  • Describe what the children, family, caseworker, and other service providers will do
  • Identify timeframes for accomplishing each task

In developing these tasks, caseworkers should also be aware of the availability and accessibility of services, considering issues such as target populations served by a provider, specializations, eligibility criteria, waiting lists, and fees for services. Caseworkers can then determine the most appropriate services available to help the family achieve its tasks.

As an example of how goals and tasks work together to support positive outcomes, consider the example of developing effective child management skills as a positive outcome. A reasonable goal for that outcome might be that the parents will work with the caseworker or a community-based service provider to set specific, age-appropriate expectations for their children. A task supporting that goal might then be to identify those components of the child’s behavior that are most difficult for them to manage and the disciplinary techniques they can use to help him or her control his behavior.

Monitoring Family Progress

When the case plan is developed and an intervention is implemented, the child protective services (CPS) caseworker will, on an ongoing basis, evaluate whether safety threats have been addressed by either being eliminated or controlled with increased protective capacities, and whether risk factors and conditions have changed. This is central to case decisions and to determining next steps. Monitoring change should begin as soon as an intervention is implemented and continue throughout the life of a case until appropriate outcomes have been achieved.

Evaluating family progress helps answer the following questions.

  • Is the family actively participating in the services agreed to in the case plan?
  • Is the child safe? Have the risk and protective factors, strengths, or safety threats changed, warranting a change or elimination of the safety plan or the development of a safety plan?
  • What changes, if any, have occurred with respect to the conditions and behaviors contributing to the risk of child maltreatment?
  • What outcomes have been accomplished, and how does the caseworker know that they have been accomplished?
  • What progress has been made toward achieving case goals?
  • Have the services been effective in helping clients achieve outcomes and goals and, if not, what adjustments need to be made to improve outcomes?
  • What is the current level of risk in the family?
  • Have the protective capacities increased sufficiently so that parents or caregivers can protect their children and meet their developmental needs so the case can be closed?
  • If the child has been removed from the home, has it been determined that reunification is not likely in the Federal- and/or State-required timeframes and there is no significant progress toward outcomes? If so, is a different goal for achieving permanency needed?

Because intervention and service provision to families at risk of maltreatment is a collaborative effort between CPS and other agencies of individual providers, the evaluation of family progress also needs to be collaborative. While the caseworker is responsible for managing the comparison of the family's progress based on information gathered from all service providers, he or she must be sure to actively involve the family throughout the process.