Once the court has either granted the child protective services (CPS) agency’s petition for custody of the child or decided that the child and family must receive additional services, the caseworker assigned to the family conducts a family assessment. At best, this is a comprehensive process that can expand upon the assessment conducted during the investigation. During this assessment, the caseworker identifies behaviors and conditions about the child, parent, and family that contributed to safety threats and the risk of child maltreatment.
A comprehensive family assessment provides both the caseworker and the family with a greater understanding of how a family's strengths, needs, and resources affect a child's safety, permanency, and well-being. It should be strengths-based, family-centered, culturally sensitive, individualized, and developed in partnership with the family. The strengths identified will provide the foundation upon which the family can make changes.
When possible, this assessment also should involve the extended family and support network. Many CPS agencies use family decision-making meetings where family members come together to make decisions and to develop a plan with the agency for services. These meetings may include a larger, often informal network and usually involve both custodial and non-custodial parents.
A thorough family assessment is an ongoing process throughout the life of the case and addresses the following questions.
- What are the family's strengths and needs that affect safety, permanency, or well-being?
- What is the child’s current living situation with regard to safety and stability? Was a safety plan developed, and what has been the family’s response to this plan?
- How do family members perceive their conditions, problems, and strengths?
- What is the parent’s or caregiver’s level of readiness for change? What is their motivation and capacity to ensure safety, permanency, and well-being?
- What is currently known about the parent or caregiver’s history? Are there clues that further information about the past will help to explain the parent or caregiver’s current functioning?
- What is known about the family’s social support network? Who else is supporting the family and who will be available on an ongoing basis for the family to rely on?
- Are there any behavioral symptoms observed in the child? How has the child functioned in school and in social relationships? Who else may have information about any behavioral or emotional concerns?
- Have problems been identified that may need further examination or evaluation, such as drug or alcohol problems, psychiatric or psychological problems, domestic violence, or health needs?
- Has the child experienced any trauma as a result of his or her maltreatment and, if so, what specific services may be required to address it?
- What further information about the family will help provide an understanding of the risk and protective factors related to the potential of continued maltreatment?
All of this information will guide the family and caseworker in identifying what must change to mitigate or eliminate the safety threats, address the effects of maltreatment and/or other effects of the child’s removal, and eliminate or reduce the risk of maltreatment recurring. This provides the foundation for providing appropriate services and developing a case plan.