Risk assessment - advice
This advice provides additional information regarding completing a SAFER risk assessment.
Document ID number 2460, version 1, 20 November 2021.
At the centre of the SAFER children framework are the five practice activities of risk assessment.
Risk assessment is critical to child protection practice and is the application of the SAFER children framework’s practice activities, informed by the knowledge, skills and professional judgement of practitioners, leaders and managers.
A clearly articulated risk assessment is supported by evidence and provides for appropriate intervention and case planning, working in partnership with families to increase safety for children.
This advice provides additional information about completing the three types of risk assessments in child protection:
- intake risk assessment
- risk assessment at investigation phase and substantiation
- review risk assessment.
Determining the risk assessment
Each risk assessment is recorded in CRIS and endorsed by a team manager.
The risk assessment is drawn from the information and evidence contained in the seven essential information categories and informed by the practitioner’s and their supervisor’s professional judgement.
At intake phase
The intake risk assessment occurs once only, during intake phase (with the exception of a report that moves from unborn to intake). The intake risk assessment and decision making occurs in consultation with a supervisor or team manager. Intake practitioners must make a decision about the outcome of the intake by analysing:
- the consequence of harm - what is known about the vulnerability of the child and the severity of harm to make a judgement about the impact of harm,
- the probability of harm – what is known about the likelihood of harm and safety to make a judgement about the probability of harm occurring or recurring in the future.
In circumstances where the consequence of harm is either severe or significant, and the probability of harm is either likely or very likely, then a decision to classify as a protective intervention report should be considered. And, in circumstances where the consequence of harm is severe, the decision to classify as a protective intervention report and progress the investigation as urgent should be considered, regardless of the probability of harm level.
See Conducting the intake risk assessment - procedure for tasks that must be undertaken.
At investigation phase
During the investigation phase, practitioners complete the risk assessment based on the analysis of the information and evidence obtained through seeking, sharing, sorting and storing.
In CRIS, one risk assessment per case is required to be completed and endorsed by a team manager. This occurs at the decision to substantiate or not substantiate during the investigation phase.
The analysis of information and evidence to form the risk assessment brings together the vulnerability of the child and severity of harm to determine the consequence of harm along with analysis of the likelihood of harm and safety to determine the probability of harm.
It is the relationship between the consequence of harm and probability of harm that forms the judgement and informs decisions – most commonly this will be the decision to substantiate or not substantiate.
See Conducting the risk assessment procedure for tasks that must be undertaken.
Any subsequent risk assessments are referred to as ‘review risk assessments’ in CRIS.
Information and evidence is required to be constantly reviewed, in order to determine the judgement about consequence of harm and probability of harm. Where judgements about consequence and probability of harm change in line with new information, this guides or changes the decisions made about next steps during an intervention with a child and family.
Reviewing the risk assessment considers information and evidence, analysis and planning undertaken in the other practice activities. It also considers if providing the widest possible assistance to a family has created sufficient change to indicate the child is no longer at risk of significant harm.
Reviewing the risk assessment considers if parental change has occurred to a level that decreases consequence and probability of harm and if new information or evidence increases the consequence and probability of harm. Reviewing the risk assessment is likely to happen many times throughout an intervention with a child and family.
See Reviewing the risk assessment - procedure for tasks that must be undertaken.
Essential information categories and risk assessment
There are seven essential information categories;
- family, community and environment
- family violence
- protection and safety
Information that has been sought by or shared with practitioners in relation to a child and their family is stored in CRIS against each essential information category where relevant, and in case notes.
Categories one (child), two (parents and caregivers) and three (family, community and environment) contain evidence-based risk factors for adverse outcomes as identified in a literature review by Gaskin Research (2017).
Category four is family violence. The evidence-based factors in this category have been developed with Family Safety Victoria. They align with MARAM. Serious risk factors are highlighted in this document, and in CRIS, in the colour orange.
Categories five and six are strengths, and protection and safety. They allow practitioners, managers and leaders to take a strengths-based approach. The help identify strengths that may provide safety (strengths demonstrated as protection over time) or can be built on to create safety and protection (SAFER children framework guide 2021).
Category 7 is harm. This category is the harm types under section 162 of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 (CYFA). Therapeutic treatment reports (s. 244 of the CYFA) is also included in category 7.
At intake phase, practitioners record short, sharp and factual information and evidence for each evidence-based factor selected, based on the reported concerns. As information and evidence is gathered through intake and investigation, builds an emerging picture of the child and the concerns about them.
As these concerns are investigated, practitioners will record the outcome of each evidence-based factor either as verified, confirmed, unable to resolve, disproved, or unable to investigate.
The evidence-based factors relate to a harm type as set out in s. 162 of the CYFA, and are then substantiated, or not, during the investigation phase. There must be a confirmed evidence-based factor linked to the harm type in order to substantiate against that harm type.
Updating the essential information categories is to be viewed as a dynamic activity throughout all phases of child protection work. Practitioners regularly update the essential information categories and factors as they seek and store more information across all phases of child protection.
The information and evidence recorded in the essential information categories is analysed in line with the SAFER children framework to determine the intake risk assessment, risk assessment or review risk assessment.
MARAM and risk assessment
There is one essential information category dedicated to family violence, and it includes MARAM aligned evidence-based factors.
When family violence is a concern, and the essential information category of family violence is selected, practitioners will use the family violence prompt tool for the phase they are working in to seek information about family violence.
This information is recorded in CRIS as a part of the overall risk assessment, along with a MARAM risk assessment and risk rating.
The MARAM risk assessment and risk rating informs the probability of harm judgement, which informs decisions. This information is to be updated and re-assessed as new information is gathered or circumstances change for the family.
See Assessing and managing family violence in child protection – advice for further information.