A training module for FPS therapists created byCheri Johnson, MSWCentral Washington Universityfor Children’s AdministrationOlympia, Washington
Introduction This training will focus on the FPS therapist’s responsibility in ensuring the safety of families, particularly children, with whom we work. Prior to reviewing this material, it will be helpful if the therapist has viewed the CA video, “Making a CPS Referral: A Guide for Mandated Reporters.”
Before beginning this training…. Please have the following items handy: • Your copy of RCW 26.44.030 • Copies of handout, “Legal Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect” • Highlighter • Note-taking implements (pen and paper, sticky notes)
As we begin to explore issues related to family and child safety in FPS, we’ll be taking a look into four major areas: • Mandated reporting • Differences between safety and risk • Safety planning (provider/family) • The FPS therapist’s role in enhancing family and child safety
Given that families are not referred to FPS unless there is a substantial risk that a child may need to be removed from his/her home (or that they have already been in out-of-home placement and reunification is soon to occur)… …it should be clear that the safety of children in or returning to their homes is of primary importance to our work in Family Preservation.
Providers of FPS need to understand, support, and be prepared to act upon the legal and philosophical framework underlying these services. Accordingly, we’ll begin by examining the role of the FPS provider as a mandated reporter of suspected child abuse/neglect (CA/N).
What is mandated reporting? “Mandated reporting” refers to the statutory requirement (RCW 26.44) to report suspicions of child abuse or neglect to the designated agency, Children’s Administration. [NOTE: reports may also be made to law enforcement.]
What is meant by “child abuse or neglect (CA/N)”? From RCW 26.44.020 (12): “the injury, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, negligent treatment, or maltreatment of a child by any person under circumstances which indicate that the child's health, welfare, and safety is harmed…..”
Legal Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect The accompanying handout includes definitions and examples to help clarify both the broader and finer definitions of child abuse and neglect. This may also assist you in determining whether any safety concerns you may have fall under the heading of CA/N and thus must be reported to CPS.
Suggestion: While the handout provides statutes, definitions, and examples, this brief training cannot encompass such vital topics as identifying signs/symptoms of abuse, or appropriate interventions. A concise yet thorough and extremely useful resource may be found at the Children’s Administration website, http://www.dshs.wa.gov/ca/general/index.asp
There are also many clinically-sound trainings, seminars, journals, etc., available on the topic of identification of and intervention in child abuse and neglect. Keeping in mind the parameters of your role as an FPS therapist, access these resources to increase your knowledge and skill level!
Who is a mandated reporter? RCW 26.44.030 is quite explicit; three subsections detail who is required by law to report suspected child maltreatment.
To summarize these subsections: (1)(a) Medical providers and other helping professionals; (1)(b) DOC employees who observe offenders and/or children with whom offenders come in contact; (1)(c) Any adult who has reasonable cause to believe that a child who resides with them, has suffered severe abuse.
Please refer to the RCW for a comprehensive list of mandated reporters. FPS providers may actually fall under several covered categories; however, the category of “social service counselor” generally covers most providers.
Must a mandated reporter have proof of CA/N before making a CPS referral? No, the RCW specifies that one only needs to have reasonable cause to believe that CA/N has occurred. If you have reason to suspect a child has been maltreated, CPS should be contacted and a referral made.
How quickly must CPS be contacted? The RCW specifies that the report must be made at the first opportunity, but in no case longer than 48 hours after becoming aware of the situation. IMPORTANT: If the referral is related to an FPS-involved family, the therapist must report immediately, and follow up with written notification within 24 hrs.
What constitutes making a referral to CPS? It begins with an intake call, when a referent contacts the designated CPS intake worker, who then gathers as much information as possible. Be sure to have all available information in front of you, and be prepared to answer detailed questions from the intake worker.
Also, check with your agency for agency-specific protocol around CPS reporting that may be in place, e.g…. • Are you required to contact your immediate supervisor before making a referral? • Are there specific intra-agency forms to complete? Many agencies require an incident report or other specialized documentation be completed.
Can a CPS referral be made anonymously? Well………..yes, but don’t do it!!! • As a mandated reporter, the way to prove you have fulfilled your obligation to report is by giving your name, phone number, and your connection to the child involved to the intake worker when making the referral.
It’s helpful to find out the name of the intake worker to whom you’ve made the report. Make note of this in your FPS charting notes as further verification you have fulfilled your responsibility as a mandated reporter—and in case questions arise later.
Can non-mandated individuals make reports to CPS? Absolutely—and if someone shares information with you about their own suspicion a child has been maltreated, you should encourage them to report it directly to CPS intake. Please note, however, that this does not satisfy YOUR responsibility to report! (unless you make the call with them)
Mandated Reporter Training According to the FPS Contract, all new FPS staff must view the video, “Making a CPS Referral: A Guide for Mandated Reporters,” within 2 weeks of being hired to provide these services. • The video may be obtained from CA or accessed online at:http://www1.dshs.wa.gov/ca/pubs/pubcats. asp?cat=Multi-Media
After viewing, each employee or subcontractor must sign and date a statement acknowledging his/her duty to report CA/N. The video must be viewed, and the appropriate statement signed, at least once every three years, according to the contract.
Some final words on Mandatory Reporting… Making a referral to CPS should never be viewed as a negative action! Remember, the purpose for mandated reporting and for CPS in general is to ensure the safety and well-being of all children—not coincidentally, the primary focus of Family Preservation.
As FPS therapists and parapros, we pledge to ensure the safety of the child as our top priority. As mandated reporters, we are given the legal responsibility not for investigating allegations or considering potential repercussions of a CPS referral—but for speaking up any time we have reason to suspect a child may be experiencing abuse or neglect.
Failure to fulfill your obligation as a mandated reporter may not only jeopardize a child’s safety… …it could result in the loss of your FPS contract, your job, suspension or revocation of your professional licensure and/or registration, and your inability to obtain future employment in the field of social welfare.
So please, understand and be prepared to fulfill this vital responsibility to the children of your community… …as well as to your profession, your agency, and yourself.
Safety vs. Risk: What are we talking about here? • Safety: freedom from danger or injury. The primary focus of FPS is ensuring that children are free from threats to their health or well-being. • Risk: danger; the possibility of suffering harm or loss. Risks are those factors that jeopardize a child’s ability to live in a safe environment.
Safety and risk are essentially different sides of the same coin—both important elements of our work in FPS. • Safety is what an FPS intervention seeks to promote, enhance, increase. • Risk is what an FPS intervention seeks to manage, reduce, eliminate.
There is another significant distinction to keep in mind when considering safety and risk… • Safety focuses on current conditions that may harm or endanger a child now—involves immediate action to protect children from current threats. • Risk focuses on factors that estimate likelihood of future CA/N—involves planned interventions to decrease risk of harm.
It is critical to identify both risk factors and safety concerns as quickly as possible… • To ensure that there is a plan to keep children safe despite current safety concerns, and • To develop planned interventions that will decrease the risk of potential safety concerns (that may not yet have emerged but may be predicted based on identified risk factors).
How are risk factors and safety concerns identified? Beginning with the CA social worker’s first meeting, and continuing once a family is referred to FPS… …a variety of areas (such as parenting skills, history of CA/N, etc.) are considered and addressed via observation, interviews, and the application of assessment tools.
Risk factors within and around the family (including environmental factors) are gauged in terms of what part they may play in a family’s ability to ensure their children’s safety…. …safety concerns are identified—i.e., what components of a child’s safety may be jeopardized by the identified risk factors….
…and a search is undertaken for ameliorative measures that may intervene in or even prevent circumstances that could result in harm to a child. These steps set the stage for risk assessment and safety planning.
Before a case is referred to FPS, the CA social worker will typically have assessed risk factors and developed a safety plan for the family. The FPS therapist will also be assessing various levels of risk, more formally with the NCFAS/NCFAS-R at the beginning and end of services, and less formally throughout the intervention.
Levels of both risk and safety will fluctuate during the course of an intervention, so ongoing assessment of both is necessary… …by the FPS therapist, the CA social worker, and any other treaters involved with an FPS family.
The Role of Safety Planning in FPS The FPS Client Service Contract addresses the responsibility of the therapist to review the CA Safety Plan, if one has been developed.
If the CA social worker has completed a Safety Plan with a family subsequently referred to FPS, • A copy of the Safety Plan must be attached to the FPS referral form; • The FPS therapist must review the CA Safety Plan with the family at the first face-to-face meeting; and • The therapist must review the Safety Plan with the family at least every 2 weeks.
FPS therapists should be aware, when approaching this task, that despite having signed a CA Safety Plan… …some parents may not know what a Safety Plan is, or how to comply with it—they may simply remember signing something that kept their child from being removed from the home.
This is, in most cases, not due to any fault on the part of the social worker; it’s more typically related to the stress of being investigated by CPS. Faced with the fear that their child could be taken away from them, however briefly, parents will generally agree to sign almost anything, without much thought to what’s being signed.
Thus, even when the CA Safety Plan provides a list of safety concerns, action steps to correct these concerns, and a designation of who is responsible for taking the necessary actions… …the family may not find the CA Safety Plan as helpful as it was designed to be.
Not infrequently, the CA Safety Plan will clearly identify what the family should not do (i.e., “Sam will not hit the children,” “Susan will not leave the children unsupervised,” etc.)… …but will provide limited guidance in terms of what the family should do that would be considered a more appropriate response to the safety concern(s) in question.
Nevertheless, Safety Plans are valuable tools, and as FPS providers, part of our role is to ensure our clients follow them. One way to enhance client compliance with the CA Safety Plan is to supplement it with another plan, created cooperatively by the FPS therapist with the help and support of the referred family.
What makes a Safety Plan useful? A good safety plan clearly states: • safety concerns (what we hope to avoid—what presents risks to the child), • available resources (who could be contacted if threat to safety appears), and • action plans (what steps should be takenand by whom, to ensure child’s safety).
Sounds simple, right? Well..….. although developing a safety plan is a fairly simple, straightforward process, there’s one aspect that tends to confound helping professionals in general: we always want to jump ahead and fix things!
Accordingly, whether it’s the CA social worker or the FPS therapist, we tend to want to create safety plans that are more future- than present-oriented… …and more PROactive than REactive. But this is one time you’ll actually be encouraged to think in terms of reaction instead of prevention!