Last Updated: November 2023

The purpose of the safety assessment for congregate care is: (1) to help assess whether any child/youth is likely to be in imminent danger of serious harm, which requires protective intervention; and (2) to determine what interventions should be initiated or maintained to provide appropriate protection.

Unlike the Structured Decision Making® (SDM) safety assessment that is used in household-based settings, the congregate care safety assessment is a child-based assessment and should be used to guide decision-making related to the safety of an identified child/youth in a congregate care setting.

  • Other reporting : If, in the course of an assessment or investigation, other children/youth are suspected to have been abused or neglected, the worker should call the child abuse hotline of the county that placed that child/youth at the facility.
  • Safety versus risk assessment : It is important to keep in mind the difference between safety and risk when completing this assessment. Safety assessment looks at the child/youth’s present danger of imminent and serious harm and the interventions currently needed to protect the child/youth. In contrast, risk assessment looks at the likelihood of future child welfare system involvement.
Which Cases

This safety assessment should be used for all investigations of alleged abuse and neglect by a congregate care facility staff member. In accordance with California Penal Code § 11165.5, a facility caregiver is a person responsible for the child/youth’s care and welfare (including a licensee, administrator, or employee, volunteer, contractor, etc. of any facility licensed to care for children/youth).

This includes but is not limited to the following situations:

  • The alleged perpetrator is clearly a facility caregiver at a congregate care facility.
  • The abuse and neglect occurred while a child/youth was a at a congregate care facility.
  • There is reasonable suspicion that a congregate care provider or staff member failed to protect the child/youth or fulfill their obligation to protect a child/youth in their care.
  • Any open referrals or cases in which changing circumstances may place the child/youth in imminent danger of serious harm. This may include cases where an active safety plan is present and the safety interventions are no longer able to mitigate safety threats.

Note: If the person alleged to be causing harm is the child/youth’s parent/guardian/Indian custodian, AND the child/youth is placed at a congregate care facility, AND there is no allegation of harm by a facility caregiver, consider whether the safety assessment for family homes should be done instead of the safety assessment for congregate care settings. Examples for times to do this include, but are not limited to the following.

  • An extended home visit in which the parent/guardian/Indian custodian caused harm and there is no indication that the facility failed to protect the child/youth when the alleged abuse/neglect occurred.
  • A scheduled contact between the child/youth and their parent/guardian/Indian custodian off facility property during which the parent/guardian/Indian custodian caused harm, and there is no indication that the facility failed to protect the child/youth when the alleged abuse/neglect occurred.

Congregate care settings are defined here as any facility type outside of a home-based setting responsible for the placement and care of a dependent or ward child/youth. These include but are not limited to:

  • Short-term residential therapeutic programs (STRTPs);
  • Group homes, including enhanced behavioral support homes, minor-parent programs, and care for children under age 6;
  • Transitional housing placement programs (THPP); and
  • Transitional and temporary shelter care facilities.

Note: Juvenile detention facilities, child/youth homeless prevention centers, psychiatric hospitals or care facilities, and crisis nurseries are not included.


The assigned worker or probation officer who is responding to the referral.


For a new referral, the safety assessment interviewing, planning, and decision-making process is completed during the initial face-to-face contact with the child/youth.

The safety assessment form should be completed within two working days after first contact. For a child/youth who has already been protectively placed in another setting by law enforcement or other means, and for whom no safety assessment has been completed, the worker will complete a safety assessment within two working days of the referral.

Update safety assessment: If a safety plan is initiated, there must be an updated safety assessment documented within 30 days.


The safety assessment guides a structured assessment of whether any child/youth is in imminent danger of serious harm. This information guides the decision about whether the child/youth may remain in the placement with no intervention (safe), whether they may remain in the placement with safety interventions in place (safe with plan), or whether a placement change is required (unsafe).

Appropriate Completion

Workers should familiarize themselves with the items on the safety assessment and the accompanying definitions. Workers will notice that the items on the tool that are different for facility caregivers are items they are probably already assessing when they do these investigations. What distinguishes the SDM® tool is that it ensures that every worker is assessing the same items in each case and that the responses to these items lead to specific decisions. Once a worker is familiar with the items that must be assessed to complete the tool, the worker should conduct their initial contact as they normally would—using good social work practice to collect information from the child/youth, facility, tribe (if applicable), and/or collateral sources. The SDM tool ensures that the specific items that comprise the safety assessment are assessed during the initial contact.

Note that for all assessment items, the worker should rely on the information available at the time of the assessment. If there is no evidence to select “yes” for an item, they should select “no.”

The decision logic for the safety assessment is:
  • If no safety threats are selected, the only possible safety decision is “Safe: No safety threats were identified at this time.” No protective interventions need to be reviewed; the assessment is complete.
  • If one or more safety threats are selected, the worker must determine whether a safety plan will mitigate the safety threat or whether the child/youth must be moved.
  • If a safety plan can be developed with the facility, only interventions 1 through 8 can be selected, and the safety decision is “Safe with Plan: One or more safety threats are present; however, the child/youth can safely remain in the facility with a safety plan.” Protective interventions have been initiated through a safety plan, and the child/youth will remain in the facility as long as the safety interventions mitigate the safety threats. Placement change (intervention 10) should not be selected as an intervention if other interventions are selected.
  • If a safety plan cannot be developed with the facility, then placement change (intervention 10) must be selected, and the safety decision must be “Unsafe: One or more safety threats are present, and placement change is the only protective intervention possible for the child/youth. Without a placement change, the child/youth will likely be in danger of imminent or serious harm.”

Complete all assessment header information as follows.

  • Record the date of the safety assessment. The date of assessment is typically the date that the worker made initial face-to-face contact with the child/youth to assess safety, which may be different from the date that the tool is completed in WebSDM.
  • Indicate whether the child/youth is or may be an Indian child/youth, as required by Welfare and Institutions Code (WIC) §224.2(a). When reason to believe exists, the investigating worker should contact all appropriate tribe(s) as soon as possible for further information gathering and decision making, as described in Manual of Policy and Procedures (MPP) 31-101.111 and 31-105.114. Contact with the tribe should not delay a decision about immediate safety for the child/youth; however, such contact is likely to create more possibilities for safety assessment and planning. Details of the contact/attempted contact with tribe(s), a summary of information, and the impact on assessment and decision making must be documented in CWS/CMS; and efforts to contact the tribe must continue through investigations as outlined in MPP 31-101.522.
  • Enter safety assessment type:
    • Initial. Each referral should have one initial safety assessment, completed during the first face-to-face contact with the child/youth named in the referral. However, because this is a child-based assessment, if there are allegations involving two or more children/youth within a single referral, an initial safety assessment must be conducted on every child/youth.
    • Review/update. After the initial assessment, any additional safety assessment is most likely a review/update, unless it is completed at the point of closing a referral or case. A review/update includes a safety assessment completed on a second facility where there are no allegations.
  • Enter the name of the child/youth assessed. In referrals where more than one child/youth is identified as being abused or neglected, a separate safety assessment is required for each child/youth.

The safety assessment consists of five sections:


This section includes a list of people who may have harmed the child/youth in the current report. It also covers child/youth vulnerabilities and facility vulnerabilities; each is a list of conditions that could make the child/youth more vulnerable to harm. A vulnerability does not automatically mean the child/youth is unsafe.


This section is completed only if one or more safety threats are identified and the worker has determined that a safety plan can be developed with the family that will protect the child in his or her home while the investigation continues. If one or more safety threats are present, it does not automatically follow that a child must be placed. In many cases, it will be possible to initiate a temporary plan that will mitigate the safety threat(s) sufficiently so that the child may remain in the home while the investigation continues. When determining whether a safety plan can be developed, consider the relative severity of the safety threat(s), any complicating behaviors by the caregiver that may impact safety planning, household strengths and protective actions, the vulnerability of the child, and the in-home safety interventions that are available.

This list of 10 safety threats (nine identified and defined and an “other”) must be assessed by every worker in every case. They cover conditions that render a child/youth in danger of imminent, serious harm.

Workers should make every effort to obtain sufficient information to assess these items prior to terminating their initial contact. However, it is expected that not all facts about a case can be known immediately. Based on reasonable efforts to obtain information necessary to respond to each item, review each of the safety threats and accompanying definitions.

If the safety threat is present, based on available information, select “yes” for that item. If the safety threat is not present, select “no” for that item. Because not every conceivable safety threat can be anticipated or listed on a tool, the “other” category permits a worker to indicate that some other circumstance creates a safety threat.


This section is completed only if one or more safety threats were identified. Select any of the listed protective capacities that are present for the child/youth and/or facility. Consider information from the referral; worker observations; interviews with child/youth, facility staff, and tribe (if applicable), and collaterals; and review of records. For “other,” consider any condition that exists and does not fit within one of the listed categories but may support protective interventions for the safety threats identified in Section 2.


This section is completed only if one or more safety threats are identified and the worker has determined that a safety plan can be developed with the facility that will protect the child/youth in the facility while the investigation continues.

A safety threat being present does not automatically mean that a child/youth must be moved from the facility. In many cases, it will be possible to initiate a temporary plan that will mitigate the safety threat(s) sufficiently so that the child/youth may remain in the facility while the investigation continues. When determining whether a safety plan can be developed, consider the relative severity of the safety threat(s), child/youth and facility protective capacities, the child/youth’s vulnerability, and the available protective interventions.

The protective intervention list contains general categories of interventions rather than specific programs. The worker should consider each category of interventions, determine whether an intervention in that category is available and sufficient to mitigate the safety threat(s), and determine whether there is reason to believe the facility will follow through with a planned intervention.

Simply because an intervention exists in the community or facility does not mean it should be used in a particular case. The worker may determine that even with an intervention, the child/youth would be unsafe; or the worker may determine that an intervention would be satisfactory but has reason to believe the facility would not follow through. The worker should keep in mind that while any single intervention may be insufficient to mitigate the safety threat(s), a combination of interventions may provide adequate safety for a safety plan to be successful.

Also keep in mind that the safety intervention is not the case plan—it is not intended to “solve” the facility’s problems or provide long-term answers. A safety plan permits a child/youth to remain in the facility for a short-term period by listing specific, timely actions that address the identified safety threats.

If one or more interventions will be implemented, select each category that will be used. If there is an intervention that will be implemented that does not fit in one of the categories, select safety intervention 8 and briefly describe the intervention. Safety intervention 9 is used only when the child/youth is unsafe and only a placement change can ensure safety.


If there are no identified safety threats for this child/youth in the facility, the safety decision is “safe.” If a safety threat was identified, use the protective capacities to determine if "safe with plan" or "unsafe" is the final safety decision.


Counties should each use their own safety plan form. The following must be included in any safety plan.

  • Each safety threat that has been identified and a description of the conditions or behaviors in the facility that place the child/youth in imminent danger of serious harm. The worker should use language the child/youth and facility staff understand so it is clear to them what caused the worker to identify the threat.
  • Detailed information for each planned safety intervention: What needs to happen to keep the child/youth safe? Explain how safety threat(s) will be mitigated. What will the facility do to keep the child/youth safe? What will other people outside the facility do? What will the child/youth do? This should include a written statement of actions or behaviors, to be taken by a responsible party, that will keep the child/youth safe in the current conditions.
  • Who is participating in the plan, each participant’s role, a description of how the safety plan will be monitored (e.g., who is responsible for each intervention action), and the timeframe each intervention will remain in place.
  • Signature lines for facility staff, the worker, and the worker’s supervisor. Include tribal social worker's signature in cases including an Indian child/youth.

A safety plan is required when safety decision is “safe with plan.“

The safety plan should be documented in the investigation contact and flagged with the appropriate special project code in CWS/CMS as specified in ACL 22-02.

The safety plan must be developed in partnership with and agreed to by the facility leadership and staff. Leave a copy with the facility and another with the child/youth.

Note: A facility firing or suspending the alleged perpetrator staff member is not sufficient in and of itself for a safety plan. The safety plan must include other action items as well; e.g., what the child/youth will do if they become triggered by a similar event, what the facility will do to ensure the fired or suspended staff will not have access to the child/youth in the community.

If safety threats have not been resolved by the end of the investigation, the investigating worker will provide the safety plan to the ongoing services worker. The ongoing services worker will be responsible for maintaining the safety plan and all remaining interventions until the safety threat has been resolved.

Practice Guidance

Where it is known or there is reason to know that a child/youth is an Indian child/youth, safety plans should be developed in consultation with the tribe, with consideration given to the prevailing social and cultural standards and way of life of an Indian child/youth’s tribe, as described in MPP 31-127-23. Consider having tribal resources, Indian community service agencies, and/or tribal social worker participate in the safety plan and assist the family in addressing the identified safety threats.


This section is completed only when, after considering child/youth and facility protective capacities, the vulnerability of the child/youth, and the protective interventions that are available, the worker determines that placement change is the only intervention for protection of the child/youth. If the child/youth is an Indian child/youth, or there is reason to know they are an Indian child/youth, the affiliated tribe(s) must be contacted if there is going to be a placement change.

If one or more safety threats are identified and the worker determines that protective interventions are unavailable, are insufficient, or may not be used, the final option is to indicate that the child/youth will be moved by selecting placement intervention 10.


This section contains reminders to staff of other key activities that may be needed during the safety assessment process, including reporting other children/youth with child abuse and neglect concerns to the hotline at the county that placed that child/youth at that facility, contacting CCL if they have not been contacted, and contacting law enforcement if a cross-report is required.


While safety is the prevailing concern of the first face-to-face contact, the manner of engaging the facility and child/youth will depend upon social work skills. Whenever possible, the worker should use a strengths-based approach in the initial contact while remaining observant for the presence or absence of safety threats. Most safety threats are salient and can be discerned without invasive questioning. Others are easier to assess when facility staff are candid, which is more likely when the worker approaches the facility with respect. If there are significant safety issues, the first face-to-face contact may be limited to assessing safety. At other times, the worker will also begin to gather additional clinical information along with information regarding risk, strengths, and needs.

For all cases in which the child/youth or parent/guardian/Indian custodian knows their tribe and membership status, the worker must contact the tribe to engage and work with the designated tribal representative or tribal family services department.

Resources for Indian children/youth vary depending on a tribe's resources and the location of the child/youth and family (rural versus urban, proximity to tribal resources, or proximity to urban Indian community resources). The child/youth’s and/or parent/guardian/Indian custodian's tribe may provide resources through tribal family services or through a tribal consortium. Some urban areas have resources through Indian resource centers, Indian health clinics, Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or Title VII Indian education programs (which may not be affiliated with a tribe). Some county child welfare agencies have a dedicated Indian specialist or specialty unit that serves Indian children/youth, who can assist with engagement and access to resources. They may also have current contact information to assist the child/youth in obtaining membership with their tribe. Many tribes have public websites that provide information about their ICWA or family service programs.

For children/youth of non–federally recognized tribes, the “Spirit of ICWA” expands the option and availability of culturally appropriate services to children/youth, which may include local Indian resource centers, tribal TANF, or Title VII Indian education programs. Resources such as the US Department of the Interior and the US Children’s Bureau are available to assist the worker and caregivers in tracing Indian ancestry.