Last Updated: November 2023

The family strengths and needs assessment (FSNA) is used to evaluate the presenting strengths and barriers that caregivers encounter when trying to provide safety, permanency, and well-being for their children. This assessment is used with caregivers to collaboratively identify critical family needs that should be addressed in the case plan. This tool is used to systematically identify critical family needs that underlie safety in the family and risk of subsequent harm, and it helps plan effective interventions with the family. The FSNA serves several purposes:

  • It ensures that all social workers consistently consider each family's strengths and needs in an objective format when assessing the need for interventions that improve child/youth outcomes.
  • It provides an guide to support collaborative assessment for development of case plans by workers, supervisors, and family members that assists in identifying key areas of need and strengths and resources that can be used to increase child/youth safety.
  • The initial strengths and needs assessment, when followed by periodic reassessments, permits family members, social workers, family support workers, and their supervisors to assess changes in family functioning together and thus assess the effects of their work together over time during the case plan service period.
  • In the aggregate, needs assessment data provide management with information on the problems families face. These profiles can then be used to develop resources to meet family needs.
Which Cases

Every referral that is promoted to a case.

May be used when a referral will be closed and a detailed service referral will be made, which may benefit from the completion of an FSNA.

The child assessment portion is completed for each child who will be included in the case plan and for whom a case is established in the child welfare services case management system (CWS/CMS).


The social worker who is responsible for developing the initial case plan in conjunction with the family.


Initial: Prior to initial case plan
Review: Voluntary—within 30 days prior to case plan
Court—within 65 days prior to case plan


Identifies the priority needs of caregivers and all needs of children that must be addressed in the case plan. Goals, objectives, and interventions in a case plan should relate to one or more of the priority needs.

Identifies a family's priority areas of strength, which should be incorporated into the case plan to the greatest extent possible, as a means to address identified needs.

Appropriate Completion

Workers should familiarize themselves with the 11 caregiver domains and the 12 child domains of the FSNA and the corresponding definitions. Workers will notice that the domains are areas that they began to look at in the assessments prior to the FSNA, with the difference that the responses to these items lead to specific case planning goals and objectives.

Once a worker is familiar with the domains that must be assessed to complete the FSNA, the worker should conduct his/her family assessment as he/she normally would—using good social work practice to collect information from the child, caregiver, and/or collateral sources.

Each of the domains in the assessment represents a significant area of family functioning that may support or impede a family's ability to maintain the safety, permanency, and well-being of children. There may be some overlap or interaction between domains (e.g., a need in the domain of substance use may affect parenting practices, resource management/basic needs, and/or other areas of functioning). With this in mind, assess the caregiver's functioning in each domain as it relates to his/her ability to effectively provide for the safety of the child/youth/young adult.

For each domain, there are four possible responses:
  1. This is a strength response where the behavior actively helps create safety, permanency, and child/youth/young adult well-being.
  2. This is an “average” or adequate functioning response. Is not a strength or barrier for safety, permanency, or child/youth/young adult well-being.
    This response is also used to score children who are too young to assess in some categories. A caregiver/child with a response of “b” has not achieved the exceptional skills or resources reflected by a response of “a” and may experience a degree of stress or struggle common to daily functioning, but is generally functioning well in the area. These responses are considered as potential strengths, with the exception of children who are scored “b” in some categories because they are too young to assess. For example, an infant may be scored “b” for delinquency because he/she is too young to be assessed in this area, but it should not be selected as a strength for case planning purposes.
  3. Is a barrier to safety, permanency, or child/youth/young adult well-being. A response in this area may be a barrier to achieving child safety, permanency, or well-being but does not actively contribute to a threat to a child's safety.
  4. A response in this category represents an area that actively contributes to imminent danger of serious physical or emotional harm to the child/youth/young adult.

When scoring, consider the entire scope of available information, including the family's perspective, information from collateral sources, existing records and documents, and worker observations. Often, different sources will suggest different responses (e.g., father states he has no problem with alcohol, but has had two DUIs in the last year; mother states she believes he is an alcoholic; a court-ordered AOD assessment suggests alcohol dependency; father's brother states father has no problem with alcohol). The worker must make a determination based on social work assessment skills, taking into account the merits of each perspective. The household is assessed by completing all domains. If there are two caregivers, each is assessed and scored separately.

SN1 to SN11 and CSN1 to CSN12
Determine the appropriate response for each domain and check the item in the space provided. Note that:

  • CSN1 to CSN10 relate to children in the family/household.
  • CSN10 is only answered for a child in placement and addresses the child's relationship to his/her substitute care provider.
  • CSN11 is only answered for a young person who is at least 15.5 years old and addresses independent living issues.
  • SN11 and CSN12 are used when a caregiver or child, respectively, has a unique strength, barrier, or critical need that contributes to imminent danger that is not covered in other domains and is relevant to case planning. If an individual has a strength, mark “a.” If an individual has an area of strength or need that is not covered in other domains but it is not relevant for case planning, mark “b.” If an individual has a need, mark “c” or “d,” depending on the severity of the need. Use the comment box to briefly describe “a,” “c,” or “d” responses.

Priority Needs and Strengths for Caregivers and Children
To identify priority strengths and needs for caregivers, consider ratings for domains SN1 through SN11 in Section 1 (caregiver) of the FSNA. All identified child needs must be considered in the family case plan.

All domains identified as “d” (contributes to imminent danger of serious physical or emotional harm to the child/youth/young adult) should have a danger statement created about them and be addressed both by a safety plan and by the case plan. These are priorities for case closure.

All items entered as “c” (a barrier to safety, permanency, or child/youth/young adult well-being) should be strongly considered for the case plan but may not be required to be fully resolved for case closure.

All items entered as “a” should be considered as potential resources and aids when addressing domains identified as “d” and “c.”

For needs, enter the domain number and title for all domains assessed as a contributor to imminent danger (“d”) first and then all domains assessed as a barrier (“c”). A domain may be a priority need for one or both caregivers. Identify whether the assessment of each domain is for the primary caregiver, secondary caregiver, or both (P, S, or B).

For priority strengths, enter the domain number and title of all domains with an assessment of “a” (actively helps create safety, permanency, and child/youth/young adult well-being). Only items with an “a” may be identified as priority strengths. Look across both caregivers to identify strengths. A domain may be a priority strength for one or both caregivers. Mark “P” if it is a strength for only the primary caregiver, “S” if it is a strength for only the secondary caregiver, and “B” if it is a strength for both the primary and secondary caregivers.

Note: A domain may be a priority need for one caregiver and a priority strength for another caregiver.

Case Plan
A family case plan is to be written with behaviorally specific goals and objectives that consider and incorporate the caregiver's priority strengths in addressing the caregiver's priority needs. The family case plan is also to include service referrals that address the child's needs and take into consideration the child's strengths. It is the caregiver's responsibility to ensure that the child's needs are met through appropriate service provision. If a child is in protective placement, and the caregiver is unable to meet the child's needs, the agency must meet the child's needs.

Practice Considerations

Completion of the FSNA requires gathering information from all family members and collaterals, and performing a review of records. The assessment may be completed or modified during the course of family team meetings. The worker must be aware of culturally specific interpretation of appearances and must engage the family in culturally appropriate ways to make an accurate assessment. Where it is difficult to distinguish between responses, additional assessment may be helpful (i.e., psychological, developmental, substance use assessments), particularly if the difference between one rating and another is likely to impact the selection of priority needs.

The FSNA identifies priority AREAS to address in the case plan. Once those areas are identified, the worker may benefit from additional assessment within those areas to identify specific objectives, services, and activities most appropriate for this family. The family's history of service utilization and willingness to change in these areas should be considered. Case plan objectives should be behaviorally specific and measurable. If there was a safety plan in place, any continuing safety intervention requirements should now be incorporated into the case plan.

Once completed, the initial assessment and the resulting case plan can be used as a foundation for ongoing conversations and periodic (monthly) assessment between the social workers and family members about progress in identified areas of need and use of identified strengths and resources to increase child/youth/young adult safety, permanency, and well-being. This ongoing assessment process, documented in the case record during the service period, then serves to inform formal reassessment tools.

For children in out-of-home care, the case plan will also include information regarding visitation. While SDM does not guide the decision concerning visitation in the initial case plan, the worker is encouraged to consider the safety threats that led to removal, the risk level, and the specific needs of parent and child.