Factors Influencing Child Vulnerability
Factors Influencing Child Vulnerability (conditions resulting in child’s inability to protect self; mark all that apply to any child in the household)
  • Age 0–5 years. Any child in the household is under the age of 5. Younger children are considered more vulnerable, as they are less verbal and less able to protect themselves from harm. Younger children also have less capacity to retain memory of events. Infants are particularly vulnerable, as they are nonverbal and completely dependent on others for care and protection.
  • Significant diagnosed medical or mental disorder. Any child in the household has a diagnosed medical or mental disorder that significantly impairs ability to protect him/herself from harm, OR diagnosis may not yet be confirmed but preliminary indications are present and testing/evaluation is in process. Examples may include but are not limited to: severe asthma, severe depression, medically fragile (e.g., requires assistive devices to sustain life), etc.
  • Not readily accessible to community oversight. The child is isolated or less visible within the community (e.g., the family lives in an isolated community, the child may not attend a public or private school or be routinely involved in other activities within the community, etc.).
  • Diminished developmental/cognitive capacity. Any child in the household has diminished developmental/cognitive capacity, which impacts ability to communicate verbally or to care for and protect self from harm.
  • Diminished physical capacity (e.g., non-ambulatory, limited use of limbs). Any child in the household has a physical condition/disability that impacts ability to protect self from harm (e.g., cannot run away or defend self, cannot get out of the house in an emergency situation if left unattended).
Safety Threats
1. Caregiver caused serious physical harm to the child or made a plausible threat to cause serious physical harm in the current investigation, as indicated by:
  • Serious injury or abuse to the child other than accidental. The caregiver caused, or could have caused a serious injury, defined as brain damage, skull or bone fracture, subdural hemorrhage or hematoma, dislocations, sprains, internal injuries, poisoning, burns, scalds, or severe cuts, and the child requires medical treatment.
  • Caregiver fears he/she will maltreat the child. The caregiver has reported credible fears that he/she will hurt the child in a way that would cause serious injury and/or requests placement.
  • Threat to cause harm or retaliate against the child. Threat of action that would result in serious harm, or household member plans to retaliate against child for child protective services (CPS) investigation.
  • Domestic violence likely to injure child. There have been incidents of household violence that created danger of serious physical injury to the child AND there is reason to believe that this may occur again (e.g., alleged domestic violence perpetrator and victim are still involved in relationship; a pattern of household violence continues to exist). For example:
    • Child was in the arms of one person during a violent episode;
    • A gun, knife, or other implement was involved;
    • Child attempted to intervene or was near enough to the violent altercation that he/she was in harm's way; or
    • Child was previously injured in a domestic/family violence incident (e.g., fractures, bruising, cuts, or burns) and there is violence occurring now.
  • Excessive discipline or physical force. The caregiver used physical methods to discipline a child that resulted or could easily result in serious injury, OR caregiver injured or nearly injured a child by using physical force for reasons other than discipline.
  • Drug/alcohol-exposed infant. There is evidence that the mother used alcohol or other drugs during pregnancy AND this has created imminent danger to the infant.
    • Indicators of drug use during pregnancy include: drugs found in the mother's or child's system, mother's self-report, diagnosed as high-risk pregnancy due to drug use, efforts on mother's part to avoid toxicology testing, withdrawal symptoms in mother or child, or pre-term labor due to drug use.
    • Indicators of imminent danger include: the level of toxicity and/or type of drug present, the infant is diagnosed as medically fragile as a result of drug exposure, or the infant suffers adverse effects from introduction of drugs during pregnancy. 
2. Child sexual abuse is suspected, AND circumstances suggest that the child's safety may be of immediate concern.

Suspicion of sexual abuse may be based on indicators such as:

  • The child discloses sexual abuse verbally.
  • The child displays behaviors that strongly indicate sexual abuse (e.g., excessive, age-inappropriate sexualized behavior toward self or others).
  • Medical findings consistent with molestation.
  • The caregiver or others in the household have been convicted, investigated, or accused of rape or sodomy, or have had other sexual contact with the child.
  • The caregiver or others in the household have forced or encouraged the child to engage in sexual performances or activities (including forcing the child to observe sexual performances or activities, or commercial sexual exploitation, including sex trafficking).
    • Children and youth aged 17 years old and younger are sexually exploited when they have engaged in, solicited for, or been forced to engage in sexual conduct or performance of sexual acts (e.g., stripping) in return for a benefit, such as money, food, drugs, shelter, clothing, gifts, or other goods, or for financial or some other gain for a third party. The sexual conduct may include any direct sexual contact or performing any acts, sexual or nonsexual, for the sexual gratification of others. These acts constitute sexual exploitation regardless of whether they are live, filmed, or photographed.
    • Commercial sexual exploitation of children/youth/young adults may include prostitution, pornography, trafficking for sexual purposes, and other forms of sexual exploitation. The youth is treated as a sexual object and as a commercial object. The sexual exploitation of the child may profit a much wider range of people than the immediate beneficiary of the transaction.

The child's safety may be of immediate concern if:

  • There is not a non-offending caregiver, or the non-offending caregiver is not protective (blaming the child for the sexual abuse or the investigation or denying that the sexual abuse occurred) or is otherwise influencing or coercing the child victim regarding disclosure.
  • Access to a child by a confirmed sexual abuse perpetrator, especially with known restrictions regarding any child under age 18, exists.
3. Caregiver does not meet the child's immediate needs for supervision, food, clothing, and/or medical or mental health care.
The caregiver is unable or unwilling to address critical areas of food, clothing, shelter, supervision, and/or medical and mental health care for the child AND the child has been seriously harmed or is in imminent danger of being seriously harmed as a result.
  • The child's nutritional needs are not met, resulting in danger to the child's health and/or safety, including malnutrition and morbid obesity.
  • The child is without clothing appropriate to the weather. Consider the age of the child and whether clothing is the choice of the child or has been provided by the caregiver.
  • The caregiver does not seek treatment for the child's immediate, chronic, and/or dangerous medical condition(s), or does not follow prescribed treatment for such conditions, resulting in declining health status (e.g., not providing insulin for a child with diabetes, not providing follow-up care for a wound that is infected, or not providing care for a broken bone). Note: The pursuit of traditional or alternative practices rather than prescribed treatment is included here IF there is evidence that the child's health status is declining AND there is evidence that prescribed treatment would likely be effective.
  • The child has exceptional needs, such as being medically fragile, which the caregiver does not or cannot meet, resulting in declining health status.

    The child is suicidal and/or is seriously self-harming AND the caregiver will not/cannot take protective action.

  • The child shows effects of maltreatment, such as physical symptoms, lack of behavioral control, or serious emotional symptoms.
  • The caregiver is present but does not attend to the child to the extent that need for care goes unnoticed or unmet (e.g., can wander outdoors alone, play with dangerous objects, play on an unprotected window ledge, or be exposed to other serious hazards).
  • The caregiver leaves the child alone (time period varies with age and developmental stage) in circumstances that create opportunities for serious harm, e.g., child left unattended in vehicle.
  • The caregiver is unavailable (e.g., incarceration, hospitalization, abandonment, whereabouts unknown) and there are no arrangements for the child that would ensure his/her safety.
  • The caregiver makes inadequate and/or inappropriate babysitting or child care arrangements, or demonstrates very poor planning for the child's care during absences, and these arrangements do not provide minimal safety for the child (e.g., temporary caregiver is intoxicated, has limited capacity, or for any reason is unable to meet child's needs).
4. The physical living conditions are hazardous and immediately threatening to the health and/or safety of the child.
Based on the child's age and developmental status, the child's physical living conditions are hazardous and immediately threatening, including but not limited to the following:
  • Leaking gas from stove or heating unit.
  • Lack of water or utilities (heat, plumbing, electricity), and no alternative or safe provisions have been made.
  • Open/broken/missing windows.
  • Exposed electrical wires.
  • Excessive garbage or rotted or spoiled food that threatens health.
  • Serious illness or significant injury has occurred due to living conditions, and these conditions still exist (e.g., lead poisoning, rat bites).
  • Evidence of human or animal waste throughout living quarters.
  • Guns and other weapons are not locked and not properly secured.
  • Drug production in the home.
  • Substances (including drugs, drug paraphernalia or cleaning supplies) or objects within reach of child that may endanger his/her health and/or safety.
5. Caregiver describes or speaks to the child in predominantly negative terms or acts toward or in the presence of the child in negative ways that result in severe psychological/emotional harm, leading to the child being a danger to self or others.
Examples of caregiver actions include the following:
  • The caregiver describes the child in a demeaning or degrading manner (e.g., as evil, stupid, ugly).
  • The caregiver curses and/or repeatedly puts the child down.
  • The caregiver scapegoats a particular child in the family.
  • The caregiver blames the child for a particular incident or for family problems.
  • The caregiver places the child in the middle of a custody battle.
  • The caregiver engages in behaviors associated with domestic violence in the presence of the child. These incidents may occur on more than one occasion OR a single occasion that involved weapons; resulted in any injury to an adult; or resulted in arrest/court involvement, escalating patterns of control, and intimidation.

    Domestic violence perpetrators are parents or caregivers who engage in a pattern of coercive control against one or more intimate partners. This pattern of behaviors may continue after the end of the relationship or when the parents no longer live together. The alleged perpetrator’s actions often directly involve, target, and impact children in the household.
6. Caregiver is unable OR unwilling to protect the child from serious harm or threatened harm by others. This may include physical abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect.
The caregiver fails to protect the child from serious harm or threatened harm as a result of physical abuse, neglect, or sexual abuse by other family members, other household members, or others having regular access to the child.
  • The caregiver does not provide supervision necessary to protect the child from potentially serious harm by others based on the child's age or developmental stage.
  • An individual with known violent criminal behavior/history or sexual abuse resides in the home, or the caregiver allows access to the child. Include regardless of whether the caregiver (1) knew of the history and allowed access, or (2) upon learning of the history, has not prevented further access.
  • The caregiver regularly takes the child to dangerous locations where drugs are manufactured or regularly administered (e.g., meth labs or drug houses), or locations used for prostitution or pornography.
  • In circumstances of domestic violence, the non-offending caregiver is not able to protect him/herself or the child from immediate threat of physical and emotional harm.
7. Caregiver's explanation for the injury to the child is questionable or inconsistent with the type of injury, AND the nature of the injury suggests that the child's safety may be of immediate concern.
Factors to consider include the child's age, location of injury, exceptional needs of the child, or chronicity of injuries.
  • The injury requires medical attention AND medical assessment indicates the injury is likely to be the result of abuse or is inconsistent with the explanation provided by the caregiver; OR
  • There was a suspicious injury that did not require medical treatment but covered multiple parts of the body, appeared to be caused by an object, or is in different stages of healing, AND/OR was located on an infant, or for older children, on the torso, face, or head.
AND one of the following is true:
  • The caregiver denies abuse or attributes the injury to accidental causes; OR
  • The caregiver's explanation, or lack of explanation, for the observed injury is inconsistent with the type of injury; OR
  • The caregiver's description of the injury or cause of the injury minimizes the extent of harm to the child.
8. The family refuses access to the child, or there is reason to believe that the family is about to flee.
This safety threat should only be identified when other threats are near, but do not reach the threshold in the definitions; the worker has made attempts to contact the child and been refused access by the caregiver; OR there is reason to believe the family is about to flee during an ongoing investigation after an initial safety assessment has been completed.
  • The family currently refuses access to the child or cannot/will not provide the child's location.
  • The family has removed the child from a hospital against medical advice to avoid investigation.
  • The family has previously fled in response to a CPS investigation or there is credible information that the family is about to flee.
  • The family has a history of keeping the child at home, away from peers, school, and other outsiders, for extended periods of time for the purpose of avoiding investigation.
9. Current circumstances, combined with information that the caregiver has or may have previously maltreated a child in his/her care, suggest that the child's safety may be of immediate concern based on the severity of the previous maltreatment or the caregiver's response to the previous incident.

There must be both current, immediate threats to child safety AND related previous maltreatment that was severe and/or represents an unresolved pattern of maltreatment.

Previous maltreatment includes any of the following:

  • Prior death of a child as a result of maltreatment.
  • Prior serious injury or abuse to the child other than accidental. The caregiver caused serious injury, defined as brain damage, skull or bone fracture, subdural hemorrhage or hematoma, dislocations, sprains, internal injuries, poisoning, burns, scalds, severe cuts, or any other physical injury that seriously impairs the health or well-being of the child and required medical treatment.
  • Failed reunification. The caregiver had reunification efforts terminated in connection with a prior CPS investigation.
  • Prior removal of a child. Removal/placement of a child by CPS or other responsible agency or concerned party was necessary for the safety of the child.
  • Prior CPS substantiation. A prior CPS investigation was substantiated for maltreatment.
  • Prior inconclusive CPS investigation. Factors to be considered include seriousness, chronicity, and/or patterns of abuse/neglect allegations.
  • Prior threat of serious harm to a child. Previous maltreatment could have caused severe injury, there was retaliation or threatened retaliation against a child for previous incidents, or prior domestic violence resulted in serious harm or threatened harm to a child.
  • Prior service failure. Failure to successfully complete court-ordered or voluntary services.
10. Other (specify):
Circumstances or conditions that pose an immediate threat of serious harm to a child, which are not already described in safety threats 1-9.
Caregiver Complicating Behaviors
Substance Abuse
Caregiver has abused legal or illegal substances or alcoholic beverages in this incident to the extent that control of his/her actions or caregiving abilities is significantly impaired, or information is available that past abuse of legal or illegal substances has impaired the parent's caregiving capabilities in the past.
Domestic Violence
There are indications of a recent history of one or more physical assaults between intimate members of the household, or threats/intimidation or harassment that are known as a result of self-report or other credible report by a family or other household member, friend, other collateral contacts, and/or police reports.
Mental Health
One or both caregivers appear to be mentally ill at the time of this incident or have a known history of mental health issues that have or could have impacted care of children.
Developmental/Cognitive Impairment
One or both caregivers may have diminished capacity as a result of developmental delays or cognitive issues that may impact their ability to provide care and supervision of children.
Physical Condition
One or both caregivers has a physical condition that impacts care and protection of the child in the household.
Household Strengths & Protective Actions

Household strengths are resources and coping skills/qualities in an individual or a family that contribute in positive ways to family life but do not, in and of themselves, directly enhance the child's protection from the safety threat(s) over time. These characteristics can be built upon for future planning and indicate the capability to be used in the safety planning process.

Protective actions are specific actions and/or activities that have been taken by the caregiver that directly address the safety threat and are demonstrated over time. These are observed activities that have been demonstrated in the past and can be directly incorporated into the safety plan for the family and child. They may also include actions taken by the child in some circumstances. Actions taken by the child should not be the basis for the safety plan but may be incorporated as part of the plan.

Household Strengths
The following strengths should be assessed, considered, and built upon when creating a safety plan to mitigate the safety threats. Mark all that apply to the household.
At least one caregiver identifies and acknowledges the problem/safety threat(s) and suggests possible solutions.
Other qualitative actions, resources, and coping demonstrated by the caregiver or family that could be built upon in a safety plan but do not, by themselves, fully address the safety threat.
At least one caregiver has at least one supportive relationship with someone who is willing to be a part of his/her support network.
The caregiver has a supportive relationship with at least one other family member, neighbor, or friend who may be able to assist in safety planning. This support network member is someone who cares about the child or family but may not, at this time, know what the safety threat is, or has not yet been asked to take action to ensure that the child is protected from those threats now and into the future.
At least one non-offending caregiver exists and is willing and able to protect the child from future harm.
There is at least one caregiver who has done nothing to contribute to the existence of the safety threat. This non-offending caregiver understands that continued exposure between the child and the offending caregiver poses a threat to the safety of the child, and the non-offending caregiver may be willing to become part of a support network and protect the child going forward.
At least one caregiver is willing to work with the agency to mitigate safety threats, including allowing caseworker(s) access to the child.
In the current investigation or assessment, the caregiver allows CPS to have contact with the child for the purpose of assessing child safety. This includes interviews and observation of children in the household. The caregiver accepts the involvement and initial service recommendations of the worker or other individuals working through referred community agencies, including tribal or Indian community service agencies, and/or the use of ICWA program resources. The caregiver cooperates with the continuing investigation/assessment, allows the worker and intervening agency to have contact with the child, and supports the child in all aspects of the investigation or ongoing intervention.
At least one child is emotionally/intellectually capable of acting to protect him/herself from a safety threat.
At least one child has the intellectual or emotional capacity to ask for help. He/she understands his/her family environment in relation to any real or perceived threats to safety and is able to communicate at least two options for obtaining immediate assistance if needed (e.g., calling 911, running to neighbor, telling teacher).
At least one child is aware of his/her support network members and knows how to contact these individuals when needed.
When faced with a potentially dangerous situation, at least one child can currently name adults who care about him/her and who would be able to help him/her in the future. Child also has strategies for how to reach the adults.
Other qualitative actions, resources, and coping demonstrated by the caregiver or family that could be built upon in a safety plan but do not, by themselves, fully address the safety threat.
Protective Actions
The following actions should be assessed, considered, and built upon when creating a safety plan. Mark all that apply to the household.
At least one caregiver articulates specific strategies that, in the past, have been at least partially successful in mitigating the identified safety threat(s), and the caregiver has used or could use these strategies in the current situation.
At least one caregiver in the household has been able to protect the child from similar threats in the past through his/her own actions or by using resources. The caregiver is able to describe both the current threats and the strategies he/she is using to mitigate them currently.
At least one caregiver has a stable support network that is aware of the safety threats(s), has been or is responding to the threat(s), and is willing to provide protection for the child.
A caregiver regularly interacts, communicates and makes plans with an extended network of family; friends; neighbors; and/or cultural, religious, or other communities that provide support and meet a wide range of needs for the caregiver and/or the child (including tribal ICWA programs, Indian organizations, and/or family members, which can include non-related tribal members). The caregiver has informed these network members of the threats and they have assisted in the situation by providing protection to the child (e.g., members of the support network have provided food when needed, assistance to prevent utility shut-off, or a planned safe place for the child to stay in the event of violence in the household; not allowing an offending caregiver to have unplanned forms of contact, etc.).
At least one child, in the past or currently, acts in ways that protect him/herself from a safety threat(s).
Prior to the current threat, in response to similar circumstances where a threat has been present or circumstances leading to a threat were escalating, the child has been able to protect him/herself. For example, the child was able to remove him/herself from the situation, called 911 to seek assistance, or was able to find another way to mitigate the safety threat.
At least one child has successfully pursued support, in the past or currently, from a member of his/her support network, and that person(s) was able to help address the safety threat and keep the child safe.
When faced with one of the safety threats, the child was able to seek help from and receive the necessary assistance from someone in the identified support network (e.g., family members, friends, professionals) AND can currently name adults who care about him/her and would be able to help if a similar situation arose in the future.
Other actions of protection taken by the caregiver, a household member, safety network member, and/or the child, which mitigate one or more of the safety threats.
In-Home Protective Interventions
Safety interventions are actions taken to specifically mitigate any identified safety threats. They should address immediate safety considerations rather than long-term changes. Follow county policies whenever applying any of the safety interventions.
1. Intervention or direct services by worker. (DO NOT include the investigation itself.).
Actions taken or planned by the investigating worker or other CPS staff that specifically address one or more safety threats. Examples include: providing information about nonviolent disciplinary methods, child development needs, or parenting practices; providing emergency material aid such as food; planning return visits to the home to check on progress; providing information on obtaining restraining orders; and providing definitions of child abuse laws and informing involved parties of the consequences of violating these laws. DOES NOT INCLUDE the investigation itself or services provided to respond to family needs that do not directly affect safety.
2. Use of family, neighbors, or other individuals in the community as safety resources.

This includes applying the family's own strengths as resources to mitigate safety concerns or using extended family members, neighbors, or other individuals to mitigate safety concerns. Examples include:

  • family's agreement to use nonviolent means of discipline;
  • engaging a grandparent to assist with child care;
  • agreement by a neighbor to serve as a safety net for an older child;
  • commitment by a 12-step sponsor to meet with the caregiver daily and call the worker if the caregiver has used or missed a meeting;


The caregiver's decision, as part of a safety plan, to have the child cared for by a friend or relative for a limited period of time, such as overnight or for a few days.

3. Use of community agencies or services as safety resources.
Involving a community-based or faith-related organization or other agency in activities to address immediate safety threats (e.g., using a local food pantry). DOES NOT INCLUDE long-term therapy or treatment, or being put on a waiting list for services.
4. Use of tribal, Indian community service agency, and/or ICWA program resources.
This includes but is not limited to:
  • Use of tribal family services from the child's/caregiver's tribe or a tribal consortium;
  • Indian resource centers;
  • Indian health clinics;
  • Tribal TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families);
  • Title VII Indian education programs, which may not be affiliated with a tribe; and
  • A county-based dedicated Indian specialist or service unit.
5. Have the caregiver appropriately protect the victim from the alleged perpetrator.
A non-offending caregiver has acknowledged the safety threats and is able and willing to protect the child from the alleged perpetrator. A non-offending caregiver who had prior knowledge of the alleged perpetrator's actions but took no action prior to the safety assessment should not be the only safety resource or intervention. Examples include agreement that the child will not be alone with the alleged perpetrator or agreement that the caregiver will restrain the alleged perpetrator from physical discipline of the child.
6. Have the alleged perpetrator leave the home, either voluntarily or in response to legal action.
Temporary or permanent removal of the alleged perpetrator. Examples include: arrest of alleged perpetrator, non-perpetrating caregiver “kicking out” alleged perpetrator who has no legal right to the residence, or the alleged perpetrator agrees to leave.
7. Have the non-offending caregiver move to a safe environment with the child.
A caregiver not suspected of harming the child has taken or plans to take the child to an alternative location where the alleged perpetrator will not have access to the child. Examples include a domestic violence shelter, home of a friend or relative, or hotel.
9. Other
The family or worker identifies a unique intervention for an identified safety concern that does not fit within items 1-8.
Placement Interventions
10. Have the caregiver voluntarily place the child outside the home, consistent with WIC § 11400 (o) and (p).
A voluntary agreement is signed between the caregiver and the CPS agency to place the child in an approved resource family placement, tribally approved home, or tribally specified home, and the caregiver is cooperating with the agency to provide needed consents and information to fund this voluntary placement. This voluntary agreement is consistent with Welfare and Institutions Code (WIC) § 11400 (o) and (p). The caregiver understands that if he/she withdraws consent for voluntary placement and identified safety threats are still present, other interventions to ensure the child's safety will need to be considered.
11. Child placed in protective custody because interventions 1-10 do not adequately ensure the child's safety.
One or more children are protectively placed pursuant to WIC § 309 and are entitled to notice and a hearing within 72 judicial hours.