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

Safety versus risk assessment: It is important to keep in mind the difference between safety and risk when completing this form. Safety assessment differs from risk assessment in that it assesses the child's present danger of immediate/serious harm and the interventions currently needed to protect the child. In contrast, risk assessment looks at the likelihood of any future maltreatment.

Which Cases

All referrals that are assigned for in-person response.

If referral alleges maltreatment by a substitute care provider, use the substitute care provider safety assessment (page 55 of this manual).

Any open referrals or cases in which changing circumstances require safety assessment due to:
  • Change in family circumstances;
  • Change in information known about the family; or
  • Change in the ability of safety interventions to mitigate safety threats.

The social worker who is responding to the referral.


For a new referral, the safety assessment process is completed, using the safety assessment field guide, before leaving a child in the home, or returning a child to the home during the investigation, following the initial face-to-face contact with all child victims. The safety assessment form should be completed within two working days of the first contact.

  • For a child who has already been protectively placed by law enforcement or other means, and for whom no safety assessment has been completed, the social worker will complete a safety assessment within two working days of the referral.
  • For open referrals or cases in which changing circumstances prompt a new safety assessment, the safety assessment process is completed immediately. The safety assessment form is completed within two working days.
  • If a safety plan was initiated, there must be an updated safety assessment documenting that the safety threats have been resolved. If safety threats remain unresolved, a case should be opened.*
  • A safety assessment must be done prior to closing a case. A case will not be closed if safety threats in the household are present.
*If the child is no longer living in the household that has unresolved safety threats, and that parent refuses services, the case may be closed.

The safety assessment provides structured information concerning the danger of immediate/serious harm/maltreatment to a child. This information guides the decision about whether the child may remain in the home with no intervention (safe), may remain in the home with safety interventions in place (safe with plan), or must be protectively placed (unsafe).

Appropriate Completion

Workers should familiarize themselves with the items that are included on the safety assessment and the accompanying definitions. Workers will notice that the items on the tool are items they are probably already assessing. What distinguishes SDM 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 his/her initial contact as he/she normally would—using good social work practice to collect information from the child, caregiver, and/or collateral sources. SDM ensures that the specific items that comprise the safety assessment are assessed at some time during the initial contact.

The decision logic for the safety assessment is:
  • If no safety threats are marked, the only possible safety decision is “Safe: No safety threats were identified at this time.” No in-home interventions or placement interventions need to be reviewed; the assessment is complete.
  • If one or more safety threats are marked, the worker must determine whether an in-home safety plan will mitigate the safety threat or whether the child must be placed.
  • If a safety plan can be developed with the caregivers, only interventions 1 through 9 can be marked and the safety decision is “Safe with Plan: One or more safety threats are present; however, the child can safely remain in home with a safety plan.” In-home protective interventions have been initiated through a safety plan and the child will remain in the home as long as the safety interventions mitigate the safety threats. Placement (interventions 10 and 11) should not be marked as an intervention if other interventions are marked.
  • If a safety plan cannot be developed with the caregivers, then placement intervention 10 or 11 must be marked and the safety decision must be “Unsafe: One or more safety threats are present, and placement is the only protective intervention possible for one or more children. Without placement, one or more children will likely be in danger of immediate or serious harm.”
Complete all assessment section-header information as indicated:
  • 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 to assess safety, which may be different than the date that the form is completed in webSDM.
  • Indicate whether the either caregiver is either a Native American or a person with Indian Ancestry. When working with a family, WIC §224.3(a) requires the worker to inquire whether a child is or may be an Indian child. If a caregiver or other reliable source in the household states that they are Native American, answer yes. If a caregiver states that they are not Native American, answer No. If the caregiver is not available (incarcerated, hospitalized, unable to locate, etc.) answer parent not available and follow county procedures to identify and record in CWSCMS. If a parent has been asked and is unsure but will inquire further, follow county procedures to identify and record in CWSCMS.
  • Enter the type of safety assessment, which is either:
    • Initial. Each referral should have one initial assessment, completed during the first face-to-face contact with at least one child victim in the household where there are allegations. However, if there are allegations in two households within a single referral, there may be two initial safety assessments.
    • 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 household where there are no allegations.
    • Referral closing. This is a specialized review/update that is completed when considering closing a referral without promoting it to a case when a safety threat has been documented at some point during the investigation. This option only appears in webSDM when completing a safety assessment on a referral.
    • Case closing. This is a specialized review/update that is completed when considering closing a case. This option only appears in webSDM when completing a safety reassessment on an open ongoing case.
  • Enter the name of the household assessed. In referrals where there is more than one household, and there are allegations regarding each household, a safety assessment is required on both. Enter the name of the household assessed.
    • Also mark whether there are allegations in the household being assessed. If at least one alleged perpetrator resides in the household, there are allegations in that household.
    • If the household is being assessed for safety as a potential placement (e.g., a non-custodial parent), mark “no.”
  • Indicate (mark) whether any child vulnerabilities are present. Consider these vulnerabilities when reviewing safety items. Note that these vulnerability issues provide a context for assessing safety. The presence of one or more vulnerabilities does not automatically mean that the child is unsafe.
The safety assessment consists of five sections:

This is a list of 10 critical threats (nine identified and defined and an “other”) that must be assessed by every worker in every case. These threats cover the kinds of conditions that, if they exist, would render a child in danger of immediate, serious harm.

For this section, rely on information available at the time of the assessment. 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. Some information is inaccessible, and some is deliberately hidden from the worker. Based on reasonable efforts to obtain information necessary to respond to each item, review each of the safety threats and accompanying definitions.

For each item, consider the most vulnerable child. If the safety threat is present, based on available information, mark that item “yes.” If the safety threat is not present, mark that item “no.” Because not every conceivable safety threat can be anticipated or listed on a form, the “other” category permits a worker to indicate that some other circumstance creates a safety threat. If there are circumstances that the worker determines to be a safety threat, and these circumstances are not described by one of the existing items, the worker should mark “other” and briefly describe the threat.

Safety Decision: If there are no identified safety threats in the household, the safety decision is “safe.” Mark “Safe” and the safety assessment is completed.


This section is completed only when there are safety threats identified as present in the household. If any of the safety threats were marked “yes” and there is evidence that one or more caregivers are experiencing substance abuse, mental health concerns, domestic violence, or cognitive/developmental or physical health concerns, indicate all that apply. These are conditions which make it more difficult or complicated to create safety for a child, but do not by themselves constitute a safety threat. These behaviors must be considered when assessing for and planning to mitigate safety threats. Mark all that apply to the household. Additionally, when completing the subsequent risk assessment and the family strengths and needs assessment, be attentive to these concerns.


This section is completed only if one or more safety threats were identified. Mark any of the listed protective capacities that are present for any child/caregiver. Consider information from the referral; from worker observations; interviews with children, caregivers, and collaterals; and review of records. For “other,” consider any existing condition that does not fit within one of the listed categories but may support protective interventions for the safety threats identified in Section 1.


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.

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

Simply because an intervention exists in the community does not mean it should be used in a particular case. The worker may determine that even with an intervention, the child would be unsafe; or the worker may determine that an intervention would be satisfactory, but has reason to believe the caregiver 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.

Also keep in mind that the safety intervention is not the case plan—it is not intended to “solve” the household's problems or provide long-term answers. A safety plan permits a child to remain home during the course of the investigation by listing specific, timely actions that address the identified safety threats.

If one or more interventions will be implemented, mark each category that will be used. If there is an intervention that will be implemented that does not fit in one of the categories, mark line 9 and briefly describe the intervention. Safety interventions 10 and 11 are used only when a child is unsafe and only a placement can ensure safety.

Safety Plan Individual counties should 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 home that place any child at imminent threat of serious harm. The worker should use language the family understands 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 safe? Explain how safety threat(s) will be mitigated. What will the family do to keep the child safe? What will other people outside the family do? This should include a written statement of actions or behaviors, to be taken by a responsible party, that will keep the child safe in the current conditions.
  • Who is participating in the plan, the role of each participant, and information that describes how the safety plan will be monitored (e.g., who is responsible for each intervention action), and the timeframe in which each intervention will remain in place.
  • Signature lines for family members, the worker, and his/her supervisor.


Note: The safety plan should be documented in the investigation contact in CWS/CMS.

The safety plan MUST be developed in partnership with and agreed to by the family, and a copy should be left with the family.

If safety threats have not been resolved by the end of the investigation/assessment, the safety plan will be provided to the ongoing worker and all remaining interventions will be incorporated into the ongoing case plan.


This section is only completed when, after considering complicating behaviors that may impact safety planning, household strengths and protective actions, the vulnerability of the child, and the in-home safety interventions that are available, the worker determines that placement is the only intervention for protection of the child.

If one or more safety threats are identified and the worker determines that in-home interventions are unavailable, insufficient, or may not be used, the final option is to indicate that the child will be placed by selecting placement interventions 10 or 11.

Practice Considerations

While safety is the prevailing concern of the first face-to-face contact, the manner of engaging the family will depend upon social work clinical 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 will benefit from candor, which will be more forthcoming when the family is approached with respect. The first face-to-face contact may be limited to assessing safety if there are significant safety issues. At other times, the worker will also begin to gather information regarding risk and/or strengths and needs items, as well as additional clinical information.

For all cases in which the child or caregiver knows their tribe and membership status, the social worker must contact the tribe to engage and team with the designated ICWA agent or tribal family services department.

Resources for American Indian/Alaska Native children vary depending on a tribe's resources and the location of the child and family (rural versus urban, proximity to tribal resources, or proximity to urban Indian community resources). The child's/caregiver'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 TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), or Title VII Indian education programs (which may not be affiliated with a tribe). Some counties have a dedicated Indian specialist or specialty unit dedicated to serving Indian children, which can assist with engagement and access to resources. They may also have current contact information to assist the child/caregivers in obtaining official membership with their tribe.

It is recommended that children and caregivers who know their tribe or have a tribal affiliation contact the tribe (lists of designated ICWA agents are available at the Bureau of Indian Affairs website, Many tribes have public websites that provide information about their ICWA or family service programs.

For children/caregivers who have lost contact with their tribe, are from unrecognized or terminated tribes, or are unsure of their status with a tribe, resources will exist through local Indian resource centers, tribal TANF, or Title VII Indian education programs. Resources are available to assist the social worker and caregivers in tracing Indian ancestry, such as and