Chapter 2 : Section 5

Family Functioning Assessment - Investigation

Policy

In response to allegations of abuse or neglect, the Department shall assess, promote, and support the safety of a child in a safe and stable family or other appropriate caregiver.

An investigation must evaluate and determine the nature, extent, and cause of any condition created by the parents, guardian, or custodian or an adult member of the victim's household that would tend to support or refute the allegation that the child is a victim of abuse or neglect; and determine the name, age and condition of other children in the home.

A Family Functioning Assessment shall be completed when a field investigation is required.

An assessment or case cannot be closed when a child is unsafe.

Procedures

Family Functioning Assessment – Investigation (FFA – Investigation)

The assessment and management of child safety is initiated during the initial contact with the family and is continued throughout the investigation. The purpose of the Family Functioning Assessment is to gather sufficient and relevant information to make an informed decision about whether the child is safe or unsafe. The Family Functioning Assessment and analysis of information guides the DCS Specialist’s decisions about the child’s safety and what, if any, actions should be taken to protect the child.

Information about family functioning is gathered through interviews, observations, and the review of documents (medical, police, school, behavioral health, etc.). The DCS Specialist completes the Family Functioning Assessment by:

  • gathering information on the six domains of family functioning: extent of the maltreatment, circumstances surrounding the maltreatment, child functioning on a daily basis, adult functioning on a daily basis, general parenting practices, and discipline and behavior management;

  • identifying whether there is a threat of danger to any child in the home of the alleged abuse or neglect;

  • assessing each household members’ protective capacity to control any threats of danger to the child(ren);

  • applying the five safety threshold criteria to any identified threat of danger; and

  • determining whether each child in the home is safe or unsafe due to impending danger.

A child is unsafe when there is a threat of danger to the child, the child is vulnerable to the threat of danger, and there is not sufficient parent/caretaker protective capacity to manage the danger.

If there is indication a child is unsafe, consult with a DCS Supervisor and use the Child Safety Intervention Guide to assist in determining if the child is safe or unsafe.

Gathering Information on the Six Domains of Family Functioning

Once an assessment of present danger is complete, the DCS Specialist shall proceed with the Family Functioning Assessment to determine whether any child is unsafe due to impending danger.

The functioning of the following individuals must be assessed during the Family Functioning Assessment and documented in Guardian:

  • the identified child victim(s);

  • any other child(ren) living in the home of the alleged abuse or neglect;

  • the alleged perpetrator(s);

  • the parent(s), guardian(s), and custodian(s) of the child victim(s) living in the home of the alleged abuse or neglect;

  • parent(s), guardian(s), and custodian(s) of the alleged child victim(s) living in a different household, if the whereabouts can be reasonably determined; and

  • other adults living in the home of the alleged abuse or neglect (including the spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, significant other, etc.) who have caregiving responsibilities.

The DCS Specialist will conduct interviews, in-person observations, and document reviews to gather the following information to assess family functioning, threats of danger, and parent/caregiver protective capacities:

Extent of child maltreatment:

  • Assess for all types of maltreatment, not just the current allegation(s)

  • Severity of the maltreatment

  • Duration, pattern, progression of the maltreatment

  • Emotional and physical symptoms

  • Specific events, injuries, and circumstances

Circumstances surrounding the maltreatment:

  • Analysis of previous maltreatment

  • History, duration, chronicity, increase in severity of maltreatment

  • Influences that led to the maltreatment occurring

  • Parent/caregiver’s explanation for maltreatment events or circumstances

  • Parent/caregiver’s openness and truthfulness/response to DCS

  • Contextual issues such as the use of objects, threats, intent, bizarre behavior

  • Parent/caregiver’s acknowledgement of and attitude about the maltreatment

Child functioning on a daily basis:

  • Child’s explanation of maltreatment or events/circumstances

  • Child’s understanding of family circumstances/conditions

  • Ability to communicate

  • Physical/dental health and healthcare

  • Developmental status (cognitive and physical)

  • School attendance and performance

  • History of being sexually reactive/sexualized behavior

  • Mood, emotion, and mental health including suicidal or homicidal thoughts/behavior

  • Risk-taking behavior (substance use/sexual activity/runaway)

  • Traumatic experiences other than maltreatment (e.g. witnessing violence or major loss)

  • Peer/adult relationships, social outlets/activities,

  • Sleeping arrangements, including assessment of infant’s sleep environment

  • Sibling relationships

  • Child’s perception of relationship with parent(s)

  • Child’s awareness/understanding of drugs and alcohol

Adult functioning on a daily basis:

  • Income and resource management/employment patterns/housing stability

  • Parent/caregiver’s history of abuse/neglect as a child

  • Trauma history (e.g. sexual, victim of violence, emotionally abused)

  • Criminal behavior/history

  • Problem awareness and problem solving skills

  • Impulse control

  • Physical health and healthcare

  • Mood, emotion, temperament, affect

  • Cognitive ability/intellectual functioning

  • Reality orientation/perception

  • Dependability and maturity

  • Quality of family relationships

  • Coping styles/stress management/ability to meet own emotional needs

  • History of or current domestic violence/power and control cycle (victim or perpetrator)

  • Aggressive or violent behavior/other family violence

  • Mental health (diagnoses, medications, undiagnosed mood or behavior concerns)

  • Substance use (history from first use to current, use of drugs and/or alcohol in childhood home/parent’s perception of effect of substance use on current circumstances)

  • Social relationships/degree of isolation/existence of positive supports

  • Educational history/literacy

  • Tolerance

General parenting practices:

  • History of protective behavior

  • Ability to accurately identify threats to child safety or recognize danger

  • Perception of the child

  • Ability to put child’s needs before their own

  • Displays concern for child

  • Emotionally able to intervene to protect

  • Knowledge of child development

  • Manner of responding to child

  • Expresses love, empathy/sensitivity for child

  • Knowledge and demonstrated skill in parenting

  • Awareness of and rationale for parenting style

  • History of/experience with parenting (this or other child(ren)

  • Cultural practices related to parenting

  • Parent is aligned with the child

  • Adaptive and assertive as a parent/caregiver

  • Understands own protective role and can articulate plan to protect child

Discipline and behavior management:

  • Methods of discipline

  • Concepts and purpose of discipline

  • Cultural practices related to discipline

  • Emotional state of parent when disciplining

  • Is discipline based on reasonable expectations of the child

  • Self-awareness regarding the effectiveness of disciplinary approaches and parent/caregiver’s reaction(s) toward the child

  • Expectations for child behavior and response

  • Can explain the difference between parenting and discipline

If a joint investigation is being completed with law enforcement during a criminal conduct investigation; at times, law enforcement and/or the alleged maltreating caregiver’s attorney will consent to an interview if the maltreatment “incident” is not discussed. In those instances, the DCS Specialist should refrain from asking questions related to domains 1 and 2 listed above.

Gathering Information about Parents, Guardians, or Custodians who Reside in a Different Household

The DCS Specialist will gather information about the household of a parent, guardian, or custodian of an alleged child victim who does not reside in the home of the alleged abuse or neglect, if the person’s whereabouts can be reasonably determined, including information about:

  • who resides in the parent’s, guardian’s, or custodian’s household;

  • extent and nature of substance use in the home;

  • nature of relationships between the parents and between adults in the home, including shared-parenting arrangements and any history of violence;

  • mental health of the adults in the home;

  • disciplinary practices in the home;

  • general parenting practices in the home;

  • supervision and child care arrangements; and

  • whether the child identifies harm from, or fear of, a person in the home.

If the information gathered indicates that a situation or adult behavior in the household could pose a safety threat to a child, collect additional information to explore the area of concern. Make a Report to the Hotline and conduct a separate Family Functioning Assessment of this household if the information collected reveals new or previously unreported incidents of abuse or neglect, or possible safety threats in the household.

Identifying Threats of Danger to a Child

Impending danger refers to a child being in a continuous state of danger due to caregiver behaviors, attitudes, motives, emotions and/or situations posing a specific threat of severe harm to a child. Impending danger is often not immediately apparent and may not be active and threatening child safety upon initial contact with a family. Identifying impending danger requires thorough information collection regarding family and parent/caregiver functioning to sufficiently assess and understand how family conditions occur.

In order to determine if a child is in impending danger, the information gathered on the six domains of family functioning must be sufficient to indicate whether a safety threat exists and if so, how it meets all five safety threshold criteria. The safety threats are as follows:

  • Parent, guardian, or custodian leaves child alone or fails to provide adequate supervision and child is not capable of caring for self, or leaves child with persons unwilling or unable to provide adequate care, and as a result, the child is likely to suffer serious or severe harm.

  • Parent, guardian, or custodian deliberately harmed the child, has caused serious or severe harm to the child, or has made a threat to cause serious or severe harm to the child.

  • Parent, guardian, or custodian’s explanation for the child’s injury or physical condition is inconsistent with the observed or diagnosed injury or condition.

  • There is evidence of abuse or neglect and the parent, guardian, or custodian cannot produce the child, refuses access to the child, is likely to flee with the child, or is actively avoiding DCS.

  • Child sexual abuse is suspected and perpetrator access places the child in immediate serious or severe harm.

  • Physical conditions of the home are hazardous and may directly cause serious or severe harm to the child.

  • Child is profoundly fearful of parent, guardian, or custodian, other family members or other people living in or having access to the home.

  • The behavior of a child living in the home threatens serious or severe harm to him/herself or to others and the parent, guardian, or custodian cannot control the behavior or is unwilling or unable to arrange or provide necessary care.

  • Parent, guardian, or custodian’s behavior is violent, bizarre, erratic, unpredictable, incoherent, or totally inappropriate and may cause serious or severe harm to the child.

  • Dynamics in the household include an individual establishing power, control, or coercion over a caregiver in a way that impairs the necessary supervision or care of the child and has caused, or will likely cause, serious or severe harm to the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health.

  • Parent, guardian or custodian is unable to perform essential parental responsibilities due to alcohol/substance use, mental health conditions, physical impairment, or cognitive limitations, and as a result, the child is likely to suffer serious or severe harm.

  • The parent, guardian, or custodian’s involvement in criminal activity or the criminal activity of any other person living in or having access to the home may result in serious or severe harm to the child.

  • Parent, guardian, or custodian has extremely negative perceptions of the child, and/or is hostile when talking to or about the child, and/or has extremely unrealistic expectations for the child’s behavior.

  • Parent, guardian, or custodian has not, cannot, or will not protect a child from serious or severe harm, including harm from other persons living in or having access to the home.

  • Parent, guardian, or custodian is unable or unwilling to perform essential parental responsibilities or to meet the child’s immediate needs for food, clothing, shelter, and/or medical or mental health care, which may result in serious or severe harm to the child.

  • Parent, guardian, or custodian previously threatened the safety of a child and/or caused harm to a child and circumstances indicate the person could cause serious or severe harm to the child.

Assessing Parent/Caretaker Protective Capacities

Protective capacities are personal qualities or characteristics that contribute to vigilant child protection. They are personal and parenting characteristics that specifically and directly can be associated with being protective of one’s children. They are “strengths” that are explicitly associated with one’s ability to perform effectively as a parent in order to provide and ensure a consistently safe environment.

Assessment of a parent/caregiver’s capacity to protect a child begins with identifying and understanding how specific safety threats are occurring within the family system. At this point in the assessment process, the DCS Specialist determines whether each parent/caregiver has demonstrated the specific protective capacities associated with the identified threats of danger to a child.

Consider the following behavioral, cognitive, and emotional parental/caregiver protective capacities when gathering information for the Family Functioning Assessment:

  • Behavioral Protective Capacity – Specific action, activity, performance that is consistent with and results in protective vigilance.

  • Cognitive Protective Capacity – Specific intellect, knowledge, understanding, and perception that results in protective vigilance.

  • Emotional Protective Capacity – Specific feelings, attitudes, identification with a child and motivation that results in protective vigilance.

The DCS Specialist’s assessment of protective capacity pertains to the parent/caregiver’s overall functioning, and is not based solely on an isolated incident or singular event. The DCS Specialist will assess all of the following 19 protective capacities in relation to the adult’s overall functioning and general parenting practices.

In the Assessment FFA, indicate whether or not the parent/caregiver(s) have demonstrated protective capacities in each of the following areas:

Behavioral Protective Capacities Cognitive Protective Capacities Emotional Protective Capacities

Behavioral Protective Capacities Cognitive Protective Capacities Emotional Protective Capacities
  • Has a history of protecting

  • Takes action

  • Demonstrates impulse control

  • Sets aside her/his needs in favor of a child

  • Has and demonstrates adequate skill to fulfill caregiving responsibilities.

  • Is adaptive and assertive as a parent/caregiver

  • Plans and articulates a plan to protect the child

  • Is self-aware as a parent/caregiver

  • Is intellectually able to fulfill caregiving responsibilities and tasks

  • Is able to accurately identify threats to child safety or recognize danger

  • Has an accurate perception of the child’s needs

  • Understands his/her protective role

  • Meets own emotional needs

  • Is resilient as a parent/caregiver.

  • Is tolerant as a parent/caregiver.

  • Is emotionally stable

  • Expresses love, empathy and sensitivity toward the child; experiences specific empathy with the child’s perspective and feelings

  • Is positively attached with the child and is clear that the number one priority is the well- being of the child.

  • Is aligned with and supports the child

If the DCS Specialist is unable to assess the parent/caretaker protective capacities due to an inability to locate or a parent’s refusal to participate in the assessment after attempting to engage them, indicate unknown for each protective capacity.

Applying the Five Safety Threshold Criteria

Following the identification of a threat of danger to a child, the DCS Specialist shall determine whether the child is in impending danger by applying the following five safety threshold criteria. All five criteria must be met for at least one identified safety threat in order to determine a child is in impending danger.

  • Observable Family Condition: A family condition that endangers a child and is real, can be described and reported, and is evidenced in explicit and unambiguous ways. This does not include suspicion or gut feelings.

  • Vulnerable child: A vulnerable child is dependent on others for sustenance and protection, and/or is exposed to circumstances that she or he is powerless to manage. Vulnerability is judged according to age, physical and emotional development, and ability to communicate needs and seek protection.

  • Unmanaged: The family conditions pose a danger to the child and are unmanaged, without limits or monitoring, and not subject to influence, manipulation or internal power within the family’s control (that is, no one in the family can control the situation). There are insufficient caregiver protective capacities to manage the danger threat.

  • Severity: Severity is the harshness of the effects of maltreatment that would include harm that has just occurred, is occurring now, or could potentially occur in the near future. Severe harm is something that results in serious pain, serious injury, suffering, terror, extreme fear, impairment or death.

  • Imminent: A belief that threats to child safety are likely to become active without delay; a certainty about occurrence within the immediate to near future. This is consistent with a degree of certainty or inevitability that danger and severe harm are possible, even likely outcomes, without intervention.

Note: If a child is a registered member or an eligible member of a Native American Tribe, please refer to Indian Child Welfare for more information as to specific laws pertaining to the assessment, removal, and placement of an Indian child.

At the conclusion of the Family Functioning Assessment, determine the safety threats that are present and explain how each threat meets all five safety threshold criteria. For each safety threat identified, specify the child(ren), adults, and household to which it applies.

Making the Safety Determination – Safe or Unsafe

For each alleged child victim, the DCS Specialist, in consultation with a DCS Program Supervisor, must make a determination as to whether the child is safe or unsafe.

  • A child is safe if there is no threat of danger to the child.

  • A child is safe if an existing threat of danger to the child is being effectively controlled and managed by a parent, guardian, or custodian in the home.

  • A child is unsafe when there is a threat of danger to a child that meets all five safety threshold criteria, including that the parent/guardian does not have sufficient protective capacity to effectively control and manage the danger without DCS intervention and oversight.

Safe

If all of the children subject to the investigation are determined to be safe, the DCS Specialist, in consultation with a DCS Program Supervisor, will identify the appropriate level of services to be provided or recommend to the family. If a case will not be opened for services with the Department, conduct aftercare planning with the family. Refer to Aftercare Planning for more information.

Unsafe

When a child is determined to be unsafe, the DCS Specialist must identify the least intrusive Safety Plan sufficient to manage the impending danger. See Safety Planning

Assessment of a Child in the Hospital, Incarcerated/Detained, or in Out-of-Home Care

While a child victim is hospitalized, incarcerated, in detention, or in out-of-home care, the Family Functioning Assessment is conducted based on the child’s return home environment.

Exceptions to the Requirement to Complete the FFA - Investigation

An impending danger decision and FFA is not completed for Adoption and ICPC case types.

An impending danger decision and FFA is not completed under the following circumstances:

  • Out-of-Home Caregiver Investigations – Including investigations of groups homes, foster homes, kinship homes, and pre-adoptive homes, unless the caregiver’s biological or adoptive child is an alleged victim in the Report. See Investigations of Out-of-Home Caregivers.

  • Action Requests – Intakes that may require an action by DCS, but do not require an investigation unless the action request is changed to a Report. For more information, see Hotline Receipt of Information.

  • Border Cases – An assessment involving a child whose family does not reside within the United States and the Department’s involvement is limited to returning the child to their family in coordination with U.S. Border Patrol, Desarollo Integral para las Familias (DIF), and/or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the assessment is being closed.

  • Parents’ Rights Terminated - Both parents are deceased or have had their parental rights terminated, and there is no guardian.

  • The child victim is deceased and the Department has confirmed that there are no surviving siblings to the child victim.

In Reports with a criminal conduct allegation, additional investigative action and information collection to make an impending danger decision and complete an FFA are not required if all of the following are true, and an exception is approved by the Program Administrator or OCWI Deputy Chief:

  • The OCWI Investigator or DCS Specialist has:

    • contacted the reporting source;

    • reviewed prior DCS reports and court orders limiting or restricting contact concerning the alleged child victim(s), parents, alleged perpetrator(s), and others adults living in the home;

    • interviewed or personally observed the alleged child victim(s);

    • interviewed or personally observed all other children residing in the home of the alleged maltreatment;

    • interviewed the alleged perpetrator(s);

    • completed an observation of the conditions of the home of the alleged maltreatment;

    • conducted a present danger assessment of the child victim(s) and all other children residing in the home of the alleged maltreatment.

  • Evidence is obtained at initial contact with the source and/or family that directly refutes the specific allegation that the child has an injury, condition, or circumstance that was the result of abuse or neglect and if this evidence had been available and provided at the time of the Hotline Communication, the Communication would not have met the criteria to be a Hotline Report for investigation by the Department (for example, a new medical test directly refutes the previous medical test that caused the source to make the Report, alleged bruises are determined to be Mongolian spots, an alleged black eye is determined to be dirt or makeup).

  • The evidence that directly refutes the alleged abuse or neglect is observable, and is corroborated or consistent with all other information gathered during the required interviews and document reviews.

  • Upon contact with the child and family, the OCWI Investigator or DCS Specialist has determined that the alleged child victim and all other children in the home where the abuse or neglect was alleged to occur are not in present danger.

  • No other allegations of abuse or neglect were disclosed by any person, and no indications of abuse, neglect, or dangers to a child were observed during contacts with the child and family.

Documentation

Document interviews with all persons in Notes.

Using the Assessment FFA in Guardian, document:

  • Information gathered in relation to each of the six domains of family functioning.

  • Conclusions about the protective capacities of each parent/caregiver by indicating yes, no, or unknown for each of the 19 protective capacities.

  • The determination of whether each child in the home of the alleged abuse or neglect occurred is safe or unsafe due to impending danger.

  • All safety threats that exist and how each of the threats meets all five safety threshold criteria if it is determined that a child is unsafe.

Document the in-home, combination, or out-of-home Safety Plan if it is determined that a child is unsafe in Guardian.

If the child is removed, complete the Legal Action and Removal Details in Guardian. See Emergency Removal for procedure.

Document information gathered about parents, guardians or custodians who reside in a different household, in Notes.

Documentation in the FFA should be complete within 45 days of investigation assignment.

Utilize the SAFE AZ CSRA Documentation Guide, CSO-1641A, for further documentation instructions.

Supervisors

Through a case file review and/or consultation, the DCS Program Supervisor ensures the DCS Specialist has gathered sufficient information to assess:

  • • The six domains of family functioning;

  • • Identify threats of danger to any child in the home; and

  • • Determine parent/caregiver protective capacities.

Through a case file review and/or consultation, the DCS Program Supervisor ensures that the information gathered and documented supports the DCS Specialist’s determination of whether each child is safe or unsafe, including that any identified impending danger safety threats meet all five of the safety threshold criteria.

Supervisors shall document the Clinical Supervision Discussion and approval of the Clinical Supervision Decision in Guardian within five days of investigation completion or opening the case for ongoing services.

Exceptions to the Requirement to Complete the FFA - Investigation

In Guardian, document:

  • The information collected through interviews, observations, and document review; and

  • The evidence obtained at the initial contact with the source and/or family that directly refutes the specific allegation that the child has an injury, condition, or circumstance that was the result of abuse or neglect, if applicable.

Supervisor Documentation

Document the clinical supervision discussion. Include justification supporting an exception to the requirement to complete the FFA-Investigation, if applicable.

Program Administrator or OCWI Deputy Chief Documentation

Document the approval of the exception to the requirement to complete the FFA – Investigation.

Add the Tracking Characteristic Family Functioning Assessment Investigative Exception if:

  • The exception is approved because evidence is obtained at initial contact with the source and/or family that directly refutes the specific allegation that the child has an injury, condition, or circumstance that was the result of abuse or neglect; and

  • This evidence had been available and provided at the time of the Hotline Communication the Communication would not have met the criteria to be a Hotline Report for investigation by the Department.

Enter a finding of Unsubstantiated in the Investigation Allegation Findings. See Substantiating Maltreatment.

Effective Date: June 13, 2022
Revision History: November 30, 2012; May 31, 2013, July 1, 2013, February 6, 2016, September 22, 2016, June 12th, 2017, January 31, 2018, January 23, 2019, February 1, 2021