Arizona Department of Child Safety: Policy and Procedure Manual


Chapter 2: Section 5

Family Functioning Assessment - Investigation


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 placement.


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.


An assessment of family functioning shall be completed on all cases where a field investigation is completed.


A case cannot be closed when a child is unsafe.



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:


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 (FFA) 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 the CSRA:


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:

1. 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

2. 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

3. Child functioning on a daily basis

4. Adult functioning on a daily basis

5. 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

6. 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:


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 Child Abuse 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:


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:


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 Child Safety and Risk Assessment (CSRA), 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
  • 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 him/her, 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.


Note: If a child is a registered member or an eligible member of a Native American Tribe, please refer to Chapter 6 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.



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 the case will not remain open for services with the Department, conduct aftercare planning with the family. Refer to Aftercare Planning for more information.



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

The FFA is not completed for the following case types:


The FFA is not completed under the following circumstances:


In reports with a criminal conduct allegation, additional investigative action and information collection to complete an FFA are not required if all of the following are true, and an exception is approved by the Program Administrator or OCWI Regional Manager:







Using the Child Safety and Risk Assessment (CSRA), document:


If the child is removed, complete the applicable removal windows in CHILDS. See Emergency Removal for procedure.


Document information gathered about parents, guardians or custodians who reside in a different household, in the CSRA under the related person’s interview.


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


Utilize the SAFE AZ CSRA Documentation Guide for further documentation instructions.



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 Section IV (Clinical Supervision Decision) of the CSRA, within five days of investigation completion or opening the case for ongoing services.


Exceptions to the Requirement to Complete the FFA - Investigation

Using the Child Safety and Risk Assessment (CSRA), document in Sections I and II of the CSRA:


Supervisor Documentation

Using the CSRA, Section IV, document the clinical supervision discussion. If applicable, include justification supporting an exception to the requirement to complete the FFA-Investigation.


Program Administrator or OCWI Regional Manager Documentation

Using the Case Note window designated as Supervisory/Management Contact, document the approval of the exception to the requirement to complete the FFA – Investigation.


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 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, add the Tracking Characteristic Family Functioning Assessment Investigative Exception on the After Investigation Allegation Finding Detail window (LCH050).


Enter a finding of Unsubstantiated in the Investigation Allegation Finding Window (LCH048). See Substantiating Maltreatment.



Safety Plan and Safety Plan Signature Page, CS0-1034B,

Safety Plan and Safety Plan Signature Page (Spanish), CS0-1034B,


Related Information:

Parent/ Caregiver Protective Capacities Scaling Template, CSO-1587

Family Centered Strengths and Risk Assessment Interview and Documentation Guide

Administrative Directive 15-01

Family Functioning Assessment – Field Guide


Caregiver Protective Capacity- Investigations Reference Guide

Assessing Caregiver Protective Capacity



A.R.S. § 8-451 Department (of Child Safety); Purpose


A.R.S. § 8-456 Investigative function; training; criminal offenses; definition


A.R.S. § 8-801 Dependent Children; Definitions


A.A.C.R21-4-103 Methods of Investigation



Effective Date: January 23, 2019

Revision History: November 30, 2012; May 31, 2013, July 1, 2013, February 6, 2016, September 22, 2016, June 12th, 2017, January 31, 2018