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Family Investigation Response: Ensuring children’s safety while supporting families
Every year, Minnesota counties and tribes assess approximately 17,000 reports of abuse or neglect. The majority of the reports are assessed through the Family Assessment process, but around 30 percent are addressed with a Family Investigation. Investigations are done when a child is in immediate or significant danger. Investigations also may be done when a family will not participate in a Family Assessment, or take steps to ensure safety of their children. Child protection investigators focus on child safety and strive to engage the family in a positive working relationship to resolve the presenting issues. Most families successfully resolve their child safety issues and do not need services beyond the investigation.
Family Investigation Process
During an investigation, the child protection social worker interviews the child who is the alleged victim of the maltreatment, as well as the child’s parents, the alleged offender of the maltreatment, and other people who may have information regarding the child’s safety, such as school personnel or medical professionals. Social workers often coordinate or team their investigation with law enforcement, which may need to be involved if there are criminal allegations in the report. The social worker assesses the child’s safety, as well as risk for the possibility of future maltreatment. When needed, the social worker and family will create a safety plan to ensure that the child is safe.
Child protection social workers are required to make two decisions, known as determinations, in every investigation. They must determine if the child was abused or neglected, and they must determine if child protection services are needed to ensure the child’s safety in the future. Social workers have 45 days to complete their investigation and make their determinations. When this is completed they are required to notify the parent and the alleged offender of their decisions within 10 days of making the determination. If the parent or other interested party disagrees with the determination, they have the right to ask the social service agency to reconsider their decision. Parents have the right to direct further reconsideration requests to the Minnesota Department of Human Services.
Child Protective Services
If a determination is made that child protective services are needed to ensure the child’s safety, a child protection “ongoing” social worker will be assigned to work with the family. This social worker will meet with the family to assess their strengths and needs, and develop a service plan to address child safety issues and other issues that impact child and family well-being. The social worker has 30 days to develop the service plan together with the family. The plan includes goals and steps to take to address the identified issues.
In most situations, child protection services are provided on a voluntary basis, without court involvement. However, there are times when the parent or caregiver refuses to participate with services, despite the agency’s determination that services are needed to ensure child safety. When this occurs, the social worker will consult with the county or tribal attorney, and a decision may be made to file a Child in Need of Protection or Services (CHIPS) petition. The CHIPS petition would seek either temporary legal custody of the child, or to have the court order the parent or caregiver to participate in services. If this occurs, the parents have a right to legal representation, and court hearings will be held to determine if the family will be court ordered to work with the child protection agency.
Placement of children in care
If the child protection social worker or law enforcement believes that the child is not safe to remain in the care of his or her parents, placement in foster care may be considered. Only law enforcement and the courts have the authority to place a child in foster care. If the social worker believes the child needs to be placed for their safety, they can ask the parent to sign a Voluntary Placement Agreement. If the parent does not agree to this, the worker can request that law enforcement place the child on a 72-hour hold, or they can file a CHIPS petition in juvenile court. If a child is placed in care, the social worker will typically ask the parents for names of any relatives or friends who can provide a safe, temporary home for the child. Placement in care is a very stressful experience for both the child and the parents; any time this stress can be decreased through placing the child in the home of a person known to them, who can safely care for the child, the child protection worker will strive to do this.
Family Engagement Strategies
Child protection social workers understand that one key way of ensuring a child’s safety is by engaging with the parents in a cooperative, respectful working relationship. Research shows that child protection outcomes are improved when social workers are open with parents about the child protection process, respectful in all of their interactions with families, listen to and understand the parents’ situation, and are open to learning about cultural differences in parenting and family dynamics. Examples of engagement strategies used during the investigation process include consultation and planning with extended family (sometimes referred to as Family Group Decision Making), and detailed assessment of child safety concerns and safety planning with family, friends and other support networks (sometimes known as “mapping” a case).
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