Section 1, Chapter 6 (Case Mapping and Risk Assessment)

(Effective 08/18/20)

Table of Contents

6.1 Practice Elements

6.2 Three Columns and Case Mapping

6.2.1 Harm Statements

6.2.2 Danger Statements

6.2.3 Complicating Factors

6.2.4 Existing Strengths and Existing Safety

6.2.5 Safety Goals

6.2.6 Next Steps

6.2.7 Scaling

6.2.8 Documenting the Mapping Conversation

Comprehensive Balanced Child Protection Risk Assessment

All too often the focus in child protection case work is on what the professionals believe, based on their experience and knowledge, to be the danger to the child(ren).  This creates an unbalanced view of the risk and safety.  To achieve balance, it is important to also consider the family’s strengths.  Parents don’t abuse or neglect their children all of the time.  The worker should equally assess when parents respond to their children appropriately.  These are times when parents are able to demonstrate safety, and the worker will be able to build on these strengths to create a more effective safety plan.  When the focus is on what parents have done wrong, they are likely to feel judged and are likely to put up walls and defenses that interfere with building a collaborative relationship.  For family engagement to occur, it is important that problems that led to Children’s Division involvement be seen as the starting point, not the sole focus.


6.1 Practice Elements

The following six practice elements assist the worker in their assessment of risk and safety.

1.    Understand the position of each family member. Seek to identify and understand the values, beliefs and meanings family members perceive in their stories.  This assists the worker to respond to the uniqueness of each case and to move toward plans the family will enact.







Acknowledging each individual’s position helps them feel they are being listened to and goes a long way in engaging with the individual.  Some positions are more indicative of safety and others more indicative of danger.  We do not have to condone or agree with the individual’s position.  There will be times when their position about the abuse or neglect will have to be confronted.  However, being open to hearing their position will increase the likelihood of cooperation.  It is not only important to understand each person’s position on the abuse/neglect, but also how they perceive their involvement with the agency.  Are they afraid to be open with the worker for fear of losing their children?  We should also consider how the person views their ability to address the problem.  Do they feel hopeless or are they confident they can protect their child(ren) from future danger?

2.    Find exceptions to the maltreatment. Search for exceptions to problem.  This creates hope for workers and families by proving that the problem does not always exist.  Exceptions may also indicate solutions that have worked in the past.  Where no exceptions exist, the worker may be alerted to a more serious problem.

Exceptions are simply times when the problem could have occurred, but didn’t.   Most likely, the problem does not occur all of the time and the individual probably handles the problem appropriately at least some of the time.  The more detail we can get about the exceptions, the more confident we can be regarding the risk of the problem occurring in the future.  Asking exception questions of the reporter of the abuse and neglect allegations can also help assess their motivation for getting the Children’s Division involved.

3.    Discover family strengths and resources. Identify and highlight positive aspects of the family.  This prevents the problems from overwhelming and discouraging everyone involved.

Focusing on problems can lead to feelings of hopelessness and prevent us from finding solutions.  Focusing on strengths does not mean we minimize the abuse/neglect.  Instead, strengths can be viewed as the foundation for which change can be made.  Exploring strengths in addition to the problems allows us to formulate a more holistic assessment of the family.  We must be careful not to judge a person’s behavior to be a positive or a negative too quickly.  When we judge a behavior to be a strength too quickly, we may risk assessing situations as safe when they are not.  When we judge a behavior to be a problem too quickly, we may risk opportunities to engage families in the assessment process.

4.    Focus on goals. Elicit the family’s goals to improve the safety of the child and their life in general.  Compare these with the agency’s own goals.  Use the family’s ideas wherever possible.  Where the family is unable to suggest any constructive goals, danger to the child is probably increased.

The primary goal of child welfare is to create child safety.  It is often clear what has to stop to achieve this goal.  What is not always so clear, is how the problem will stop or how anyone will know the problem has stopped.  It is essential to develop behaviorally specific goals that can be measured for progress.  Families will generally be more willing to implement their own ideas of how safety can be achieved.  It is inevitable that families and the Division will have different ideas regarding goals.  We will never know if the family’s goals are possible unless they are given  consideration.

5.    Scale safety and progress.  Identify the family members’, network members’, other professionals, and practitioner sense of safety and progress throughout the case.  This allows clear comparisons with workers’ judgements.

Scaling questions are invaluable tools to initiate conversations around perceptions of safety, problems, and the goals that need to be achieved. Scaling questions can help conceptualize the continuum between the danger statement and the safety goal.  Scaling questions are generally easy for everyone to understand and can even be used with children.  It is not the number itself that is important, as they are subjective.  What is important is the conversation around what the number means to the person and what would need to happen to create movement on the scale.  When there is difference between the professionals’ numbers and the family’s numbers, dialogue about this can give everyone involved an understanding of each other’s perceptions. 

6.    Assess willingness, confidence, and capacity.  Assess the family and network’s willingness, confidence and ability to carry out plans before implementing them.

An assessment of the family’s willingness, confidence, and capacity provides insight into potential danger and safety issues.  An individual may be willing to complete a plan of action, but completely lack the capacity to do so.  An individual may have the capacity to complete the plan, but may be completely unwilling to do so.  When we identify barriers to willingness, confidence, and capacity we can then work to overcome these.

Turnell, A., & Edwards, S. (1999). Signs of Safety, A Solution and Safety Oriented Approach to Child Protection Casework (p. 51).  New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Turnell, A., & Edwards, S. (1999). Signs of Safety, A Solution and Safety Oriented Approach to Child Protection Casework (pp. 51-83).  New York: W.W. Norton & Company.


6.2 Three Columns and Case Mapping

The information gathered from contacts can be documented and organized in the case mapping tool, also referred to as the three columns.  This tool is easy to use in any number of settings.  At its most basic function in the work we do with families, the mapping tool contains four areas for inquiry:

  1. What are we worried about?
  2. What’s working well?
  3. What needs to happen?
  4. Where are we on a scale of 0-10 where ten means everyone knows the children are safe enough for Children’s Division to close their case and zero means things are so bad for the children they cannot live at home.  The safety scaling question should be used regularly to keep safety at the forefront of the Children’s Division’s intervention.  However, other more case specific scaling questions may also be utilized, depending on individual circumstances.

The three columns are used to gather information from individuals in virtually any situation and can be adapted to address any number of issues.  The three columns format should be used during visits with children, home visits with parents and resource providers, family support team meetings, collateral contacts, and adoption staffings.  The Case Mapping Tool (CD-218) is primarily intended as a structured tool to gather information that informs the development of the Family Risk Assessment Map (CD-220) and the Family Safety Planning Document (CD-267).  However, it is not necessary to utilize the CD-218 as the three columns can done simply by drawing two lines on a piece of paper or a whiteboard.


When we think about the situation facing this family:

What are we worried about?

What’s working well?

What needs to happen?

Questions should be asked that make explicit the behaviors that are impacting/affecting the children and how these behaviors of the parent(s)/caregiver(s) are causing harm or creating danger for the children.

As much as possible the worries should be documented in the individual’s words and reviewed with the individual for accuracy.

Where there are a significant number of incidents that may overwhelm the process to develop a map, workers should focus on the first, worst, and last incidents, including a description of frequency, severity, and recentness.

Questions should be asked to ascertain:

  • The type, pattern, degree, or severity and opportunity for harm.
  • Significant and/or persistent nature of the abuse and/or neglect; and,
  • Likely effect and impact on the child’s safety and wellbeing.

Safety is strengths demonstrated as protection over time.

Questions should be asked that not only help identify the family’s strengths, but also have helped protect the child in relation to the danger.

The use of exception questions such as ‘tell me about a time when the problem could have happened, but didn’t?’, ‘what did you do instead?’, and ‘when was the last time you did this?’ are helpful in gathering information in this column.

When there is not enough existing safety to satisfy the worries, workers should identify what steps need to occur to assure safety of the child(ren).

This column is also used to document tasks that need to occur to achieve the safety goal.

This column can also be used to document any court ordered services or tasks.

Questions should be asked that elicit the family’s input on what needs to happen.   Both in terms of the vision of future safety (safety goal) and in terms of the next steps to move toward that vision.

Staff should clearly document any bottom lines that must occur in order for the child to be able to either safely remain or return home.  These are things that must occur in the case, even if the family does not agree.

Safety Scale: On a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 means everyone is confident the children are safe enough for Children’s Division to close the case and 0 means there is not enough safety for the children to live at home, where would you rate it?   (Place different people’s assessment on the continuum.)

Arrow for Safety Scale


The Case Mapping Tool (CD-218) organized conversations to capture the information needed to create the Family Risk Assessment Map (CD-220).  Once we have gathered information about the situation, we must organize what we have learned, utilizing the CD-220.  This is usually done outside the presence of the family, often with the consultation of the worker’s supervisor. 


What are we worried about?

(Harm & Future Danger)

What’s working well?

(Strengths & Existing Safety)

What needs to happen?

(Safety goals and next steps in working toward safety)

Harm Statement

Past hurt, injury, or abuse to the child (likely) caused by adults.  Also includes risk taking behavior by children/teens that indicates harm and/or is harmful to them.  Components:

  • What happened?
  • How it impacted the child negatively?


Danger Statement

The harm or hurt that is believed likely to happen to the child(ren) if nothing in the family’s situation changes.  Components:

  • Who is worried?
  • What might happen?
  • Possible negative impact on the child?

The past harm (including the pattern) and future danger should be articulated in simple, clear, and behaviorally-specific language that captures the seriousness.


Complicating Factors

Conditions, actions, and behaviors that make it more difficult to address the worries.

Existing Strengths

People, conditions and actions that contribute positively to the overall functioning of the family and well being of the children.



Existing (Demonstrated) Safety

Actions taken by parents, caring adults and/or children to make sure the child is safe when the danger is present.


Existing strengths and observable behaviors that have contributed protection and safety for the child related to the danger statement.   Components:

  • What happened?
  • How it impacted the child positively?

Safety Goals

The conditions needed to satisfy everyone involved that the child will be safe enough in the future.  Components:

  1. The goal or end game (i.e. close the case or return the children)
  2. What needs to be happening differently in the care of the child?
  3. The anticipated positive impact on the child (short-term and long-term)?



Next Steps

The immediate next actions that will be taken to build future safety.

Safety Scale: On a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 means everyone is confident the children are safe enough for Children’s Division to close the case and 0 means there is not enough safety for the children to live at home, where do we rate the situation?   (Place different people’s assessment on the continuum.) 

Arrow for Safety Scale


Once the CD-220 is completed, the worker shares it with the family.  The most important part of creating danger statements and safety goals is that the family is involved in the process.  Once the worker drafts the CD-220, it must be shared with their family to ensure it is clear to everyone involved and that it accurately captures everyone’s perspectives.  The family does not have to agree but it is imperative that parents fully understand the Children’s Division’s worries.  Shared investment in safety goals is much more critical.  When parents are fully invested in the safety goals, workers can have more confidence the parents will remain motivated to keep the children safe after the case closes.

Process for Developing Co-Created Danger Statements and Safety Goals

Image for developing co-created danger statements and safety goals

Taken from The Power of Partnership Workbook: How to use the Signs of Safety in Child Protection Casework, pg. 52

After the family assessment map is shared with the family, the worker may need to re-vise it.  Danger statements and safety goals generally do not change once they are solidified with the family.  Occasionally, changes to the danger statements and safety goals may be necessary when:

  • A new assessment indicates a change in the level of seriousness of a current worry (revise the current statements), and/or
  • A new assessment indicates a new worry based on a different type of harm (add a danger statement and safety goal combination).  The Case Mapping Tool (CD-218) is utilized to map case progress during home visits and Family Support Team Meetings (FSTs).

6.2.1 Harm Statements

The best predictor of future danger is the pattern of past harm.  Therefore, it is essential that we get clear on what has happened to the child(ren) and how this has impacted them.  This information is captured in the harm statement. 

Harm statements explain what got the Children’s Division involved.  They are clear and specific statements about the harm or maltreatment that has happened to the child.  Harm statements should be based upon the facts about what has happened in the past including severity, the frequency and recentness of incidents, and the impact on the child.  Harm statements tell what was reported and/or what we know about what was done to hurt the child(ren) physically or emotionally.  Harm statements also include information about past incidents that are relevant to the current situation.

Components of harm statements:

  • What happened to the child (or allegedly happened)?
  • How did it (or allegedly) impact the child?
    • Physically
    • Emotionally

Harm statements should be honest, detailed, and non-judgmental.  They should be written in common-sense, every-day language, utilizing the family’s own words when possible. 

When there is disagreement about what happened, include all perspectives in the harm statement.  

6.2.2 Danger Statements

Danger statements explain what keeps the Children’s Division involved.  They are simple behavioral statements of the specific worry we have for the child(ren) in the future.  They capture our worries about what could happen if nothing changes and are based upon our worst fears for the future safety of the child.

Components of danger statements:

  • Who is worried?
  • Possible worrisome adult behavior
  • Possible negative impact on the child(ren)
    • Physically
    • Emotionally

Sharing danger statements with the family and other professionals involved helps create a sharpened focus on the key issues that need to be addressed so the family can make changes and demonstrate actions of protection.  Whether the child has been impacted negatively in the past or not, the danger statement articulates what is likely to happen to the child(ren) in the future if similar situations were to happen again Danger is based on the pattern of past harm.

Constructing a Danger Statement
(The Power of Partnership Workbook, pg. 50)

Constructing a Danger Statement

6.2.3 Complicating Factors

Complicating factors are issues that may make a case more difficult to resolve.  These are not the actual abuse or neglect, but make the abuse worse, or stop the parents from addressing the danger.  Are there things happening within the family, an individual family member’s life, or the family’s environment that makes it more difficult to establish safety?  Complicating factors add to the overall picture of concerns, but by themselves do not constitute abuse or neglect.  Examples include drug and alcohol abuse, mental health diagnoses, unemployment, homelessness, difficult relationships, or custody disputes.  Complicating factors do not have to be ‘fixed’ before the case can be closed.  The important thing is building safety to the danger with an awareness and in spite of the complicating factors.

For example, a parent who is an alcoholic does not necessarily have to quit drinking.  However, a plan is needed to ensure the children are safe during the times when the parent’s alcohol use causes danger for the child(ren).

Complicating factors may also include missing information.  There may be things that need further exploration that could impact the understanding of future danger and safety planning.

When addressing complicating factors, staff should weigh the family’s tradeoffs.  Every choice has tradeoffs and staff should assess how families balance tradeoffs with making change.


6.2.4 Existing Strengths and Existing Safety

In order to have a balanced assessment, we must look beyond the problems and be able to identify the strengths within a family.  Strengths are the good things happening within the family that make life better in general. 

Examples of Questions to Elicit Strengths

To give me a more balanced picture, can you tell me some of the things that you feel are good about this family?

If you were describing yourself to others, what sorts of things would you say you are good at?

What do you like about being a parent?  What have you learned from the experience?

Can you tell me what you like about your dad?  What sorts of things do you like doing together?

What do you like about your son?  What would you say he’s good at?

How do you usually solve family problems?  Who does what?

What do you do to cope in times of stress?

Who do you turn to for help in dealing with problems?  How do they help you?

Who could best support you in dealing with these problems?  How could they help?

What do you do to help yourself deal with the pressures of raising children?

Clearly, things have been really difficult for you.  How have you coped with these pressures?  What’s kept you going?

How is it that, even though you are faced with all this, you have been determined to do the best you can for your children?

Can you tell me about the times when you get along well with your partner/child?   What do you like about those times?

What do you consider is good and what do you like about your family?

What’s good about your relationship with your child/mom/dad/sibling?

What do you think they would say is good about their relationship with you?


Turnell, A., & Edwards, S. (1999). Signs of Safety, A Solution and Safety Oriented Approach to Child Protection Casework (pp. 65-66).  New York: W.W. Norton & Company.


Existing safety include positive factors, people, resources, supports, exceptions or abilities that have helped or are helping the family enhance the children’s safety, belonging, and wellbeing.

Existing safety are the good things that are happening that help keep the child safe or can be built on to keep the child safe in the future.  These are actions that are taken to make sure the child is safe when the danger is present.  Existing safety is based upon the facts about the strengths that have provided protection for the child.

Components of existing safety:

  • What has happened or is happening?
  • How does it positively impact the child?
  • Physically
  • Emotionally

Existing safety should be relevant to the danger.


Examples of Questions to Elicit Existing Safety

It sounds like this has happened before.  What have you seen the family do to sort this out?

You mentioned that it is not always like this.  Can you tell me what is happening when the situation is okay?  What is different about those times?

Are there times when the mother is attentive rather than neglectful?  Can you tell me more about those times?  What did the parent and child do instead?  What do you think contributed to the parent’s responding differently?

You said the child always seems miserable and withdrawn.  Are there any times when you have seen her come out of her shell?  What is she like then?

How do family members usually solve this problem?  What have you seen them doing?

Are there times when they call on other people to help solve problems?  When do they do that?  Who do they call on?

Can you relate anything good about these parents?

What do you see as positive about the relationship between the parents and their children?

Are there aspects of your relationship with the family that, in conjunction with our intervention, might help to influence them for the better?



Turnell, A., & Edwards, S. (1999). Signs of Safety, A Solution and Safety Oriented Approach to Child Protection Casework (pp. 87-88).  New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

The questions above exemplify how the Signs of Safety questioning approach should be utilized with all contacts, including reporters, and they can be easily adapted to interviews with parents/caregivers.

6.2.5 Safety Goals

Safety goals are clear, simple statements that describe the what will need to be happening in the future to convince everyone the case can be closed (or the children can be returned).  Safety goals do not include how the goals will be achieved — in other words they are not tasks.

Safety goals are the inverse of the danger statement.  They are based upon a vision for future safety that is adequate to address the danger.  Safety goals should always describe the presence rather than the absence of something (in other words what we do want to see rather than what we don’t want to see).

Components of safety goals:

  • What is the goal or “end game”?
  • What needs to be happening differently in the care of the child related to the danger statement?
  • What is the anticipated positive impact for the children?

Constructing a Safety Goal
(The Power of Partnership Workbook, pg. 51)

Constructing a Safety Goal

It is important for the family to be included in establishing the safety goal and their agreement on the goal provides clarity for the family in what needs to happen for the Children’s Division to close their case.  Often families will have their own ideas on what needs to happen to ensure their child(ren) are safe.  Whenever possible, these ideas should be incorporated into the safety goal alongside the agency’s perspective about what adequate safety would look like.  At times, it may be helpful to include any non-negotiable bottom lines about the safety planning process in the safety goal.  Involving a safety network and creating an explanation for the children are common process bottom lines.

Examples of Questions to Elicit the Family’s Safety Goals

Okay, we both see the need to make your child safe.  What I’m really interested in are the ideas you have for doing this.

How can we help you make things better and make your child safer?

What do you suppose you, your partner, the child, other family members can do to increase safety?

Let’s suppose we could do anything to make your child safer.  What would that be?

In your opinion, what would it take to make your child safer?

When we ask your son what would make him feel safer, what do you think he will say?

For our involvement with your family to be useful to you, what would need to happen?  What would change in your family?  What would change about your partner/your child?

How have you solved these sorts of problems before?  How did you know to do that?  How were you able to do that?  Could you do that again?

On those times when you’ve been successful with this child/situation, what was happening?

As a parent/child, what would you really like to learn about this situation?

If you got exactly the sort of support you wanted to deal with these problems and resolve them, what would that support look like?

It’s really clear to me that you don’t want us continually in your life.  What do you think we need to see to close the case?



Turnell, A., & Edwards, S. (1999).   Signs of Safety, A Solution and Safety Oriented Approach to Child Protection Casework (pp. 68-69).  New York: W.W. Norton & Company.


6.2.6 Next Steps

Next steps include the more immediate actions that need to be taken to move the case a bit closer to achieving the safety goal.  They should be directly targeted to building safety in relation to the danger statement.  Next steps may be used to identify what needs to happen to establish immediate safety during the initial investigation phase (these actions are documented more formally on the CD-263).  They may also include the actions that need to take place in order to establish the safety network and the safety plan.  They should describe the very next steps in the process to move up the safety scale (described in the following section on scaling).  While the danger statement and safety goals generally do not change over the life of the case unless a new type of harm is reported, the next steps may change frequently as the case progresses.

6.2.7 Scaling

To complete the risk assessment process, judgments invariably must be made about how safe the situation is for the child(ren).  This is accomplished with the use of the scaling questions. 

The safety scale can be asked in one of two ways:

  1. Basic Safety Scaling Question: On a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 means everyone is confident the children are safe enough for Children’s Division to close the case and 0 means there is not enough safety for the children to live at home (or return home), where do we rate the situation? It is important for both the worker to scale safety, and for the worker to ask those involved in the case to scale safety to learn more about each person’s judgment of the level of safety for the child(ren).  Individual responses should be placed on the continuum from 0 to 10.
  2. Case Specific Scaling Question (preferred): Cases that are being opened for ongoing casework should have at least one case-specific safety scale.  Using the danger statement to anchor 0 and the safety goal to anchor 10, this is used to measure progress in building safety throughout the life of the case.

While the basic and case-specific safety scales are the foundational devices for measuring progress from beginning (danger) to end (goal) in a case, there are many other valuable ways to use scaling questions.  Scaling questions also provide a fairly simple way to get the family’s perspective about the problems and solutions.  The number itself does not matter what’s important is the information that comes from asking follow up questions such as:

  • What brings your number up to a ___?
  • What keeps your number from being a bit higher?
  • When would your number have been the lowest?  What was happening then?
  • When would you have rated it the highest?  What was happening at that time?
  • What would it take to make your number one or two points higher?
  • Where do you think I (my supervisor, the judge) would rate it?  What makes you think they would give it a ___?

Scaling questions are not limited to the basic and case-specific safety scaling questions above.  The possibilities for using scaling questions are virtually endless.  Confidence, capacity and willingness can be scaled to get a clearer picture of the potential for change and the potential barriers to change.  A scaling question can be asked in Family Support Team (FST) meetings to understand team members’ perspectives on whether children can be returned home.  When asking a scaling question, staff should clearly define and document the end points of the scale. 

6.2.8 Documenting the Mapping Conversation

All Signs of Safety mapping tools including the Case Mapping Tool (CD-218) and the Family Risk Assessment Map (CD-220) must be documented in the case file. The Signs of Safety mapping tools must be uploaded through document imaging in FACES to the electronic case file. The CD-218 uploaded maps can be handwritten or typed.  The CD-220 uploaded maps must be typed.

Staff should include a summary of the mapping conversation with the family in FACES case contact notes. The documentation should show the worries, what is working well, and what needs to happen. The summary may include information on the following:

  • Child safety
  • Home Visit Observations
  • Past Harm – Does the danger match the harm?
  • Future Danger – Does the family understand our worry about the future?
  • Complicating Factors
  • Existing Strengths
  • Existing Safety – What can we build on?
  • Safety Goals – What is the end game?
  • Next Steps
  • Safety Scale