Initial Assessment: What Happens When a Family Receives a Visit

Información en español

Initial Assessment is the stage of the process where local and tribal child welfare agencies perform interviews with the child(ren), parent(s), Indian custodian(s), and other adults who are in contact with the child, such as doctors and educators, and visit the home. Using this information, they determine child safety, whether additional services may be needed, and if maltreatment occurred.

View a graphic representation of this stage of the process.

How long is the initial assessment?

Child welfare professionals have 60 days to complete their assessment. In some cases, it will take less time, and in rare circumstances it can take longer than 60 days. This can be due to case complexity or other unforeseen circumstances.

What can I expect during an assessment?

A child welfare professional will have conversations with you, your child, and other persons to help identify your family's strengths and assess some of the challenges you may be facing.

You can expect that the child welfare professional will:

  • Talk with your child
  • Talk with you, siblings, and other household members
  • Learn about your family and help you provide safety for your children
  • Gather information about the suspected abuse or neglect
  • Ask questions about your family strengths and needs
  • Observe the family home
  • Speak with other persons, such as doctors and teachers

The child welfare professional will then write a report that explains what was done and the information gathered. 

Will my child be removed from the home?

County and tribal child welfare agencies strive to keep families together. Most children and families receive services within their home. However, sometimes these services cannot be provided within the home. When this occurs, the child welfare professional will talk with your family to:

  • Find a temporary safe place for your child to stay; with relatives or friends or in a foster home
  • Arrange for you to see your child
  • Connect you and your child to supportive services with the goal of reunification

In an emergency, a child may be placed outside your home without permission. A court hearing must be held within 48 hours of when the decision was made to remove your child. At this Temporary Physical Custody (TPC) hearing, the court decides whether your child should remain living outside your home. You will be told of when and where the hearing will be, and you are encouraged to attend to tell the court how you see the situation. 

What are the different outcomes of the assessment?

There are two decisions that are made in an initial assessment - whether a child was maltreated and whether they are safe. 

Maltreatment decision

The determination of whether child maltreatment has occurred (substantiated) or not (unsubstantiated). This finding is not connected to safety decisions and does not determine if services will be offered.

Safety decision

Based on the safety of the child, there are multiple outcomes that can occur:

  • Safe - Case Closed: The child welfare professional provides the family with information on how to access community resources, if needed, and the case is closed.
  • Safe - Case Open with Voluntary Services: The child welfare professional offers voluntary child welfare services to the family and keeps the case open to check in periodically and see if further assistance is needed.
  • Unsafe - Case Open with Protective/Safety Plan: The child welfare professional works with the family to develop a protective or safety plan that helps ensure safety in the home. The family may also be offered voluntary or court-ordered child welfare services.
  • Unsafe - Case Open with an Out-of-Home Placement: If the child welfare professional determines that a child needs to be removed in order to ensure safety, the child is removed and placed in out-of-home care, preferably with someone they already have a relationship with, such as a relative or family friend. A Child in Need of Protection and Services (CHIPS) order may be filed. Services are provided to the child and family with the goal of reunification. 

What if I disagree with the decision?

If you have been substantiated for abuse or neglect, and would like to appeal that determination, you may follow the process outlined in your determination letter, or visit our Child Protective Services Appeal Process page. Please note that determination appeals are time sensitive and are not part of the general complaint process.

The case will then transition to the third stage of the child welfare system - Ongoing.

It is important to note that no two child welfare cases are the same as family dynamics and stressors vary. While this page provides a high-level overview of the child welfare process, a child can be removed at any time if deemed unsafe. Additionally, when a child is safe, a case can be closed at any step of the process.