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Risk assessment

The process of assessing risk starts at intake and continues until intervention is finalised. Risk assessment is a critical part of child protection work. It includes gathering sufficient information in relation to harm, risk factors, complicating factors and acts of protection, strengths and resources. We analyse the information to provide a rigorous and balanced assessment that can guide decision making and case plan direction.

Assessing risks to a child

A safety assessment requires you to look at the immediate and imminent dangers to the child. A risk assessment asks you to:

  • look broadly at the child’s lived experience
  • consider the short-term and long-term impacts the parent’s behaviour is having on their child, including cumulative harm
  • be clear on the different risks to which a child is exposed
What you need to assess Why it matters for children
Effects of alcohol and other drugs use on behaviour, parenting and relationships Each drug has characteristic effects, but each person can react differently to a drug’s effects. You need to understand the impacts of each on parental behaviour and how this is seen and understood by the child.
The role alcohol and other drugs use has in the parent’s life Seeing alcohol and other drugs use as a coping strategy for coexisting factors—such as past trauma, domestic violence and mental health issues—rather than a problem itself will help you understand what life is like for a parent, and what coexisting factors need to be addressed for sustained alcohol and other drugs change.
Episodes of alcohol and other drugs use

An episode is the period of time from the start of intoxication until the effects of alcohol and other drugs subside. Understanding what episodes of alcohol and other drugs use may look like is important in order for you to build a picture of how risk may be increasing and what a child may be seeing, hearing and feeling during each episode.

This is particularly important to understand when episodes include behaviours that are out of control, violent or increase risk for a child.

The pattern and severity of the alcohol and other drugs use Knowing the amount and how often a parent uses alcohol and other drugs will help build a picture of the extent of the problem, how it affects their parenting, if they are able to stop or reduce their use, and what treatment they will need.
The stages of a parent’s alcohol and other drugs use The risks to a child go beyond the times that their parent is intoxicated. The way a parent buys, stores and uses drugs as well as the impacts of intoxication and withdrawal can potentially expose a child to harm.
Social and family networks that enable or help to stop alcohol and other drugs use A parent will have people in their life who enable their use and people who want them to stop their use. To help the parent reduce, stop their use and seek treatment, you will need to know who can support them. You will also need to look for ways to strengthen the supports they need.


Assessing how parental alcohol and other drugs impacts the child

When you understand how problematic alcohol and other drugs use affects a parent’s daily life, you are more able to see how it impacts on their child.

Use the following practice reflections to understand the particular ways a child may be more vulnerable as risk increases.

People and places the child is around

  • Is the child around other people who use alcohol and other drugs?
  • Is the child living in a community where excessive alcohol and other drugs is the norm?
  • What does this mean for the child?
  • Is the child being cared for and supervised by other people who use alcohol and other drugs?
  • Is the child going to risky places with their parents to buy or use alcohol and other drugs?
  • What risky or unsafe places are associated with the alcohol and other drugs use?

What a child sees and has access to

  • Is the child seeing actual drug use?
  • What does this mean for what they see, hear and learn?
  • Does the child have easy access to alcohol and other drugs around them?
  • Has the child been hurt before from taking alcohol and other drugs or from paraphernalia in the home?
  • Are you worried that drug manufacturing may be occurring?

What the child sees, thinks and feels during their parent’s ‘episode’

  • What is the child seeing, feeling and hearing during an episode?
  • What behaviours or mood swings put the child at risk of being hurt physically and/or emotionally?
  • Is the parent’s behaviour towards the child and others becoming more worrying?

What the parent’s alcohol and other drugs use looks like

  • What has the parent’s pattern of use been in the past?
  • What has their recent (last 12 months) pattern been?
  • What alcohol and other drugsis being used, how often, how is it being used and what are the reasons for using?
  • Has something triggered a change? (for example, recent trauma, mental health or an increase in stress)
  • Are things escalating? What does this mean for safety and risk?

The child’s resilience is a factor

A child’s resilience can help them thrive and survive despite adversity in their life. Understanding the six domains of a child's resilience will help you know more about what may help buffer the impact of their parent’s problematic alcohol and other drugs use. It will also help you find ways to build on these through case planning. It is important to remember that resilience does not equate to safety.

Domain Exploring a child's resiliency
1. Secure base

How does parental alcohol and other drugs use impact on a child developing a secure base?

How does a parent recognise and respond to emotional cues from the child?

Who does the child show an attachment to?

What type of attachment?

How does alcohol and other drugs use influence the type of attachment?

2. Social competencies

How does the child show and manage their emotions, thinking and feeling behaviours?

How does the child socialise with other children? With adults?

How does parental alcohol and other drugs use affect a child’s social competencies?

How does the child show empathy?

3. Positive values

How does parental alcohol and other drugs use impact on the child learning positive values about themselves and others?

How does the child feel about themselves?

How is their confidence and self-esteem?

How does parental alcohol and other drugs use impact on this?

4. Education

How does parental alcohol and other drugs use impact on a how a child is learning at school?

How does it affect school attendance?

How does it impact on a child learning about their world and life at home?

5. Friends

How does parental alcohol and other drugs use impact on a child being able to have social interactions and form friendships with other children their age?

Does the child have at least one friendship?

6. Talents and interests How does parental alcohol and other drugs use impact on a child learning about the things they are interested in or participating in activities that can build their sense of self and efficacy?

Source: Benevolent Society (2014) A Resilience practice framework.

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