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Assessing safety

A respectful and curious approach

Questions to ask yourself?

  • Have I read the file?
  • What has Child Safety tried in the past?
  • What message has Child Safety given the family about the child’s safety?
  • What has the family’s experience of Child Safety been before now?
  • What do I already know about the Mum’s and Dad’s substance use? What substances they use, their patterns of use and when they use?
  • How can I let the parents know that my aim today is to help them find safer ways to use to keep children safe, not to stop their use right now?
  • What do I know about the Mum’s and Dad’s histories? Could their use be a way of coping, resisting or surviving oppression, pain or suffering?
  • How do I let the Mum and Dad know that I appreciate it will be scary for them to talk to me about their possibly illegal drug use (and that I’m not condoning their use)?
  • Will I be able to tell if the parents have just used a drug or if they are coming down?
  • What approach should I take if the parents are intoxicated or substance-affected when I see them; and will they even be able to talk to me?
  • How knowledgeable am I about alcohol and other drugs’ (AOD) immediate effects, signs of current use and signs of withdrawal?
  • How will I help the child feel safe and comfortable enough to talk?
  • What words will I use to explore my worries with Mum, Dad and the child?
  • What can I do to alleviate the parent’s worries, fears, stigma or shame so that we can have an honest discussion?

Looking for harm, acts of protection, strengths and resources

  • Is there at least one parent who has acted to protect the child from the immediate harm? What specific action have they taken?
  • Who knows about the parents’ use and is available to support them and their child?
  • What do the professionals working with the family say about what is happening?
  • Is the parents’ AOD use unpredictable, escalating or becoming more harmful?
  • Do the parents have their own plan for keeping their child safe when they are using or coming down?
  • Are there indicators their plan has worked?
  • If there were periods when the child has not been notified to Child Safety, what was happening at those times and how is that different to what is happening now?
  • Is there a history of direct harm to the child when Mum or Dad has been using?
  • What ‘triggers’ might exist for parents to use and how do the triggers increase danger?
  • What other dangers might exist, and how will I keep my eyes open to these?

Structured decision making safety assessment: Alcohol and other drugs 

The purpose of the safety assessment is to ensure that practitioners consider a wide range of family and environmental circumstances that affect a child’s safety and to effectively plan interventions to protect the child. A parent’s use of AOD is one factor to be considered.

When completing the structured decision making (SDM) safety assessment, practitioners (that is, CSOs) should gather information from a wide variety of sources. Practitioners engage with families, children, young people and communities whose culture, ethnicity, economic status, age, gender, spirituality and sexual orientation may differ greatly from their own. 

We can all be influenced by our personal experiences and therefore biased when assessing others where difference exists. This is why information should be gathered not just from the family but also the extended family, the network and cultural Elders or advisors to ensure the practitioner is able to make a rigorous and balanced assessment.

Immediate harm indicator 6, from the Safety Assessment is defined as:

Parent misuses alcohol or drugs to the extent that the child’s immediate protection and care needs are currently unmet. See SDM Manual for definitions. 

Being ready for the hard conversations

Read Talking about alcohol and other drugs use in the Working with parents section to help you think about the words and phrases you can use to reduce shame and stigma for parents.

Read about common drugs and the effects in the Overview section so you are familiar with the signs of AOD use and the impacts on parental capacity and behaviours.

Take information and fact sheets relevant to your worries with you, for example:

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