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Risk assessment and structured decision making

There are several tools to aid and guide practitioners in assessing risk and identifying the risk level. These in turn help guide decision making in terms of intervention.

Family risk evaluation

The structured decision making (SDM) family risk evaluation (FRE) helps to identify families that have high, moderate or low probabilities of abusing or neglecting their children in the future. The final risk level which can be ‘low’, ‘moderate’ or ‘high’, and can be used to guide decisions about whether to open an ongoing intervention case for a child.

This risk assessment tool has been developed based on research that compared family characteristics with confirmed abuse and neglect of children in Queensland. This tool does not predict abuse or neglect; it simply assesses whether a family is more or less likely to abuse or neglect their children in the next 12 to 24 months.

The FRE does not provide assistance for practitioners when determining the type of case or intervention to be opened. These decisions are based on professional judgement, legislation and relevant procedures. Practice panels and formal supervision can also be used to discuss and authorise decision making.   

The FRE prompts practitioners to consider domestic and family violence when completing the abuse index. The tool guides practitioners in to consider the risk when a household relationships features:

  • no domestic and family violence in the past year
  • domestic and family violence incidents in the past year.


Family risk re-evaluation

The SDM family risk re-evaluation (FREE) for in-home cases is used in all ongoing intervention cases in which the children remain in the home, including:  

  • support service cases
  • intervention with parental agreement cases
  • directive orders or supervision orders 
  • custody and guardianship orders where the child has returned home.  

Risk re-evaluations are completed as part of every case plan review. At these times, practitioners re-evaluate the risk level for the family using tools to help them systematically assess changes in risk and needs. This, together with an assessment of the parents’ progress with the case plan goals and actions, is used to determine if ongoing intervention needs to continue or whether the case should be closed.

Factors that are considered in the re-evaluation of risk include:

  • new incidents of harm and abuse
  • changes in the services the family uses
  • changes in the severity of previously identified problems.

Family reunification assessment

The SDM family reunification assessment (FRA) is used to guide practitioners when making decisions about whether to return a child to the parent/s, and to assist in reaching a permanency recommendation. The FRA focuses on three main factors:

  • risk assessment
  • safety assessment
  • evaluation of parent-child contact.

The initial FRA risk level is recorded, to provide a base line when considering if any progress has been made by the family to reduce the risk the children will be harmed or neglected in the next 12 to 24 months. Changes in the risk assessment will includes developments since the initial risk level was recorded:

  • assessing a family’s progress with the case plan—does the behaviour of the parent/s indicate they have taken action and made progress on achieving case plan goals?
  • Whether any new child protection concerns been recorded as a notification and if the investigation and assessment resulted in a substantiated outcome.

The FRA specifically considers domestic and family violence in terms of immediate harm indicators; however, household relationships are considered as part of parental behaviour which forms part of the FRA, and progress with case plan goals and actions.

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