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Risk assessment and SDM

There are a number of tools to aid and guide practitioners when assessing risk and identifying the risk level helps guide decision making in terms of intervention. 

Family risk evaluation

The 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 can be used to guide decisions about whether to open an ongoing intervention case for a child. 

This risk assessment tool is based on research that has examined the relationship between family characteristics, both static and dynamic, and the outcomes of subsequent confirmed abuse and neglect among families assessed for possible maltreatment 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 are also forums that can be used to discuss and authorise decision making. 

The FRE considers parental mental health on both the abuse and neglect index:

  • Neglect index – N11

A:No past or current mental health problem

B: Past or current mental health problem

  • during the last 12 months and/or
  • at any other time prior to that.


  • Abuse index – A10

A:No past or current mental health problem

B: Past or current mental health problem

  • during the last 12 months and/or
  • at any other time prior to that.

The abuse index differentiates between the primary and secondary parents’ mental health concerns.

Family risk re-evaluation

The SDM Family Risk Re-evaluation (FREE) is used in all ongoing interventions cases in which the children remain in the home, for example:

  • support service cases
  • intervention with parental agreement
  • 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 is considered alongside the assessment of the parents’ progress with the case plan goals and actions to determine if ongoing intervention is to continue or whether the case will be closed. 

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

  • new incidents of harm and abuse
  • changes in the services that each family use
  • 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.

In assessing the risk level as part of this tool, the initial risk level is recorded. This provides a base line when considering if any progress has been made by the family to reduce the risk the children will be harmed or neglect in the next 12 to 24 months. This includes:

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

The FRA specifically considers mental health use in terms of immediate harm indicators, however mental health would be considered as part of parental behaviour and progress with case plan goals and actions. 

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