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Assessing safety

The safety of children is the primary focus of intervention by Child Safety, and is an integral part of all interactions with a child and their family. Assessing safety is done in a collaborative and respectful manner with a child, their family and the family’s safety and support network.

The purpose of the SDM safety assessment is to guide decision-making about:

  • whether there is the threat of immediate harm to a child in the household
  • what interventions are required to maintain their safety and protection
  • a 'safety decision' for each child in the household
  • whether an immediate safety plan can be developed to ensure the safety of any child who remains in the home, when immediate harm indicators have been identified

The safety assessment will help identify any immediate harm indicators that exist in a family’s household. It then needs to be determined if an immediate safety plan can be developed with the parents and the safety and support network to mitigate the risk, if immediate harm indicators are identified. (See the SDM Policy and procedures manual for safety assessment completion instructions and definitions).

A parent’s mental illness and the mental health of a child are complex issues. The behaviours associated with some mental illnesses and the resulting impact on the child can be significant.

There are protective factors to consider also — both internal and external — look for these with the same sense of purpose you have when looking for harm and worries.

Mental health issues can cause parents to feel guilt and shame. This can make them reluctant to speak with Child Safety or to help. Families may have had poor experiences with services in the past, or they may worry Child Safety will take their child.

Preparing to assess safety

Integrating the knowledge learned about mental health and mental illness, below are some helpful questions to consider as part of the planning for the initial visit. For each of these prompts, it may be helpful to plan what questions to ask family members and to practice asking these questions.

Plan for a safe and respectful approach

  • What is the best way to prepare to talk to the parents and children? What information is needed before meeting with them?
  • What are you confident about?
  • What are you not confident about? Who can help with developing confidence?
  • What information is still needed about the family at this point in time?
  • What is known about the mental health issues that exists in the family? Where did this information come from? From multiple sources or one source alone? What other information is needed?
  • What do you need to know about the family’s culture?
  • Who is best to consult with if the family is Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander or culturally and linguistically diverse?
  • What is a respectful approach for this family?
  • Who will be spoken with first — the child or the parent?
  • If speaking with the child first — what is the purpose and will this affect a parent’s trust? How can this be managed?
  • What are respectful ways to talk with the family about mental health?

What are the worries? What are the other risks to be mindful of?

  • What are the worries about the impact of a parent’s mental health on their child?
  • How do those mental health issues possibly place a child in danger?
  • Are there known triggers that cause a parent to become very unwell?
  • What are the other complicating factors?
  • What is known about other issues that can intersect with mental health issues — such as alcohol and other drug use, neglect, domestic and family violence and a parent’s own childhood or adult trauma?
  • If the parent is very unwell at the time of the visit, what are the response options?
  • What needs to be done to make sure everyone stays safe?
  • If you feel or become unsafe while working with a very unwell person, what plan is in place for the safety of the child, parent and yourself?
  • If anyone’s safety is at risk, how will this be managed this while also keeping focus on a child’s safety?

Uncover biases and assumptions to stay fair and curious

  • What are the worries about the safety of this child?
  • What needs to happen to stay open to other hypotheses?
  • What protective abilities, strengths and resources exist?
  • How can thinking about what life is like for each child in this home always remain in focus?
  • What biases or assumptions exist about mental health? Does everyone who experiences this mental illness experiences the same symptoms?
  • What causes mental health issues?
  • What are my own experiences of poor mental health and mental illness that I need to be aware of?

Help each other

  • What can the senior team leader or colleagues do to help increase confidence in engaging and working with the family?
  • How can they challenge and support being open to different hypotheses and stay child centred?
  • Can an agreement be made to provide feedback and challenge each other’s practice in a respectful way?

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