From the moment of the initial contact with the family, the SSW and the Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) are obligated under federal and state law to make reasonable efforts to keep families intact whenever possible; and in removal situations, to make reasonable efforts to reunify children with their families. As part of this obligation, the SSW is required to maintain personal contact with families and children. Ongoing contact with the family provides information that contributes to a thorough assessment of whether the family has eliminated the safety threats and reduced the identified risk factors that initially lead to the involvement of DCBS.
Safety threats are conditions present within a home or family that creates an immediate danger to the child’s safety, or threat of severe harm, that may result in severe consequences without immediate intervention. A safety threat refers to a specific family situation or behavior, emotion, motive, or capacity of a family member that is out-of-control, imminent, and will likely have severe effects on the child.
Risk factors refer to the likelihood that maltreatment may occur if there is not intervention and is synonymous with words like chance, probability, or potential. Identified risk factors may be classified as low, moderate, or high.
Features of an acceptable pattern of visits include:
- Unannounced, if necessary to ensure the child's safety, face-to-face contact frequently enough to sufficiently evaluate the family’s progress;
- Sufficient meaningful discussion of case planning tasks and objectives; and
- Sufficient opportunity to observe the residence(s) of the parent(s) and child(ren), or other family members significant to the case.
Through the life of the case, the burden is on the SSW to locate and maintain contact with family members based on the individual needs of each case.