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June 2005Vol. 6, No. 5Family Assessment Guidelines for Child Welfare

New guidelines are now available on the Children's Bureau website to help State and Tribal agencies conduct comprehensive family assessments for families involved with the child welfare system. Comprehensive family assessments take into account not only presenting symptoms but also underlying causes for behaviors and conditions affecting children. These assessments may help agencies develop plans that match services to real needs and address families' key issues in the timeframes required by law.

Comprehensive family assessments are distinct from traditional assessments that have a more narrow focus on a specific topic, such as safety or development. Instead, comprehensive family assessments incorporate information collected through other assessments to provide a broad picture of family issues. Agency workers conducting family assessments strive to:

  • Recognize patterns of parental behavior over time
  • Examine family strengths and protective factors
  • Address the overall needs of the family and children that affect children's safety, well-being, and permanency
  • Consider contributing factors such as domestic violence, substance abuse, health problems, and poverty
  • Incorporate information from other assessments and sources to develop a service plan

The new guidelines focus on these components and outline a 10-step process for comprehensive family assessment. This process is illustrated through an extensive case study. Administrative supports for comprehensive assessment also are discussed, including policies, services, staff training, supervision, coordination with other agencies, and accountability and evaluation.

The Comprehensive Family Assessment Guidelines for Child Welfare were developed through a coordinated effort of the Children's Bureau Training and Technical Assistance Network ( The publication can be accessed on the Children's Bureau website at For more information, contact the National Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice and Permanency Planning (