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March 2006Vol. 7, No. 2Instruments for Assessing Risk and Safety

A comparison of two types of risk assessment models revealed that child welfare workers may be better able to determine the risk of neglect and abuse if they use an actuarial model rather than a consensus-based model. Comparing the two types of models was the focus of a study commissioned by the Bay Area Social Services Consortium (BASSC). The study reviews the research evidence related to risk and safety assessment instruments, as well as implications for practice.

Actuarial and consensus-based models differ in the following ways:

  • Actuarial models use statistical procedures to identify factors that predict future maltreatment, while consensus-based models emphasize a comprehensive risk assessment.
  • Actuarial models use different factors to assess the risk of abuse versus neglect, while consensus-based models use the same factors.
  • Instrument factors in actuarial models tend to be more objective, while those in consensus-based models tend to be more subjective.

The study also describes California's 2001-2004 systems reform effort, which led to a recommendation for all counties to use a standardized risk assessment procedure. While no specific instrument was identified, various domains and items that needed to be assessed across seven decision points in the life of each case were identified.

The study, Risk and Safety Assessment in Child Welfare: Instrument Comparisons, by A. D'Andrade, A. Benton, and M. J. Austin, is available on the BASSC website: (PDF 1,245 KB)