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November 2008Vol. 9, No. 9Evaluating Risk and Safety Assessments

Child welfare agency caseworkers use risk and safety assessments to identify children at risk of maltreatment and in need of services. A newly released study, "Risk and Safety Assessment in Child Welfare: Instrument Comparisons," examines the research on an array of risk and safety instruments to assess the reliability, validity, outcomes, and use of such instruments with children and families of color.

Two major approaches to risk assessment are examined. The first, a consensus-based model, emphasizes a comprehensive assessment of risk based on various theories of child maltreatment. Many of these instruments describe areas to be assessed by the worker, and the worker codes each area as high, moderate, or low risk, based upon his or her judgment.

The second approach, an actuarial-based model, uses statistical procedures that identify and weigh factors that predict future maltreatment. Factors identified as predictive of maltreatment are incorporated into a checklist.

The study examines several instruments using both approaches, focusing particularly on predictive validity, i.e., the accuracy of the instrument in predicting a particular outcome. The findings suggest that actuarial instruments have stronger predictive validity than consensus-based instruments.

Written by Amy D'Andrade, Michael J. Austin, and Amy Benton, the study is available in the Journal of Evidence-Based Social Work, Volume 5(1/2), published by the Haworth Press: