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November 2016Vol. 17, No. 8Standardized Safety and Risk Assessments and Tribal Communities

The child welfare field has seen the increased development and use of standardized tools to improve the assessment of child safety and risk for child maltreatment in families. However, most tools are less useful with American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) families because they fail to accommodate and integrate AI/AN cultural and family values. A recent Research to Practice Brief from the Administration for Children and Family’s (ACF's) Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE) traces the evolution of child safety and risk assessments in child welfare, describes the different types of assessments, discusses the importance of integrating AI/AN values into tools used with Tribal families, and provides examples of how five Tribes developed or adapted child safety and risk assessments.

The brief's authors note that, since the 1980s, family assessments have moved away from traditional case studies and toward more structured assessments. Today's child welfare agencies most often use safety and risk assessment tools that are strength based and include both safety and risk components. But few of these tools accommodate the unique cultural elements of AI/AN communities, such as the safety factor that results from the extensive involvement of family and community members in parenting children and the risk factors that may result from Tribal adverse events or trauma.

Some Tribes have developed unique approaches to address the lack of culturally relevant safety and risk assessments, and this research brief cites five examples:

  • The Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska partnered with the developer of the Structured Decision Making model to customize the standard assessment for use with Tribal families.
  • The Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boys incorporated its Tribal values into Montana’s safety assessment instruments through the use of culturally responsive questions.
  • The Cook Inlet Tribal Council used its 2006 ACF grant on Coordination of TANF and Tribal Services to validate the North Carolina Family Assessment Scales for use with AN families.
  • The Oglala Sioux Tribe developed a curriculum of culturally responsive training to prepare its child protection staff to make safety and risk decisions.
  • The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians developed a program called Building Strong Native American Families to increase knowledge and awareness of child abuse and neglect in both staff and in the community.

The authors conclude that these examples of Tribal approaches to safety and risk assessments provide some promise for the potential to improve child welfare decision-making in AI/AN communities.

Find Child Safety and Risk Assessments in American Indian and Alaska Native Communities, by Kim Keating, Brandie Buckless, and Pirkko Ahonen, on the OPRE website at (411 KB).