• June 2012
  • Vol. 13, No. 5

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Site Visit: Shifting Alabama's Assessment Focus to Safety

Through a 5-year Children's Bureau discretionary grant funded in 2007, Alabama's Department of Human Resources (ADHR) is implementing a family-centered comprehensive assessment process (CAP) aimed at shifting case planning from incident-driven to safety-focused. The structured intervention process in three pilot counties includes four objectives:

  • Evidence-based documentation of results
  • Evidence-based implementation of assessment methods
  • Rigorous evaluation of the relationship between CAP and improved outcomes
  • Implementation of a statewide CAP plan based on evaluation and outcomes

The three pilot counties—Baldwin, Escambia, and Mobile—represent varied populations and different socioeconomic and cultural issues and challenges. Baldwin County, considered one of the fastest growing counties in the State, has high rates of substance abuse, particularly crystal meth. Mobile County, Alabama's second largest county, experiences common urban issues such as violence, crime, and homelessness. Rural Escambia County is home to the State's only federally recognized Tribe and contends with a lack of resources and services.

The CAP  process is composed of four evaluation stages:

  • The Intake Assessment (IA) evaluates reported threats to child safety, identifies parental or caregiver protective skills, and assesses the prevalence of danger. The Intake process focuses on two service objectives—establishing a point of contact within the community to express concerns and identifying unsafe children and families.
  • The Family Functioning-Safety Assessment (FFA) evaluates alleged maltreatment and drives the CAP process. During FFA, workers assess practice indicators to evaluate whether children are unsafe and need protection and whether parents or caregivers need continued services.
  • The Protective Capacity Family Assessment (PCFA)-Individual Service Plan, which is concurrent with the FFA, serves as the State's Individual Service Plan and directly involves caregivers in case planning. Alabama's DHR believes raising awareness and engaging in conversation with caregivers about needed change increases protective abilities.
  • The Protective Capacity Progress Assessment (PCPA) follows case planning and measures progress toward increased protective capacities. The ongoing PCPA monitors case plan goal achievement, reconfirming safety plan sufficiency, caregiver motivational readiness, and stages of change, all of which are mutually agreed upon between workers and caregivers.

The State's new Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS) and CAP were rolled out simultaneously—each using different terminology, definitions, and decision-making criteria—which proved to be a significant barrier in the pilot program. Additionally, worker turnover and budget constraints that prevented new hires were also challenges.

Keys to success included:

  • Increased investment and collaboration with community leaders and judicial partners
  • Training aimed at making supervisors experts on CAP prior to model rollout to ensure better guidance for workers
  • An approach to teaching CAP that fosters greater understanding of how the intake process supports and is connected to case closures

A comprehensive evaluation of the CAP project is planned that will include comparisons to outcomes in three matched counties where standard comprehensive family assessment and individualized service plan practices were implemented. Other evaluation components will include focus groups, surveys, and interviews.

For more information about this project, contact Sue Ash, Child Protection Services Program Manager, at sue.ash@dhr.alabama.gov.

The full site visit report will be posted on the Child Welfare Information Gateway website:


The Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Process is funded by the Children's Bureau (Award 90CA1751). This article is part of a series highlighting successful Children's Bureau grant-funded projects around the country, emerging from Children's Bureau site visits.

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