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Standard 5 Concluding a Child Protection Investigation

Overview

This standard outlines requirements for CASs related to the conclusion of a child protection investigation, in particular, with respect to the following:

Intent

The standard focuses on ensuring investigations are thorough, comprehensive and timely and supports a thorough, structured, guided and collaborative process for case decision making at the conclusion of an investigation. It is intended that the investigation disposition decision is appropriate based on the unique needs of children (for safety) and their families (for support) and that all relevant parties are notified of the investigation outcome.

Standard #5 Concluding a Child Protection Investigation

Standard
Criteria for Concluding an Investigation

A family-based child protection investigation is concluded when all information is gathered to determine whether:

An institutional child protection investigation is concluded when sufficient information is gathered to determine whether:

Child protection investigations may also be concluded when all reasonable efforts have been made to collect evidence and continuing the investigation would yield no new information.

The decision to conclude an investigation is made in consultation with a supervisor.

Timeframes for Concluding an Investigation and Extensions

A child protection investigation is to be concluded within forty-five (45) days of receipt of the referral. However, the quality and thoroughness of the investigation shall not be compromised in order to meet the 45 day timeline (e.g. in situations where the case is complex and/or the CAS requires more time to customize the investigation to address the unique needs of children and their families). When the investigation cannot be concluded within 45 days, it is within the supervisor’s discretion to extend the timeframe up to 60 days from the date of referral. The reasons for the extension are documented in the case record.

Key Decisions

Three key decisions are to be made within the context of a full case review and analysis of all relevant information obtained through the referral and during the investigation, including the child welfare history, with the supervisor prior to the conclusion of an investigation:

  1. The Verification Decision

    The verification decision is whether it is more probable than not that the originally alleged or new child protection concerns (including harm or risk of harm) have occurred or currently exist. Child protection concerns may be “verified,” “not-verified” or “inconclusive.”

  2. The Determination about whether the Child is in Need of Protection (for family-based investigations only)

    This is the CAS’s opinion of whether the child is in need of protection according to the grounds set out in s. 37(2) of the CFSA.

  3. The Investigation Disposition

    The investigation disposition is the decision about what services (if any) will be provided to the family at the conclusion of the investigation.

Cases that reach a determination that a child is in need of protection are eligible for ongoing child protection services. Cases that do not reach a determination that a child is in need of protection are closed or provided with other (non-protection) child welfare services, or linked to formal and/or informal resources in the community. Some cases may require no follow-up services.

Notification

Notification of the outcome of the investigation is provided to the child alleged to be in need of protection (if appropriate based on the child’s age and developmental level), the caregiver(s) of the child, the child’s worker, an administrator of the institutional setting, the worker responsible for oversight of the community caregiver, and the person alleged to have caused the child protection concerns within fourteen (14) days of the decision to conclude the investigation that is made with the supervisor. Notification can occur to the family as a whole or to each family member individually, depending on the case circumstances.

In the case of an Indian or Native child, if at the completion of a child protection investigation there is a determination that a child is in need of protection and the investigation disposition is to provide ongoing child protection services, the CAS consults with a representative chosen by the child’s Band or Native community about the provision of services to the child and his/her family.

Documentation

In addition to the documentation completed during the course of an investigation that is included in standards 1-4, the following documentation is to be contained in the case record at the conclusion of the investigation:

This documentation is submitted for supervisory approval within the established timeframe for the conclusion of the investigation from the date of referral (e.g. within 45 days or 60 days in the case of an extension).

For cases that will be transferred to ongoing child protection services, the documentation submitted at the conclusion of the investigation is approved by the supervisor within seven (7) days of receipt of the completed case documentation.

For cases that will not be receiving ongoing child protection services, the documentation submitted at the conclusion of the investigation is approved by the supervisor within fourteen (14) days of receipt of the completed case documentation.

Practice Notes
The Verification Decision

Evidence collected during an investigation may be complex and contradictory in some cases. It is the responsibility of the child protection worker (in conjunction with the police, where appropriate) to obtain as much reliable evidence as possible. In determining whether a child protection concern (including harm or risk of harm) is verified, the worker and supervisor consider all information obtained during the investigation and determine which information is relevant to be used as evidence to verify the concern(s) or not.

It is critical that all evidence suggesting that a child was not maltreated be considered as thoroughly as evidence suggesting that child maltreatment did occur.

The verification decision is made in a conference involving, at minimum, the child protection worker and supervisor. All relevant information obtained throughout the investigation is reviewed.

A child protection concern should not be deemed as “not verified” merely because:

Where a child and/or parent deny that an alleged incident occurred, the worker uses his or her knowledge and skills to determine whether the denial is credible. The information obtained throughout the investigation will provide a basis for making these determinations. The absence of risk factors and the presence of a number of family strengths may lend credibility to the denial.

“Balance of Probabilities or More Probable Than Not” The verification decision is made on the basis of a balance of probabilities. The child protection worker assesses the evidence to make a decision about whether the original or new child protection concerns are more likely to be true than not true. In assessing the evidence, the worker must consider two issues:

  1. Whether the evidence gathered and reviewed by the child protection worker is credible.

    Credible evidence is defined as evidence that is trustworthy, believable and dependable, thus reliable.

  2. Whether the evidence gathered and reviewed by the child protection worker is persuasive.

    Credible evidence is considered persuasive when, after carefully reviewing and weighing all the evidence, the child protection worker finds the weight of the evidence supports a clear conclusion that either the originally alleged or new child protection concerns have not occurred or are not present/do not currently exist, or that the originally alleged or new child protection concerns have occurred or are present/currently exist.

Deciding That Evidence Is “Inconclusive”

A verification decision of inconclusive means that a CAS cannot determine based on the balance of probabilities that a child protection concern(s) can be verified or not. In order to make this decision the CAS would have had to exhaust all information sources during the investigation and still be unable to conclude with any degree of certainty that the balance is tipped one way or another in favour of verifying or not verifying child protection concerns. This conclusion is not used as a default for cases where the decision to verify or not to verify is difficult to make.

Child Abuse Register

Where an allegation of child abuse has been verified, the guidelines for reporting to the Child Abuse Register are to be followed (see References (MCYS, 1987)) (see also s. 75(3) of the CFSA and Regulation 71, s.2). Cases of verified neglect should not be reported to the Register, unless they meet the reporting criteria for abuse, namely, that the child has suffered harm within the meaning of CFSA s. 37(2)(a), (c), (e), (f), (f.1) or (h).

Determination about whether the Child is in Need of Protection

The determination about whether a child is in need of protection is based on broader grounds, including risk of future harm (e.g. in the longer term), than the verification decision and requires a greater use of analysis and judgment.

A determination about whether a child is in need of protection is made in a conference involving, at a minimum, the child protection worker and supervisor. All relevant information obtained throughout the investigation is reviewed to inform this determination. The child protection worker analyzes the outcomes of all administered assessments, the behaviours, conditions, strengths and needs that are present and explores their current impact on the child, and how likely they are to result in abuse or neglect in the future. The use of any one assessment tool to make this determination is inappropriate.

A child is generally in need of protection when he/she has suffered or is likely to suffer some form of maltreatment as a result of an act of commission or omission by his/her parent or caregiver. “Likely to suffer” connotes a degree of predictability or reliability supporting that conclusion.

Risk of maltreatment exists on a continuum, from low to high risk. The determination that a child is in need of protection is different than simply a judgment that there is some risk in the family, as some risk of maltreatment is present in every family, even if it is very low.

Both the safety assessment and risk assessment are helpful in structuring and guiding this decision. Because the safety assessment is more narrowly focused than the risk assessment, and identifies imminently threatening conditions with potentially severe results, a determination during or at the conclusion of an investigation that a child is unsafe will generally result in a determination that a child is in need of protection.

Although a risk assessment is a relevant and valuable clinical tool, it is not sufficient in and of itself to support a determination that a child is in need of protection. An overall risk rating of high or very high will generally (but not always) result in a determination that a child is in need of protection.

Similarly, while a referral eligibility screening tool such as the Eligibility Spectrum assists in deciding about the severity of the incident or condition that has been verified, it should not be used on its own to drive the decision about whether a child is in need of protection, as severity is not the sole factor that requires consideration.

Investigation Disposition

The investigation disposition decision is made in a conference involving, at a minimum, the child protection worker and supervisor. All relevant information obtained throughout the investigation is reviewed to inform the disposition.

When a case is being closed, the child protection worker considers if services or resources in the community will prevent or reduce risk of future maltreatment to the child. If so, the child and family are provided with information about, or referred to, appropriate resources.

In the case of Indian or Native children, the conclusion of an investigation is an opportunity to engage the Band, community representatives, and/or extended family members where appropriate so that they may support the family on a go forward basis in their community. Encouraging the family to work with the Band can facilitate the process of linking the family with culturally appropriate services. The Band and other community representatives are well positioned in regards to identifying other culturally appropriate supports which may be beneficial for the child and his/her family.

Notification

Prior to the conclusion of an investigation, persons who were the subjects of a child protection investigation are informed that information regarding the investigation has been recorded in the society’s records and that some or all of the information will be placed on the provincial database for use in child protection services, including by other service providers.

When providing notification regarding the outcome of the investigation when it is concluded, consideration should be given to the potential impact on the victims of providing this information to the perpetrator (e.g. in situations of domestic violence, child abuse). This could include consulting with the victim(s) first about how the information shared could affect the perpetrator’s behaviour, what information should be shared, and what should be kept confidential to minimize risk to potential victims. Additional safety planning with victims may be needed.

Documentation

The case summary and analysis documentation at the conclusion of the investigation is clinically focussed, culminating in required case work decisions. The more detailed information about contacts with children, their families and other collaterals, and the steps taken during the investigation are contained in contemporaneous case notes in the case record.

When an Investigation Involves More Than One CAS

When an investigation has involved more than one CAS, it is best practice for the CAS which led the investigation to conclude the investigation in accordance with Standard #5. The CAS which assisted with the investigation shares all of the relevant information obtained and any assessments completed during the investigation with the CAS leading the investigation so that it can make the key decisions at the conclusion of the investigation and complete the required investigation conclusion documentation.