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Appendix 2000: Flexible Response System of Service Delivery

CPS May 2005


This appendix serves as an overview of the Flexible Response System (FRS) philosophy and major components. In that respect, it differs from the purpose of most appendices to the CPSH, which is to aid in the practical application of a specific policy.

The FRS for investigations has evolved in practice over the last decade, but it was given a name and definition as the result of the Sunset Advisory Commission's review of DFPS in 1996. The Commission recommended that DFPS institute a flexible response system "to address reports of child abuse and neglect that:

  ·  provides for full investigation of serious reports of abuse or neglect; and

  ·  allows less serious reports to be addressed through assessing the need for and delivery of social services to the child and affected family."

In 1997, legislation codified the "flexible response system" (Texas Family Code §261.3015, Flexible Response System). The intent of this legislation includes:

  ·  determining the severity of the allegations and responding accordingly;

  ·  avoiding unnecessary designation of persons as alleged perpetrators; and

  ·  providing services quickly in accordance with need. 

DFPS meets the intent of the legislature, as the major components of the flexible response system include:

  ·  the ability to respond to reports of abuse or neglect based on the level of identified risk and safety concerns;

  ·  the ability to alter the level of intervention as needed to meet the specifics of the situation;

  ·  designation of alleged perpetrator roles based on a preponderance of evidence; and

  ·  emphasis on service delivery as soon in the intervention as possible.

DFPS puts these components into operation by:

  ·  applying risk assessment concepts throughout the intervention, beginning at Intake;

  ·  using "preponderance of the evidence" as the standard of proof in investigations. CPS previously used the lower standard, "some credible evidence," as the standard of proof. This higher standard of proof addresses the concern that individuals may be inappropriately labeled as perpetrators. The preponderance threshold along with Administrative Reviews of Investigation Findings (ARIF), Ombudsman reviews, and due process through the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH), address the concern that cases could erroneously remain in the central registry and thus unjustly affect a person's future; and

  ·  providing prevention services through the Prevention and Early Intervention Program (PEI). The availability of prevention and primary intervention services means that children in situations that CPS determines are not abusive under the law, but are nonetheless detrimental to some extent, can receive services aimed at alleviating future risk of abuse or neglect.

Three DFPS programs work together to provide this system of service delivery for families:

  ·  The Prevention and Early Intervention (PEI) program works with Texas communities to develop and improve prevention and early intervention services and to support community-based programs designed to prevent child abuse, neglect, and delinquency.

  ·  The Statewide Intake (SWI) program receives reports of child abuse and neglect, and requests from the general public about needed services and resources for children, youth, and families. SWI forwards reports of child abuse or neglect to CPS or provides the reporter with information and referral to PEI and other resources, services, and programs.

  ·  The Child Protective Services (CPS) program investigates reports and provides services to families of children who have been abused or neglected and/or are at risk of abuse or neglect.

Components of the Flexible Response System (FRS)

The following are the six components of the flexible response system of service delivery that are carried out by PEI, SWI, and CPS:

1. Child Safety First!

Child safety is the primary consideration in all SWI and CPS casework decision making. The intake worker screens and assesses calls to identify situations in which children are endangered or at risk of being endangered due to apparent abuse or neglect. SWI refers reports of abuse or neglect in which children are not safe or are at risk of future abuse or neglect to the local area for a CPS investigation and sets the priority for how quickly the investigation should start, based on seriousness and immediacy concerns embodied in the CPS risk assessment.

When the local CPS supervisor reviews the reports, he or she assigns those that clearly meet CPS requirements without further screening. When the report is not so clear, and when it is consistent with child safety, the supervisor further screens and assesses the report using seven areas of concern (which are the basic concepts in the risk assessment system — see number 2, below) and considering the seriousness of the case.

When a report is assigned for investigation, the worker must seek to identify protective issues early in the investigatory process to determine whether the child is safe, abuse or neglect has occurred, or there are significant indicators of risk of future abuse and neglect.

If ongoing protective issues exist, the worker must conduct a thorough investigation. The worker, however, has the flexibility to complete the investigation in an abbreviated fashion if protective issues, including risk-based dynamics, are not found or appear to be controllable by family strengths and community resources. The FRS also allows staff to cease agency involvement in families' lives when it becomes obvious that CPS lacks jurisdiction in the case.

When SWI or CPS decides that the report involves children who are safe and not at risk of future abuse or neglect, staff close the report or investigation and refer the family to community service agencies, including those within the PEI program.

PEI's application of the principle of "child safety first!" is in requiring contractors to promptly report a family to CPS through SWI when the situation appears to involve children who are not safe from child abuse and neglect.

2. Risk Assessment: Seven Areas of Concern

The flexible response system of service delivery uses the following seven areas of concern to assess risk:

1.   Child vulnerability, which focuses on child fragility/protection and child behaviors

2.   Caregiver capability, which regards caregiver knowledge/skills, control, and functioning

3    Quality of care, which concerns emotional and physical care of children

4.   Maltreatment pattern, which encompasses current severity, chronicity, and trends

5.   Home environment, which regards stressors and dangerous exposures in the home

6.   Social environment, which focuses on social climate and social violence

7.   Response to intervention, which regards the caregiver's attitude about the allegations and possible efforts to deceive CPS

To determine whether to investigate a report and how quickly an investigation should begin, SWI workers and the local CPS supervisor consider these seven areas of concern about risk and safety; indicators that abuse or neglect appears to have occurred; and information about immediacy, seriousness, and jurisdiction. If the report indicates that the child may be at risk of immediate harm, the investigation will begin within 24 hours; otherwise, the investigation must be started within 10 days after the report was received.

The worker also uses the risk assessment to determine whether a safety plan is needed during the investigation to ensure that the child is safe. At the end of the investigation, CPS uses the risk assessment to determine whether to continue to provide services or to close the case.

3. Seriousness of the Case

In general, the seriousness of a case is based on the harm a child has incurred or is likely to incur from abuse or neglect as suggested from the risk assessment and safety evaluation. Investigations of reports that appear to be more serious are begun promptly so that workers can visit the family and check histories for a true determination of seriousness. If workers decide that abuse and neglect have not occurred and there are no significant uncontrolled risk factors, then they may abbreviate the investigation on the premise that the case is not likely to have a serious outcome. Workers are cautioned, however, that certain safeguards must be considered, including whether the child was able to respond fully and without fear in his or her explanation. Also, workers must ascertain that the parents have not displayed any signs of abuse or neglect toward the child.

Finally, if the report was initially deemed highly serious, the supervisor must ensure that the worker has not overlooked risk in the case.

PEI provides both prevention and early intervention programs to help families with serious problems that may, if untreated, escalate into abuse or neglect or place children in the family at risk of abuse or neglect in the future.

4. Rapid Referral for Service

Families in less serious CPS investigations are best served when the caseworker realizes a family's need for services and quickly delivers CPS services or refers the family to community services. CPS' intent in delivering or referring for such services is to:

  ·  support the child's immediate safety;

  ·  reduce longer term risk in the home;

  ·  support the family's ability to control risk in the future when CPS is no longer involved;

  ·  make a reasonable effort to prevent removal from the home; and

  ·  support the general well-being of children, particularly in the areas of education, physical health, and mental health.

PEI was created by the legislature to provide early intervention or prevent at-risk behaviors that lead to child abuse and neglect, delinquency, running away, truancy, or dropping out of school. PEI-funded programs assess client needs and begin services as quickly as possible. PEI provides the Texas Youth and Runaway Hotlines statewide, which are immediate resources for families or youth to contact and receive referrals for services and resources. PEI supports statewide public information campaigns to prevent child abuse and neglect. The program also supports services in local communities to prevent or address child abuse and neglect, such as Rainbow Rooms, Adopt-A-Caseworker, Family Outreach, Healthy Families, etc.

PEI services are voluntary and are provided to families and youth upon request. Statewide Intake and CPS refer families to PEI-related services when appropriate to divert families from the CPS program. When the CPS case is closed, CPS staff refer families to these programs for help in controlling or reducing risk of abuse or neglect in the home. Families are eligible to receive services before or after a CPS case is open, but not while the CPS case is open.

SWI and CPS staff also refer families for services where the family lives, such as food pantries; food stamps; services from the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation; Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF); Women, Infants and Children (WIC) programs; advocacy groups; free or low-cost legal services, etc. PEI contractors may also make these referrals.

5. Preponderance of Evidence

The CPS investigation worker must decide whether abuse or neglect has occurred by a "preponderance of evidence." "Preponderance of evidence" is a standard of proof in which the facts sought to be proved are more likely than not to have occurred (sometimes this is referred to as the "51 percent" standard).

6. Flexible Procedures

Caseworkers determine how an investigation proceeds by judging the severity and immediacy of the alleged harm to the child and the overall seriousness of the abuse or neglect. Other factors involve whether information received after the investigation is begun indicates a lack of jurisdiction to complete the investigation, including the inability to obtain information to corroborate an anonymous report.

TFC §261.301(a) requires DFPS to conduct a thorough investigation. Rather than a "one size fits all" procedural protocol for all investigations, this means that workers should take the necessary steps to reach findings appropriate to the individual case. There are four distinct types of investigation procedures to provide flexibility in conducting investigations differently but thoroughly; they are described below.

Flexible Procedures for Investigations

Thorough Investigations. The basic activities in a thorough investigation are as follows:

  ·  Check the abuse and neglect backgrounds of each alleged victim, parent in the home, and alleged perpetrator;

  ·  Interview and examine each alleged victim;

  ·  Interview and examine other children in the home who may have been abused or neglected but were not named as alleged victims in the intake report;

  ·  Interview each of the victims' parents who are living in the home;

  ·  Interview each alleged perpetrator, unless an exception to this requirement is met;

  ·  Visit the home, unless the worker can confirm or rule out the abuse or neglect without the visit; and

  ·  Check the criminal background of the alleged perpetrator, unless the alleged perpetrator is also alleged to be a victim.

There are a number of supplemental case actions the worker may need to take in a thorough investigation, such as gathering documentary evidence, interviewing collaterals, etc.

In a thorough investigation, the worker may reach the following findings as appropriate to the information and evidence in the case:

  ·  The disposition of the allegations of abuse or neglect may be "reason to believe," "unable to determine," or "ruled out"; and

  ·  The risk finding may be "risk indicated," "risk controlled," "no significant factors," or "risk assessment not applicable."

The dispositions of "reason to believe" or "unable to determine," or the risk finding of "risk indicated" may only be made after completing a thorough investigation. Workers cannot make these dispositions or findings in any other type of investigation.

The worker must use the preponderance of evidence standard in making a finding that a person abused or neglected children.

During or after the investigation, the worker must provide services to keep children safe in the home, including family-based safety services or child removal. If services are not provided after the investigation, the worker must refer the family for services to control or reduce risk of abuse or neglect and to enhance the well-being of family members.

Abbreviated Investigations. The basic activities of an abbreviated investigation are:

  ·  Check the abuse and neglect records of each alleged victim, parent in the home, and alleged perpetrator;

  ·  Interview and examine each alleged victim;

  ·  Interview at least one of the victims' parents living in the home;

  ·  Visit the home, unless abuse and neglect can be ruled out without taking this action; and

  ·  Check the criminal background of each alleged perpetrator, unless an alleged perpetrator is a child who is also alleged to be a victim.

If the above steps have been taken in a thorough investigation, then the worker may stop if it appears that the child is safe; abuse and neglect are ruled-out; risk is not significant, is controlled, or does not apply; and the worker has enough information to refer the family to any needed services.

It may not be appropriate to abbreviate the investigation if the alleged victim is not willing or able to communicate, the parents in the home are alleged perpetrators, and there are indicators that the case is serious.

The worker may not abbreviate the investigation when he or she finds indications that there are immediate threats of serious harm to the child, abuse or neglect has occurred (or it cannot be determined whether abuse or neglect occurred), or there is uncontrolled risk in the family.

The worker can close an investigation as "abbreviated" only if it meets one of the following disposition and risk finding combinations:

  ·   "Ruled out" with "risk controlled";

  ·   "Ruled out" with "no significant factors"; or

  ·   "Ruled out" with "risk assessment not applicable."

The worker must provide any needed safety services during the investigation. When consistent with child safety, early in the investigation the worker must assist the parents in identifying services that may be needed for the family and child and refer the family to needed services.

Unable to Complete Investigations (family moved and could not be located or family refused to cooperate in the investigation). CPS closes an investigation as "unable to complete" when the worker cannot come to conclusions about the disposition and risk of future abuse or neglect because he or she could not locate the family or the family refused to cooperate in the investigation, and the supervisor has not closed the investigation online.

The basic activities before an investigation can be closed as unable to complete are the following:

  ·  Check the abuse and neglect backgrounds of each alleged victim, parent in the home, and alleged perpetrator, if there is enough identifying information.

  ·  Attempt to interview the victims, parents, alleged perpetrator, collaterals, etc.

  ·  Go to the place where the family was reported to be living or staying.

  ·  Check the criminal background of each alleged perpetrator if there is enough identifying information.

  ·  Seek locating information from collaterals or entities that include, but are not limited to, the following:

  ·  Phone, gas, water, and electric companies

  ·  Neighbors, relatives, and landlord, if applicable

  ·  School or day care the children may have attended

  ·  The parent's place of employment

  ·  Public agencies, if there are indications that the family may have been receiving TANF funds, food stamps, Medicaid, child support, etc.

  ·  Local law enforcement

If the family is located in the area of the original investigation, the worker must resume and complete the investigation. If the family is located in another area within the state, the investigation must be transferred to CPS staff in the new area. If the investigation is closed as unable to complete and then the family is located, a new report must be made to SWI and a new investigation completed.

The worker can close an investigation as "unable to complete" only if the case meets the disposition definition of "unable to complete" and the risk finding definition of "risk assessment not applicable."

Preliminary Investigations (administrative closure). Certain cases are closed administratively after a preliminary investigation. A program director and the supervisor must approve these closures. The worker may but is not required to conduct criminal background checks on alleged perpetrators in reports in cases as these.

When the worker closes an investigation administratively, he or she must give it the disposition of "administrative closure" and the risk finding of "risk assessment not applicable."

The worker may, if needed, provide the family with information they need to obtain community services.

The worker may close an investigation administratively after a preliminary investigation in the following three situations:

1.   Statutory reasons. In these cases, the worker determines that CPS lacks jurisdiction and informs the party that CPS will take no further action on the report. Entities instead responsible for the case could include  law enforcement, another DFPS program, another state agency, or another state is responsible for the investigation. Cases closed for this reason include situations in which a victim was not born alive.

2.   Programmatic reasons. These closures include the following situations:

  ·  the allegations have already been investigated;

  ·  the worker gets reliable information from a contact with a collateral or principal that indicates the abuse or neglect did not happen or was not within CPS' authority to intervene; or

  ·  the child seems safe, and there are no obvious indications of risk of abuse or neglect.

      Staff should be cautious about closing an investigation administratively for programmatic reasons when there are indications the case may be serious.

When a case is closed for programmatic reasons, the basic activities in a preliminary investigation are the following:

  ·  Check the abuse and neglect backgrounds of each alleged victim, parent in the home, and alleged perpetrator; and

  ·  Interview a reliable and relevant collateral (preferably a professional) or a principal with relevant information who is not an alleged victim or perpetrator.

3.   Anonymous report with no evidence to corroborate. To determine whether to administratively close an anonymously reported case, these basic activities are followed in the preliminary investigation:

  ·  Check the abuse and neglect backgrounds of each alleged victim, parent in the home, and alleged perpetrator; and take the following steps below:

  ·  Step 1. As appropriate to the child's safety and the availability of persons to contact, the worker must contact and interview a reliable collateral (preferably a professional) or a principal who is not an alleged victim or perpetrator.

  ·  If the report is refuted, the worker closes the investigation.

  ·  If the worker finds some evidence to corroborate the report, he or she begins a thorough investigation.

  ·  If the worker cannot draw either of the above conclusions, he or she must go to step 2.

  ·  Step 2. The worker must interview and examine the alleged victim and interview the victim's parents in the home. The worker then considers whether he can draw any of the conclusions listed under step 1. If the worker cannot conclude that the report is refuted or corroborated, he or she must take step 3.

  ·  Step 3. The worker must visit the home and/or interview any other person who may have relevant information. Then, if the worker found some evidence to corroborate the report, he or she must begin a thorough investigation; otherwise, the worker must close the investigation administratively.

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