Family Assessment Response

Each year, Minnesota counties and tribes review about 18,000 reports of child abuse and neglect. The majority of these reports, about 71 percent, are assigned to Family Assessment Response (FAR), rather than a Family Investigation. It is a comprehensive, strengths-based approach to working with families when there is a concern of child abuse or neglect. The approach ensures children's safety and family stability by building on families’ strengths and responding to individual needs. Both children and parents get the help they need without being labeled.

Ensuring children’s safety while supporting families

Counties and tribes still use Family Investigations for serious reports of child abuse and neglect. This includes cases where children are in imminent risk of harm. Family Investigations are not needed for many struggling families who want what is best for their children.

Family Assessment Response gives child protection workers flexibility to decide how to best meet children’s and families’ needs. Extensive research has found that children are safer and families are healthier when family support services are quickly made available and targeted to specific needs.

With this approach, workers examine child safety and maltreatment risks, but also identify family strengths and needs. This allows social workers to better support families and refer them to the community resources they need.

Responding to families’ needs

When families lack some of life’s basic necessities, such as adequate housing, food, transportation, health care, and access to safe and affordable child care, they may not be able to safely care for their children. Some families need services such as counseling to address relationship concerns or child behavior issues, treatment for drug or alcohol problems, or parenting education about topics such as child development and positive discipline. Families under stress and with limited supports are at a higher risk of child abuse and neglect. Social workers connect families with community resources to address unmet needs to reduce stress and lower the risk of abuse or neglect to children.

Assessing families’ strengths

Social workers help families identify strengths to build on to keep children safe and improve families’ lives. Identifying what parents do well, such as showing affection or providing a good home for their children, offers more possibilities for family well-being than documenting failures. Building on these strengths and calling in family resources, such as relatives or friends who can help solve problems or provide assistance, helps parents raise their children in safe, healthy, nurturing environments.

Minimizing negative labeling

Family Assessment Response helps reduce negative labeling of parents involved in the child protection system. Through the program, social workers help develop a partnership among families, agency staff and the community to keep children safe. No determination of abuse or neglect is made, thus parents are not labeled as abusive or neglectful. Families and social workers often consider this a more effective and empowering way to address child protection concerns.

Participation

Counties and tribes can choose to use the Family Assessment Response approach or a Family Investigation in response to abuse and neglect reports. When a child is at a serious and immediate risk of harm, agencies would always investigate and not offer the Family Assessment Response.

Involving communities

Although there are times when child protection services are needed to keep children safe, and to support and strengthen families, in most cases, government intervention is not necessary over the long term. Family Assessment Response social workers help to link struggling and isolated families with resources in their communities, including schools, neighborhood centers, churches, food shelves, child care centers and family day care, neighbors, extended family and social service agencies. This helps to decrease family isolation, which leads to greater safety for children. Communities also become stronger by ensuring they are connected with all families, including those who are struggling.

Meeting children’s and families’ needs

The Family Assessment Response program is successful because it:

  • • Allows flexibility to meet children’s and families’ needs when child abuse and neglect are reported
  • • Enables successful parenting with minimal negative labeling
  • • Applies limited county and tribal resources more effectively to help families in crisis
  • • Meets individual families’ needs to ensure child safety and well-being
  • • Elicits broader community participation in supporting families and keeping children safe.

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