Private Organization Accreditation

Debt Education and Certification Foundation (DECAF), a private non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, provides high-quality financial education and counseling, with nationwide outreach throughout the U.S. DECAF is HUD-approved, and recognized as one of the 100 Best Companies to Work for in Texas.


Catholic Charities, Diocese of Covington

Wm. R. (Bill) Jones, ACSW, MDiv, Chief Executive Officer

Catholic Charities in Covington has been COA accredited since 1996. Though the time spent in completing the self study and hosting the site visit can sometimes feel sometimes daunting, the rewards far outweigh the effort. In our agency, the self-study is a group process that involves every member of the staff from the CEO to the building maintenance staff.
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Child and Family Services promote child and family well-being, protect children’s safety, stablilize and strengthen families, and ensure permanency.

PA-CFS 5: Initial Assessment of Safety and Risk

An initial assessment or investigation allows the agency to evaluate safety and risks, and determine whether ongoing efforts are needed to protect children and strengthen families.

Interpretation: The agency should refer to tribal-state agreements, the Indian Child Welfare Act, and the Indian Child Protection and Family Violence Prevention Act to determine investigative roles and responsibilities, and to ensure the investigation or assessment complies with all necessary legal requirements and includes tribal participation if provided for by protocol or agreement.

Note: While most agencies will complete “investigations,” the standards in this core concept can typically also apply when an agency employs a differential response system and assigns some cases to an alternative “assessment” track rather than to a traditional “investigation” track.

Rating Indicators
Full Implementation, Outstanding Performance
A rating of (1) indicates that the agency's practices fully meet the standard and reflect a high level of capacity.  
  • All elements or requirements outlined in the standard are evident in practice, with rare or no exceptions; exceptions do not impact service quality or agency performance. 
Substantial Implementation, Good Performance
A rating of (2) indicates that an agency's infrastructure and practices are basically sound but there is room for improvement. 
  • The majority of the standards requirements have been met and the basic framework required by the standard has been implemented.  
  • Minor inconsistencies and not yet fully developed practices are noted; however, these do not significantly impact service quality or agency performance.  
Partial Implementation, Concerning Performance
A rating of (3) indicates that the agency's observed infrastructure and/or practices require significant improvement.  
  • The agency has not implemented the basic framework of the standard but instead has in place only part of this framework.   
  • Omissions or exceptions to the practices outlined in the standard occur regularly, or practices are implemented in a cursory or haphazard manner. 
  • Service quality or agency functioning may be compromised.   
  • Capacity is at a basic level.
Unsatisfactory Implementation or Performance
A rating of (4) indicates that implementation of the standard is minimal or there is no evidence of implementation at all.  
  • The agency’s observed service delivery infrastructure and practices are weak or non-existent; or show signs of neglect, stagnation, or deterioration.  
Please see Rating Guidance for additional rating examples. 

Table of Evidence

Self-Study Evidence On-Site Evidence On-Site Activities
    • Procedures for initial assessment/investigation, including for collaborating with other parties
    • Tools/criteria for:
      1. Safety assessment 
      2. Risk assessment
      3. Decision-making
    • Information about rights and responsibilities provided to parents
    • Information provided to children
    • Data on the timeliness of initial visits, for previous quarter
    • Collaborative agreements or contracts, when applicable
    • Interview:
      1. Agency leadership
      2. Relevant personnel
      3. Children and families served
    • Review case records

  • FP
    PA-CFS 5.01

    Every child determined during screening to be in imminent danger is seen immediately, and in all other cases children are seen within a timeframe intended to ensure their safety. 

    Interpretation: Generally, in all other cases an initial visit should occur within 72 hours.  In some cases authority to make an initial in-person visit may be delegated to other professionals, such as law enforcement officials. When contact is delegated child protection personnel should provide appropriate follow-up. 

  • FP
    PA-CFS 5.02

    At the first meeting parents are helped to understand: 

    1. their rights and responsibilities; 
    2. the allegations under investigation; 
    3. the role of agency personnel and any other involved providers; and
    4. the assessment or investigation process, including how safety and risk will be evaluated, and how it is determined whether a case will be opened or closed.

    Research Note: As noted in PA-CFS 3, initial contact is the first opportunity for effective family engagement.  Some literature emphasizes that providing caregivers with information may help to alleviate distrust and improve the relationship between the agency and the family.  

  • FP
    PA-CFS 5.03

    At the outset and conclusion of the assessment/investigation the agency conducts a systematic assessment of potential safety threats to determine whether children are in imminent danger of serious harm. 

    Interpretation: An assessment of safety will typically consider threats of danger in the family, children’s vulnerability to those threats, and caregivers’ capacity to protect the children from threats.  When children are vulnerable to a threat and caregivers are unable or unwilling to protect the children, the children are considered unsafe.  In contrast, vulnerable children are considered safe when no threats of danger exist, or when caregivers are capable of controlling or managing any threats that do exist. 

    Note: When the assessment indicates children are in imminent danger of serious harm, the agency should immediately develop a safety plan, as addressed in PA-CFS 6.

  • FP
    PA-CFS 5.04

    A systematic assessment of family risks and protective factors enables the agency to determine the likelihood that children will be abused or neglected in the future. 

    Interpretation: Please note that “risk,” as addressed in this standard, is considered to be distinct from “safety,“ as addressed in PA-CFS 5.03 above. Whereas safety is the danger of serious harm in the short-term, risk represents the likelihood of future harm. Accordingly, while safety concerns require immediate response to ensure that children are protected, risk of future harm can be addressed over time with services designed to promote long-term change.

    Research Note: Some research suggests that clinical judgments of risk can vary, and points to the promise of using actuarial risk assessment tools to help estimate risk of future maltreatment. For example, the Structured Decision Making model utilizes a risk assessment tool that classifies families as having a “high,” “medium,” or “low” risk of future maltreatment based on research exploring the relationship between family characteristics and child welfare case outcomes. The model’s developers also note that knowing families’ risk levels can help agencies to target resources to the families most in need of service.  

  • FP
    PA-CFS 5.05

    The process for initial assessment or investigation includes:

    1. visiting the family’s home;
    2. conducting separate, individual interviews with all family members, including both the alleged victim and perpetrator of the maltreatment, as well as any other children and adults living in, or frequent visitors to, the home;
    3. observing family members and their interactions; and
    4. observing the physical status of the family’s home.

    Interpretation: Each individual should be interviewed separately, and although extenuating circumstances may occur, interviews should ideally be conducted in the following order: (1) the alleged victim of the maltreatment; (2) any other children in the home; (3) the non-maltreating adults; and (4) the alleged perpetrator of the maltreatment. When interviewing young children the agency should utilize age appropriate tools and techniques in an effort to minimize both potential suggestibility and the trauma of the process. 

    Interpretation: When the alleged abuse or neglect occurs outside the home, the investigator should also visit that location during the initial assessment or investigation. 

    Research Note: The family can play an important role in identifying and exploring risk and safety issues, and literature points to the importance of obtaining family members’ input and perspectives, listening carefully to their experiences, and demonstrating sensitivity and empathy to both their life experiences and anxiety related to CPS involvement.  As noted in the Interpretation above, specialized tools may need to be used to involve and obtain the input of children.  For example, one highly-regarded tool helps workers to engage with children by asking them to draw three different “houses”: (1) a “house of worries” that includes everything that concerns the child; (2) a “house of good things” that includes everything that helps the child feel safe and strong; and (3) a “house of dreams” that includes everything the child would like to see happen.

  • PA-CFS 5.06

    Children are provided with age and developmentally appropriate information about circumstances and events that led to the involvement of the child welfare system.

    Interpretation: The agency should provide children with age and developmentally appropriate information regarding child welfare involvement in an effort to help children correct distorted perceptions and reduce self-blame.  Given that children may be in a shocked or agitated state at the time of the initial assessment/investigation, information should be repeated as needed, and provided in writing when appropriate to the age and developmental level of the child. 

  • PA-CFS 5.07

    Information is gathered from other sources that may be able to provide insight regarding factors related to risk and safety, as appropriate and in accordance with any applicable legal requirements.

    Interpretation: Other sources may include, but are not limited to, the following: service providers such as medical personnel, mental health personnel, teachers, day care providers, and domestic violence experts; neighbors; and extended family members. This includes both sources that are familiar with the family as well as providers such as medical or mental health practitioners who may conduct their own evaluations related to the alleged maltreatment. 

  • PA-CFS 5.08

    The process for initial assessment or investigation minimizes duplication of effort and, thereby, reduces trauma to children and families.

    Note: See also PA-CFS 3: “Promoting Family Engagement,” PA-CFS 7: “Comprehensive Family Assessment,” PA-CFS 10: “Services for Parents,” PA-CFS 11: “Services for Children Receiving In-Home Services,” PA-CFS 16: “Supports and Services for Children in Out-of-Home Care,” and PA-CFS 18: “Physical and Mental Healthcare for Children in Out-of-Home Care” regarding the importance of trauma-informed practice. 

  • FP
    PA-CFS 5.09

    Standardized decision-making protocols are used to consider the results of risk and safety assessments and determine whether to: 

    1. close a case; 
    2. close and refer a case to community providers; or 
    3. open a case for ongoing services. 

    Interpretation: In an effort to stabilize families and prevent child maltreatment before it occurs, some agencies may refer families to preventive community services even when they determine it is not necessary to open a case for agency services. When a case involves an American Indian or Alaska Native child, services offered by the tribe or local Indian organization should be considered and prioritized when closing and referring the case to community providers.

    Note: When a case is opened for ongoing services, risk level should also inform the intensity of monitoring and services provided. See PA-CFS 15: “Worker Contact and Monitoring” for more information. 

    Research Note: Although criteria regarding when to open a case may vary from system to system, some literature suggests that cases should be opened when risk is classified as high or when unresolved safety concerns remain.

  • PA-CFS 5.10

    When the agency collaborates with law enforcement or other parties to respond to allegations of child maltreatment:

    1. roles and responsibilities are clearly defined; and
    2. information is shared between parties as appropriate and in accordance with applicable law and regulation.

    Note: See PA-CR 2 for more information on releasing confidential information to third parties.

  • PA-CFS 5.11

    When assessment or investigation reveals that an initial maltreatment report was deliberately and maliciously filed by a person who knew the allegation to be false, the agency:

    1. tracks the incident; and
    2. refers the incident to relevant authorities for further investigation and follow-up, as appropriate.

    Interpretation: False reporting may be especially prevalent in situations involving domestic violence or custody battles between divorcing spouses.

    Research Note: In an effort to prevent reporting for purposes of harassment, many states impose penalties against people who willfully and maliciously file reports they know to be false.

  • PA-CFS 5.12

    Initial assessments and investigations are initiated and completed in a timely manner and at least within forty-five days, in accordance with agency policy and procedure, which outline:

    1. timeframes for initiating, conducting, and completing assessments/investigations; and
    2. weekly milestones and deliverables in the assessment/investigation process, including which components are to be completed within thirty days. 

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