Standards for public agencies

2020 Edition

Child and Family Services (PA-CFS) 11: Separating Children from Their Families

When children cannot safely remain at home with their families and must be separated, the agency strives to minimize the negative effects of separation, including the impact of separating siblings. 


When the case involves an American Indian or Alaska Native child, the agency should collaborate with the tribe to ensure the process for separating the child from his or her family meets the requirements outlined in the Indian Child Welfare Act.
NA The agency does not make the determination for or execute separations/removals.
2020 Edition




Child and Family Services promote child and family well-being, protect children’s safety, stablilize and strengthen families, and ensure permanency.
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.  
Self-Study EvidenceOn-Site EvidenceOn-Site Activities
  • Procedures for establishing voluntary agreements and submitting court petitions
  • Procedures for separation/removal
  • Qualifications of personnel involved in separation/removal decisions 
  • Informational materials provided to children
  • Informational materials provided to families
  • Aggregate report of separations data for the previous 12 months (e.g., PA-CFS Data Sheet)
  • Interviews may include:
    1. Program director
    2. Relevant personnel
    3. Parents served
    4. Children served
  • Review case records

Fundamental Practice

PA-CFS 11.01

When children cannot safely remain at home the agency collaborates with their parents to establish voluntary agreements, or otherwise petitions a court of proper jurisdiction, to obtain appropriate care.


When possible the agency should employ a family teaming model that encourages families to include supportive people of their choice, such as extended family, friends, community members, and service providers, in establishing voluntary agreements. 

Fundamental Practice

PA-CFS 11.02

A professional with two years of related experience and an advanced degree in social work, or another comparable clinical human services profession, is involved in the decision to separate a child from his or her family.


PA-CFS 11.03

When domestic violence is indicated:
  1. the agency coordinates the separation of children from their homes with a domestic violence unit or specialist; and
  2. specialized procedures are followed to ensure the safety of the domestic violence victim.
Note: Given that attention to domestic violence sometimes wanes once a child has been separated from the family and connected to out-of-home care, the agency should seek to ensure that:
  1. assessments continue to include attention to domestic violence, as addressed in PA-CFS 6 and PA-CFS 8; and
  2. needed services are provided to both parents and children, as addressed in PA-CFS 9, PA-CFS 15, PA-CFS 17, PA-CFS 18, and PA-CFS 19.

Fundamental Practice

PA-CFS 11.04

The agency minimizes the negative effects separation can have on children by: 
  1. providing as much age and developmentally appropriate information as possible about why children are being separated from their parents and, if applicable, why they are being separated from their siblings;
  2. providing as much age and developmentally appropriate information as possible about what will happen next, including where the children are going;
  3. identifying personal items the children will bring, including favorite toys or items of comfort;
  4. explaining when children will see their families again and describing how the children can maintain contact with their families and cultural or tribal communities while in out-of-home care;
  5. discussing separation and loss;
  6. collecting information from parents about children’s daily routines, cultural practices, preferred foods and activities, education, and specialized health needs (including any allergies and needed therapeutic or medical care);
  7. ensuring any needed medications and/or medical equipment are obtained; and
  8. obtaining any additional information needed to ensure that children will receive safe, appropriate, and nurturing out-of-home care.

Interpretation: Implementation of elements (f) and (h) will be especially critical in cases where children are separated from their families before comprehensive assessments have been conducted.

Interpretation: Information about why children are being separated and what will happen next should be conveyed verbally, repeated as needed, given that children may be in a shocked or agitated state, and provided in writing when appropriate to the age and developmental level of the children.
Examples: Additional information needed to ensure that children will receive safe, appropriate, and nurturing care can include, for example, whether children are afraid of dogs, or whether children pose a risk of harm to self or others.

Fundamental Practice

PA-CFS 11.05

The agency minimizes the negative effects separation can have on families by: 
  1. providing as much information as possible about what will happen next, including where children are going;
  2. explaining parents’ rights and responsibilities;
  3. explaining the rights and responsibilities of resource families and residential treatment providers; 
  4. explaining how family members can maintain contact with children, including when they can next see or speak to the children;
  5. explaining how communication will occur with the agency and resource families or residential treatment providers; 
  6. discussing separation and loss; and
  7. addressing immediate and critical needs related to the separation.