Standards for public agencies

2020 Edition

Child and Family Services (PA-CFS) 5: Safety Planning

When children are unsafe at home with their families, the agency immediately institutes plans to protect them. 
Interpretation: When children are determined to be unsafe during the initial assessment, safety planning may happen prior to the initial assessment of risk in order to ensure that children are protected while the investigation proceeds. Plans may also be developed later if safety threats are discovered during the course of service provision. When children have been separated from their families in order to provide safety, the agency can subsequently develop safety plans to facilitate reunification even if ongoing services to reduce risk are still necessary. 

Interpretation:  When a case involves an American Indian or Alaska Native child, the child's tribe should be consulted, and resources available through the tribe or local Indian organization should be considered when developing the safety plan.  
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
  • Safety planning procedures
No On-Site Evidence
  • Interviews may include:
    1. Program director
    2. Relevant personnel
    3. Parents served
    4. Children served
  • Review case records

Fundamental Practice

PA-CFS 5.01

When assessments indicate that children are in imminent danger of serious harm, the agency immediately develops safety plans that: 
  1. specify the threats to safety;
  2. identify the people, services, and actions needed to protect children from harm;
  3. clearly establish how the interventions included in the plan will have an immediate impact in controlling any threats of danger to the children;
  4. do not rely upon the caregivers who pose the threats to keep the children safe; 
  5. include the potential results or consequences if the plan is not maintained; and
  6. are designed to be time-limited.


It is important to note that the safety plan should be distinct from the service plan.  While the interventions in the safety plan are intended only to control immediate threats of danger, and are not expected to impact risk of future harm, the interventions in the service plan are intended to promote behavior change that will improve the parent’s ability to keep a child safe in the long term but will not have an immediate impact on controlling danger in the present.
Examples: Safety plans may employ in-home safety strategies, out-of-home safety strategies, or a combination of the two. When establishing a plan to keep children safe at home relatives, neighbors, and service providers may be enlisted to check in on and aid the family; children may spend time in day care, after-school care, or respite care; or emergency services to meet basic needs may be provided.  For example, if a mother is depressed and cannot take care of her children, the safety plan might enlist an aunt to help the children get ready for school and drop them off at day care, and a grandmother to pick them up from day care and stay with them until bed.  An agency might also require an alleged perpetrator to leave the home, or a non-maltreating parent might be supported in moving to a safe environment with the children.  Similarly, a safety plan might require children to temporarily stay with a close relative or family friend.  At the extreme, children may be separated from their families and connected to out-of-home care. 


PA-CFS 5.02

Plans are designed to control threats in the least intrusive manner, keeping children at home with their families when possible, and only placing children into out-of-home care when less intrusive strategies are insufficient to protect safety.
Examples: Factors to consider when determining whether out-of-home placement can be avoided include: whether the individuals and providers responsible for providing safety services are available immediately and without the need for assessment; whether the individuals and providers responsible for providing safety services are committed to intervening at the level required to ensure safety; whether parents are willing and able to comply with the safety plan; and the stability of the home environment.


PA-CFS 5.03

In an effort to promote the development of strong safety plans:
  1. families are engaged in safety planning and involved in identifying potential safety strategies and resources;
  2. families are encouraged to include supportive people of their choice in safety planning, as time permits; and
  3. outside organizations and providers are involved in safety planning, when necessary and appropriate.
Examples: Supportive people of the family’s choice can include, for example, extended family, friends, community members, and service providers.  

Families experiencing domestic violence can benefit from safety planning that involves a domestic violence specialist or advocate.