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BCIFV home > Newsletter > 2002 Archives > Winter 2002 articles

The Risk Assessment Model for Child Protection in British Columbia

Child abuse is one of an unfortunate many forms of family violence that too frequently goes unno-
ticed. In recent years, child protection authorities have recognized the need for the development
and implementation of a valid and reliable method that can be used by front line personnel to assess the presence of child abuse, and prevent further abuse from occurring. Following the Gove Inquiry during the 1990s in British Columbia, the impetus for a revamping of the child welfare system in the province prompted a search for a new investigative tool which would provide the necessary structure to address the many quality assurance and accountability concerns that existed at that time. The following describes the model adopted by the former Ministry for Children and Families, which remains in use at the Ministry for Children and Family Development. ~ Editor

BC’s risk assessment model is a standardized, well-researched and usable instrument. Based on a review of current risk assessment instruments, the model is an adaptation of a model designed for the New York State Child Protection Service in 1991. The original model, developed over a period of three years, is based on:

  • The clinical and research literature related to factors that influence the abuse of children
  • A review of the results from risk assessment instruments in nine states

The Design Team chose the "New York Model" because it best met the selection criteria of being well-researched, credible, valid and field-usable. The team established that the instrument, a "consensus model", could be readily adapted to BC’s child protection practice environment.

The Purpose and Objectives of the Risk Assessment Model

The purpose of a risk assessment model is to promote a structured, thorough and objective assessment of the risk of future harm to a child, then to reduce the likelihood of that harm occurring. By providing a sound framework for decision making, a risk assessment model can improve and support but not replace clinical judgment. It can help to focus interventions, guide the development of appropriate service plans and quickly apply resources to highest risk cases.

The objectives of the risk assessment model are:

  • To reduce the likelihood of further incidents of abuse
  • To ensure each risk decision is given careful consideration
  • To provide a structured approach to risk decision making
  • To increase accuracy, consistency, and objectivity in assessing risk
  • To provide support to front-line staff making risk decisions
  • Formalized, structured risk assessment helps to improve but does not replace clinical judgment and knowledge of child abuse and neglect.
  • The purpose of a risk assessment model should be clearly stated; it must make sense to front-line staff.
  • The risk assessment model should form a component of the Ministry for Children and Families’ (now Ministry for Children and Family Development) case management system.
  • To improve documentation of major risk decisions
  • To focus resources and case plans on reducing changeable risk factors

The Guidelines for Developing the Risk Assessment Model

Child protection in British Columbia is based on two fundamental beliefs, enshrined in legislation:

  • The safety and well-being of children are paramount considerations; and
  • The children are entitled to be protected from abuse, neglect, and harm or threat of harm.

This means that any doubts about a child’s safety and well-being, a child’s need for protection, or the ability and willingness of a child’s parent or care provider to care for and protect the child must be resolved in favour of protecting the child.

In addition, the following guiding principles were adopted.

  • Risk assessment should be child-centred and family focused.
  • Risk assessment is an ongoing process; it occurs throughout the life of a child protection case.
  • Risk assessment and case plans must be strongly linked.


Excerpted with permission from Ministry for Children and Families, Child Protection Consultation Services. (1996). The Risk Assessment Model for Child Protection in British Columbia. Province of British Columbia, Ministry for Children and Families.