Danger Versus Risk: What's the Difference?
Danger and risk are two of the most central concepts of the Structured Decision Making® (SDM) model. While distinguishing between the two can be difficult, a child protection worker’s understanding of the difference has substantial implications for children and families.
Using an example from the medical field is one way to think about these concepts. This field has done a lot of research around heart attacks and who is most at risk. Smoking, blood pressure, family history, diabetes, and age are all risk factors for heart attacks. Having these risk factors does not mean you will have a heart attack (they are not predictive); it simply means you have a greater chance of having a heart attack in the future.
Danger is about what is happening or about to happen. Several signs can indicate a person is having a heart attack right now: chest discomfort, shortness of breath, nausea, and light headedness.
The SDM® risk assessment for child protection works similarly to the medical field’s list of risk factors for a heart attack. In child protection, of course, we are thinking of future child maltreatment. We know that certain risk factors are associated with a recurrence of child maltreatment, including age of the youngest child in the home and a history of maltreatment. The risk assessment does not predict whether maltreatment will occur, but it classifies families by risk levels to help inform services that may decrease the likelihood of a future incident. Learn more about the SDM model in child protection here.

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