Why Risk Matters in Child Protection

Imagine you were to wake up tomorrow with the power to predict the future. Think of the possibilities—avoiding the door handle that might make you sick, picking the winning lottery numbers, or saving someone else from pain or injury. For those who work in child protection, the power to know exactly which families will return to the system would completely change the way those agencies prioritize the families to serve.
Unfortunately, nobody can predict the future. You may end up touching that door knob and getting sick. You’re also very unlikely to choose the winning lottery numbers. For child protection agencies, whose job is to strive for the safety, permanency, and well-being of children, the inability to predict which families will experience poor outcomes in the future presents a dilemma. Agencies want to target those families that need services most; however, no one has a crystal ball to predict who those specific families are.
What agencies can use is the Structured Decision Making® (SDM) risk assessment, which uses an actuarial model like those used in the medical profession. After all, health professionals cannot predict the future either. What actuarial assessments can do is classify those most likely to experience a negative outcome based on the presence of known risk factors. Child protection agencies can use the SDM® risk assessment to classify families by their likelihood of returning, managing risk in an evidence-based, systematic way.
While predicting the future remains impossible, using research and evidence to inform decision making is possible through the SDM® system.

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