A new tool for families in crisis

In January, three communities in our state will see a profound change in how the Department of Social and Health Services’ Child Protective Services responds to some allegations of child abuse and neglect.

The new Family Assessment Response, or FAR, made possible by legislation passed in 2012, maintains our focus on child safety while in some instances providing an alternative to a CPS investigation. The FAR approach recognizes that most families want to keep their kids safe and are better able to care for them when basic needs are met and when they have connections in their communities.

FAR, which will be phased in statewide, is designed to help families find a constructive and productive pathway to community services and supports. Using FAR, we will work with families to determine what they are doing well and where they need help, whether it’s parenting skills, transportation, housing, etc.

Eligible families may volunteer to enter the FAR pathway when we screen in allegations that are low- or medium-risk for neglect or physical abuse. Families also may opt to take the investigative route, and we can determine at any time, based upon the facts presented, that one is needed. CPS will continue to investigate allegations of sexual abuse and serious physical abuse.

We receive approximately 75,000 reports of child abuse and neglect each year and open investigations into more than one-third of those. Based on our review of our own data and that in other states that have successfully implemented FAR, we estimate about 65 percent of CPS cases we open are eligible for the FAR pathway, once it is in place statewide.

We need to have both tools — FAR and investigations — to respond to families in crisis. We look forward to the possibilities FAR creates for families to build on their strengths.

We already are lining up resources — non-profits, schools, businesses, etc., in the areas in which FAR will begin in January — Lynnwood, Aberdeen and two ZIP Codes in Spokane. These partnerships are an acknowledgement that all of us have a role in keeping kids safe.

And that serves as a reminder. If you suspect abuse or neglect of a child, please call 1-866-ENDHARM (1-866-363-4276*). If you believe a child is in immediate danger, please call 9-1-1. *TYY

For more information about FAR, visit www.dshs.wa.gov/ca/about/far.asp

Jennifer Strus is the Assistant Secretary, Children’s Administration, Washington state Department of Social and Health Services.

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