Disposition and Structured Decision Making

The Child Protection Law requires MDHHS to use structured decision making (SDM) tools to determine safety of children, risk of future harm to a child, and the needs of the family. SDM promotes consistent, reliable, valid decisions from worker to worker and office to office. SDM focuses on a relatively small number of factors related to child abuse and neglect which research has shown correlate significantly with immediate danger (safety), future recurrence (risk), significant family characteristics (needs and strengths) and ameliorating action (treatment).

SDM comprises a safety assessment, a risk assessment and reassessment, a family needs and strengths assessment and a child assessment of needs and strengths. 

The safety assessment assesses imminent danger, determines whether or not to initiate protective interventions when danger is identified and addresses reasonable efforts to keep families in tact. The safety assessment results can be:

  • Safe -Child is safe; no safety factors exist.  
  • Safe with services-At least one safety factor is identified and protecting interventions are in place to help the child remain safely at home.
  • Unsafe-At least one safety factor is identified and the only possible protecting intervention is the removal of the child from the home.   

The risk assessment determines the risk of future abuse or neglect in the family and the frequency of services to be provided. Risk levels are intensive, high, moderate or low. The greater the risk level, the more likely there will be subsequent harm to a child without intervention by Children's Protective Services (CPS). 

There is a risk reassessment at specific intervals during a family's involvement with CPS. The risk reassessment determines the risk of future abuse or neglect taking into account the family's response to CPS intervention and determines the level of service for each family considering their current circumstances.

The family and child assessments of needs and strengths identifies needs contributing to child abuse and neglect; identifies strengths already present in the family, and focuses services to improve family functioning to ensure the safety and well-being of the children.

See the Investigation Process section for more information on the different dispositions of CPS investigations and the Services page for more information on service provision. For detailed information about the assessment tools and the policies and procedures for CPS in Michigan, see the Children's Protective Services Manual .