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The decision

Once a Standard Assessment is completed, Child Protection Services and the local protection team decide whether the facts gathered during the assessment meet the definitions of child abuse or neglect contained in state law.

When an Alternative Response Assessment is completed on behalf of a substance exposed newborn, a child abuse and neglect determination is not made; rather, services are put in place during the assessment, in addition to the development of a support system around the infant and family.

Two decisions are possible. The Department of Human Services will decide that either services are required or services are not required.

  • "Services Required"—this means that enough evidence was found in the assessment to meet the legal definitions of abuse or neglect. This decision will be referred to the court for review and potential legal action.
  • "No Services Required"—this means that the facts in the assessment did not meet the legal standards of abuse or neglect. The family may be offered the opportunity to volunteer for services.

Who is notified of the decision?

Mandated reporters can receive information about the assessment decision by contacting the county social service office and asking to speak directly with the county social worker who conducted the assessment.

In addition, the following people are notified of the decision:

  • The child’s parents or guardian
  • The person or people accused in the report. They are also informed of their right to file an appeal if there is a decision of "Services Required."
  • The mandated reporter who filed the report.
  • Parents of children who attend a childcare facility, when the subject of the report operates or works in that facility. Parents may be given the person’s name, the decision of the assessment, and a brief description of the abuse or neglect concerns, regardless of whether the abuse or neglect concern occurred in that particular childcare.

Administrative referral

An administrative referral is necessary when the situation falls outside the local social services authority, such as when:

  • The child is not present in the county receiving the report. (In this case, the report will be sent to the county or other state where the child is present.)
  • The report involves abuse by non-family members. (In this case, the report will be referred to law enforcement or another appropriate agency.)
  • The child is on an Indian reservation. (In this case, the report will be referred to the appropriate tribal social service agency.)

Administrative assessment

An administrative assessment is necessary when Child Protection Services guidelines aren’t met, such as when:

  • The report involves a child over age 18.
  • The report does not contain a reason to suspect that a child has been abused or neglected. The concerns in the report do not meet the definitions of child abuse or neglect, and do not affect the child’s health or provide a reason to question parental lifestyles.
  • There is not enough information to identify or locate a child.
  • There is reason to believe it is a false report—that is, the reporter knowingly made false accusations. False reports are sent to law enforcement or to the State’s Attorney.
  • The concern was addressed previously and may not be addressed again unless there is a new incident of suspected abuse or neglect.
  • Abuse concerns are addressed in treatment. Long-past abuse or neglect may be addressed in a therapeutic setting. This is a decision made with a county and regional human service team. The county social service case manager can handle non-criminal cases involving families already receiving services.
  • The assessment is terminated in progress. If information obtained in the assessment shows no CPS involvement is needed, the assessment may be closed.
  • The assessment concerns a pregnant woman abusing alcohol or drugs. Until a child is born, no determination can be made about the need for protective services. (However, the assessment process can be used to provide prevention education and services for the mother.)

Will the child be taken from the home?

Unless danger is present, CPS social workers try to keep a family together. If possible, the child will remain in the home. If danger exists, the county social service agency must receive an order from the court before a child can be removed, although the order does not have to be in writing before the child may be removed.

Law enforcement and medical professionals may take temporary custody of a child in danger. When this happens, the court and Child Protection Services must be informed within 96 hours (4 days). Parents or legal guardians have the right to participate in a shelter care hearing.

Alternative Response Assessment

Research has shown that criminalization and removing a substance exposed newborn from the home have not been successful strategies in resolving the issues of substance use and abuse by a caregiver. In fact, these actions have often served to deter women from seeking treatment and prenatal care, putting infants at even higher risk. Infants who stay safely at home with their families have the best chance to thrive. Alternative Response CPS Assessments have been shown to increase engagement with families and are designed to help protect infants in their home and ensure their safety and well-being by providing needed services to strengthen and support families.

North Dakota Century Code 50-25.1-02(4) defines Alternative Response Assessment as a child protection response involving substance exposed newborns which is designed to:

  1. Address the health and substance use disorder treatment needs of the infant and affected caregiver
  2. Develop and monitor a plan of safe care for the substance exposed newborn

The goal of Alternative Response (AR) is to engage families early to address needs for child safety in the home and family support in addition to building a support system around the infant and family to continue after the CPS assessment is closed. Alternative Response will not replace the Standard CPS response. Participation in an Alternative Response is voluntary and depends on the cooperation of the caregivers. Unlike a Standard CPS assessment, a decision that services are required may not be made if the caregiver complies with the referred services and Plan of Safe Care. The Standard CPS response will continue to be used when there are safety concerns or the family refuses or does not cooperate with the Alternative Response Agreement and/or Plan of Safe Care.

Plan of Safe Care
A Plan of Safe Care is a plan created with the parents to provide supports and services to address the health and safety needs of the substance exposed newborn and the health and substance abuse treatment needs of the infant’s caregivers. A Plan of Safe Care is required for all substance exposed newborns, whether participating in an Alternative Response or Standard CPS Assessment. The plan includes relapse planning and ensures safe care of the infant through formal and informal supports. To ensure implementation the Plan of Safe Care is monitored for at least 30 days through contacts with the family, medical or other service providers and informal supports.