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Risks, needs, strengths, and outcomes in child protection: what we know about the children we serve



Over the last eight years, Family and Children's Services of Renfrew County has increasingly used clinical instruments to assess children and to evaluate the impact of services delivered to them. The agency has accumulated information through a consensus-based risk assessment known as the Ontario Risk Assessment Model, the Brigance Developmental Screen, the Child and Adolescent Functional Assessment Scale, the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, a subjective wellbeing scale (Kidscreen), and a decision making tool developed at the Dartington Social Research Unit (Threshold). We now have a picture of the impact of our services on children in care (O'Brien 2006). However, at this point most of the information about children receiving a child protection service relates to assessment. In time, much more data will be available about the progress being made in promoting better developmental outcomes for children living in the community. And so, we are able to share what we know about risks, needs, strengths, and protective factors in the lives of children for whom there are child protection concerns, as well as some preliminary data about outcomes.


Key findings

The evaluation research at Family and Children's Services strongly supports the dual child safety and child development strategy being pursued. To a large extent, the data suggests that many of the children on the agency's child protection caseloads are experiencing inconsistent parenting, a lack of stimulation at an early age, and likely a lack of consistent emotional availability from their parents. The majority of these children do not show evidence of experiencing developmental or mental health problems. Significant emotional difficulties as identified by the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire are not part of the typical profile of child characteristics, but are part of the adolescent profile. More investigation is warranted though given the early Kidscreen results which found that 8 to 11 year olds often feel they have difficulties with moods and emotions. Typically, hyperactivity, conduct, and education are the predominant issues for those experiencing difficulties, and therefore these issues have become the focus of a more intense concentration of our resources. Through the analysis of our risk assessment data it was concluded that the key risk variables related to long-term consequences that might occur due to maltreatment indicated the possibility of mild to moderate harm.


Although we now have a substantial understanding of the risks and needs pertaining to children, we are in the early stages of systematically analyzing strengths and protective factors. In spite of a multitude of problems within the families served by the agency strong evidence about pro-social behaviour of children and youth has emerged with regard to showing kindness, and being considerate and helpful. Many children and youth feel they have a network of friends; survey information collected by the agency suggests that parents are much more involved in activities with their children than expected; and social workers have found that in the majority of child protection cases the protective factor of there being someone outside the family who cares about the child is operative. Outcomes evaluated using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire suggest mild improvement in the emotional, conduct, and hyperactivity subscales as well as total difficulties score at the six month point of child protection intervention (N=153).


In conclusion, the cumulative result of using the clinical instruments that have been described is that we now know enough about risks, needs, and protective factors to predict that it is likely with sufficient support the development of many of the children with whom the agency is working can be improved. Lastly, we have gleaned a much clearer sense of what needs to be done to achieve better outcomes.


Goodman, R. (1997) 'The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire: A research note.' Journal of Child Psychology, Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines 38, 581-586.


O'Brien, M. (2006) 'The Child and Adolescent Functional Assessment Scale: An assessment and outcome measure for children in care.' Journal of the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies 50, 2-4.


Ravens-Sieberer, U. (2006) The Kidscreen Questionnaires. Berlin, Germany: Pabst Science Publishers.


Contact details

Michael O'Brien, Family and Children's Services of Renfrew County

77 Mary St., Pembroke, Ontario, Canada K8A 5V4

Tel: 1 61 3735 6866 ext. 2039

Email: mike.obrien@fcsrenfrew.on.ca


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