The Placement of Children by Social Service Agencies Expert Article

In this article, licensed clinical social worker, Abigail Rich provides an overview of the process by which children are placed, reunified and/or removed from unsafe living environments into safe housing alternatives by social services. Her discussion includes the process to identify unsafe conditions and assess the need for alternative placement. Ms. Rich discusses types of services provided to children and families to meet their individualized and family goals.

The supervision experts at Robson Forensic are frequently engaged in casework involving child care and social services. Our experts investigate a range of issues, including the quality of care provided by public and private child care organizations, premises safety, and the actions of social services.

Child Welfare Expert Witness

The Placement/reunification And/or Removal of Children Into Safe Living Environments by Social Service Agencies

Every day in America, children are removed from the custody of their parents. In order to ensure their safety, they are placed with family/family friends, in foster care, in group homes, or residential facilities. Children are removed from their homes when it is determined they are unsafe or at immediate risk of being harmed. Being removed can be traumatic for children so the goal of the child welfare professional is to focus on alternative placement within family, keeping siblings together, maintaining residence in their own communities, and keeping them enrolled in their schools of origin.

Federal legislation identifies a minimum set of acts or behaviors that define child abuse and neglect. The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) define child abuse and neglect as:

  • “Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caregiver which results in the death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation, or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm”.

The goal of child welfare services is to ensure minimum requirements for child safety, but the system cannot reach every child or prevent every instance of abuse. Our experts get involved in the investigation of incidents involving disputed removal or relocation of children into or out of dangerous environments, parental custodial issues with or without due cause, and issues inherent to foster care placements and systems. This article intends to provide an overview of the processes and procedures related to child protective services. Lawyers are encouraged to submit an inquiry to discuss each case with one of our experts within the context of local requirements.


Children are removed from their homes for four main reasons:

  1. Physical Abuse
  2. Sexual Abuse
  3. Emotional Abuse
  4. Neglect

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is non-accidental, serious physical injury of a child, including beatings, burns, bites, strangulation, or immersion in scalding water resulting in bruises, welts, broken bones, scars, or serious internal injuries.

To identify instances of physical abuse, social workers and child care givers are trained to watch for the following signs in children:

  • Unexplained and/or frequent bruises, bites, black eyes, broken bones, fading bruises, or other noticeable marks on the child.
  • The child is always watchful and on alert, as if waiting for something bad to happen.
  • The child shies away from touch, flinches at sudden movements, or seems afraid to go home.
  • The child wears inappropriate clothing to conceal injuries, such as long-sleeved shirts on hot days.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is sexual contact between a child and an adult or another child for the sexual gratification of the offender. It can include both physical and non-physical contact, and it is always forced.

To identify instances of sexual abuse, social workers and child care givers are trained to watch for the following signs in children:

  • A child’s difficulty in walking or sitting,
  • A refusal to change for gym or participate in physical activity
  • Demonstration of bizarre, over-sophistication, or unusual sexual knowledge or behavior for their age.
  • Changes in a child’s behavior
  • A child makes strong efforts to avoid a specific person, without an obvious reason.
  • An STD or pregnancy, especially under the age of 14.
  • A child runs away from home

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is a pattern of behavior that attacks a child’s emotional development and sense of self-worth.

To identify instances of emotional abuse, social workers and child care givers are trained to watch for the following signs in children:

  • A child demonstrates extremes in behavior (extremely compliant or extremely demanding; extremely passive or extremely aggressive).
  • A child doesn’t seem to be attached to the parent or caregiver.
  • A child acts either inappropriately adult (taking care of other children) or inappropriately infantile (rocking, thumb sucking, tantruming)
  • A child talks of or attempted suicide.
  • A child is excessively withdrawn, fearful, or anxious about doing something


Neglect is the withholding of or failure to provide a child with the basic necessities of life: food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, inattention to hygiene, supervision needed for optimal physical growth and development or abandonment.

To identify instances of neglect, social workers and child care givers are trained to watch for the following signs in children:

  • Frequently late or missed school days
  • Begging or stealing food or money
  • Lack of needed medical or dental care or glasses,
  • A consistently dirty appearance or severe body odor
  • Clothes are ill-fitting, filthy, or inappropriate for the weather
  • Untreated illnesses and physical injuries.
  • Is frequently unsupervised or left alone or allowed to play in unsafe situations and environments.

When a child is placed in out-of-home care, agency case workers (Providers) work together with the parents and the children to help them reunite, whenever possible. Providers and parents create Family Service Plans to outline goals the parents need and want to complete, to eliminate the risk of abuse. Providers assist in arranging services that address the identified needs and goals of the parents and the children. These services can take many forms and may include, among others, mental health or substance abuse counseling, trauma counseling, or parenting classes. When appropriate and to maintain relationships, visitations for the children, siblings, and parents are arranged. For the protection of the children, progress toward goals is monitored by agency providers and the courts at review hearings.

Factors in the Placement of Children in Out-Of-Home-Care

There are several factors that have been identified as ‘risk factors’ as they may compromise the health and safety of the children in out-of-home-care. These include individual, family and environmental issues.

Individual Risk Factors

  • Parents’ lack of understanding of children’s needs, child development and parenting skills
  • Parents’ history of child maltreatment in family of origin
  • Substance abuse and/or mental health issues including depression in the family
  • Parental characteristics such as young age, low education, single parenthood, large number of dependent children, and low income
  • Non-biological, transient caregivers in the home (e.g., mother’s male partner)
  • Parental thoughts and emotions that tend to support or justify maltreatment behaviors

Family Risk Factors

  • Social isolation
  • Family disorganization, dissolution, and violence, including intimate partner violence
  • Parenting stress, poor parent-child relationships, and negative interactions

Environmental factors that leave a child at risk are conditions in the home environment that put a child at imminent risk of abuse or neglect. These are issues that either cannot be immediately corrected or the family has refused to correct. Examples are no working utilities, no food or deplorable living conditions.

On-going supervision by the courts of a family can occur when the children are still in the home. This occurs when safety threats are identified in the home but the children are not at imminent risk of harm. In-home case management services are placed in the home to prevent removal of the children. The courts considered this to be an agency making reasonable efforts to keep the children in the home. The hope is that the services and added support can help eliminate the safety threats so the case can safely be resolved.

On-going court supervision also occurs once the children are returned home from a placement, for at least one more court cycle. In-home services are also placed in the home to ensure that the children remain safe and that things continue to go smoothly.



When the parents meet all the goals of their family service plan, visitations have been successful, the agency providers and court system determine that all safety threats have been eliminated, then children are reunified with their parents. When children are returned home from placement, services are placed in the home for a few months to continue to monitor the children’s’ safety. The court also continues to supervise for at least one more court cycle.

Permanent Legal Custody

When it is determined that a child cannot return to their parents but another family member or family friend is willing to assume responsibility for the child, custody can be given to them. A legal custodian is given the primary rights and duties associated with parenthood, including physical custody of the child, the right to make care and treatment decisions, and “the right and duty to provide for the care, protection, training, and education, and the physical, mental, and moral welfare of the child”. It provides permanency and stability without ongoing state oversight, while often maintaining connections with siblings, extended family members and the biological parents.


When it is determined by the agency and courts that a child cannot safely return to their parents, then adoption is the preferred permanency option. Adoption is the legal and permanent transfer of all parental rights and responsibilities to the adoptive parents. This provides the child with a new permanent legal family in which the child has the same legal standing and protection as if he/she had been born into the family. More importantly, adoption provides the child a sense of belonging to a stable family with emotional and physical security for a lifetime.


Another planned permanent living arrangement is when other permanency options are ruled out. APPLA requires that the agency provide the court with a “compelling reason” why one of the other permanency options is not available to the child. It must be planned and permanent; it is not to be used as long-term foster care. This is often a permanency option for older teens whom are in group care and independent living services or children that have severe special needs and whose needs cannot be met in a home-like setting.

Child Care Investigations

Robson Forensic offers a comprehensive technical solution toward the resolution of disputes involving the adequacy of care and supervision at a broad range of public, private and institutional settings.

Among our experts you can find technical experts with professional experience as licensed clinical social workers; administrators of healthcare and supervision facilities; teachers and school administrators; and psychologists.

For more information visit our Social Work Practice Page.

Featured Expert

Abigail Rich, Social Work Expert

Abigail Rich, LCSW

Social Work Expert
Abigail Rich is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with nearly 20 years of post Masters experience. Abigail has experience as both a direct care Social Worker and Supervisor. She has worked in… read more.


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