Structured Decision Making (SDM) Safety Plans

0070-548.25 | Revision Date: 4/06/22


This policy guide provides guidelines for the development, approval, and monitoring of Structured Decision Making (SDM) Safety Plans.



Structured Decision Making (SDM) Safety Plans Defined

Safety Planning and the Integrated Core Practice Model

SDM Safety Plan Elements and Minimum Criteria

When is the SDM Safety Plan Completed?

Key Practices and Considerations When Creating an SDM Safety Plan

SDM Safety Plan Duration

Seven (7) Days

Thirty (30) Days

Use of Safety Plans When Conducting a Substitute Care Provider (SCP) Safety Assessment

Using a Child and Family Team Meeting (CFTM) to Address Safety Threat(s) When an SDM Safety Plan is in Place


Developing and Monitoring the SDM Safety Plan

ER/ERCP/Continuing Services (CS) CSW Responsibilities

Reunification Reassessment Safety Plans

Continuing Services (CS) CSW Responsibilities

ER/ERCP/CS SCSW Responsibilities


Helpful Links



Referenced Policy Guides


Version Summary

This policy guide was updated from the 1/23/20 version in order to incorporate and revise safety planning procedures previously contained in the Structured Decision Making (SDM) 0070-548.24 policy, to revise the Los Angeles County SDM Safety Plan form, and to add sample SDM Safety Plans. The title was also changed from “Completing the Structured Decision Making (SDM) Safety Plan.”


Structured Decision Making (SDM) Safety Plans Defined

A Structured Decision Making (SDM) Safety Plan is a short-term action plan for changed behavior that:


A safety plan should not be a list of services. Services are important components for long-term change but are unlikely to mitigate a safety threat quickly enough. Services should only be included on an SDM Safety Plan if they directly address or control for the threat.

Safety Planning and the Integrated Core Practice Model

Safety planning begins with Integrated Core Practice Model practice behaviors. Effective engagement allows CSWs to make safety plans that build upon existing family and team strengths in order to overcome challenges and meet the needs of the child(ren).

Some examples of the engagement strategies that can assist in developing effective safety plans include:


A good SDM Safety Plan is also built upon effective Teaming. Teaming refers to working in a culturally-sensitive partnership with the family to build a support team that engages the family’s cultural, community and tribal connections as early as possible. Through the facilitation of early and frequent information sharing and coordination among parents, caregivers and agency partners, the Team is engaged in the collaborative planning and decision-making necessary to support the child, youth, and family’s evolving needs. Teaming allows CSWs to connect a balanced and rigorous Safety Assessment with a family's informal/formal support system to create viable options for immediate safety planning.

SDM Safety Plan Elements and Minimum Criteria

SDM Safety Plans should:


  • All SDM Safety Plans must be approved by an SCSW before they are finalized with the family and before the CSW leaves the child in the home.

    When is the SDM Safety Plan Completed?

    For Emergency Response (ER) referral investigations [including those conducted on open Family Maintenance (FM) cases],the SDM Safety Plan form is to be completed as part of the Safety Assessment or Substitute Care Provider (SCP) Safety Assessment process for children to remain safely in the home when:


    In addition to ER and FM referral investigations, SDM Safety Plans can be used in Family Reunification (FR) cases for “Safe With Plan” Safety Decisions on the Reunification Safety Assessment portion (Part C) of the SDM Reunification Reassessment. For example:


    The SDM Safety Plan cannot be used if:

    Key Practices and Considerations When Creating the SDM Safety Plan

    SDM Safety Plans must be developed with at least one (1) caregiver who is competent to participate with DCFS in developing and implementing the plan, and in collaboration with a support system/team whenever possible (see Structured Decision Making: Caregivers and Households Guide for further information on caregivers).


    The use of the SDM Safety Plan is not intended to replace a Voluntary Family Maintenance case plan or to be used as an affidavit. It is strictly meant to address safety threat(s) on the SDM assessments and document reasonable efforts to maintain a child safely in their home while the investigation continues and a plan is developed to resolve the immediate danger.


    If unresolved safety threats remain present at the end of the investigation, the CSW must consult with the SCSW to discuss exigency, consent, and whether a warrant consult is needed).

    SDM Safety Plan Duration

    CSWs must explore the least intrusive safety interventions first (such as in-home services combined with out-of-home services) if they can provide adequate protection for the child in a manner that is minimally disruptive to the family members.

    Seven (7) Days

    The most intrusive safety interventions (such as removal of the offending parent/legal guardian or the child, placement of the child outside the home with a relative or a non-offending parent, or a parent/legal guardian gives up their unsupervised visitation and contact with the child) are to be used only when the least intrusive safety interventions cannot ensure the child’s safety. These types of intrusive safety interventions should only be in place for the shortest period of time necessary to ensure the child’s safety but no longer than seven (7) calendar days from the date of initiall contact.

    Thirty (30) Days

    SDM Safety Plans that do not affect parent/child custody, contact, visitation or residence are valid for no more than thirty (30) calendar days from the date of initial contact or until a referral is promoted to a case. The plan may not exceed the closure of the referral, and a referral with an active safety threat on an SDM Safety Assessment must not be closed.


    Safety InterventionDuration
    Alleged perpetrator moving out of the child's home voluntarily.Seven (7) calendar days from the date of initial contact
    The parent voluntarily agrees to forego visitation or a custody exchange.Seven (7) calendar days from the date of initial contact
    An alleged perpetrator who is a parent/legal guardian voluntarily agrees to restrict their contact with the child.Seven (7) calendar days from the date of initial contact
    Child is to reside outside of the home (including in the home of a non-offending parent).Seven (7) calendar days from the date of initial contact
    All other interventions in which parent/child custody, contact, visitation or residence is not affectedThirty (30) calendar days from the date of initial contact or until a referral is promoted to a case


    For more information, please refer to Procedures.

    Use of Safety Plans When Conducting a Substitute Care Provider (SCP) Safety Assessment

    The purpose of the Substitute Care Provider (SCP) Safety Assessment is to help assess whether any child is likely to be in immediate danger of serious harm/maltreatment by a caregiver of a child in out-of-home care, which may require an immediate change of placement, and to determine what interventions should be initiated or maintained to provide appropriate protection if no replacement is deemed necessary. The items on the tool are very similar to the items on the SDM Safety Assessment for child protective service investigations. Like the Safety Assessment, if a safety threat is identified on the SCP Safety Assessment, it also necessitates an SDM Safety Plan.


    The SCP Safety Assessment must be used for investigations of alleged abuse or neglect by a resource parent/substitute care provider including:


    The SCP Safety Assessment tool is not to be used for allegations made against group homes/STRTPs, institutions, or residential treatment facilities.

    Back to Policy

    Using a Child and Family Team Meeting (CFTM) to Address Safety Threat(s) when a SDM Safety Plan Is In Place

    Child and Family Team Meetings (CFTMs) are strongly recommended when an SDM Safety Plan has been put in place. CFTMs can be important settings in which to explore the threat that has been identified, the action items on the Safety Plan, and the role the support system is playing to address the threat.


    Issues of child safety can surface during CFTMs. Sometimes these will be areas identified already by the CSW; in these cases, a CFTM may be helpful to modify and strengthen an existing SDM Safety Plan in a collaborative process with the family.


    Sometimes, however, new safety threats may be identified during CFTMs. In these cases, it will be important to discuss them and determine, during the meeting, if a Safety Plan is possible to control for the threat. In these situations, it will be useful for the facilitator and the CSW to describe the threat in a way the family can understand, collaboratively determine action steps that control for the threat, and document the plan.


    More specifically, a CFTM should address an SDM Safety Plan when:


    When a SDM Safety Plan is in place, CSWs are to consult with their SCSW to determine if it should be discussed during a scheduled CFTM, or if a CFTM is needed.


    If a CFTM is held and a SDM Safety Plan is in place, the SDM Safety Plan must be incorporated into the CFTM Action Plan.

    Back to Policy


    Developing and Monitoring the SDM Safety Plan

    ER/ERCP or Continuing Services (CS) CSW Responsibilities

    1. Before concluding face-to-face contact with the child/family/caregiver, use family engagement skills, critical thinking skills, and the framework and accompanying definitions of the SDM Safety Assessment [or Substitute Care Provider (SCP) Safety Assessment] to gather information about:
    1. Assess each safety threat using the Safety Assessment/SCP Safety Assessment tool to determine:

      1. If there is a safety threat
      2. If the family and their support system have the willingness, confidence and capacity to create a Safety Plan to control for the threat (refer to Steps for Safety Planning for additional guidance). Consult with the SCSW to help make this determination.
      3. If at least one (1) legal caregiver can be involved in the development of the plan and agree to the intervention.
      4. Whether detention (for ER/FM cases) or a placement change (for FR cases) may be necessary.

    2. When at least one (1) safety threat is identified, assess whether household strengths and protective actions can be built upon for safety planning and:
    1. After consulting with the SCSW, engage the family in the process of safety planning to help determine if a Safety Plan can be developed that provides sufficient immediate control and monitoring of the safety threat to leave at least one (1) child in the home.

    1. Discuss with the family what the identified safety threat is and the purpose of the SDM Safety Plan.
    1. The identified safety threat(s)
    2. What an SDM Safety Plan is, that it is needed due to perceived danger to the child(ren), and its goal is behavioral change
    3. That working with the DCFS CSW to develop a SDM Safety Plan agreement is voluntary:

    1. Help the family to identify, build, and engage their network of supports to mitigate the danger/safety threat..
    2. Review the information on the SDM Safety Plan under, “Notice to Parents.”
    1. As indicated on the SDM Safety Plan document, parents have a right to call the CSWs SCSW, ARA, or the Department's Ombudsman Office when:
    1. If it is after 5 p.m. parents may contact the Child Protection Hotline (CPH) to inform DCFS that they would like to terminate the SDM Safety Plan. If necessary, the CPH will create a referral for the child’s safety to be assessed or alert the assigned CSW of the current situation.


    1. While engaging with the family, do not:
    1. Use the threat of removing the child(ren) to coax the parent/caregivers in to agreeing with the Safety Plan because this is a coercive and inappropriate use of the SDM tool.
    2. State that if the parent, caregiver or legal guardian refuses to agree to the SDM Safety Plan, “…the child(ren) will be removed from the home.”
    3. State that the CSW will, “…get a warrant/removal order to remove the child(ren) from the home.” This raises an implication that obtaining of an order is an inevitable conclusion.
    4. Use a DCFS affidavit form (i.e., DCFS 853) in place of a SDM Safety Plan form.
    1. Collaborate with the family to create at least one (1) worry/danger statement per safety threat, using clear, concise, family-centered language.
    1. Under the following circumstances a decision must be made as to how the referral will be handled by the seventh (7th) day of the intervention being put in place:

    Safety InterventionsAction Required
    Alleged perpetrator moving out of the child's home voluntarily.


    SDM Safety Plans that include any of these four (4) interventions may only be implemented for a maximum of seven (7) calendar days. All of the parents who have contact with the child must agree to the terms of these safety plans.

    The parent voluntarily agrees to forego visitation or a custody exchange.
    An alleged perpetrator who is a parent/legal guardian voluntarily agrees to restrict their contact with the child.
    Child is to reside outside of the home, (including in the home of a non-offending parent).

    At the end of seven (7) calendar days, one of the following must occur:

    • The alleged perpetrator must return home;
    • The child will return home;
    If a CSW/SCSW determines that a Safety Plan is no longer working or if the family and team no longer believe they can accomplish the plan, determine if exigency exists and initiate a warrant consultation.
    SDM Safety Plans consisting of interventions that do not affect a parent’s visitation or custody are valid for no more than thirty (30) calendar days from the date of initial contact or until a referral is promoted to a case.
    Complete an updated SDM Safety Assessment whenever:
    • Household safety conditions have changed during the period covered by the safety plan, or
    • Terminating the SDM Safety Plan, or
    • Closing an open case


    1. Reach agreement on the plan and complete the SDM Safety Plan to address each safety threat(s) identified. Provide detailed information for each planned safety intervention that addresses the safety threat(s) identified on the SDM Safety Assessment.

    2. Consult with and obtain approval from the SCSW regarding safety interventions put in place to address the safety threat(s) prior to obtaining the signature of the parents/caregivers. Consult with the SCSW to determine if a CFTM is needed or would be helpful to address safety threat(s) and develop an Action Plan with the family.
    1. Obtain signature(s) of all parties involved, including the child(ren) (when appropriate).
    1. All of the parents who have contact with the child must agree to/sign the terms of Safety Plans that ask for:


    1. If the parent(s)/guardian(s) or caregiver(s) refuse to sign the SDM Safety Plan then it is not valid. If the parent/guardian/caregiver(s) writes on the SDM Safety Plan that they are signing under duress, under coercion, or that they do not agree with any portion of the Safety Plan, the Safety Plan is not valid.
    1. Children may only sign an SDM Safety Plan if:


    1. Provide a copy of SDM Safety Plan to the parent/guardian/caregiver.


    1. Follow-up with the family according to the timeframe agreed upon on the signed SDM Safety Plan to ensure that the intervention(s) are mitigating the safety threat and the parent(s)/guardians(s)/caregiver(s) are controlling the identified threat.


    1. If the parent(s) or caregiver(s) are not complying with the SDM Safety Plan, if the safety threat was not resolved, and/or if the child’s safety continues to be a concern, consult with the SCSW to determine which of the following actions may be appropriate:
    1. Modify the Safety Plan to mitigate the safety threat(s);
    1. If the safety threat (s) was resolved during the investigation of the referral, complete an updated or referral closing SDM Safety Assessment prior to closing the referral indicating that the safety threat(s) has been resolved and that all children in that household are now safe.


    1. Document all contacts and the SDM Safety Plan in the CWS/CMS Contact Notebook, and, for ER referrals, in the Individualized Investigation Narrative. In addition, document in the  Contact Notebook:
    1. File the SDM Safety Plan in the green Case Activity Recording Folder if no case is being opened. If opening a case, file the Safety Plan in the orange Structured Decision Making (SDM) folder in accordance with Model Case Format.

    SDM Reunification Reassessment Safety Plans

    CS CSW Responsibilities

    1. Follow procedures in Structured Decision Making (SDM) for completing the Reunification Reassessment in WebSDM.

    2. If the results of the Reunification Risk Assessment and Visitation Plan Evaluation sections indicate (i.e., that the family is assessed as Low or Moderate Risk and their quality of visitation is Strong/Adequate), consider the following while completing the Reunification Safety Assessment section of the tool:
    1. If/how the safety threats that led to removal have been mitigated.
    2. Whether additional safety threats have been identified since removal, and if so, whether those threats have been mitigated.
    3. If current safety threats can be controlled with an SDM safety plan. If so, consider developing an SDM Safety Plan with the family and its network.
    1. If an SDM Safety Plan will be developed, review steps 3-15 above.

    ER/CS/ERCP SCSW Responsibilities

    1. Discuss with the CSW what they are seeing in the field to jointly determine if:

    2. Anything meets the definition threshold of an SDM safety threat, and

    3. If the family and their support system/team has the willingness, confidence and capacity to address the concerns in an SDM Safety Plan


    1. Approve the SDM Safety Plan and if necessary the updated SDM Safety Plan, when a safety threat has been identified and the child will remain in the home.


    1. If an SDM Safety Plan cannot ensure the child(ren)’s safety, approve taking the child into temporary custody via a removal order or determine if there is exigency to immediately detain.


    1. Approve the SDM Safety Assessment or SDM Substitute Care Provider (SCP) Safety Assessment (and/or the Reunification Reassessment as necessary).

    Back to Procedure


    SCSW Approval



    California SDM 3.0 Safety Threats Field Guide

    Sample SDM Safety Plan - domestic violence

    Sample SDM Safety Plan - drug exposed infant

    Sample SDM Safety Plan - physical abuse

    Steps for Safety Planning



    LA Kids

    SDM Safety Plan (Armenian) (Cambodian) (Chinese - Simplified) (Japanese) (Korean) (Russian) (Spanish) (Tagalog) (Thai) (Vietnamese) (revised 4/2022) 

    Referenced Policy Guides

    0070-548.01, Child and Family Teams

    0070-548.05, Emergency Response Referrals Alleging Abuse In Out-of-Home Care Regarding Children Who Are Under DCFS Supervision

    0070-548.10, Investigation, Disposition and Closure of Emergency Response Referrals

    0070-548.20, Taking Children into Temporary Custody

    0070-548.24, Structured Decision Making (SDM)

    0070-570.10, Obtaining Warrants and/or Removal Orders

    0080-502.10, Case Plans

    0080-502.25, Family Maintenance Services for Court and Voluntary Cases

    0100-510.21, Voluntary Placement

    0100-510.40, Services for Teen Parents

    0100-510.55, Screening and Placement of Children, Youth and Nonminor Dependents (NMDs) in a Short-Term Residential Therapeutic Program (STRTP)

    0100-520.05, Placement Prior to Resource Family Approval

    0100-520.10, Evaluating a Prospective Caregiver

    0300-301.05, Filing Petitions

    1200-500.90, Model Case Format (MCF)


    All County Information Notice (ACIN) I-21-18 – Contains the California Integrated Core Practice Model (ICPM) guide, the California Integrated Training Guide (ITG) and a sample interagency Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) template.


    All County Letter (ACL) 17-107 -- Details the minimum criteria to include in a SDM Safety Plan and provides guidance in implementing such plans.


    ACL 19-87 – Clarifies the expectations of social workers and probation officers for completing monthly visits with children in out of home placement.


    Penal Code Section 11165.6 – Defines the term, “child abuse or neglect,” according to the in the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA).

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