Assessing Risk in Social Work – Everything You Need to Know


Overview of Social Work Risk Assessment Methods & Tools

One of the important functions that social workers need to do during social work assessments is to evaluate risk.

Risk assessment in social work helps ensure that a social work intervention doesn’t have an unexpected negative effect. It can also guide social workers as to when they may need to intervene in a family situation.

An example of risk assessment social work professionals do all the time is deciding whether they are pushing a client too far too fast towards recovery. They must ask what are the risks of the individual failing to meet a goal compared to the risk of moving through therapy at a slower pace.

risk assessment in social work

Assessing Risk in Social Work

Social services social workers that work with children and families use risk assessment in social work all the time. Using social services risk assessment questions and templates, they will balance the risk of leaving a child in a home versus the harm that taking them out of the home may cause.

Yet another type of social worker risk assessment is safety. A social worker must evaluate the safety risk to an individual that they’re counseling to identify the priority of service needs and how fast they should be delivered.

In this article, we’ll review the methods used for assessing risk in social work, as well as social services risk assessment template and social work risk assessment tools options.


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What Are Risk Factors in Social Work?

Risk is defined by Oxford Languages as “a situation involving exposure to danger.” Risk assessment social work professionals must do is with the goal to protect the clients they are trying to help.

Social workers may be working with an individual, family, small group, or community, and they must ensure that the interventions they carry out do not expose the client to excessive risk.

Risk assessments in social work must consider many different types of risk factors, which will be specific to the client and the type of social work being performed.

Examples of risk factors in social work include:

  • Risk that a person will fall back into self-destructive behaviors (drug/alcohol use, self-harm, self-defeating thoughts, etc.)
  • Risk that a person may harm themselves or others
  • Risk of a child being in danger if left in a home
  • Risk of a social service policy having a detrimental impact on a community (e.g., increasing crime)
  • Risk of exposure to life-threatening situations
  • Risk of increased depression or anxiety
  • Risk of being exposed to negative influences that counteract progress towards health and well-being

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Why Would Social Services Do a Risk Assessment?

One area of social work where risk assessments are particularly important is child and family social services. These types of social workers are usually intervening in the case of children that are neglected, malnourished, or abused.

The social worker risk assessment in social services is performed to weigh the risk of leaving a child in a potentially dangerous environment and the risk of emotional harm and family upheaval that accompanies removing a child from a home.

Social services personnel will do a risk assessment of a child and family if they have reason to believe a child may be in danger in some way. A home visit could be prompted by getting a call from a neighbor about young children being left unattended or a report by a teacher of unexplained bruising or other injuries seen on a student.

Social Services Risk Assessment Questions

When social services social workers visit a home, they are looking for several key risk factors and factors of protection. A social work risk assessment template for this type of home visit would include things like whether there is enough food in the refrigerator, the atmosphere in a home, and how present parents are, among other things.

Some of the social services risk assessment questions that family and child social workers will ask when doing an in-home visit are (sourced from AHVNA):

  • Is the parent aware of the infant’s or child’s physical needs?
  • Is the parent aware of potential safety issues with the infant or child?
  • Does the parent show warmth, sensitivity, and acceptance toward the infant or child?
  • Is the parent able to delay personal needs to respond to the infant’s or child’s needs?
  • Is the parent preoccupied with other stressors?
  • Is the parent possibly experiencing depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues?

Some of the social services risk assessment questions social workers will ask of a parent when doing a risk assessment include:

  • What do you most enjoy or like about being a mother/father?
  • What things do you worry about when it comes to being a parent?
  • How do you feel about being alone with your baby?
  • What have you found is the best way to respond to your baby when he/she cries or fusses?
  • What do you believe is the best method for responding to your infant or child?
  • Do you have someone you can call when you need advice or support?

Do you have any questions or feedback on a social services risk assessment template or risk assessment for social workers? If so, click here to contact us.


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Methods Used for Risk Assessments in Social Work

Social workers are assessing the risk of different types all the time. Some risk assessments in social work are for the risk of falling back into destructive behaviors. Another risk assessment in social work might be more high-stakes and be related to the risk of severe danger or death for a victim of spousal abuse.

We’ll go over two different frameworks for social worker risk assessment below. These frameworks can often be adapted for different types of situations and used in a social work risk assessment template.

Risk Assessment Profile (RAP) for CPS-Protective Cases

This social services risk assessment template helps a social worker calculate the likelihood of child abuse or maltreatment of a child over the next 24 months.

The framework includes:

  • Gathering household information on risk/protection factors for all caretakers
  • Structuring decision making to provide services in order to minimize risk to the child/children
  • Documenting the social work risk assessment tools used and decisions made

5-Stage Framework for Risk Assessment

This is a general risk assessment social work professionals can use for any type of client and client situation. It has five stages that help guide the social worker through an evidence-based risk assessment.

The stages used in assessing risk in social work include:

  • Stage 1: Gather information
  • Stage 2: Assess harm and risk of harm
  • Stage 3: Decide the response
  • Stage 4: Decide the outcome
  • Stage 5: Review risk assessments during an ongoing intervention

When using this risk assessment for social workers, during Stage 2 when assessing harm and risk of harm, social workers should consider:

  • Frequency of harm
  • Type of harm
  • Severity of harm
  • Source of harm
  • Duration of harm

AGS Tools to Use in Risk Assessment for Social Workers

Risk assessment in social work usually begins with a survey or interview questionnaire that a social worker or a client will fill out. The social worker then takes this information and uses it for assessing needs and for risk assessment.

What helps social workers make better risk assessment decisions? Analytics that can transform their risk assessments in social work into meaningful reports that provide insightful visualizations.

AGS’ Social Worker Assessment Toolkit offers all that and more. This tool for client and social worker risk assessment includes:

  • Assessment surveys and questions (including safety and risk questions)
  • A needs assessment and social work risk assessment template that is customizable
  • Real-time analytics that transform your data into meaningful reporting
  • Social worker guides, tutorials, and much more!

social work risk assessment report

Reporting makes it easy to see which clients have a critical, moderate, or no safety risk.

ags individual current state assessment

Social work risk assessment template that is customizable with your own fields!

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Conclusion | Risk Assessment for Social Workers

When approaching risk assessment in social work, having a framework and template can create a consistent and systematic flow. All types of social workers are responsible for assessing risk in social work client intervention plans so they can provide the best and safest path forward for that person or group.

There is no lack of risk assessment social work templates and tools that you can leverage from various government organizations and other online sources, but most of these are text-based. If you want to add a missing piece to your risk assessments, consider using a cloud-based tool with analytics reports to help you save time when assessing risk in social work.


Assessing Risk in Social Work FAQ

What are the risk factors in social work?

Examples of risk factors in social work include:

• Risk that a person will fall back into self-destructive behaviors (drug/alcohol use, self-harm, self-defeating thoughts, etc.)
• Risk that a person may harm themselves or others
• Risk of a child being in danger if left in a home
• Risk of a social service policy having a detrimental impact on a community (e.g., increasing crime)
• Risk of exposure to life-threatening situations
• Risk of increased depression or anxiety
• Risk of being exposed to negative influences that counteract progress towards health and well-being

Why would social services do a risk assessment?

The social worker risk assessment in social services is performed to weigh the risk of leaving a child in a potentially dangerous environment and the risk of emotional harm and family upheaval that accompanies removing a child from a home.

Social services personnel will do a risk assessment of a child and family if they have reason to believe a child may be in danger in some way. A home visit could be prompted by getting a call from a neighbor about young children being left unattended or a report by a teacher of unexplained bruising or other injuries seen on a student.

What methods are used in risk assessment in social work?

One of the risk assessments social work professionals can use for any type of client and client situation is a 5-stage assessment. Each stage guides the social worker through an evidence-based risk assessment.

The stages used in assessing risk in social work include:

• Stage 1: Gather information
• Stage 2: Assess harm and risk of harm
• Stage 3: Decide the response
• Stage 4: Decide the outcome
• Stage 5: Review risk assessments during an ongoing intervention

What are some social services risk assessment questions?

Some of the social services risk assessment questions social workers will ask of a parent when doing a risk assessment include:

• What do you most enjoy or like about being a mother/father?
• What things do you worry about when it comes to being a parent?
• How do you feel about being alone with your baby?
• What have you found is the best way to respond to your baby when he/she cries or fusses?
• What do you believe is the best method for responding to your infant or child?
• Do you have someone you can call when you need advice or support?


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