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Evolution of a CWS referral

A referral is a suspected child abuse report (aka SCAR) which our agency investigates. Those who investigate these reports are Social Workers (SW). If a SW investigates a referral and determines that the abuse/neglect did occur, the referral will evolve into a case. Below is a general flow of how a referral might evolve into a case and how it would move through our agency. Please keep in mind that all referrals and cases involve people, that each family may and will have different needs and challenges, and that each referral or case may look very different from each other. This was written in simplistic terms to help you understand in a basic way how a case would move through our CWS system, and does not reflect all referrals or cases.


The first step is receiving a referral, or a suspected child abuse report (SCAR). Most often a referral is received by telephone which is answered by a Social Worker in one of the intake rooms. Referrals are also received by mail or fax to the Intake unit. Our agency also has after hours on call social workers who respond to emergency calls, usually from law enforcement. Once the Social Worker receives the referral, they use a couple different tools to determine the most appropriate response by the agency (with the exception of after-hours emergencies requiring immediate response). The chosen response will fall into one of 5 categories, depending on the severity of the reported abuse and/or neglect.

  • Immediate response
  • 3-day response
  • 5-day response
  • 10-day response
  • Evaluated Out

Immediate Response is an immediate response by a SW, usually involving or prompted by a call from law enforcement. Three, Five, and Ten day responses are determined by the circumstances and facts of the referral, and are less emergent. Evaluated Out responses are for referrals that don’t rise to the level of a social worker being sent out to investigate; however they may be referred to a partner agency for voluntary services to assist the family. Examples of an evaluated out referral is a duplicate referral where more than one person/agency has reported the same incident, or it can also be a historical incident where the child is currently safe and cared for and no longer in danger of being abused and/or neglected. The intake SW will make one of the below choices for the referral and determine the above response time.

  1. Child is safe at home/no evidence of abuse or neglect, referral is closed. Possible referral to community partner voluntary services. These are the Evaluated Out referrals.
  2. Child is safe at home, although court involvement is ordered by the judge (also known as court ordered Family Maintenance services).
  3. Child is not safe at home, child removed from the home. Child placed in temporary foster care (also known as Family Reunification services).


If it is determined the level of abuse and/or neglect requires a social worker response it is assigned to an Emergency Response social worker (ER). This social worker will be the one to investigate the allegations and determine if it is safe for the child to remain in the home, or if it is necessary to temporarily remove the child. It is important to stress that the goal of the agency is always to keep families together and children in the home when possible. If the ER worker determines ongoing services are needed, the ER worker will request a disposition hearing. If the child is placed in foster care, or the child can be kept safe at home with court involvement, the case will then be assigned to an ongoing worker, which is referred to as a Family Maintenance/Family Reunification social worker. Before the case is fully handed off to the FM/FR social worker, there is a brief period where both the Court social worker (aka Dependency Investigations, DI) and FM/FR social worker will work together on the case.

Disposition hearing

At the Disposition Hearing (Dispo), the Juvenile Judge will declare the child/children dependants of the court and order the parents a case plan. After the Dispo hearing, the case will then be transferred from the DI social worker to a Family Maintenance/Family Reunification (FM/FR) social worker. That social worker will be assigned to the case for approximately 6-24 months, depending on the family’s progress.


This means that the judge has determined the child to be safe at home with the condition that the family abides by the judge’s orders to participate in services, and with continued monitoring of the health and safety of the child, family, and home. The Social Worker will work with the family to complete all case plan goals and, if successful, request the court dismiss dependency and close the case. If the family is not able to be successful in Family Maintenance, the judge may order the child to be placed in out of home care.


If the judge determines that the child cannot remain safely at home, the child will be placed in out of home care and the focus will be on reunifying the child with his/her birth family. The FM/FR social worker will work closely with the family to complete all case plan goals, and eventually the case is closed if the family is successful. If the family is not successful at reunifying, the judge can order termination of Family Reunification services.


The San Luis Obispo County Department of Social Services is committed to the process of concurrent planning: working towards reunification while at the same time establishing an alternative permanent plan of adoption or legal guardianship for each of our children placed in out of home care.

The potential benefits of concurrent planning are significant. Under this model, children will experience fewer moves, be reunified with their birth parents or be placed with permanent families more quickly. All court ordered reunification cases will have a concurrent plan.


If a judge determines that FR services are to be terminated, this generally means the judge (and the agency) believe that reunification is no longer possible. The case will then be transferred to the Adoptions Unit and an Adoptions social worker will be assigned with the goal to proceed with finalization of adoption.

Once FR services have been terminated by a judge, a WIC 366.26 Hearing is scheduled 120 days from the termination of FR services, to terminate parental rights. This will legally free the child for adoption. Dependency is dismissed after the finalization of adoption.


For several reasons, some children who are unable to reunify with their parent(s) will not go through the adoption process, but remain in long term foster care, also known as Permanent Placement (PP). Some of these youth either do not wish to be adopted (age 12 and over have a choice), or we are unable to find suitable placement for them. For the latter, it is often due to either intensive medical or behavioral needs that a home cannot provide. For some of the older youth, they simply do not wish to be adopted for their own reasons. For these youth, they remain in PP/long term foster care. One of the things that stand out with children in PP, is that their parental rights have not been terminated. The courts require that before we can place a child for adoption, we must be able to identify an adoptive family.


Beginning in January 2012, children who turn 18 while in Foster Care can choose to remain in Extended Foster Care until the age of 21. This optional program provides continued financial, supportive services, and case management support to youth to help them transition into adulthood. Youth are required to participate in at least one of five activities in order to remain eligible. The activities they can choose from are: attending High School or earning a GED, attending college at least half time, working at least 80 hours per month, participating in job readiness activities, or being physically or mentally unable to participate in any of the other activities.

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