Many behavior analysis supervisees, students, and even young Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA’s) have not yet obtained proficiency communicating with their clients and agencies about risk assessments, and may even lack the experience or training to use or document them in their own practice. Yet, a risk assessment is required by our Compliance Code (for example, see related items 2.09 c and d, or items 4.06-4.07), and the need for this skill is evident in the Task List (see C-01, C-02, and C-03).
As a consultant and an instructor for a university’s course sequence toward certification in Behavior Analysis, I use the Bailey and Burch text on ethics as a resource both for my students and for my practice. Several editions of this text mention and describe a Risk Assessment Tool which is not only necessary and required, but can also be a powerful decision making tool for teams, supervisors, agencies, and even families. When services are discontinued after barriers to service have been repeatedly encountered, supervisors and the court systems value evidence that the behavior analyst documented and discussed the risks and barriers with a family or team. Also, lives might be saved by considering the short and long-term risks before moving forward with an intervention that is at best, inappropriate, and at worst, dangerous. Risk assessments can facilitate otherwise difficult conversations about risks (or benefits) to a client, family, team, agency, system, or even a consultant’s reputation and credentials.
So what tools do YOU use, and what are those used by your team? Kolu and Winn (2017) presented tools for our work, based on something developed in our consulting practices. First a Risk versus benefit flowchart helps walk a supervisor, team, agency or family through a sequence of questions. Then the Risk Assessment Tool helps keep track of the answers, and can be used to facilitate a discussion with families and teams. When making a tough decision, it helps to ask about the short- and long-term risks of doing “the current option” or doing “something else”, and weigh these against the potential benefits. Should my family pull our child out of a school where he is not really benefiting from education but has immense social interaction opportunities? Should I stay with this employer billing in a confusing and possibly unethical way, or start my own practice? What should I consider when approached by a long-distance supervision client whose client caseload doesn’t really match my skillset?
And as the Compliance Code makes clear, we should be continuously asking, what is the best treatment recommendation, given the possible options, the current environment, resources, and the risks and benefits?
With these questions and more, a risk versus benefit assessment can be extremely informative, helpful, and may even be required. Know the requirements, and then assess, document and communicate about the risks. It might just save your credibility one day when you are called to testify. (We all think it won’t happen to us, until it happens to us.)
Need a tool to document your risk versus benefit results? Download this Risk Assessment Tool and let us know your suggestions or what kinds of decisions you use it for.
Email us if you’d like a word version of the form that you can use to fill in with your team or agency. And if you’d like to share, let us know what YOU use to document risks.