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Common Assessments

What are the common assessments?

The common assessments (CANS, ANSA and FAST) are communication and planning tools used to direct initial and subsequent conversations between the consumer of DHS services and the staff member responsible for capturing the strengths and needs of that individual/family member.  

Why use common assessment tools?

  • Common assessment tools are instrumental in fulfilling the DHS vision to create an accessible, culturally competent, integrated and comprehensive human services system.
  • Common assessment tools open up a conversation with an individual, therefore, the information gathered is based on the person’s voice, vision, culture and experiences.
  • Common assessment tools establish a common language and therefore improve communication and understanding among users.
  • Common assessment tools provide a wide range of individual/family-guided information used in treatment planning and quality improvement.
  • Common assessment tools are applicable broadly, yet identify specific needs and strengths to help ensure that each person receives the most appropriate and beneficial services possible.  
  • Common assessment tools are flexible over time in response to the changing needs and strengths of the individual.  

Who conducts the conversations?

Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS)
  • Children in shelter placement - The DHS Screening Unit
  • Children in foster care/kinship care or group homes - The out-of-home placement provider
  • Children receiving OBH blended service coordination, or involved with RTF units, the Joint Planning Team or the Life Project - Service Coordination Units
  • Youth involved in independent living programs  -  Independent Living Program providers
Adults Needs and Strengths Assessment (ANSA)
  • Adults seeking behavioral health recovery services – OBH blended service coordination unit
Family Support and Advocacy Tool (FAST)
  • Families involved with the Office of Children, Youth and Families (CYF) – Child and family advocates at each CYF regional office

What are the “domains” reviewed in the conversations?

The following domains, when used together, are designed to capture a comprehensive view of the individual.


Individual strengths - The positive resources and assets in the individual’s life that can be used to promote healthy development, recovery (in adults) and positive outcomes.


Life functioning - The activities and relationships that are a part of the individual’s everyday life including family, school, employment and health.    

Culture - The individual’s adjustment to the primary culture in which s/he lives, including factors such as language barriers or barriers that prevent the practice of their beliefs. Culture is broadly defined to include, but not limited to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, age, gender and socio-economic status.

Behavioral/Emotional needs - The symptoms and/or behaviors that an individual may display. This is intended to capture “what” is occurring and not the reasons “why” it is occurring.

Risk behaviors/factors - Whether or not the individual currently behaves in ways that could prove to be dangerous to him/herself or others.


Trauma experiences - An individual’s exposure to potentially traumatic/adverse experiences over their lifetime. 

CANS only

Caregiver Strengths and Needs - Areas in which the caregiver may need assistance or support in their caregiving role/responsibilities while simultaneously highlighting the areas in which the caregivers can be a resource for the child.

FAST only

The Family Together - How the family is functioning as a system. The family system is the set of inter-relationships among the family members within the context of their roles and responsibilities in that family

Caregiver functioning - The individual strengths and needs of each of the parents and/or caregivers in the family.  These are the adults in the family who have been identified as having some responsibility for helping raise the children in the family

Child functioning - The individual strengths and needs of each of the children in the family

What is the common assessment rating system?

Strengths ratings

Rating  Level of Strength 


Significant/Strong strength (Centerpiece Strength) 


Good. Can be strong with some help 


Potential. Strength identified, needs to be developed 


No identified strength (doesn't mean there aren't any strengths, need to help identify strengths) 
Needs ratings

Rating  Level of Need  Action Level 
0  No evidence needed.  No action needed 
1  History of need or potential need.  Watchful waiting, prevention, additional assessment 
2  Moderate need. Need interferes with functioning.  Action/Intervention 
3  Need is dangerous or disabling. Help needed now.   Immediate/Intensive Action 
Trauma ratings (CANS/ANSA/FAST)

Rating  Level of Trauma Experience (Rated over a lifetime) 
0  No evidence of any trauma of this type 
1  A single incident of this type of trauma occurred or suspicion exists that this type of trauma occurred. 
2  Person experienced multiple incidents or a moderate degree of this type of trauma. 
3  Person experienced repeated and serve incidents of this type of trauma with medical/physical consequences. 


Rating  Level of Need or Strength*  Appropriate Action  
0  No evidence of need, can also indicate a clear strength*  No action needed OR can be used as a centerpiece strength; strength-based planning* 
1  History of need or potential need, potential strength identified.   Watchful waiting; Prevention; Additional Assessment OR opportunities for strength building* 
2  Moderate Need. Need interferes with functioning.  Action/Intervention 
3  Need is dangerous or disabling. Help needed now.  Immediate/Intensive Action 

When do the conversations happen?

CANS conversations happen within the first 30 days of either a child’s out-of-home placement or involvement with OBH blended service coordination. Follow-ups occur at six-month intervals thereafter, or concurrent with treatment planning.

ANSA conversations occur at an individual’s intake involvement with OBH Blended Service Coordination.  Follow-ups occur at six-month intervals thereafter, or concurrent with treatment planning.  

FAST conversations happen within the first 60 days of a family being accepted for child welfare services, as long as children are living in the family home. Follow-ups occur at six-month intervals thereafter, or concurrent with planning.

How is use of the common assessment evaluated?  

DHS has adopted the SPANS (Service Process Adherence to Needs and Strengths) as the tool to measure the connection (fidelity of the relationship) between the needs and strengths identified using the common assessment tool, and the resultant service plan, service implementation and outcomes a child and family, or individual experience.

  • Determines whether the needs and strengths identified in the CANS/ANSA/FAST are being addressed or utilized
  • Evaluates the progress of the service participant, service coordinator, program or agency
  • Creates a guide to identify areas for quality improvement and for developing plans for improvement at the individual, team, agency and system level
  • Informs on agency needs and targets training opportunities
Who uses the SPANS?

The Office of Behavioral Health adult and children’s monitoring teams.
The SPANS will be utilized by agency supervisors for supervision and team monitoring purposes.