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Common Assessment

Regardless of how individuals are introduced to the Department of Human Services, an initial assessment tool that integrates services from throughout the system will help ensure that each person receives the proper assistance that he or she needs. DHS selects from the CANS, the ANSA or FAST assessment tools depending on age and the specific circumstances.

CANS (Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths)
CANS  is an assessment tool developed to assist in the management and planning of services to children and adolescents and their families with the primary objectives of permanency, safety, and improved quality in of life. It’s a national tool that has been used to varying degrees in other markets primarily for decision support and service planning, quality improvement and outcomes monitoring.

The CANS is conducted as a conversation and is designed to integrate and communicate information from multiple sources. CANS works to empower persons at every level of the system to collaboratively identify and address the most important needs facing children and families, and to capitalize on their strengths.

The CANS is an “anti-form.” Rather than being a passive instrument for a single person to complete, it is a tool that prompts the CANS assessor to gather and integrate information from multiple sources. Given the diverse and complex nature of the children’s service system, the CANS is a uniform repository of information that allows for input from across different child serving agencies.

Information from the CANS is used to inform the planning process and help to set goals, objectives and strategies to meet needs in a strengths-based manner. Information from the CANS is also used to support decisions about level of care, intensity of services, and placement.

The CANS key principles 

  • Items in an assessment are selected because they are each relevant to service/treatment planning.  An item exists because it might lead down a different pathway in terms of planning actions.
  • Each item uses a four-level rating system.  These levels are designed to translate immediately into action levels.  Different action levels exist for needs and strengths.
  • Ratings describe the child, not the child in services.  If an intervention is present that is masking a need but must stay in place, then that is factored into the rating (resulting in the rating of “actionable” need, i.e. 2 or 3).
  • Culture and development should be considered prior to establishing the action levels. Cultural sensitivity involves considering whether cultural factors are influencing the expression of needs and strengths. Ratings should be completed considering the youth’s developmental and/or chronological age depending on the item.
  • The ratings are generally considered “agnostic as to etiology.”  In other words, the CANS is a descriptive tool-- It is about the “what” not the “why.” 
  • A 30-day window is used for ratings in order to make sure assessments stay “fresh” and relevant to the child or youth’s present circumstances.  However, the action levels can be used to override the 30-day rating period.

CANS core domains
CANS is comprised of seven core domains. These domains reflect the different aspects that make up one’s life and vision.

  • Life Functioning:  This domain relates to the activities and relationships that are a part of everyday life including family, school, and health.   
  • Youth Strengths:  This domain relates to a child’s resources and assets. These are the positive things in the child’s life that can be used to promote healthy development and positive outcomes. 
  • Caregiver Strengths & Needs: This domain refers to 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.
  • Culture: This domain relates to the youth’s adjustment to the primary culture in which they live, 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, socio-economic status, etc.
  • Youth Behavioral/Emotional Needs:  This domain refers to the symptoms and/or behaviors that a child may display. This is intended to capture “what” is occurring and not the reasons “why” it is occurring.
  • Youth Risk Behaviors/Factors: This domain relates to whether or not the child currently behaves in ways that could prove to be dangerous to him/herself or others.
  • Trauma Experiences: This domain focuses on the child’s exposure to potentially traumatic/adverse childhood experiences over their lifetime.

The implementation of the CANS has occurred in phases across the DHS program offices. An adult version of the CANS, the Adult Needs and Strengths Assessment (ANSA), was rolled out beginning in Adult Behavioral Health in 2013.


FAST (Family Advocacy and Support Tool)
FAST is a multi-purpose tool to help identify strengths and underlying issues and needs for families as identified by the family.  The FAST is based upon the family’s voice, vision, culture, and experiences.

The FAST is conducted as a conversation and is designed to integrate and communicate information from multiple sources.

FAST Core Domains
FAST includes four core domains and one extension module, Early Childhood.

  • Family Together This domain refers to 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 This domain refers to 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 This domain refers to the individual strengths and needs of each of the children in the family.  
  • Trauma Experiences This domain focuses on the caregiver’s and child’s exposure to potentially traumatic/adverse childhood experiences over their lifetime.

Additional Resources

Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths - Allegheny County's assessment tool  

Together We CANS! DHS News, April 2012

Yes we CANS! November 2009