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Differential Response to Reports of Child Abuse and Neglect
Series: Issue Briefs|
Child Welfare Information Gateway. |
|Year Published: 2008|
Defining Differential Response
Differential response is a CPS practice that allows for more than one method of initial response to reports of child abuse and neglect. Also called "dual track," "multiple track," or "alternative response," this approach recognizes variation in the nature of reports and the value of responding differently to different types of cases (Schene, 2001).
While definitions and approaches vary from State to State, differential response generally uses two or more "tracks" or paths of response to reports of child abuse and neglect. Typically, these responses fall into two major categories:
- Investigation. These responses involve gathering forensic evidence and require a formal determination regarding whether child maltreatment has occurred or the child is at risk of abuse or neglect. In a differential response system, investigation responses are generally used for reports of the most severe types of maltreatment or those that are potentially criminal.
- Assessment (alternative response). These responses—usually applied in low- and moderate-risk cases—generally involve assessing the family's strengths and needs and offering services to meet the family's needs and support positive parenting. Although a formal determination or substantiation of child abuse or neglect may be made in some cases, it is typically not required.
However, not all jurisdictions that employ differential response focus simply on choosing an assessment or investigation track. In some areas, there is more variation in types of response. Additional tracks may include a resource referral/prevention track for reports that do not meet screening criteria for CPS but suggest a need for community services, or a law enforcement track for cases that may require criminal charges.
Similarities Between Differential Response and Traditional CPS
While introducing a more flexible way of responding to reports, differential response systems still share many underlying principles with the traditional child protection approach. Both:
- Focus on the safety and well-being of the child
- Promote permanency within the family whenever possible
- Recognize the authority of CPS to make decisions about removal, out-of-home placement, and court involvement, when necessary
- Acknowledge that other community services may be more appropriate than CPS in some cases
Differential response systems acknowledge that investigations are necessary in some cases. They typically allow for changes in the response track if circumstances change or information emerges that indicates a different type of response is needed to ensure child safety or better respond to the family.
The National Study of Child Protective Services Systems and Reform Efforts (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2003a), which included a survey of a nationally representative sample of local CPS agencies, found that despite the differences in focus, many of the approaches and practices used in conducting investigations and alternative responses were similar. During investigations, almost all agencies reviewed CPS records, interviewed or formally observed the child, and interviewed the caregiver. A slightly lower proportion of agencies conducted the same activities during alternative responses. Under both responses, a majority of agencies sometimes discussed the case with other CPS workers or with a multidisciplinary team, visited the family, and interviewed professionals.
Differences Between Assessment and Investigation Approaches
In traditional child protection practice, all accepted reports receive an investigation response. Investigations are conducted to determine if children have been harmed or are at risk of being harmed and to provide protection if needed. In differential response systems, investigations are no longer the singular focus of CPS response to reports of child maltreatment. While investigations are conducted for some reports (typically the more serious and severe), assessment is used for most other screened-in reports.
In comparison to investigations, assessment responses tend to:
- Be less adversarial
- Focus more on understanding the conditions that could jeopardize the child's safety and the factors that need to be addressed to strengthen the family
- Tailor approaches and services to fit families' strengths, needs, and resources
- Place importance on engaging parents to recognize concerns that affect their ability to parent and to participate in services and supports
- Tap into community services and the family's natural support network
- Offer voluntary services
Unlike investigations, assessment responses typically do not require caseworkers to make a formal finding regarding whether child abuse or neglect occurred, identify victims and perpetrators, or enter perpetrator names into central registries.
|Goal||To determine the "findings" related to allegations in the report and identify perpetrators and victims.||To engage parents, extended family, and community partners in identifying problems and participating in services and supports that address family needs.|
|Disposition||A decision must be made whether to substantiate the allegation of maltreatment.||Caseworkers are not typically required to make a formal finding regarding whether child maltreatment occurred.|
|Central Registry||Perpetrators' names are entered into a central registry, in accordance with State statutes and policies.||Alleged perpetrators' names are not entered into a central registry.|
|Services||If a case is opened for services, a case plan is generally written and services are provided. Families can be ordered by the court to participate in services if CPS involves the court in the case.||Voluntary services are offered. If parents do not participate, the case is either closed or switched to another type of response.|
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