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Differential Response to Reports of Child Abuse and Neglect
Series: Issue Briefs|
Child Welfare Information Gateway. |
|Year Published: 2008|
Opportunities for Improving Child Welfare Practice
As mentioned earlier, the CFSRs conducted nationwide by the Children's Bureau have underscored some specific areas of weakness in CPS practices, including:
- Comprehensive assessment and identification of strengths and needs
- Family involvement in the service planning process
- Availability and accessibility of services for families and children, and inconsistent services to address risk, especially for in-home cases
- Timeliness of response to lower-risk reports
Differential response systems, and in particular the assessment tracks of these systems, offer opportunities for CPS agencies to address these weaknesses and improve child welfare practice.
One distinctive feature of the assessment track is that its focus is broader than the allegations in the referral or the specific incident leading to the report. Staff move away from a focus on "what happened" toward a process that seeks to understand the child and family's broader needs. The assessment process looks for strengths within the child and family, as well as factors contributing to the child's vulnerability and underlying issues that keep parents from being able to sustain safe, supportive parenting.
Assessment tracks reflect the values of family-centered practice and family engagement. Program evaluations, particularly in Minnesota and Virginia, point to routine involvement of families in both assessment and service planning. Since services are voluntary, workers must engage families in order to secure their participation in interventions. Engagement involves gaining the family's perspective on problems and learning what they feel would help them to make changes. This results in more dialogue during service plan development within assessment tracks than in typical investigatory practice.
Enhanced Service Delivery
Evaluations of differential response systems have shown that families tend to receive services sooner within assessment tracks compared to investigations, and the level of service provision seems to be more robust. There are several potential reasons for this:
- Although many traditional systems are permitted to serve families even when an investigation is not substantiated, their ability to do so is restricted by resource availability. Moreover, the adversarial nature of investigation undermines some parents' motivation to participate in case planning and avail themselves of services.
- Traditional practice focuses the majority of service provision on foster care cases, rather than in-home cases, according to the CFSR findings. Within assessment tracks, a larger percentage of in-home cases (which constitute the majority of cases referred for assessment versus investigation) receive services.
- Evaluations of differential response have demonstrated that children can be just as safe or safer without an adversarial investigation to initiate intervention. In cases of lower risk, workers can begin to explore needs and offer services without stopping to undertake an investigation, resulting in more timely services and more efficient use of staff time.
Potential for Earlier Intervention and Prevention
Responding to the large volume of child maltreatment reports early enough to make a difference in the lives of children and families is a major objective of differential response efforts. Many of the cases on assessment tracks are lower risk cases that might have been screened out or closed after one contact if an alternative to investigation were not available. Some of these cases are known to reappear later with more serious allegations. Differential response offers the opportunity for earlier intervention and possible prevention of child abuse or neglect.
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