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Differential Response to Reports of Child Abuse and Neglect
Series: Issue Briefs|
Child Welfare Information Gateway. |
|Year Published: 2008|
Guiding Principles for Implementation
Lessons learned from research and experiences with differential response can help move the field forward. Child welfare administrators and policymakers may benefit from the following considerations when implementing or expanding differential response systems at the State or local levels:
Address the core concerns of child safety and risk. It is important to remember that all of the children and families served, regardless of assigned track, have been reported to CPS for potential maltreatment and their cases have been screened in as legitimate referrals. As such, all of these situations warrant an assessment of both the children's safety and the parents' capacity and willingness to participate in protective interventions. CPS systems must take care to ensure that initial contacts, even if made by another agency, address safety and risk.
Implement systematic structures for selecting a response track and allowing changes. When and how the choice of response track is made has important practice implications. Tracks should be assigned based on a careful assessment of the family's safety, needs, and resources. Experience indicates that track changes are very infrequent—usually less than 2 percent. This may be appropriate, but comprehensive and ongoing assessment of the family often leads to the discovery of information about the family that would not have come to light through a traditional investigation. This additional information gathered by workers should help them identify when changes in track assignments are warranted, particularly to protect a child's safety.
Promote assessments that explore underlying conditions and needs. Differential response is based on the assumption that assessments will be comprehensive and go beyond traditional risk and safety assessments. More comprehensive assessment processes explore the strengths and needs of children and families and develop service plans that respond to underlying issues affecting the child's safety.
Ensure service availability and strengthen community relationships. Successful implementation of differential response systems requires the availability of an array of community services to support families. Child welfare agencies implementing differential response have found it helpful to work with community partners to identify and secure services from public and private agencies and help develop additional services as needed. Increasing and diversifying relationships with other service providers may require CPS agencies to address issues such as resource allocation, confidentiality agreements, accountability for shared case management, and co-training of staff.
Foster natural supports. Bringing broader systems of support to bear on the protection of children has proven to be a challenging task for some jurisdictions implementing differential response. Identifying, assisting, and nurturing families' informal support systems can complement traditional services to help sustain healthy family functioning and child well-being over time.
Train staff. To conduct comprehensive assessments and encourage parents' participation in voluntary services, CPS caseworkers must be skilled in engaging families. Jurisdictions implementing differential response have noted that training administrators, supervisors, and frontline staff is critical to the success of this approach.
Examine workload impact. Building trusting relationships, fully exploring strengths and needs, linking families to other services and supports, and developing case plans in partnership with families can take more time than typical caseloads allow. Evaluations in Missouri and elsewhere suggest the full benefit of differential response was not realized because of the counteracting pressures of large caseloads.
Track outcomes. States implementing differential response systems learned a great deal from measuring outcomes. Collecting data, tracking outcomes, and conducting rigorous evaluations can help States and local agencies understand the effectiveness of reforms and make mid-course corrections as needed. These efforts can also help shape plans for statewide expansion of pilot programs and communicate benefits to various stakeholders.
Accommodate and explain changes in data. Differential response may affect reporting and recurrence data and create apparent oddities in multiyear trends. When a majority of the referrals are not accompanied by a substantiation decision—as is the case with the families not on the investigation track—the proportion of substantiated reports to total reports decreases significantly. The important work done with families whose reports were not substantiated must be accommodated within existing information systems and communicated to policymakers.
Tap into lessons learned. Contact with State and local agencies experienced in implementing differential response can help those who are just starting the process to replicate promising approaches or avoid common mistakes. In addition, the Children's Bureau's National Resource Centers and Child Welfare Information Gateway can provide technical assistance and information on a number of topics related to differential response. Selected published reports, many of which are available through Information Gateway, are presented in the final section of this brief. For more information, visit www.childwelfare.gov or call 800.394.3366.
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