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DIFFERENTIAL RESPONSE . Theresa Costello, MA Director National Resource Center for Child Protective Services (NRCCPS) March 16, 2009. Defining Differential Response. CPS practice that allows for more than one method of initial response to reports of child abuse and neglect

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differential response


Theresa Costello, MA


National Resource Center for Child Protective Services (NRCCPS)

March 16, 2009

defining differential response
Defining Differential Response
  • 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”
what differential response is not
What differential response is NOT…
  • Differential response has not focused mainly on cases screened out as inappropriate for child protective services; rather it has focused on responding differentially to accepted reports of child maltreatment.
why differential response
Why Differential Response?
  • Driven by desire to…
    • Address family needs more quickly; most cases not driven by court intervention, so evidence collection is not necessary
    • Build family support systems; DRS is often accompanied by greater efforts to identify, build and coordinate formal and non-formal family supports
core elements
Core Elements
  • Use of two or more discrete responses to reports of maltreatment that are screened in and accepted: Investigation and Assessment
  • Assignment to response pathways is determined by an array of factors.
  • Original response assignments can be changed.
  • Family participation is voluntary; some families who choose not to participate in non-traditional response may be referred to traditional track.
core elements7
Core Elements
  • Establishment of discrete responses is codified in statute, policy, protocols.
  • No substantiation of alleged maltreatment and services are offered without formal determination that child maltreatment has occurred.
pathways in the differential response continuum
Pathways in the Differential Response Continuum
  • There are at least two categories of response
    • Investigation: reports that are immediately recognized as presenting serious safety issues for children/placement more likely/may be criminal charges
    • Assessment: reports that indicate the child may be in need of protection and the family requires services to better address child and family safety and well being.
factors determining response
Factors Determining Response
  • Statutory limitations
  • Severity of the allegation
  • History of past reports
  • Ability to assure the safety of the child (if safety threats at intake not assigned to assessment)
  • Willingness and capacity of the parents to participate in services
assessment is the key
Assessment is the Key
  • Assessment must be comprehensive- more than simply a risk and safety assessment-understanding underlying family conditions
  • Must also identify protective factors in family and larger social context that could be mobilized to strengthen family
family engagement
Family Engagement
  • Family members have significant expertise and whenever possible it is important to engage them in identifying issues and to honor family choices when they do not jeopardize safety
  • Seek collaboration with family and their formal and informal support system
  • Whenever possible, eliminate practices that produce resistance such as drop in visits, joint visits with law enforcement, and interviewing child without parental knowledge
potential challenges
Potential Challenges
  • Subsequent reports
  • Family does not participate voluntarily
  • Insufficiency of service resources
  • Inadequate involvement of fathers and other significant stakeholders
  • Communication with/within community service system
prospective benefits
Prospective Benefits
  • More children are better protected over time by engaging more parents in the process of making sustainable changes
  • The rate of subsequent repeat reports to CPS has been demonstrated to decrease
  • Both families and agency child protection workers are more satisfied with the outcomes
  • Involvement of larger systems of support
  • The approach is cost neutral or saves money over time
experience in the field
  • National Study on Differential Response in Child Welfare indicates 15 states currently implementing DRS to some degree.
  • An additional 10 jurisdictions currently implementing another innovative strategy.
implementation variability
Implementation Variability
  • Statewide
  • Multiple sites within State
  • Single jurisdiction
  • No longer in existence
  • Other innovative practices
lessons learned
Lessons Learned
  • There is intrinsic value of family voice - as partners, guiding service planning and decision making
  • Community partnerships are most effective ways to protect children
  • There is a need to involve families and community stakeholders early in process
lessons learned17
Lessons Learned
  • Communication among/across jurisdictions is essential - establish vehicles for regular contact
  • Assessment is ongoing and cumulative as trust builds
  • Evaluation matters - bring evaluators in early and make the investment to do it well
service types and needs for drs families
Service Types and Needs for DRS families
  • Concrete Services (clothing, food, utility payment, housing, job training, transportation)
  • Parenting Classes
  • Domestic Violence services
  • Mental Health services
  • Substance Abuse treatment
  • Counseling (adults and children)
  • Home-based services
  • Population-specific services (e.g. Spanish-speaking clients, children with disabilities)
evaluation items progress measures
Evaluation items/progress measures
  • Child safety
  • Permanency: subsequent removals and placement
  • Family satisfaction and cooperation
  • Family functioning and well-being, skills of individual family members, financial well-being and social support
  • Services to families
  • Worker satisfaction
  • Judicial system: referrals to juvenile/family court, reduction in court hearings, child removals, TPR orders, etc.
  • Cost savings/effectiveness
the developmental process
The Developmental Process
  • Different Phases pose Different Challenges and Opportunities
    • Design
    • Early Implementation
    • Mid-Implementation
    • Maturity
    • Ongoing
model fidelity what we have learned thus far
Model Fidelity: What we have learned thus far...
  • AR works best when basic model is followed:
    • Non-adversarial, respectful approach to families
    • Open invitation to families to participate in group decision making
    • Broad and early assessments of family strengths and needs and indicators of child well-being
    • Increased service response and community referrals
    • Mutual worker-family decision to continue contacts and support
model fidelity continued
Model Fidelity, continued
  • AR works best when….
    • Child safety is primary consideration
    • Readiness to change tracks (assessment to investigation) when safety (present or impending danger) is found
evaluation findings
  • Referral and Substantiation
    • The proportion of reports diverted to an alternative response varied greatly across States (20% to 71%)
    • Proportion of investigations that were substantiated increased
    • Decrease in the numbers of both victims and non-victims identified by States
evaluation findings24
  • Child and Case Characteristics
    • An AR was more likely to be used for cases with less immediate safety concerns and less likely to be used in sexual abuse cases
    • Older children generally were more likely to receive an AR
    • Children and families who were referred to an AR were similar in demographics (gender, race, ethnicity, family structure) to those who received traditional investigations
evaluation findings25
  • Child and Case Characteristics
    • Prior victimization was often related to a decreased likelihood of an AR
    • Referrals from social workers, medical personnel, and legal or criminal justice sources were less likely to receive an AR
evaluation findings26
  • Child Safety
    • Child safety was not compromised under differential response systems
    • Safety was maintained even when comparable families were randomly assigned to tracks
    • Increased services to families lowered recurrence
evaluation findings27
  • Services to Families
    • Services were provided more often to children and families on the assessment track
    • The number of services received by families on the assessment track was greater than on the investigation track
    • Services may be provided to families earlier on the assessment track
    • Greater use of community resources was reported in pilot areas of at least 3 States
evaluation findings28
  • Family Satisfaction and Engagement
    • Families reported satisfaction with the differential response system in Missouri, Minnesota, North Carolina and Virginia
    • The family’s sense of participation in decision making increased in several States
    • Workers reported families were more cooperative and willing to accept services
evaluation findings29
  • Cost Effectiveness
    • Differential response appears to be cost effective over the long term. (Minnesota study only)
evaluation findings30
  • CPS Staff Perspectives and Issues
    • CPS staff like the differential response approach
    • Large caseloads and limited resources are obstacles to differential response effectiveness
    • Training is needed to make implementation successful
hawaii s differential response







CWS Case










High to High


Parental Rights


  • Catholic Charities (Central & Windward Oahu)
  • Child & Family Services (Maui County)
  • Foster Family Program (Leeward Oahu & E. Hawai`i)
  • Personal Parenting (Kauai & West Hawai`i)
  • Voluntary Foster Custody
  • Family Supervision
  • Foster Custody
  • Case Management of Children in Permanent Custody
  • Child & Family Services (Oahu, Kauai, & E. Hawai`i)
  • Kona Neighborhood Place (West Hawai`i)
  • Parents, Inc. (Maui)
  • Neighborhood Places (5)
Hawaii’s Differential Response
drs outcomes
DRS Outcomes
  • Since implementation of the DRS in Hawaii on December 16, 2005:
    • 4,217 families were referred for CWS investigations of allegations of abuse or neglect.
    • 1,188 families were referred for VCM services from CWS intake.
    • 2,447 families were referred for FSS services from CWS intake.
drs outcomes33

DRS Outcomes

Recurrence of child abuse and/or neglect decreased from 5.7% in SFY 2004 to 2.2% in SFY 2007. Currently at 1.5%.

38% of Referrals to CWS intake are being triaged to the FSS and VCM programs.

Approximately 15% of referrals to FSS and VCM are returned due to safety concerns.

Children in out-of-home care decreased by approximately 20% since the implementation of the DRS.

The average caseload for each CWS worker has decreased from 24 to 18 cases.

  • Differential response has been a positive development in child protection. Evaluations demonstrate that:
    • Children are at least as safe as in traditional practice
    • Parents are engaging in services
    • Families, caseworkers, and administrators are supportive of the approach