Differential Response and the Safety of Children Reported to Child Protective Services: A Tale of Six States


Differential response (DR) is an increasingly common model for how child protective services agencies address reports of child maltreatment. Differential response systems seek to be less adversarial than traditional child protective services by separating incoming referrals into two (or more) tracks. Families with low to moderate risk and safety threats (variously defined) are encouraged to accept and use prevention services, an approach referred to as alternative response (AR). Higher risk families receive the traditional, forensically oriented Investigative Response (IR) which includes the intent to determine whether or not there is evidence that a maltreatment incident occurred and to identify the perpetrator(s). Jurisdictions vary widely in how frequently they use their alternative response tracks. This study sought to determine whether children in counties with higher rates of AR use are more or less likely to be re-reported to child protective services and and/or confirmed to have been victims of subsequent abuse or neglect. It finds that overall, in 6 states that used differential response state wide during the entire period from 2004 through 2013, higher rates of alternative response were associated with lower re-reports and re-reports with substantiation (that is, a subsequent confirmation that the child had been victimized).


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