|This Research Brief presents findings from an analysis of child abuse and neglect reports for six states that use both traditional child maltreatment investigations and some other defined action that does not require a specific finding about whether the maltreatment occurred. Several states have recently begun using these systems, referred to in this study as “alternative responses,” in an effort to differentiate among cases in which the often confrontational nature of investigations is helpful and those for which a more assessment oriented approach may be more constructive. The analysis described here was conducted by staff of Walter R. McDonald and Associates under contract to ASPE and in cooperation with the Administration for Children and Families.
Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation
Office of Human Services Policy
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Washington, DC 20201
Michael J. O’Grady, Ph.D.
Barbara B. Broman
Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for
Human Services Policy
Child protective services (CPS) agencies face a large volume of reports, complex cases, and strained resources. Because of their belief that many CPS reports do not require a traditional investigative response, some States have developed practices and policies to differentiate how cases are handled. Investigations are typically aimed at determining whether the alleged child maltreatment occurred, or whether there is a risk for maltreatment, and putting in place an appropriate intervention. In contrast, alternative responses emphasize the assessment of the family’s needs and provision of services to prevent future maltreatment, but without the need to determine whether specific allegations can be substantiated. State policies on alternative response vary, although typically families are approached as a unit, and given options about services and assistance, with a focus on the well-being of the entire family. Although not universally true for all States, the service philosophy is to build on the family’s strengths, while ensuring that needs for children’s safety are being met.
This research examined case-level data reported to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) by six States — Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Wyoming — that offered both alternative response and traditional investigation. Case characteristics, circumstances of reports, and outcomes were examined for 313,838 children, of whom 140,072 received an alternative response during 2002. The objective of this study was to compare the children in each State who were referred to alternative response systems with those referred to traditional investigations.