Alternative Responses to Child Maltreatment: Findings from NCANDS. Introduction

07/01/2005

Many child protective services (CPS) agencies face a large volume of CPS reports, increasingly complex cases, and strained resources. Moreover, there is a growing recognition that many CPS cases do not require a traditional investigative response. Thus, many States have developed practices and policies to differentiate how particular types of cases are handled (U.S. Government Accounting Office, 1997). Referred to as alternative response, differential response, dual track, or family assessment, these efforts at system reform promote new practices that affect how certain reports of maltreatment are handled. Generally, investigation responses involve a more forensic approach and include processes for determining if a child is at risk of child maltreatment or if child maltreatment occurred. Alternative responses are characterized by an emphasis on an assessment of the needs of families and children with less emphasis on determining if the maltreatment occurred (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2003a).

The intent of the analyses presented below is to examine case-level data reported in 2002 to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) by six States that offered both alternative response and traditional investigation as part of their child welfare services. After reviewing previous research on alternative response, this report describes the methodology of, and findings from, this analysis. Case characteristics, circumstances of reports, and outcomes for children who received an alternative response are presented. Finally, emerging trends, similarities, and differences across States that are implementing alternative response systems are discussed.

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