Defining new approaches to the traditional investigatory function of child protective services is a complex issue. Although new or alternative responses may be conceptualized more broadly, most States appeared to define an alternative response in terms of a track that would not include all the legal requirements of an investigation. For example, workers might not make a determination of maltreatment or they might not designate a perpetrator. Generally, the approach differed from trying to find evidence against the parents to working with the family. For purposes of the National Study, alternative response was defined as “a formal response of your agency that assesses the needs of the child or family without requiring a determination that maltreatment has occurred or that the child is at risk of maltreatment.” By this definition, the study of CPS policy identified 20 States as offering one or more alternatives to the traditional CPS investigatory response.1 This chapter presents an overview of policy on alternative approaches to investigation and assessment and examines differences and similarities among the 20 States.
Although alternative response approaches were identified in 20 States, implementation was statewide in only 11 States (55.0%). Percentages are based upon 20 States in this chapter. (See tables 5–A and 5–B.)
In policy, the overall goals of alternative response were to provide a response option to those families whose situations did not meet the mandate or criteria for CPS involvement, to serve low-risk or low-severity situations, or to ameliorate family situations. State policies also disqualified certain types of cases from receiving an alternative response, including those that involved criminal offenses, sexual abuse, or instances of significant physical injury or endangerment. (See table 5–C.)
The majority of these programs stipulated that family assessments should be conducted and services should be provided. (Responses were not mutually exclusive.)
Fourteen States (70.0%) stipulated in policy that family assessments were a part of the alternative response;
Thirteen States (65.0%) stipulated in policy that services were part of the response; and
Eight States (40.0%) mentioned that alternative response served also as early intervention with families.
Policy in some States gave direct guidance on the relation of the alternative response to the investigation response. Some examples are below.2
Four tracks (statewide):
Resource Linkage Track: Referrals do not meet screening criteria; worker links caller to a community resource, which may assist the caller in meeting the needs of the family;
Law Enforcement Track: For noncaretaker cases, worker can provide assistance, such as interviews of children and referrals to community resources;
FINSA Track (Family In Need of Services Assessment): Supervisor or designee uses the Level of Risk Matrix; cases must be low risk. Emphasis is on partnering with the family and community to establish a community network, family support system to meet the needs of the family and prevent future incidents; and
Investigation Track: For all moderate- or high-risk referrals. Emphasis is on obtaining evidentiary information to support disposition. In some cases, the finding may be “unable to locate.”
Three tracks (five counties):
Track A: Full service (assessment and evaluation by CPS worker for most severe indicators);
Track B: Safety check by CPS worker; and
Track C: Diversionary track—referral to community agency for response (low-risk cases). This track also includes family assessment and treatment.
Three tracks (statewide):
Investigation Track: Determines if abuse or neglect took place and provides interventions designed to stop abuse;
Prevention Track: For cases with no allegations of abuse or neglect, but with identified risk factors that indicate the need for services to prevent abuse or neglect; and
Assessment Track: Evaluates family strengths and needs. Assessment services determine whether there are safety issues, and provide services to increase their ability to resolve foreseeable risks to the child.
For States with alternative responses, the primary role of other agencies is to provide services. Nine States (45.0%) specifically mentioned service provision in their policy documents. Fourteen States (70.0%) specifically mentioned that the community agencies would conduct assessments.
Contact requirements for States with alternative responses were most frequently contacts with the family or parents. (Responses were not mutually exclusive.)
Fourteen States (70.0%) specified contact with the family;
Five States (25.0%) specified the alleged child victim would be contacted;
Four States (20.0%) required contacting collaterals; and
Two States (10.0%) specified the perpetrator must be contacted.
The alternative response option does not necessarily result in a finding of maltreatment. Instead, the results are specified in terms of distinct types of actions. (See table 5–F.) (Responses were not mutually exclusive.)
Thirteen States (65.0%) included in policy the option of no further action;
Twelve States (60.0%) included the option of referral for voluntary services;
Eleven States (55.0%) allow for cases to be returned to an investigation unit;
Eight States (40.0%) included the option of petitioning the court for mandatory services; and
Eight States (40.0%) included the option of closing the response without completing all activities.
For States with alternative response tracks, the decision to forward a case was most often stated as made by the worker with approval from the supervisor. A joint decision between the worker and the supervisor was stipulated in fewer States. No State’s policy enabled a worker to decide to forward a case on an alternative track without supervisor involvement. (See table 5–G.)
Ten States (50.0%) stipulated that decisions were made by the worker with supervisor approval; and
Seven States (35.0%) stipulated that decisions were made jointly by the worker and the supervisor in the majority of cases.
Compared to the investigation function, the approaches that States have taken to implement alternative response tracks appear more diverse. Between one- and two-thirds of States showed some commonality in breadth of implementation, emphasized broad family support, and addressed decisionmaking and options for movement between tracks. (See table 5–1.) Contact with the family was addressed by more than 66 percent of States. The formalization of these approaches is still relatively new and may either converge or diverge as more States develop and adapt their policies. The existing variation may reflect that systems are adapting to meet local needs and resources.
Policy in Less Than 33% of States Addressed:
Policy in 33–66% of States Addressed:
Policy in More Than 66% of States Addressed:
Summary of Alternative Response Policies (Percentages based on 20 States)
Identify strengthening the family as a purpose
Identify prevent child abuse as a purpose
Involve law enforcement
Contact child victim during the assessment
Contact perpetrator during the assessment
Included family assessments and services
Identify child safety as purpose
Identify family support as a purpose
Include options of no further action, referring for voluntary services, option of petitioning for court action, option of closing without completing all actions
Decisions made by the worker with supervisor approval
Decisions made by workers and supervisors jointly
Contact family during the assessment
Type of Cases
Alternative Response Features (n=20)
Alaska has one site that does provide an alternative response.
Local (one pilot site)
Dual Track is the investigation of reports of harm by an independent nonprofit agency that were originally received by DFYS. These reports of harm were not investigated by DFYS due to high number of reports received in certain geographic locations (Mat-Su Valley) and limited staff and resources.
The Children’s Place is working with the DFYS to provide a modified approach for those families where a report of harm is initially determined to be a “Priority 3” or “low-risk.” The major goal is the safety and welfare of the child. Hopefully families will feel less threatened by a community-based agency offering assessment, thus more receptive to intervention.
“Priority 3” or “low-risk” (primarily reports of neglect): low-risk reports, includes inadequate food, shelter, and clothes, educational neglect, emotional amuse, mental injury, and drug and alcohol abuse by the parents.
Arizona reported that their Family Builders Program is not listed in CPS policy but has its own policy and procedures which are utilized by CPS and private providers to service families.
Low- or potential-risk child abuse and neglect reports are received by the statewide child abuse hotline. The Family Builders program process begins when selected reports are referred to a Family Builders program district coordinator. Coordinators conducts interview to determine if report should be investigated by CPS or referred to the family builders program for assessment and services.
Program was initiated because CPS was unable to respond to all of the child abuse reports. This response has a positive impact on the ability of the agency to respond to reports of maltreatment with 100% response to hotline calls during fiscal years 1999, 2000, and 2001.
Physical abuse, low risk: Parent, guardian, or custodian fears, or threatens to harm a child if no intervention is received.
Physical abuse, potential risk: Home environment stressors place child at risk of physical abuse, which may include domestic violence, mental illness, substance abuse, history of physical abuse with no current injury, etc. Neglect, low risk or potential of neglect: Delay in medical treatment, child under 9 left alone, potentially hazardous home environment, chronic lack of food, etc. Emotional abuse or risk: Caregiver behavior that is likely to have debasement effect.
§2107.1-7 defines policy regarding the Early Intervention and Preventive Services.
Early Intervention and Preventive Services, which are a voluntary family support and prevention program available to screened out CPS referrals, unsubstantiated closed CPS cases, and substantiated closed CPS cases.
Early Intervention and Preventive services is to provide voluntary help to families in need of brief intervention before they are in need of CPS. These services are provided to support families who have some indications of problematic family functioning that are not of a CPS nature, or where the risk of future maltreatment is assessed as “low.” The intent is for the family to participate voluntarily in community resources that can meet their needs, with the hope of preventing child maltreatment and the need for CPS intervention.
Cases that are screened-out for CPS investigation, unsubstantiated and closed, substantiated and closed or reassessed as low-risk and closed, are eligible to receive Early Intervention and Preventive Services for up to 10 visits per family, not to exceed $350 per case. §2105.21 states: Discuss with the family why a case closure decision is made and how family members contributed toward reaching this closure decision. Prior to case closure, determine whether there are available early intervention or other preventive services to help the family with the transition from active CPS involvement to self-reliance. Make referrals as needed, and document these actions. The case may be held open, if necessary, for an additional 30 days to confirm that the family has followed through with referrals.
Other (more of a dispersed implementation, but is allowed by policy)
Service needs include request for information or request for services, which are not of an emergent nature. There are no safety issues present; safety issues indicate a risk of harm or a life-threatening situation. Indicates immediate needs, which left unmet, may result in physical harm or loss of life. Cases not within FACS mandates are referred to other agencies or screened out. If the case is within FACS mandates, services are provided.
Determine and facilitate appropriate service response and respond to referent’s concerns. All residents shall be entitled to receive, upon request or referral, accurate and current inform about services for children and families provided by the department. They may be referred to other appropriate public or private services that are available in the community and a screening will be conducted to determine services needed and safety issues that can be addressed through Family and Children’s Services.
Services needed that are not within FACS mandates are referred to appropriate community service providers. Safety issues that are not within FACS mandates are immediately referred to appropriate agency or community resource.
Family-based assessments nonabuse and neglect reports
Service oriented response with out assigning blame. To provide services to at risk children and families to help prevent an out-of-home placement or abuse and neglect.
Nonabuse and neglect cases
Resource Linkage Track: Referrals which do not meet criteria as defined in KAR 1:330: worker links caller to a community resource which may assist the caller in meeting the needs of the family.
Law Enforcement Track: For noncaretaker cases referred; worker can provide assistance, such as interviews of children and referrals to community resources.
FINSA Track: Supervisor, designee uses the Level of Risk Matrix; cases must be low risk. Emphasis is on partnering with the family and community to establish a community network, family support system to meet the needs of the family and prevent future incidents.
Investigation Track: For all moderate and high-risk referrals as determined by FSOS or designee and use of the Level of a Risk Matrix. All sexual abuse and nonfamilial referrals meet the criteria for the investigation track. Emphasis is on obtaining evidentiary information to supports disposition. In some cases the finding may be unable to locate.
The emphasis is on partnering with the family and community in order to establish a community network, family support system to meet the assessed needs of the family in a comprehensive manner and prevent future abuse or neglect incidents.
The referrals determined to be low risk included in this track by supervisor or designee, by use of the Level of Risk Matrix. This track is to be utilized for cases that include: dependency and low risk of physical abuse or neglect referrals.
The State is running a pilot assessment program in two parishes. The program has written procedures.
The pilot effort in one parish is being conducted by departmental staff, and the work in the second parish is being conducted by a contractor.
In two parishes, low-risk cases that do not involve domestic violence are referred to pilot programs for assessment rather than investigation. Staff engage families in assessment of strengths/needs and provide or refer them to early intervention services to prevent future maltreatment.
Community Intervention Program (contract agencies)
To ensure that all appropriate reports to the department are seen.
Low- to moderate- severity cases.
A strength-based, community-oriented approach to address child maltreatment reports that do not meet the requirements for an investigative response.
Strength-based family assessment that focuses on parent engagement, child safety, and the provision of supportive services.
Cases that do not involve substantial child endangerment. These exclude harm, sexual abuse, abandonment, substantial neglect, murder, manslaughter; assault; solicitation, inducement or promotion of prostitution; malicious punishment or endangerment of a child.
Assessments are carefully screened reports of suspected maltreatment. They are reports of mild, moderate, or first time, noncriminal allegations.
Families coming to the attention of the DFS have different intervention needs and require flexible responses from the Division and the community in order to protect children and meet the needs of the family.
Mild, moderate, or first-time noncriminal reports of physical abuse or neglect.
Mild or moderate reports of emotional maltreatment.
Educational neglect reports.
It includes the provision of: psychological services, economic assistance, employment preparation, housing and transportation services, daycare, and substance abuse rehabilitation services (Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Abuse).
The agency shall make available, either through its own resources, by purchase, or by referral to another agency, a full range of services designed to prevent placement.
NRS 432B.320 allows the Division to waive a full investigation of a report of child abuse or neglect made by another agency or person if that person or other agency who made the report can provide services to meet the needs of the child and the family, and they agree to do so, and the person or agency agrees in writing to report periodically on the child and to report immediately any threat or harm to the child's welfare. Under the following circumstances a full investigation may not be required: the district office manager approves the waiving of a full investigation, a counseling agency or a counselor makes the child abuse or neglect report, a Central Registry check does not find any prior substantiated incidents, the allegations do not indicate the child has been sexually abused or severely physically abused or neglected, the counselor or agency can provided needed services to prevent further abuse and is willing to do so, the counselor is willing to provide the Division written reports on family functioning, the counselor or agency agrees to immediately report to the Division any threat of harm to the child, and the Division's social worker will supervise the services provided by the counselor or agency for at least 3 months.
Intended to encourage families to participate in addressing safety concerns. Mainly to determine level of service for family, also to provide more family input rather than establishing a fact finding process.
Reports of abuse or neglect that do not constitute a serious or immediate threat to the child’s health or safety.
Services to prevent the potential for harm to a child that meets one of the following conditions: improper parental care or control, subsistence, education, or other care or control necessary for his physical, mental, or emotional health, or morals; placed for care or adoption (e.g., abandoned by his parents); habitually and without justification truant from school; has committed an act of habitual disobedience or ungovernable and found to be in need of care, treatment, and supervision; under 10 years of age and has committed a delinquent act; formerly adjudicated dependent under section 5341 of the Juvenile Act and is under the jurisdiction of the court.
Protect children and assist parents to recognize and remedy conditions harmful to their children. Each county agency is responsible for administering protective services for children consistent with these objectives: keep children safely in their own homes, when possible; prevent abuse, neglect and exploitation of children; overcome problems that could result in dependency; provide temporary, substitute placement; safely reunite children with families, if possible, provide permanency for children who cannot be returned home; provide services and care ordered by the court for adjudicated children.
See track definition.
Investigation or assessment. Use investigation for referrals involving a criminal nature and where there is risk to the child.
Families are best assisted by an approach that voluntarily engages families to accept offers of help. Purpose is to identify the strengths and needs of whole family.
Noncriminal and cases with less risk.
Other (pilot in county)
Assess the needs and strengths of families, particularly for neglect cases.
Not defined – might be physical or neglect cases, and some custody cases.
2000 General Assembly enacted legislation requiring a statewide implementation of a differential response system by July 2003. Two major thrusts: “add an additional, more flexible, response to families,” and “enhance collaboration with formal and informal resources for the most effective services provision.”
Other (pilot) (Statewide, May 2002)
The Family Assessment track is designed to provide a basis for a child safety plan and a family service plan to remedy or prevent child abuse or neglect. It is predicated on the ability of the agency to work with the family and community resources to develop strategies to ameliorate factors associated with abuse or neglect, if these factors are found to be present in the family. It is also based on the premise that the most serious or injurious allegations will be handled in the investigative track.
Same as track definition
Cases not considered: sexual abuse, child fatality, abuse or neglect resulting in serious injury, child taken into custody by the local DSS, cases involving a caretaker at daycare centers, family day homes, private or public schools, hospitals or any institutions, and medical neglect or disabled infant with life threatening condition.
Policy 60 allows assessment for these types of cases. State does not regard this as a dual track but more like additional response. Used infrequently.
Division is authorized to intervene in families when child abuse or neglect is not alleged, but a child may still be at risk.
Provide assessment services
Parental behavior poses serious threat to health and safety of child; parents fail to enroll child in school; child is habitually truant; parents’ lack of control over child under the age of 16.
Other – select counties
Public health nurses in several counties and contractors in other.
To prevent family from potentially being re-referred.
Low risk - no physical or sexual abuse cases.
Other – 5 counties
Three investigation tracks: Track A: Full service (assessment & evaluation by CPS worker for most severe indicators) Track B: Safety check by CPS worker Track C: Diversionary track –referral to community agency for response (low-risk cases). Also has family assessment and treatment.
To better identify family’s needs and more appropriate response and to maximize staff resources for more severe cases.
No safety concern identified at intake, low risk, and child is over the age of 4.
Investigation Track: Determines if abuse or neglect took place and provides interventions designed to stop abuse.
Prevention Track: For case with no allegations of abuse or neglect, but identified risk factors that indicate the need for services to prevent abuse or neglect.
Assessment Track: Evaluates family strengths and needs. Assessment services determine whether there are safety issues, and provides services to increase their ability to resolve foreseeable risks to the child.
To provide flexible response to reports, to focus on family strengths and community resources, to be less punitive, to be more helpful, and maximize staff resources for more severe cases.
Prevention cases, and reports alleging a CPS concern that does not involve a major injury, child fatality, sexual abuse, criminal charges, and cases in which children are in imminent danger and need to be removed from the home.
Role of Other Agencies
Table 5-A: Continued
One agency providing Dual Track services. The DFYS supervisor screens reports received by the Mat-Su office. Priority 3 or “workload adjusted” (not investigated) are assigned to the Dual Track program. The Children’s Place Family Assessment Workers (FAWs).
Assessment tool used was developed in conjunction with Children’s Place and DFYS staff.
Initial contact with the family is made by the FAW within 48 hours of receiving. Contact is made by phone or letter to request face-to-face meeting to begin an assessment process. When a family refuses services, cannot be located, or elects at any time during the service period not to participate, the case summary form is sent back to DFYS within 48 hours. Contact should occur within 7 days.
Report is triaged by CPS and determined appropriate for the Family Builders Program. Community-based providers are required to form a continuum of services for families through written agreements with community agencies, organizations and faith-based agencies.
Family Builders providers must complete a 14-point family centered assessment with the family during intake. They also complete a family risk scale at intake and closure.
Providers must respond to the family within 48 hours, excluding weekends and holidays, after receipt of the report from CPS. Family Builders program services are voluntary.
To provide service.
They are used individually at the county level, and are specified in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the county and community provider(s). No statewide assessment tool is used.
See standardized assessment.
They vary from county to county and are spelled out in the MOU. Up to 12 months of service can be provided, sometimes less frequent. Contacts are individually determined by the county and based on case needs.
Casey Family Program, Boise Division, is utilized in cases where reunification is not anticipated or possible. Casey provides direct case management and the department has final responsibility for decisionmaking. Booth Memorial Home for unwed mothers under the age of 21 provided outpatient and residential services.
The department’s risk and statewide risk assessment and multidisciplinary team protocols
Mandatory interviews of immediate family in every case may require law enforcement participation. Contact with at least one collateral familiar with the circumstance of the children.
None unless referred to community agency.
The worker shall complete the Continuous Quality Assessment (CQA) on all referrals accepted for investigation or Family In Need of Services Assessment. Each TWIST screen shall be completed.
Family, perpetrator, and collaterals, as appropriate.
To assess, provide case management and direct services, to advocate for services and make referrals. All services are voluntary.
Family assessment that covers specified core areas such as abuse and neglect, the conditions in the home, medical records, social history, parental functioning. Other assessments may be added.
Must make in-person contact with the family within 7 days.
Intake screening tool to determine whether case should be referred to alternative response or traditional investigation. Alternative response requires a safety assessment, risk assessment, and identification of the family’s strengths and needs.
Initiate person to person contact within 72 hours to begin the assessment; have a face to face meeting with all family members in the early stages of the assessment; and assessment completed within 30 days.
Workers may request law enforcement to accompany them when making an initial visit for a family assessment without switching the report to the investigation track.
Family assessment packet
Family, child, collateral (minimum of one), and school district liaison for all reports received when the alleged victim is enrolled in the school district.
In all cases of sexual abuse or serious physical abuse, a medical exam must be completed within 72 hours of the report.
Collateral: The Division shall obtain consultation from experts to verify the nature, extent, and cause of injury or other damage to the child. This shall also be done to determine whether an injury or damage has resulted or could result from the actions or failure to act on the part of the person responsible for the child. Parent: Frequently initial contacts are unannounced visit, but workers review risk factors prior to contact. When the report does not indicate the child is at high risk, the worker may leave a business card if parent is not home. If after two attempts and the worker is still unsuccessful, a letter is sent requesting contact. If there is still no response, worker re-contacts the reporter to determine if the situation remains the same. If there is continued risk of harm to the child, the worker increases the level of effort to contact parent.
Alternate service providers at end of assessment process.
Child abuse and neglect family strengths and needs assessment
Professional consultation, if appropriate.
Interviews are required with alleged victims, sibling, person responsible for child, and alleged perpetrator.
Same as CPS
Same as CPS
Same as CPS
Contacts with the parent and the child shall occur by a county agency worker or purchase of service agent at least once a week until the case is no longer designated as high risk, and the child remains in or returns home; once a month for 6 months or case closure when the child is either: placed out of the home of setting or longer at a high risk.
Assessment tool CP598
Police for investigation and Health Department for support and collaborative information.
CPS risk assessment
Local hospital and community based multi-disciplinary teams
Initial safety assessment checklist
Must conduct a family assessment and contact subject of the report and the family of the child. Complete in 45 days.
Public health nurses, Lutheran social services, neighborhood centers, hospital social workers
Provide service needs assessment and short-term services.
Track A: Risk assessment and safety evaluation Track B: Safety evaluation only Track C: Service needs assessment
Multidisciplinary teams, investigation, and treatment. Meets monthly and each case has own protocol.
All family members (children and maltreating parents), witnesses, anyone with information relevant to case
Investigations are teamed with law enforcement. Other community agencies are important in the family assessment process.
Safety and Family Strengths Assessment
Child(ren) and family within 7 calendar days
State-Administered, Strong County Discretion
Scope of Implementation (n=20)
Idaho=other (dispersed implementation)
West Virginia=other (five counties)
Virginia=other (pilot) (statewide: May 2002)
Louisiana=pilot in two parishes
Utah=other (pilot in one county)
Washington=other (select counties)
Conduct initial investigation
Provide Family Assessment
Early Intervention and Preventive Services
Types of Families
Alternative Response Goals (n=20)
Low or potential risk
Voluntary family support
No safety issues, cases not within mandate
Nonabuse and neglect families
Families not meeting criteria and low risk
Low risk without domestic violence issues
Low to moderate severity
Families in which neglect and abuse reports do not allege substantial child endangerment