National Study of Child Protective Services Systems and Reform Efforts. Review of State CPS Policy. Summary


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:
Table 5–1:
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
  • Statewide implementation
  • 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


State Policy Implementation Track Definition Purpose Type of Cases
Table 5–A:
Alternative Response Features (n=20)
AK 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.
AZ 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. 3 counties 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.
GA §2107.1-7 defines policy regarding the Early Intervention and Preventive Services. Statewide 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.
ID   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.
KS   Statewide 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
KY   Statewide 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.
LA 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.  
ME   Statewide Community Intervention Program (contract agencies) To ensure that all appropriate reports to the department are seen. Low- to moderate- severity cases.
MN   Local 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.
MO   Statewide 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.
NV   Local 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.
OK   Statewide Assessment 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.
PA   Statewide 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.
SD Investigation or assessment. Use investigation for referrals involving a criminal nature and where there is risk to the child. Statewide   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.
UT   Other (pilot in county) Family assessment Assess the needs and strengths of families, particularly for neglect cases. Not defined – might be physical or neglect cases, and some custody cases.
VA 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.
VT 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. Statewide 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.
WA   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.
WV   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.
WY   Statewide 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.


State Role of Other Agencies Standardized Assessment Specialize Assessment Contact Requirement
Table 5-A: Continued
AK 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.
AZ 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.
GA 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.
ID 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 Multidisciplinary team 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.
KS None unless referred to community agency. Family-based assessment Family-based assessment Family only
KY   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.
ME 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.
MN   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.
MO 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.
NV     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.
OK 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.
PA 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.
SD   Assessment tool CP598    
UT Police for investigation and Health Department for support and collaborative information.   CPS risk assessment  
VA Local hospital and community based multi-disciplinary teams Initial safety assessment checklist Not specified Must conduct a family assessment and contact subject of the report and the family of the child. Complete in 45 days.
WA Public health nurses, Lutheran social services, neighborhood centers, hospital social workers      
WV 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
WY 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 State-Supervised, County-Administered State-Administered, Strong County Discretion
Table 5–B:
Scope of Implementation (n=20)
Alaska=one location Georgia=statewide Missouri=statewide
Arizona=3 counties Minnesota=local Oklahoma=statewide
Idaho=other (dispersed implementation) Nevada=local Vermont=statewide
Kansas=statewide Pennsylvania=statewide West Virginia=other (five counties)
Kentucky=statewide Virginia=other (pilot) (statewide: May 2002)  
Louisiana=pilot in two parishes    
South Dakota=statewide    
Utah=other (pilot in one county)    
Washington=other (select counties)    


State Conduct initial investigation Provide Family Assessment Service Provision Early Intervention and Preventive Services Types of Families
Table 5–C:
Alternative Response Goals (n=20)
AK X   X   Low risk
AZ X X X   Low or potential risk
GA       X Voluntary family support
ID   X X X No safety issues, cases not within mandate
KS   X     Nonabuse and neglect families
KY   X X X Families not meeting criteria and low risk
LA   X X X Low risk without domestic violence issues
ME X X     Low to moderate severity
MN   X X   Families in which neglect and abuse reports do not allege substantial child endangerment
MO     X   Middle, moderate, or first-time noncriminal abuse, neglect, emotional, educational neglect reports
NV     X   Waiver of full investigation for reports made by agencies and persons, if they provide report and services; no prior substantiated sexual or severe abuse findings
OK   X X   Families with no serious or immediate health or safety threats
PA       X  
SD   X X   Noncriminal and cases with less risk; voluntarily engage families
UT   X   X Not defined-might be physical or neglect, some custody cases
VA X X X   Low risk and no serious injury cases
VT   X     Nonchild abuse or neglect cases, parent lacks control, truant cases
WA       X Low risk and no physical or sexual abuse cases
WV   X X   No safety concerns, low risk, child over the age of 4 years
WY   X X X Prevention case and reports alleging CPS not involving major injury, criminal charges, imminent danger, or sexual abuse


State Family Preservation Child Safety Strengthen Families Prevent Abuse and Neglect Other
Table 5–D:
Purpose of Alternative Response (n=20)
AK X X      
AZ X        
GA   X   X  
ID   X      
KS X        
KY   X      
LA X        
ME   X      
MN   X X X Referrals to service
MO         Ensure services get to families
NV         Not specified
OK   X      
PA X   X X  
SD         Not specified
UT   X X    
VA X X X X  
VT         Not specified
WA X        
WV   X      
WY   X      


State Role of Other Agencies Assessment Special Assessment Contacts
Table 5–E:
Role of Other Agencies and Contacts (n=20)
AK Receive reports, provide services Yes   Family
AZ Provide services Yes – family assessment, family risk scale   Family
GA Provide services Yes – used at county level (no statewide assessment) Yes – used at county level (no statewide assessment) Individually determined by county
ID Case management, provide services Yes – Department’s and statewide risk assessment, multidisciplinary team protocol Yes - Multidisciplinary team Family, collateral
KS None unless referred Yes – family assessment Yes – family based assessment Family
KY   Yes – continuous quality assessment   Family, perpetrator, collateral
LA Contact families, do assessments, provide agency-based services and referrals to community-based services. Yes    
ME Assess, case management, provide services, advocate, refer Yes – family assessment   Family
MN   Yes – safety, risk, family assessments   Family
MO Law enforcement accompaniment Yes – family assessment   Family, child, collateral, school district liaison (if victim enrolled)
NV     Yes – medical assessment (serious physical abuse, sexual abuse) Collateral, parent
OK Provide service Yes – family assessment Yes – professional consultation Alleged victim, siblings, parent, guardian, alleged perpetrator
PA Same as CPS Same as CPS Same as CPS Parent, child
SD   Yes – “CP598”    
UT Investigation, support, and information   Yes – risk assessment  
VA Hospital, multidisciplinary team Yes – safety assessment   Subject of report, family
WA Nurses, community centers, hospital social worker      
WV Service needs assessment, provide services Yes – risk, safety, service needs assessments Yes – multidisciplinary team, investigation, treatment Family, witnesses, anyone with information
WY Investigation, assessment Yes – safety and family assessments   Children, family


State Completed Response, Referred For Voluntary Services Completed Response, Petitioned the Court to Order Mandatory Services Completed With no Further Action Did Not Complete Other CPS Response, Returned to Investigation Unit Closed Without Being Completed Other
Table 5–F:
Alternative Response—Results (n=20)
AK X   X X X  
AZ           X
KS X X X X    
KY X X X     X
ME X   X X X  
MN X X X X    
MO           X
OK X   X X    
SD X   X X X  
UT           X
VA X X X   X  
VT   X X X    
WA X   X X X  
WV X X X X X  
a GA: Early intervention is 100% voluntary. If the services are offered and the family refuses there is no further action. The family does not become a CPS case and there is no record in the PSDS.


State Worker Only Supervisor Only Worker Decides and Supervisor Approves Joint Worker and Supervisor Not Specified Other
Table 5–G:
Alternative Response—Who Decides to Forward the Case? (n=20)
AK       X-all    
AZ           X-CPS first decision then FB coordinator
GA     X-all      
ID     X-all      
KS   X-all        
KY     X-rare X-majority    
ME     X-all      
MN     X X    
MO     X      
NV         X  
OK     X-all      
PA     X X-most joint    
SD     X-all assessment      
UT     X X    
VA         X  
VT       X-all    
WA           X
WV       X-all    

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