For the purposes of the study, alternative response was defined as "a formal response of the 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, 20 States identified themselves as offering one or more alternatives to the traditional CPS investigation response; just over half of these States had implemented an alternative response statewide.
In general, alternative response options are intended to serve families with allegations of less severe maltreatment or lower risk of harm. States' policies often specifically disqualified certain types of cases from alternative response, including instances of significant physical injury, endangerment, or sexual abuse and cases that were criminal offenses.
Compared to the investigation function, the States' policies regarding alternative response tracks were quite diverse. State policies emphasized different (but not mutually exclusive) purposes including increased child safety, increased ability of CPS to respond, strengthening the family, and preventing child abuse and neglect. States also varied in their definitions of service options, decisionmaking roles, and the involvement of other agencies. The formalization of these approaches was relatively new.