Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock () or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

November 2008Vol. 9, No. 9Implementing Differential Response

Many child welfare agencies use differential response (DR) as a strategy for addressing child maltreatment in cases deemed to carry low to moderate risk for endangering a child. DR allows an agency to partner with a family and work to strengthen and support the family so that the child can remain in the home while the parents address issues that led to the maltreatment report. This prevents further involvement in the child welfare system, removal of the child, and disruption in the child's home, school, and community life.

A recent issue of American Humane's Protecting Children focuses on this special topic: "Exploring Differential Response: One Pathway Toward Reforming Child Welfare." Several of the articles describe results from specific programs:

  • "The Parent Support Outreach Program: Minnesota's Early Intervention Track" describes the use of the Parent Support Outreach Program (PSOP) with families with young children who have been reported for maltreatment but screened out. Pilot counties receive funding to offer the voluntary PSOP to these families, who then receive services and referrals (e.g., counseling, job training). An early evaluation showed that two-thirds of surveyed families were better able to care for their children after participating in the PSOP.
  • "Implementation of California's Differential Response Model in Small Counties" reports on the use of DR in 11 rural counties. Results thus far indicate improvement in the counties' methods of case identification, an increase in formalized partnerships between child welfare agencies and other organizations, and a shift to preventive services. Challenges include confidentiality issues and geographic isolation in these rural communities.
  • "Development and Field Testing of a Family Assessment Scale for Use in Child Welfare Practice Settings Utilizing Differential Response" presents results from a study using the North Carolina Family Assessment Scale for General Services in a county using a DR services model with low- to moderate-risk families. The instrument exhibited good psychometric properties and may be useful in helping workers assess families and construct service plans in the DR context.

These and other articles are available in Protecting Children, Volume 23, Numbers 1 & 2, 2008, and are downloadable from the American Humane website:

Related Item

The Children's Bureau recently awarded funding to American Humane to create the Quality Improvement Center on Differential Response in Child Protective Services. The purpose of this 5-year project is to generate knowledge on effective practice models of differential response in child protective systems and support the infrastructure needed at the State and local levels to improve child welfare outcomes for children and their families referred for suspected maltreatment.