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February 2010Vol. 11, No. 1Differential Response Models in Child Protective Services: Building a Greater Knowledge Base Through

Since the mid-1990s, States across the country have been implementing various models of differential or alternative response in child protective services (CPS). Studies have shown that implementing these models holds great promise for efforts to improve outcomes for children and their families. But the research base is limited. In order to increase its knowledge and determine whether or not differential response is an effective approach in CPS, the Children's Bureau awarded a 5-year cooperative agreement to American Humane Association and its partners, Walter R. McDonald & Associates, Inc., and the Institute of Applied Research to create the National Quality Improvement Center on Differential Response in Child Protective Services (QIC-DR).

The purposes of this project are to:

  1. Improve child welfare outcomes by implementing differential response and build cutting-edge, innovative, and replicable knowledge about differential response
  2. Enhance capacity at the local level to improve outcomes for children and families identified for suspected abuse or neglect
  3. Provide guidance on best practices in differential response

To achieve these purposes, the QIC-DR has identified its core research question: "Is differential response an effective approach in child protective services, and, if so, what are the specific elements that make it effective?" To answer this question through research and implementation, the QIC- DR recently selected three research and demonstration projects to support. The research and demonstration project sites include:

  • Colorado (a five-county consortium), including Araphahoe, Fremont, Garfield, Jefferson, and Larimer counties
  • State of Illinois
  • Ohio (a six-county consortium) including Clark, Champaign, Madison, Montgomery, Richland, and Summit counties

QIC-DR Resources/Products

Over the first project year, the QIC-DR, along with the additional partnership of the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law and the National Conference of State Legislatures, conducted a national comprehensive review and needs assessment. The needs assessment leveraged existing knowledge and documentation on differential response with a gap analysis, literature review, meta-evaluation, key informant interviews, focus groups, and informational summits with diverse audiences to inform the future work of the QIC-DR and the selected research and demonstration projects. The QIC-DR has posted findings and key products from the needs assessment on its website. Current products posted include:

  • Differential Response Literature Review
  • Searchable Annotated Differential Response Bibliography
  • Differential Response in Child Protective Services: A Legal Analysis
  • Online Survey of State Differential Response Policies and Practices: Findings Report

Please visit QIC-DR's website to read more about its work and the individual research and demonstration projects and to view a number of the products.

For more information on the QIC-DR, visit the website, or contact the QIC at

Many thanks for this article to Jean Nussbaum, who serves as co-Federal Project Officer, along with Catherine Nolan, for the QIC-DR.