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February 2010Vol. 11, No. 1Nevada's Progress Implementing Differential Response

Over the past 3 years, the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has taken great strides to develop a differential response (DR) model for screening and investigating reports of child maltreatment. The model was first implemented in February 2007 as a pilot project in 1 Nevada county and has now expanded to 10 counties serving over 97 percent of the State's population. The Institute of Applied Research (IAR) is evaluating the project to determine the effects of DR on outcomes for children and families, to study its impact on the broader State child protection system, and to analyze cost effectiveness.

Nevada's DR model is a unique public-private partnership among State/county child welfare agencies and community family resource centers (FRCs). Under the DR model, a county child protective services (CPS) agency refers child maltreatment reports to an FRC for assessment when the report is considered priority 3 according to the State's screening system and also meets the following criteria: The child is age 6 or older, the family has not had a substantiated report in the past 3 years, and the family has not previously had a child in foster care. When a report is referred, the FRC is responsible for conducting a family assessment, providing ongoing services as needed, and determining case closure. When necessary, the FRC returns the case to CPS for a traditional investigation. The DR pilot project originally included only reports of child neglect, but in June 2009 the model was expanded to include any priority 3 reports appropriate for DR.

The Nevada Differential Response Pilot Project: Interim Evaluation Report was published by IAR in November 2008 to present trends, challenges, and accomplishments based on early data and initial staff interviews and family surveys. Among the findings:

  • 563 reports were referred for DR in the initial pilot period (February 2007 to September 2008).
  • Two-thirds of DR cases received some kind of services, such as emergency food services, assistance with utilities or rent, and budgeting and financial support.
  • FRC staff reported high levels of satisfaction and felt they were able to intervene effectively using the DR model.
  • Some CPS staff reported difficulty understanding the essential differences between DR and traditional investigations.
  • A majority of families served under the DR model felt better able to care for their children and deal with issues in their lives.
  • Sixty-one percent of DR cases have been closed, with only a small number returned to the county child welfare agency for investigation.

The Interim Evaluation Report made several policy and systemic recommendations to further improve the State's DR model, including expanding eligibility to families with very young children and chronic problems, increasing the system's capacity to provide family assessment, and training CPS staff to have more direct DR responsibilities.

A brief update published by the Nevada DHHS in September 2009 reported on the expansion of the DR model to serve the majority of Nevada residents, resulting in 1,489 families being assessed by an FRC. To support the improvement and expansion of the DR model, the State continues to offer DR trainings to administrative, supervisory, and frontline staff. A steering committee also meets quarterly to address policy and practice issues as they arise and to guide program modifications as the model continues expanding across the State.

Download the Interim Evaluation Report, by Gary L. Siegel, L. Anthony Loman, Jerome Cline, Christine Shannon, and Lina Sapokaite, on the IAR website: (737 KB)

The September 2009 update on the DR model is available on the DHHS website: (82 KB)