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April 2012Vol. 13, No. 3Differential Response Pilot Programs

The experiences of two States, Missouri and Minnesota, in implementing differential response systems are presented in a new publication, Lessons From the Beginning of Differential Response: Why It Works and When It Doesn't. A system of differential response provides for alternatives to the traditional investigation that generally follows a report of suspected child abuse or neglect. The alternative response, in cases that do not involve criminal behavior or imminent danger to a child, is to conduct a family assessment.

In this monograph, author Gary Siegel describes the family assessment process and the challenges that each State encountered in implementing differential response. The assessment differs from an investigation in its focus and purpose in that there is less emphasis on confirming the report of maltreatment and more on determining the needs of the family. Missouri's legislation required that the same funding mechanisms remain in place with no increases. Collaboration between child protective services (CPS) and existing community support systems was vital. Minnesota's challenges were different and involved jurisdictional issues. Minnesota's county-administered CPS system required consent from and collaboration with participating counties to ensure successful implementation.

Evaluations  of pilot programs in both States showed generally positive outcomes. Families in particular preferred the assessment approach as it provided them with the means to improve their situations in a nonthreatening, nonadversarial way. In Missouri in particular, the analysis showed that families most helped were those who lived in poverty—the family assessment approach led to an increase in the provision of basic services to the families that would have received little or no attention from workers in the traditional approach.

Overall, findings from the evaluations of these pilot programs indicate that the core features of differential response—increased services and positive family engagement—had positive effects and led to improved outcomes for families and children.

Lessons From the Beginning of Differential Response: Why It Works and When It Doesn't was published by the Institute of Applied Research of St. Louis, MO, and is available on its website:
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