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September 2013Vol. 14, No. 7Differential Response and Disparities in Child Welfare

Can the use of differential response in child protection help reduce the disproportional representation of certain racial/ethnic groups in the child welfare system? A new issue brief from the National Quality Improvement Center on Differential Response in Child Protective Services (QIC-DR) explores the intersection between differential response and disproportionality.

It is well documented that African-American and American Indian/Alaskan Native children are more likely than their White peers to be substantiated for child abuse and neglect and placed in out-of-home care. As discussed in the issue brief, the factors that contribute to racial disparities vary by location but often are related to poverty, inadequate service delivery for families of color, and institutional and systemic biases.

The QIC-DR issue brief examines how these contributing factors may be addressed by a differential response system. In a differential response multiple-track approach, low- and moderate-risk cases receive a family assessment that typically focuses on family strengths and needs and the provision of individualized services. Compared to families receiving a traditional investigative response, families on a family assessment pathway have been reported to receive more and quicker services, particularly concrete goods that can potentially aid families of color experiencing poverty.

The publication highlights practice examples in three jurisdictions that are working to address disparities through differential response implementation—Franklin County, Ohio; a consortium of Colorado counties; and the State of Missouri. While initial indications are promising, more research is called for to fully understand the potential of differential response in achieving more equitable outcomes.

Disparities in Child Welfare: Considering the Implementation of Differential Response, by Heather Allan and Michelle Howard, is available from the QIC-DR website: (1 MB)