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February 2021Vol. 22, No. 2New Primer From Child Welfare Information Gateway Focuses on Differential Response

Child Welfare Information Gateway, a service of the Children's Bureau, released a new primer for child welfare professionals that focuses on differential response (DR). DR refers to the use of multiple pathways when responding to child maltreatment reports. These responses include the investigation response, which is the traditional response to families found to be at high risk for maltreatment, and alternative response, which is also known as an assessment response and is for families with low to moderate risk for maltreatment. When faced with a screened-in report of maltreatment, child welfare workers employing DR assess a family's needs and connect them with services that will strengthen their ability to safely care for their children. DR has been shown to reduce the number of children entering foster care and decrease recurring involvement with the child welfare system.

This primer discusses the following considerations for implementing DR:

  • Determine the number of pathways. Although investigation response and alternative response are the two main pathways associated with DR, some states have created pathways for screened-out reports as well. These include enlisting community supports and services to help strengthen families and help them overcome challenges to their well-being.
  • Determine the criteria for assigning pathways. States use varying criteria for assigning pathways based on immediate safety concerns, risks, the nature and type of the maltreatment, prior reports of abuse or neglect, the victim's age and relationship to the alleged perpetrator, reports of domestic violence and/or substance use, and other factors.
  • Determine who decides which pathway to use. Response pathways are typically decided immediately after a report of maltreatment is screened in. In some states, this decision can be made by a hotline operator, caseworker, child welfare supervisor, or a group designated to make the assessment.
  • Determine the process and timeframe.
  • Determine whether the case requires ongoing child welfare involvement and service provision.
  • Determine the funding source(s) for these services.

The primer also discusses three title IV-E child welfare waiver demonstration projects (Arkansas, Nebraska, and Washington) that implemented DR and their key findings, including the following:

  • Reduced recurring involvement with child protective services
  • Lowered rates of removals and out-of-home placements
  • Improved educational outcomes and access to transportation and material necessities

To learn more about DR, read Differential Response: A Primer for Child Welfare Professionals.