Differential Response


  • Disparities in Child Welfare: Considering the Implementation of Differential Response
    Published by the National Quality Improvement Center on Differential Response in Child Protective Services (QIC-DR), this issue brief seeks to explore the ways in which a differential response-organized Child Protection System (CPS) might help to mitigate disparate outcomes in child welfare while highlighting current gaps in knowledge and indicating areas for further research.  It is built upon discussions started at the QIC-DR sponsored Information Summit on Disproportionality in March 2009 and describes the relevant issues related to disproportionality and disparities in current child welfare practice.  This issue brief is the third in a series and was funded by a grant of the Children’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as part of the QIC-DR.  This resource was authored by Heather Allan, MSW, and Michelle Howard, MS, LPC. (2013)

  • Differential Response to Reports of Child Abuse and Neglect
    This issue brief from Child Welfare Information Gateway provides an overview of differential response and highlights lessons learned through research and experience. The brief was written primarily for child welfare administrators and policymakers, particularly those who may be considering implementation or expansion of differential response. It also may be useful to CPS caseworkers, community partners who work with vulnerable children and families, and others interested in strategies to improve child protection. (2008)

  • National Study on Differential Response in Child Welfare
    This American Humane Association and Child Welfare League of America study provides knowledge from practice, philosophical, policy, and research perspectives on differential response. The resource discusses the use of differential response with varying case characteristics, evaluative findings, community- and state-specific lessons surrounding implementation, and the practice, policy, and data implications of moving forward with integrating this approach in CPS. (2006)
  • Differential Response in Child Protective Services: A Literature Review
    The goal of this review from the National Quality Improvement Center on Differential Response in Child Protective Services is to provide a synthesis of the existing literature regarding differential response. Articles, reports, book chapters, and other documents that present descriptive and evaluative information on child welfare policies, models, structures, protocols, and practices related to differential response were assembled from relevant public and organizational websites, researchers and practitioners in the field, and the authors themselves, as appropriate. (2009)
  • Implementing Differential Response: Assessment of Community Organizations’ Capacity and Interest
    This report from The SPHERE Institute addresses two main questions: What organizational characteristics of nonprofit community-based social service providers are associated with their capacity and willingness to participate in the Differential Response service network? And, what resources are necessary to support implementation of Differential Response? This report answers these questions by presenting the results of a questionnaire and survey sent to community organizations in San Mateo County to assess their service capacity and interest in participating in the Differential Response network, and analyzing these results in terms of their organizational characteristics. In conclusion, it presents recommendations on which types of organizations are most prepared to implement Differential Response. (2006)


  • Differential Response and Alternative Response in Diverse Communities: An Empirically Based Curriculum
    The California Social Work Education Center (CalSWEC) at the University of California at Berkeley developed this curriculum, intended for title IV-E graduate social work education programs and for the continuing education of child welfare agency staff. Students and staff learn about problems with the traditional child protective services (CPS) screening and referral process and the potential benefits of differential response. In California, differential response offers a more tailored response for families reported to CPS, especially those families who would be screened out but might benefit from community and/or child welfare services. The CalSWEC curriculum describes the application of this approach in Contra Costa and Alameda counties and outlines the implications for policy and practice. The goals and objectives of the curriculum are based on the CalSWEC Curriculum Competencies for Public Welfare, and each module includes an instructional guide and questions for classroom discussion. (2009)

Resources from the States

  • California:
    Differential Response in California
    California’s child welfare system is undergoing a series of related reforms to improve outcomes for children and families. Among the most promising of the changes is an innovative change in how child welfare agencies respond to reports of child abuse and neglect – more than 500,000 reports each year in California. Known as Differential Response, this approach enables county child welfare agencies to respond in significantly broader and different ways to reports of child abuse and neglect. This resource details how and why differential response is being implemented. (2005)

  • New York:
    Differential Response in Child Protective Services in New York State Implementation, Initial Outcomes and Impacts of Pilot Project, Report to the Governor and Legislature.
    This report describes the results of an independent evaluation conducted by Office of Children and Family Services’ Bureau of Evaluation and Research, examining the effects of Family Assessment Response on improving family engagement and satisfaction, broadening community involvement in meeting family service needs, and reducing further penetration into the child welfare system. (January 2011)

Teleconferences, Webinars, and Webcasts

  • Understanding the Key Elements of a Successful Differential Response Approach: The Hawaii Experience (Archived NRCPFC Teleconference/Webinar)
    At the conclusion of the first CFSR, Hawaii was faced with the challenge of needing to bring about significant change in nearly every outcome and systemic factor. The leadership committed to a fundamental shift in CPS practice which used a safety decision making framework and engaged community partners to create a Differential Response approach. This presentation will describe the approach, the process of community engagement, and the outcomes achieved. The key elements which have made this approach successful include leadership, a systemic change framework, and a solid decision making structure which enables consistent decisions about which families are best served in a traditional CPS investigation and which are better served by a voluntary community response. The results of this fundamental practice change include huge reductions in disproportionate placement of Native Hawaiian children, overall reductions in out of home placements, and reductions in repeat maltreatment. The Hawaii experience has demonstrated that a solid, well-defined, and well-implemented practice framework can produce positive outcomes for children and families. Access the archived teleconference/webinar audio, PowerPoint presentation, and other materials. (December 2010)


  • National Quality Improvement Center on Differential Response in Child Protective Services (QIC-DR)
    In October 2008, the Children’s Bureau awarded a cooperative agreement to American Humane Association and its partners, Walter R. McDonald & Associates, Inc., and the Institute of Applied Research, to operate the QIC-DR. All three organizations have been pioneers in advancing knowledge about differential response nationally and within States, and are uniquely positioned to collaborate and complement each other’s experiences and networks. The American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law and the National Conference of State Legislatures are contributing their expertise to enhance the QIC’s project activities. The purposes of this project are to: Design and conduct evaluation, to rigorously study implementation, outcomes and cost impact of differential response in research and demonstration sites; Learn if differential response is an effective approach in CPS; Build cutting-edge, innovative and replicable knowledge about differential response, including guidance on best practices in differential response.
  • American Humane Association – Differential Response Initiative Traditionally, when a family comes to the attention of child protective services, an “investigation” occurs, which seeks to discover what did or didn’t happen and identify a perpetrator and a victim. In serious cases, this is the most appropriate approach. But in cases in which families are vulnerable and need support, they are more likely to see it if someone is on their side from the outset and not pointing fingers. That is the idea behind American Humane Association’s Differential Response initiative, which encourages child welfare professionals to work with families to assess their needs and build upon their strengths to keep children safely at home with their families. Visit the website to learn more about the initiative and its current projects, and to access professional resources including publications and webinars.


Last updated 1/30/14