Differential response is one of the alternative responses that have emerged as part of the child welfare larger movement. This movement strongly emphasizes on approaches that are strength based and family focused. The emergence of this alternative has been based on that there has been concern of the inability of the child maltreatment investigative response being cooperative and effective. Differential response has centrally been aimed ensuring implementation of child protection services (CPS) that can better be served through incorporation of collaborative and supportive approach, which does not involve stigma and constraints in the investigation (Hueber et al., 2009). This has resulted in re-designing of the child protective services in Florida State among other States to include various response approaches. This article comprehensively analyses this alternative response to investigation extended in Florida State to the child welfare agencies. The differential response in Florida is also compared with the State of Minnesota and North Carolina.
Differential response in Florida
Differential response was introduced in Florida after passing of a legislation that was aimed at ensuring that the responsiveness of the CPS was increased to various risk levels. Through reshaping of the ways through which it can be possible for the CPS to react to child maltreatment allegations, the approaches of differential response have been observed to increase the flexibility for the agencies together with their staff. This response has also been referred to as multi-track, dual track, or muljtiple responfse system (Loman, 2005). In Florida State, differential response is adopted based on three pathways through which it has been able to extend services to the families. The most important pathway is the non-investigative pathway perceived to divert away from the common investigative responses. The non-investigative response has also been referred to as the family assessment response or alternative response (Loman, 2005).
In the CPS systems whereby the differential system has been incorporated, it is only to those referrals that are characterized by severe mistreatment of the child that the investigative pathway has actually been restricted to. Generally, for those cases with an appearance of the judicial system potential involvement, this pathway is assigned. In the Florida State, the pathway of investigation requires the forensic evidence be partially collected for maltreatment allegations substantiation. Other cases have also been screened by the jurisdiction; for instance those involving certain disability in the children or institutional abuse in the pathway of investigation.
The identification of the non-investigative pathway is targeted to the cases originally identified as moderate risk to low risk. Mainly, the non-investigative pathway is aimed at ensuring that families in this State are engaged in the process of assessment to determine what is required for the welfare and safety of the children, followed by establishment of services through which these needs can be met. Actually, this has not been inclusive of making the formal decisions regarding whether there was finding of specific allegations or not. In addition, the caregivers of the family are initially not classified as criminals because there is no substantiation of any mistreatment.
Minnesota differential responses
Since the year 2001, Minnesota has developed a 20 county demonstration project for differential response. In comparison to other states, it is the state with an approach that is successful in promoting positive working relations. This is because in comparison to the investigative pathway, this non-investigative pathway enables many families to receive the more required services (Minnesota Department of Human Services, 2005). In addition, Minnesota has a unique demonstration due to its benefit from McKnoght foundation’s initial contribution. Through this contribution, the participating Counties in this State have been provided with the funds to enhance addressing of the preliminary service needs for the families that have been aided through utilization of the Non investigative pathway. This has simply meant that the child welfare budget for the County in this State has not been stretched.
In relation to the criteria and protocol of the assignment, one similarity between the state of Minnesota and Florida has been the decision based on whether the report needs to be screened in or out, which is made at the initial receipt point. In addition, a decision may be made by the intake worker to have the report screened together with recommendation of an investigation by the agency.
However, in relation to how the cases may be referred to the non-investigation pathway, the criteria adopted by Minnesota slightly defers with that of Florida. For instance, the local jurisdiction reporting entails the worker to make the preliminary risk and safety assessment together with deciding on the path of the case. In Minnesota, the differential response programs administered in the County have a high likelihood of using the formal risk and safety assessment instruments in comparison to the State administered agencies. However, the use of the assessment tools for domestic violence is less likely. This is however not the case in Florida jurisdiction where the reporter is basically exposed to various questions coupled with the agency records review in the effort to establish if the agency know the alleged child or victim. Of course just like it would be expected, there are various regional variation signs in the pathways assessment inside the jurisdiction.
The RED team is one of the protocols of pathway selection distinctively known to Minnesota Olmsted County. Through this approach, the initial decision is made by an experienced social worker on whether the report is in serious need of CPS response. After the report has been screened as meeting the statutory inception for intervention by the public, the RED team takes over. This team is consistent of the representatives from various child welfare disciplines that are inclusive of social workers, investigation, assessment and the ongoing intercession.
North Carolina differential responses
In this State, various instruments of assessment are incorporated in investigation and non-investigation pathways. When responding to the worker-identified need for an appropriate assessment tool, an existing North Carolina Scale of Family Assessment has been adapted. This is used by the jurisdiction that offers differential response to assist in targeting the services to the families in addition to evaluation of the post-service aftermaths. Through the general services, the family functioning level is assessed alongside other dimensions that are inclusive of parent capability, family environment, family safety, interactions, and the wellbeing of the child together with the self-sufficiency. Furthermore, in South Carolina, these general services have also been utilized in other States namely: California, Nevada, and San Mateo County.
Highly recommended is the need to ensure development of further research that can address the investigative pathway concrete services and activities. There is also the need explore further more possible services that can be provided by the non-investigative response to the child welfare among many other agencies. In addition, it is recommended that should the non-investigative alternative response be aimed at becoming the model approach therefore enhancing replication, there is need for more documentation on the concrete interactions with the families. With a more concrete understanding of the non-investigative intervention features, there will be need for additional studies on how the implementation can prove useful even to the other States lacking the intervention.
Florida Senate. (2003). Retention of protective investigators phase II. Interim Project Report 2004-112. Tallahassee, FL: Author.
Huebner, R. A., Durbin, L., Brock, A. (2009). Program evaluation of the multiple response system Kentucky department for community based services. Saint Louis, MO.
Loman, L. A. (2005). Differential response improves traditional investigations: Criminal arrests for severe physical and sexual abuse. St. Louis, MO: Institute of Applied Research.
Minnesota Department of Human Services. (2005). Minnesota's child welfare report for 2003. Saint Paul, MN: Author.