Recurring maltreatment can have devastating, lifelong consequences for children who are victims of abuse and neglect. The primary mission of child protection services (CPS) agencies is to prevent the recurrence of child maltreatment by offering families services designed to prevent future maltreatment. In order for these services to be effective, however, families must actually engage in them. This study focuses on how differential response programs impact families' successful engagement in services as indicated by long-term child safety outcomes.Differential response refers to a dual track system that allows public CPS agencies to respond to accepted reports of child abuse or neglect with either a traditional investigative response (TR) or an alternative response (AR). The AR is designed to be a less authoritative and less adversarial approach to families presenting a low- to moderate-risk of maltreatment. The AR involves collaboration with the family in a comprehensive assessment of the family's needs, risks and strengths and a referral to services on a voluntary basis. States implementing DR systems statewide vary greatly in the percentage of accepted reports that are assigned to the AR track. The goal of this study is to determine what rate of AR utilization is most effective in reducing subsequent reports of abuse and neglect for cases assigned to the AR.This study compares child safety outcomes for children assigned to the AR and those assigned to the TR within each of the fourteen states which implemented DR statewide between 2000–2012. The analysis uses Cox proportional hazards regression. Data for this observational study are drawn from the 2000–2012 data in the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) child files. Child safety is measured by re-reporting of the child to CPS.The theoretical model underpinning the study is McCurdy and Daro's (2001) Integrated Theory of Participant Involvement (ITPI) which outlines a conceptual model of parental engagement in services. This study hypothesizes that AR utilization rates affect the risk level of cases assigned to the AR. The ITPI model offers a possible explanation as to why higher risk cases may not be as responsive to the AR approach which depends upon the family's voluntary participation in services.The key finding of this study is that, in states assigning >33% of reports to the AR, children on the AR track are being re-reported at equal or higher rates than those on the TR track. Only in those states utilizing the AR track for <33% of the cases are AR cases being consistently re-reported at lower rates than those on the TR track. This article explores ways to improve the accuracy of track assignment decisions to prevent the assignment of higher risk families to the alternative response.
Children and Youth Services Review – Elsevier
Published: Nov 1, 2017
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