Special Issue of APSAC Advisor Tackles Controversial Differential Response Program

Three years after a group of researchers sought to evaluate the research base of differential response programs, the effectiveness of the much-debated program has been revisited in a special edition of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC) Advisor.

Differential response (DR), or alternative response as it is sometimes known, is a system designed to screen a family for risk of abuse and neglect and provide a wider array of services based on a risk assessment. With DR, families with a lower amount of risk are placed on an alternative track, with child protective services (CPS) agencies providing family-strengthening resources targeted for these families. Higher-risk families, meanwhile, continue to receive traditional CPS services.

In 2013, Judy Rycus and several colleagues at the North American Resource Center for Child Welfare wrote a paper that raised concerns about the implementation of DR in many jurisdictions around the country, as well as the research-base supporting the program and the safety of children of families involved with DR. The article sparked heated debate about the practice, including 11 articles on the topic in the September 2013 issue of Research on Social Work Practice from many of the leading names in the child-welfare field

Rycus, who served as guest editor of the special issue of the APSAC Advisor, says that the controversy around DR has continued since then.

“Some jurisdictions continue to profess confidence in and operate DR programs, while others have made significant changes to their operations or have abandoned DR entirely,” Rycus wrote in an introduction to the special issue.

The special issue on differential response includes five articles that Rycus hopes will illuminate the questions surrounding DR and broaden the debate:

  • Differential Response: A Dangerous Experiment in Child Welfare: Elizabeth Bartholet
  • Differential Response: A Misrepresentation of Investigation and Case Fact Finding in Child Protective Services: Ronald C. Hughes and Frank Vandervort
  • Minnesota’s Experience with Differential Response: Mark Hudson
  • Differential Response in Child Protection: How Much Is Too Much?: Kathryn A. Piper
  • Pioneer Institute: To Ensure Child Safety in Massachusetts, Most Critical Reforms Are to State’s DR Program: Kelli N. Hughes

The special issue is available to APSAC members online.

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