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Differential Response

Differential Response (DR) is a strategy that allows a California child welfare services (CWS) agency to respond in a more flexible manner to reports of child abuse or neglect. DR affords a customized approach based on an assessment of safety, risk and protective capacity that recognizes each family’s unique strengths and needs, and addresses these in an individualized manner rather than with a “one size fits all” approach.

The hallmark of DR is both its flexibility and family engagement, which act as an umbrella for the various responses and services. As DR provides earlier and more meaningful responses to emerging signs of family problems, child welfare agencies can utilize resources to help families before difficulties escalate and child removal is required. Under the DR approach, child safety is the highest priority as more children and families can receive the support they need to keep children safely in their homes.

DR has three referral paths, which are assigned by the social worker based on information taken from the initial call or report, intake or hotline:

Path 1: Community Response

  • Selected when a family is referred to CWS for child maltreatment but as a result of the hotline/pre-contact assessment indicates the allegations do not meet statutory definitions of abuse or neglect .
  • Indications are present that the family is experiencing problems.
  • Families are linked to voluntary services such as counseling, parenting classes or other supportive options to strengthen the family.

Path 2: Child Welfare Services and Agency Partners Response

  • Involves families in which the allegations meet statutory definitions of abuse and neglect at low to moderate risk.
  • Assessments indicate that with targeted services a family is likely to make needed progress to improve child safety and mitigate risk.
  • Emphasizes teamwork between CWS and interagency or community partners, providing a multidisciplinary approach in working with families.

Path 3: Child Welfare Services Response

  • Most similar to the child welfare system‘s traditional response.
  • Initial assessment indicates the child is not safe.

Differential Response Guidelines

Letters and Notices

ACIN I-83-15 (October 22, 2015)
Recording Of Probate Court Requests

ACIN I-52-14 (September 9, 2014)
Best Practices For Timely Investigation Of Child Abuse And/or Neglect Immediate/Ten Day ReferralsCWS/CMS

ACIN I-03-13 (January 24, 2013)
Complete, Accurate, And Timely Data Entry And Updates To The Child Welfare Services/Case Management System (CWS/CMS) Data

ACL 12-42 (September 27, 2012)
Cross-Reporting Child Abuse And/Or Neglect To Licensing Agencies

ACL 09-31 (August 17, 2009)
Safety And Risk Assessments 

ACIN I-13-09 (February 10, 2009)
Documentation Of Referrals In Child Welfare Services/Case Management System (CWS/CMS)

ACIN I-86-06 (December 1, 2006)
Recording “Time To Investigation” Information In The Child Welfare Services/Case Management System (CWS/CMS)

ACL 06-15 (August 4, 2006)
Requirements For The Investigation Of Child Abuse Allegations Regarding Probation Wards In Out-Of-Home Placement

ACL 06-07 (April 19, 2006)
Assembly Bill 2795: Change In Time Period For Completion Of A Case Plan

ACL 05-07 (May 23, 2005)
Assembly Bill 2795: Extension Of Family Maintenance Services; Change In Time Period For Completion Of A Case Plan

ACL 05-09 (April 26, 2005)
Reporting And Investigation Requirements For Child Abuse Allegations Regarding Children In Out-Of-Home Placements

ACL 03-61 (December 2, 2003)
CWS/CMS Data Entry

ACIN I-78-98 (December 29, 1998)
Senate Bill (SB) 933 Best Practice Guidelines For Assessment Of Children And Families.

ACL 92-105 (November 30, 1992)
Emergency Response Protocol