What is differential response?
Traditionally, the child welfare system responds to reports of possible abuse or neglect with the same set of protocols for all reports, regardless of the severity of the report. Yet the majority of reports are less severe cases involving families under stress and in need of help. These families traditionally receive no help until their problems escalate through a cycle of worsening difficulties and repeat reports; eventually, some of them lose their children to the system.
Differential response makes a wider set of responses available to the child welfare system. Implemented in several jurisdictions across the country, differential response is defined in California as:
Developing a broader set of responses to reports of possible child abuse or neglect, including prevention and early intervention, engaging families to address issues of safety and risk, and improving access to services…
A unique aspect of the implementation process springs from the fact that the California child welfare system is administered at the county level. Ten other states take this approach.
Promoting differential response
Differential response entered California child welfare systems through a methodology for promoting rapid change. Called the breakthrough series collaborative (BSC), this method requires teams to come together to conduct small-scale practice changes. BSC teams test and disseminate these changes, leading to dramatic system-wide improvements in a short time.
The BSC was a partnership between California Department of Social Services (CDSS), the Foundation Consortium for California’s Children & Youth, the East Bay Community Foundation, the Marguerite Casey Foundation, and Casey Family Programs. The promising results left the participants with great enthusiasm for differential response and the promising practices that resulted. In five key sections, this report:
- Outlines the overall training and technical assistance effort
- Explains California’s regulatory environment and the BSC methodology
- Describes key strategies and practices that resulted from county testing and offers success stories
- Highlights lessons learned about the importance of organizational culture change
- Suggests next steps for implementing, spreading, and institutionalizing differential response practice changes statewide
About the breakthrough series collaborative (BSC) methodology
Pioneered in the health care arena in 1995, the BSC methodology is relatively new to the field of child welfare but shows significant promise for bridging the gaps between best practices and actual practice. The breakthrough series collaborative (BSC) on differential response served as a successful laboratory for change. Through rigorous testing and evaluation, best practices are revealed, put into place and then evaluated over time. In this 2007 report, a wider range of methods and responses are suggested for the more common and less severe cases of report child abuse and neglect in forty-three California counties. Learn more