How does differential response affect child outcomes?

Research indicates that differential response (DR), also known as alternative response (AR), leads to improvements in family engagement, worker satisfaction, and community satisfaction and cooperation, as well as reduced entries into foster care.1 According to the National Quality Improvement Center on Differential Response in Child Welfare (QIC-DR), in 2014, there were at least 20 statewide programs and seven states that were operating regional or county-level DR programs, in addition to several tribes.

With regard to safety, a recent report2 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Human Services Policy examined the question of “whether more use of [alternative response (AR)] leaves children less safe?” Their analysis focused on six states: Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. In three states,3 higher rates of AR were associated with lower re-reports, and in five states,4 higher rates of AR were associated with lower re-reports with substantiation.

A randomized controlled evaluation5 of Ohio’s DR system found that families served by DR had fewer re-referrals to Child Protective Services (CPS) and experienced fewer subsequent child removals. An evaluation of Colorado’s DR system6 found that the recidivism rate appeared to be lower in families whose first interaction with CPS was through the DR track.

Differential response resources

Child Welfare Information Gateway, Differential Response to Reports of Child Abuse and Neglect (2014)
This issue brief provides a comprehensive overview of differential response, including implementation considerations, evaluation findings, and lessons learned.

Kempe Center, Differential Response, One Size Does Not Fit All… (2014)
The Kempe Center’s DR Initiative provides a number of resources related to DR, including a link to the Casey Family Programs DR Toolkit, as well as a number of state, national, and international evaluations of DR programs.

Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, Ohio’s Differential Response System (n.d.)
This website provides a description of Ohio’s DR program and includes a link to OH’s DR practice profiles, which are designed to guide staff in operationalizing DR in their practice.

Quality Improvement Center on Differential Response (2014)
The QIC-DR website includes evaluations from the three QIC-DR sites (Colorado, Illinois,7 and Ohio), as well as the QIC-DR cross-site evaluation.


1 Quality Improvement Center on Differential Response in Child Protective Services. (2011). Differential response in child protective services: A literature review, version 2 Washington DC: Children’s Bureau, US Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from
2 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2016). ASPE Research brief. Differential response and the safety of children reported to child protective services: A tale of six states. Retrieved from
3 Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.
4 Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.
5 Loman, L. A., & Siegel, G. L. (2015). Effects of approach and services under differential response on long term child safety and welfare. Child Abuse & Neglect, 39, 86–97.
6 Winokur, M., Orsi, R., Holmquist-Johnson, H., Ellis, R., Gabel, G., Rogers, J., … & Evans, M. (2014). Program evaluation of the Colorado Consortium on Differential Response, final report. Fort Collins, CO: Colorado State University, School of Social Work, Social Work Research Center. Retrieved from
7 Note that Illinois has discontinued its DR program.

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