2011 Jordan Institute
16, No. 2
Safety and the Family Assessment Response
The number of substantiations of child maltreatment has significantly declined in North Carolina over the last ten years. This information, as well as the fact that DSS agencies often use a “new” CPS approach (the family assessment response introduced as part of MRS), leads some reporters and community partners to ask: Is DSS doing everything it should to keep children safe?
It’s a reasonable question, one that everyone who works in child welfare services—especially CPS intake—needs to be prepared to answer well. Here’s what the research says.
North Carolina. From the start of MRS, North Carolina has assessed the reform effort’s ability to improve the child welfare system while keeping children safe. Evaluators from the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University played a key role, producing county-specific MRS fact sheets, a report to the legislature (2004), and evaluation reports in 2004, 2006, and 2009. Duke consistently concluded that the family assessment response and other aspects of MRS do not compromise child safety.
One measure used to assess child safety is the rate of repeat maltreatment assessments for children with previous CPS involvement. If MRS is not effectively addressing the safety and security needs of children and families, families may be expected to return to the attention of CPS. North Carolina evaluators found that compared to a control group, the rate of repeat assessments decreased in counties after MRS implementation.
National Findings. Approximately 17 states are either using a statewide CPS approach akin to North Carolina’s family assessment response or have implemented it in specific localities. Some use a different name for the approach (e.g., differential response, alternative response, etc.).
Those that have evaluated their systems have generally found that a less adversarial, more service-oriented front-end response to certain families has had positive outcomes without compromising child safety (Gilbert, 2010). In its review of the literature, the National Quality Improvement Center on Differential Response in Child Protective Services (2009) found that this fundamental result was found in Alberta, Canada; Alaska; Arizona; Kentucky; Massachusetts; Minnesota; Missouri; North Carolina; Texas; Virginia; Washington; and West Virginia.