By Kristin Abner and Rachel A. Gordon
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In 2009, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) began a pilot program and evaluation of one of the latest approaches to serving lower-risk children referred into the child welfare system (differential response). This intervention approach connects low-risk households to community services, and is completely voluntary. This chapter provides an overview of the practice, its effectiveness, and future policy needs.
- Seventeen states are implementing differential response in full, and another 13 had a program that included at least some components. Illinois just ended a five-year pilot program. The full evaluation is expected in 2013.
- The core features of differential response can appeal to a bipartisan agenda: it shifts responsibility from the government to neighborhoods and communities, and also offers a safety net to families struggling with structural barriers, like poverty, rather than criminalizing poor families.
- A look at all differential response tracks in the country reveals that children are not at increased risk when placed in a differential response track. For most programs, rates of recurrence were better - or no different from - the investigatory track. And, families in the differential response track are more satisfied with the intervention they received than families in the investigations track.
- Going forward, Illinois lawmakers will need to consider: ways to maintain child safety; the implications of voluntary service delivery; approaches to building information supports and community capacity; and strategies to increase collaboration across human service silos.