State lawmakers hear about a trend in child welfare that moves away from response to child neglect reports toward a system that works with families to resolve underlying problems.
Innovations in Child Welfare founder Caren Kaplan outlined the so-called “differential response” to child welfare cases during a combined meeting of the Health and Human Services Committee and the Judiciary Committee at the state Capitol.
The relatively new approach works to keep children in their homes, rather than remove them to be placed in the foster care system.
Kaplan told legislators a different approach doesn’t mean children are more at risk.
“A child protective service system that embraces a differential response system to families is a viable option in which child safety reigns supreme,” according to Kaplan.
Voices for Children brought Kaplan to Nebraska to speak with state lawmakers considering a couple of interim studies, LR 529 and LR 525, of the state child welfare system, a major topic in the legislature last session.
Kaplan said the current system that responds to individual child abuse calls misses the underlying causes of the problem. Kaplan stated few child welfare cases involve physical or sexual abuse.
“For more than a decade, state reports to the national child abuse and neglect data system, which is a US Children’s Bureau initiative have shown that the great majority of maltreatment reports in the US involve neglect, rather than physical or sexual abuse,” Kaplan stated.
Kaplan said neglect often is related to poverty. She says the differential response system works with the families to address poverty to resolve the problem of neglect.
Kaplan said the new approach works directly with the family on the underlying problems and attempts to avoid removing children from their homes.
“The most common belief is if you don’t have legal and court involvement and you don’t remove children, you will make children unsafe,” Kaplan said. “This is not always the case.”
The differential response approach began in 1993 in Minnesota and Missouri. It has since spread to many other states with what Kaplan termed “a critical mass” of states adopting it in 2006.
Kaplan said the trend is toward the new approach in an effort to help families and keep more children out of the state system. She said recent surveys seem to indicate success.
“Families were more engaged by their own admission. These are surveys of families that actually participated in a family assessment response,” according to Kaplan. “An unintended, positive consequence is that workers were more satisfied. Lo and behold, they’re doing what they were trained to do and they’re happy they’re helping families.”
AUDIO: Innovations in Child Welfare founder Caren Kaplan testimony before state legislators. [36 min.]