Children's Administration, Department of Social and Health Services
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Differential Response

Why a Differential Response system?

In early 2011, discussions began on how a differential response model might help Washington families who come to the attention of Children's Administration. Of particular interest, was an improved and strengthened response to family cases of low to moderate risk of neglect, engaging with families earlier and providing them with services and concrete supports that could address the impacts of child maltreatment.

What is a Differential Response?

Differential Response, which has been successfully implemented by other states, acknowledges a growing understanding that not all families need an investigative intervention. An alternative response intervention connects families to services, concrete supports, and community resources. Families are better able to care for their children when their needs are met and connections to communities are developed and strengthened. Within a differential response system, the alternative pathway focuses on child safety, assessment of family strengths and needs, provision of services, and concrete supports. No subjects are named or findings are made.

Serious physical abuse and sexual abuse intakes continue to be assigned to the investigative pathway. The investigative pathway continues to be used for higher risk cases and when children are reportedly in danger. Other factors such as chronicity and prior history, severity of injury or neglect, and vulnerability of children are used to determine whether an investigation is necessary or the case can be assigned to the alternative pathway. Child safety remains the primary focus of agency intervention.