Differential Response in Child Protective Services


Analysis of State Legislative Provisions

Little Girl Smelling FlowerA number of States have authorized a “differential response” approach for child protective services (CPS). The approach allows CPS to respond differently to accepted reports of child abuse and neglect allegations, based on factors such as the type and severity of the maltreatment, number and sources of previous reports, and willingness of the family to participate in services. The National Quality Improvement Center on Differential Response in Child Protective Services (QIC-DR) describes core elements of differential response systems:

  1. Use of two or more discrete response pathways for cases that are screened in and accepted;
  2. Establishment of discrete response pathways is codified in statute, policy or protocol;
  3. Pathway assignment depends on an array of factors, such as the presence of imminent danger, level of risk, number of previous reports, source of the report, and/or presenting case characteristics, such as the type of alleged maltreatment and the age of the alleged victim;
  4. Original pathway assignment can change, based on new information that alters risk level or safety concerns;
  5. Services are voluntary in a non-investigative pathway;
    • Families can choose to receive the investigation response or     
    • Families can accept or refuse the offered services if there are no safety concerns;
  6. Families are served in a non-investigative pathway without a formal determination of child maltreatment; and,
  7. The name of the alleged perpetrator is not entered into the central child abuse registry for those individuals who are served through a non-investigative pathway.

View state enacted legislation around the Differential Response Approach below.

Differential response, also referred to as “dual track,” “multiple track,” “alternative response,” or "family assessment approach" is an approach that allows child protective services to respond differently to accepted reports of child abuse and neglect, based on such factors as the type and severity of the alleged maltreatment, number and sources of previous reports, and willingness of the family to participate in services. A number of state legislatures have enacted legislation in recent years to implement or pilot test this approach.

State Differential Response Legislation





Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 8-816

Enabling: Dual Track-1997 - Chap. 223 - Directs the state to implement a family builders pilot program involving partnerships between child protective services and community-based program, to allow for a triage system to screen abuse reports, provide a variety of community-linked family support services and assess families for service needs. Requires an evaluation.

(A) Establishes the Family Builders program in the department of economic security. Directs the department to develop collaborative, community-based partnerships with family support programs, social service agencies and others. 

(B) Requires the department to contract with neighborhood-based agencies to conduct family assessments, provide case management and other services. Outlines written agreements and contract requirements. Specifies that services are voluntary and that the provider may document the refusal in the case record. Sets timelines for assessments. 

(H) Requires the provider to immediately report a case to the department or law enforcement if they determine that a child is in imminent danger of abuse or neglect.

(K) Requires the department to require the provider to establish a local advisory board of community representatives.

(L), (M), (N) Requires the department to set goals and outcomes for the program, develop performance standards, and provide training for providers.


2006 Budget Act

2006 Budget Act allows department to appropriate funds for child welfare services outcome improvement spent on local priorities identified by counties including differential response.


Colo. Rev. Stat. § 19-3-308.3

Creates the Differential Response pilot program that will authorize the selected participating counties to use an alternative approach to addressing reports of alleged child abuse or neglect in cases in which an assessment determines that the safety of the child is at low or moderate risk. Requires the state child welfare department to submit to the Health and Human Services Committees of the House and Senate a report concerning the administration of the pilot program. Requires an evaluation of: child safety and permanency; family and caseworker satisfaction and cost effectiveness.

If an assessment of the alleged abuse or neglect is found to be of low or moderate risk, neither the state child welfare department or county child welfare department shall be required to make a finding concerning the alleged abuse or neglect in the family.


Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17a-101g

Amended by:

2011 SB 1199

2013 SB 832



Sec. 1: Determines that as part of the Department of Children and Families' Differential Response Program, a report of child abuse or neglect classified as lower risk may be referred for family assessment and services. The law further states that any such report may thereafter be referred for standard child protective services if safety concerns for the child become evident. A report referred for standard child protective services may be referred for family assessment and services at any time if the department determines there is a lower risk to the child. The commissioner may establish a program of differential response to reports of child abuse and neglect whereby the report may be referred to appropriate community providers for family assessment and services without an investigation or at any time during an investigation, provided there has been an initial safety assessment of the circumstances of a family and child and criminal background checks have been performed on all adults involved in the report.

“Differential response” was renamed “family assessment response” in 2013


Del. Code tit. 16, §§ 901, 902, 906

Enabling Statute: 1997 - SB 170 - Establishes a multiple response approach to reports of child abuse and neglect. Allows the child welfare agency to respond with either an assessment and services approach or an investigation. Requires an investigation in certain cases. Calls for the child protection system to coordinate community resources to prevent and remedy child abuse.

§ 901-Requires the department to conduct investigations or family assessments and provide necessary services.

§ 901 - Requires an investigation under certain circumstances related to criminal offenses and requires an internal information system to maintain investigation and family assessment information.

§ 902-Describes family assessment and services to be used in conjunction with the investigative approach and to focus on the integrity and preservation of the family. Family assessment response is to assess the status of the child and the family in terms of the risk of abuse and neglect and, if necessary, plan and provide for the provision of community-based services to reduce the risk and otherwise support the family. 

§ 906 (b) (7)-The division is required to identify and provide services for families when child is at risk of abuse and neglect. The Division shall document its attempt to provide voluntary services. If the family refuses services the Division may refer the case for investigation.

§ 906 (b) (7) - Allows cases assigned to one approach to be transferred to the other approach.

District of Columbia

D.C. Code § 4-1301.04

Allows a family assessment of strengths and needs to be conducted in lieu of investigation in response to certain reports of abuse and neglect with the stipulation that a re-investigation can be conducted when warranted.


1993 Ch. 25


Enabling Statute: 1993 - Chap. 25 - Each county develops a “two-tier” system of CPS. Others receive treatment and services through the family services response system (FSRS). (Note: Certain provisions related to FSRS repealed.)

CPS screens incoming reports; more serious cases are referred to law enforcement for investigation. FSRS reports are not classified for the purpose of employment screening.

Families on both “tiers” first meet a service provider; investigated families receive the same services as FSRS cases, but under judicial oversight. 


Iowa Code § 232.71B

Enabling Statute: 1993 - Chap. 147 -Establishes five child abuse assessment pilot projects to replace current investigatory practices. All allegations of child abuse, which were previously accepted for investigation, would now be accepted for assessment. Far greater emphasis will be placed upon a strength-based assessment of the family where a full assessment is necessary; less emphasis will be placed on the isolated incident reported. Ensures safety of children and provides services to families. Limits the cases forwarded to the central registry to those that involve great risk or significant injury.

Iowa Code § 232.71B: Upon receipt of child abuse report determined to constitute a child abuse allegation, requires the department to conduct an assessment within 24 hours. Requires the department to work jointly with law enforcement in performing assessment and investigation. 

Requires a protocol with law enforcement to work jointly on performing assessments and investigations in which a criminal act of harming child is alleged. Describes the assessment process. 

Requires the department to arrange for and monitor services on a voluntary basis or intermediate order of the juvenile court.

Iowa Code § 232.71C– Requires the department to initiate court action if it determines that it is in the best interest of the child to do so after the completion of the assessment.  

Iowa Code § 232.71D-If the department determines the injury or risk of harm to the child was minor and isolated and is unlikely to reoccur, the names of the child and the alleged perpetrator of the child abuse and any other child abuse information shall not be placed in the central registry as a case of founded child abuse. Outlines circumstances which place the names of the child and the alleged perpetrator and the report and disposition data on the registry.


Ill. Rev. Stat. ch. 325 § 5/7.4

 (a-5) The Department of Children and Family Services may implement a “differential response program.” The program upon receiving a report, that the Department shall determine whether to conduct a family assessment or an investigation as appropriate to prevent or provide a remedy for child abuse or neglect. “Family Assessment” means a comprehensive assessment of child safety, risk of subsequent child maltreatment, and family strengths and needs that is applied to a child maltreatment report that does not allege substantial child endangerment. “Investigation” means fact-gathering related to the current safety of a child and the risk of subsequent abuse or neglect that determines whether a report of suspected child abuse or neglect should be indicated.

(a-5)(4) Shall promulgate criteria, standards, and procedures that shall be applied in making this determination, taking into consideration the Child Endangerment Risk Assessment Protocol of the Department.


(a-5) (5) - Once it is determined that a "family assessment" will be implemented, the case shall not be reported to the central register of abuse and neglect reports. During a family assessment, the Department shall collect any available and relevant information to determine child safety, risk of subsequent abuse or neglect, and family strengths. Information collected includes: information with regard to the person reporting the alleged abuse or neglect, including the nature of the reporter’s relationship to the child and to the alleged offender, and the basis of the reporter’s knowledge for the report; the child allegedly being abused or neglected; the alleged offender; the child’s caretaker; and other collateral sources having relevant information related to the alleged abuse or neglect. Information relevant to the assessment must be asked for, and may include: (A) The child’s sex and age, prior reports of abuse. (D) Information on the existence of domestic abuse and violence in the home of the child, and substance abuse.


The department shall arrange for an independent evaluation of the “differential response program.”


In determining that a complete investigation is not required, the Department must document the reason for terminating the investigation and notify the local law enforcement agency or the Department of State Police if the local law enforcement agency or Department of State Police is conducting a joint investigation.
May conduct a family assessment on a report which was initially screened and assigned for an investigation.


Ky. Rev. Stat. § 620.040  

Enabling: 2000 SB 236, Chap. 204 - Requires the department, upon receipt of a report of child abuse or neglect, to immediately make a determination of risk of harm to the child and the, based on level or risk, investigate the report, conduct an assessment of family needs, or refer the report to an community-based service. Requires that reports of sexual abuse be considered high risk and not referred to any community agency. Lists agencies that may receive information about the identity of a report of child abuse.

KRS § 620.040 Based upon the allegation in the report, the cabinet shall immediately make an initial determination as to the risk of harm and immediate safety of the child. Based upon the level of risk, the cabinet shall investigate the allegation or accept the report for an assessment of family needs and, if appropriate, may provide or make referral to any community-based services necessary to reduce risk to the child and to provide family support. A report of sexual abuse shall be considered high risk and shall not be referred to any other community agency.

Requires the cabinet to make a written report to the county attorney, local law enforcement or Kentucky State Police on action taken in the investigation. Sexual abuse shall be considered high risk and not referred to any other community agency.


La. Ch. Code, Art. 612  

Enabling: 1999 - Act 1355- Authorizes assessment of families, rather than investigation, in response to certain low-risk reports of child abuse.

Art. 612 - Upon receipt of a report, shall assign a level of risk to child in the report. Requires prompt investigation of high and intermediate levels of risk.

Art. 612 Allows low-risk reports to be assessed through interviews with the family to identify needs and match with community resources.

Art. 612 If during the family assessment the department determines that a child is at immediate substantial risk of harm, the department must conduct an intensive investigation.

Art. 615 If it is determined child is in need of care and needs removal, department must apply for a removal order


Md. Fam. Law § 5-706

Authorizes the Secretary of Human Resources to establish an alternative response program for certain reports of child abuse or neglect; requires the Department to establish an advisory council to participate in the development of the alternative response implementation plan; prohibits certain reports of child abuse or neglect from being assigned for an alternative response; authorizes certain reports assigned for an alternative response to be  reassigned for an immediate investigation based on certain factors; allows certain reports assigned for an investigation to be reassigned for an alternative response based on certain factors; requires a local department to take certain actions following a report assigned for an alternative response; provides for the  confidentiality and maintenance of certain records; requires the Social Services Administration of the Department to develop a certain data collection process; requires the Department to submit a certain assessment and recommendations to the General Assembly; relates to alternative response plans with respect to reports of child abuse and neglect.


2006 Chap. 632

2006 HB 1648

Enabling: 2006 Chap. 632 Requires the department to conduct a Differential Response System Study on the implementation of a research-based differential response system for child abuse and neglect allegations. Requires a report on the findings and statutory recommendations.   Requires the study to define levels of safety concerns; determine specific responses and time frames; develop a database of child welfare programs and community resources; determine existing capacity of community services; develop a plan to implement; and, evaluate differential response including consideration of workload standards, multidisciplinary responses from mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence, the role of law enforcement, staff training requirements/costs and recommended statutory changes. Act expires May 31, 2007.


Mich. Comp. Laws § 722.628d 

Enabling: 1999 PA 484 – Established five categories and responses to child abuse reports, using a structured decision-making tool, to provide various levels of intervention and protection. Categories include services not needed, community services are recommended, community services are needed, community services are required and a court petition is required.

Defines categories. Requires annual written reports through 2008.

Category II and I cases require the department to open a case and place perpetrators on the central registry. Category I require the department to petition the court and may involve a criminal violation. 

Category IV determinations require the department to assist the family in voluntarily participating in community-based services.

Category III determinations require services; if the family refuses or does not progress, the department may consider reclassifying the case as Category II.

Category II requires services.


Minn. Stat. § 626.556

Enabling: 1999 - HF 1352 - Authorized counties to develop alternative response programs, including assessments of families’ need for services and for child maltreatment reports. Allows multi-disciplinary teams to initiate their own review of cases with a finding of maltreatment but no services needed. 

Specifies information to be collected during the assessment or investigation. Requires an immediate face-to-face interview if substantial child endangerment is alleged.

Requires an immediate investigation or assessment if alleged abuse victim is in a facility.

Sub. 2. Defines family assessment to mean a comprehensive assessment of child safety, risk of future maltreatment and family strengths and needs in a case that does not allege substantial child endangerment and does not include a determination of whether abuse occurred, but does determine need for services. 

Defines investigation to mean a fact-finding process to gather information on child safety, risk of subsequent maltreatment, a determination of whether abuse occurred and whether child protective services are needed.

Sub. 3c. Requires the local welfare agency to do assessment or investigation in child sexual abuse cases in the family, and in allegations of maltreatment in child foster care, family child care, licensed child care and juvenile correctional facilities. Requires the departments of human services and health to assess or investigate other licensed facilities.

Sub. 3e, 3f: Gives local law enforcement investigatory authority in criminal reports of child maltreatment. Requires coordination.

Sub. 10. Requires the local welfare agency to determine whether to conduct an assessment or an investigation in cases of alleged neglect, physical abuse or sexual abuse. Requires a chemical use assessment if there if alcohol or drugs are involved.

Sub. 10e. Requires the child welfare agency to conclude an assessment or investigation within 45 days of a report.

Requires the agency to make two determinations after an investigation: whether maltreatment has occurred and whether child protective services are needed. Defines maltreatment to include physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, mental injury or maltreatment in a facility.

Specifies that child protective services are needed because a child is at significant risk of maltreatment.

Sub. 10f. Requires parents or guardians be notified of determinations.

Sub. 10. Requires the local child welfare agency to investigate cases on the family assessment response if it determines that substantial child endangerment or a serious threat to the child’s safety exists.

Allows the local child welfare agency to conduct a family assessment on a report originally screened in as an investigation.


Mo. Rev. Stat. § 210.145

Enabling: Dual Track  1993 - SB 595 - Established a three-year pilot project in five demonstration sites in which some reports of abuse and neglect are investigated, but allows a family assessment in cases that do not require law enforcement involvement or removal of a child. Demonstration sites will be responsible for screening reports received from the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline and classifying those reports as either Investigation or Family Assessment Reports.

Mo. Rev. Stat. § 210.110 – Defines family assessment and services for children reported as victims of abuse.

Mo. Rev. Stat. § 210.145 - Requires the use of a structured decision-making protocol to classify child abuse and neglect reports. Requires the division to determine if the report merits investigation which includes criminal violations, or family assessment and services. Specifies what shall be included in an investigation.

Requires a chief investigator in each local division office to direct the response on any case involving a second or subsequent incident regarding the same child.  Specifies what shall be included in a family assessment and services approach.

Provides voluntary and time-limited services unless division determines there will be a high risk of abuse or neglect if the family refuses services.

Allows the division to conduct a family services approach if it determines that, upon completing an investigation, an investigation is not appropriate. Requires written notice to law enforcement before terminating any investigation.

Allows the division to begin an investigation of an assessment family if the family continues to refuse services or if the child is in danger.

Mo. Rev. Stat. § 210.152 - Requires documentation of investigations and assessments. Requires the information system to contain the determination made by the division and other information.

Requires investigation report information to be contained in the central registry.


Nev. Rev. Stat. § 432B.260

Enabling: 1997 Chap. 517 - Authorizes a multiple response approach to reports of child abuse and neglect. Requires the state to immediately investigate certain reports and to evaluate families reported for other, less serious types of abuse and neglect and determine whether an investigation is warranted. Sets forth criteria for cases in which an investigation is not warranted. Authorizes the state in such cases to conduct an assessment of the family’s need for services and to provide counseling or other services to the family. Allows for the reversal of a decision that an investigation is not warranted.

Requires the child welfare agency to conduct an investigation immediately in specified circumstances.

Allows the agency to provide counseling or other services or to conduct a family assessment if it determines an investigation is not warranted. 

Requires the agency providing services to a family to notify the child welfare agency if the child or family refuses services or if the agency determines there is a serious risk to the child.

New Jersey

2007 SB 3000

Found in appropriations language in 2007. County-based Differential Response programs funded by the Department of Children and Families to prevent child abuse and neglect shall provide services to families and follow intervention strategies that are defined with the participation of local community-based organizations.

New York

N.Y. Soc. Serv. Law § 427-a

Amended by:

2011 AB 6823

2011 AB 8108

Enabling: 2007 SB 4009, Chap. 452 - Amends social services law to allow for the establishment of differential-response programs for child protection assessments or investigations. Provides the process by which counties can apply for implementation approval from the Office of Child and Family Services, and outlines the procedures that must be followed when implementing such a system.

Dual Track Child Protective Program. Enacts the "Westchester county dual track demonstration project ;" provides for establishing a demonstration program implementing a dual track child protective program in Westchester county; provides that such program shall be supervised by the office of children and family services; also provides for the appointment of an advisory council and for various evaluations of the program; requires reports thereon. 

Allows social services districts located outside of a city with more than 2 million in population to establish differential response programs, with the authorization of the office of children and family services.

Provides factors which the office of children and family services is to use to determine if districts may establish a family assessment and services track to include: types of services and interventions to be provided families, how child safety will be maintained, how the differential response program will enhance the ability of the district to protect children, how the district will reduce government involvement in families while maintaining child safety, staff resources, training, community resources, additional funding and domestic violence protocols.

Applies only to cases involving allegations of abuse in family settings. Such cases shall not be reported to the statewide central registry.

Lists criteria for placement on the assessment track.

Prohibits child sexual abuse and other criminal child abuse including murder, manslaughter or abandonment from placement on the assessment track.

Requires an initial safety check of cases included on the family assessment and services track.

Specifies what is to be included in a family assessment and services case

Allows the district to conduct an investigation if necessary after an initial check of a family assessment and services report.

Make permanent legislation permitting social services districts, with authorization from the Office of Children and Families Services (OCFS), to utilize a differential response program for appropriate reports of abuse and maltreatment, and would make New York City eligible to participate in such program.  Section 1 of the bill would amend Social Services Law (SSL) Section 427-a to allow New York City to participate in the differential-response program, by removing the current limitation allowing only social services districts outside a city with a population of two million or more to participate in the program.  This section also would amend Section 427-a to revise the one-time evaluation reporting requirement, by requiring that OCFS report on the differential response program on an ongoing basis in its annual report.

Authorizes the subject of the Family Assessment Response (FAR) report access to those records; authorizes court access to FAR records during the duration of services provided; provides for the re-disclosure of FAR records; allows records access to a child protective services unit if the records are relevant to a child abuse investigation or Family Court action; requires CPS to include such information in the investigation records. Requires the annual report on the operations of the state central registry to include information on the racial and ethnic characteristics of families in the differential response program.

North Carolina

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-300 - 311

Enabling: 1999 HB 168 – Mandates the department to implement a “dual-response” system of child protection in a limited number of demonstration projects statewide. Requires the department and law enforcement to work together to co-investigate cases of serious abuse. Other cases receive a family assessment and services approach. Requires an assessment of the pilot’s impact on child safety, response and timeliness, coordination of services and cost-effectiveness.

7B-300 – Allows the department to screen reports and perform an assessment using either a family assessment or an investigative response in order to ascertain the facts of the case, the extent of the abuse or neglect, and the risk of harm to the child to determine whether protective services should be provided.

7B-311- Requires a central registry of abuse, neglect and dependency cases and child fatalities that are the result of alleged maltreatment. 

Requires the department to maintain a list of responsible individuals identified as the result of investigative assessment responses.


2006 SB 238 § 3

Enabling: Authorizes the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services to develop, on a pilot basis, an alternative response approach to reports of child abuse, neglect and dependency. Limits the pilot program to 18 months and requires an independent evaluation. Authorizes the department to adopt rules, as if they were internal management rules, as necessary to carry out the program.

Requires Public Children Service Agencies (PCSAs) to implement a system of safety and risk assessment to assess both the ongoing safety of the child and the appropriateness of the intensity and duration of the services provided to meet child and family needs throughout the duration of a case. A PCSA can use the system only in connection with an investigation of known or suspected child abuse or child neglect or a known or suspected threat of child abuse or child neglect.


2012 HB 2251

Relates to child welfare assessments and investigations, provides that whenever the Department of Human Services determines that there is a child that meets the definition of a drug-endangered child or a child has been diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome, the Department shall conduct an investigation of the allegations and shall not limit the evaluation of the circumstances to an assessment.


Okla. Stat. tit. 10a, § 1-2-105

Enabling: 1998 Chap. 421 – Requires the state to respond to reports of abuse and neglect with either an investigation or family assessment.

Requires the department to identify prevention and intervention services in the community and arrange for the provision of voluntary services.

Requires county offices receiving child abuse reports to respond with an investigation of the report or an assessment of the family according to priority guidelines established by the department.

Specifies what the investigation or assessment is to include.

Defines an assessment as a systematic process to respond to alleged child abuse according to priority guidelines and which do not constitute a serious and immediate threat to a child. Lists elements to be included in the assessment.

Defines investigation to mean an approach to respond to alleged child abuse which constitutes a serious and immediate threat to a child.

Defines services not needed determination as no identified risk of abuse or neglect and family could benefit from services.

Defines services recommended and confirmed report-services recommended but initial court intervention not required.

Defines Confirmed report court intervention required to mean the child’s safety is threatened and the court must intervene.

The department shall conduct assessments on reports initially referred for investigation, if it determines a complete investigation is not required.

If a family continues to refuse voluntary services and it is determined that the child needs to be protected, the department may conduct an investigation.

South Carolina

 S.C. Code § 63-7-10

Enabling: 1997 Act 577- Authorizes the state child welfare agency to establish a pilot program under which less serious cases of child maltreatment would be assessed for service needs rather than investigated. Directs the state to collaborate with the community to identify formal and informal services for children and families reported for abuse.

Requires the department of Social Services to collaborate with the community to identify, support, and treat families in a nonthreatening manner, in both investigative and family assessment situations.

Defines a family assessment approach as stressing the safety of the child, building on the strengths of the family, and identifying and treating the family's needs in cases not requiring law enforcement involvement or the removal of the child.


Tenn. Code §§ 37-5-601 et.seq.

Enabling: 2005 Tenn. Pub. Acts, HB 447, Chap. 391 Requires that the Department of Children’s Services establish a demonstration program for a multi-level response system that makes effective use of available community-based services. Requires gradual expansion of the demonstration program until the program is implemented statewide.

Multi-Level Response System for Children and Families

Requires regular reports to the governor and legislature on implementation of the program and regular evaluations of the program’s effectiveness.

Specifies outcomes and performance indicators to be included in the evaluations.  Requires the department to screen reports involving risk of maltreatment other than physical harm or sexual abuse to determine the appropriate level of intervention: investigation, assessment and referral to community-based services, referral for services without investigation or assessment, or no further action. Prescribes procedures for assessment and referral for services without assessment.

Requires local law enforcement personnel, in jurisdictions that have implemented the multi-level response system, to assist the department, upon written request, in investigating certain cases of serious abuse or neglect.

Requires training for all personnel in the demonstration areas of the program. Specifies that the training is to include information on the culturally diverse community. Requires department to offer training to providers, attorneys, prosecutors, GALs, judges and law enforcement.

Authorizes a demonstration program to test a multi-level response system designed to protect children from maltreatment, through the effective use of available community-based services. 

Requires the establishment of a state advisory committee consisting of representatives from corrections, education, health, human services, mental health, children and youth and other state or community-based agencies.

Requires the establishment of an independent local advisory board to consist of representatives from families in the community, local schools, health departments, juvenile court, district attorney genera and law enforcement.

Describes what the family assessment is to consist of and how families are to be offered services, which are voluntary.

If the family does not cooperate with the community-based agency that offers services, the department shall assess whether further steps need to be taken including informing the family that their actions in declining services may be considered in future action by the department.

Allows the department to conduct an immediate investigation if it determines that an investigation is required.


Tex. Fam. Code § 261.3015

2005 SB 6


Enabling: 2005 SB 6 Sec. 1.19

Flexible Response System: Authorizes the state child welfare agency to prioritize reports of child abuse according to the degree of severity of the alleged harm. Requires the state to establish a flexible response system under which families reported for less serious abuse would be provided assessment and family preservation services. Authorizes a pilot program to test the flexible response system. Requires the initiation of two pilot programs in which law enforcement agencies conduct investigations of child abuse reports through agreements


Pilot Discontinued

Enabling: 2000 HB 259

Pilot Discontinued

Enabling: 2000 HB 259, Chap. 228 – Child and Family Assessment (CFA) alternative response pilot project. Allows five regions to use a family assessment of needs and strengths and a more community-based approach to working with families to help them acquire the services they need for low-risk reports and prevention models. Establishes a pilot program for differentiated responses to child abuse and neglect reports. Requires the department to select one to three regions for participation. Establishes criteria for determining when a family assessment should occur. Sets components of a family assessment. Requires an independent evaluation and a report to the Legislature.


Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 33, §§ 4911 - 4923

Enabling: 2008 HB 635

Establishes a tiered range of responses to child abuse and neglect that take into account different degrees of child abuse or neglect. Permits the state to enter into reciprocal agreements with other jurisdictions for the purpose of investigating child abuse and neglect.

Establishes a tiered child protection registry that balances the need to protect children and the potential employment consequences of a registry record for persons who are substantiated for child abuse and neglect. 

Requires the department, upon receipt of a report of abuse or neglect, determine whether it is a valid allegation and, if so, determine whether to conduct an assessment or investigation. Includes factors to be considered when making the decision to conduct an assessment (nature/extent of child's injury, alleged perpetrator's prior history, perpetrator's willingness to cooperate) or an investigation (substantial child endangerment including sexual abuse, abandonment, child fatality, malicious punishment, serious physical injury).

Describes procedures for conducting an assessment.

Describes procedures for an investigation.

No finding of abuse or neglect or indication of intervention is to be placed on the registry when an assessment case is closed. Requires the department to document the outcome of the assessment.

Requires the department to conduct an immediate investigation at any time that it appears necessary.


Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-1505 to 1506  

Enabling: 1996 - HB36/SB12 Requires the Department of Social Services to establish a three-year pilot multiple response system in three to five areas of the state.   Less serious reports will be subject to a family assessment and offered services through the local department or community agencies. They will not be entered into the central child abuse registry. More serious reports will be investigated in coordination with law enforcement.

Defines an investigation as the collection of information to determine if abuse occurred and risk of harm to the child. Defines family assessments as the collection of information to determine safety needs, future risk of harm, service needs and an alternative plan if the family refuses services.

Family assessment reports are not placed on the central registry.

Family can decline services and the department can close the case unless it finds sufficient cause that the case needs to be investigated.

Family can decline services and the department can close the case unless it finds sufficient cause that the case needs to be investigated.


Wash. Rev. Code § 26.44.020 et.seq.


2012 SB 6555

Enabling: 1997 Chapter 386 – Authorizes the creation of models for alternative responses to reports of abuse and neglect. Defines “alternative response systems” as voluntary, family-centered services aimed at strengthening families at low risk for child abuse. Specifies that services are to be delivered by public or private providers through contracts with the state.


Establishes a family assessment response which is a way of responding to certain reports of child abuse or neglect using a differential response approach to child protective services.
Requires the department of social and health services to, implement the family assessment response no later than December 1, 2013; conduct two client satisfaction surveys of families that have been placed in the family assessment response.
Requires the state institute for public policy to conduct an evaluation of the implementation of the family assessment response. Provides immunity from liability to, governmental entities for their acts or omissions in emergent placement investigations of child abuse or neglect; the department of social and health services for acts performed in compliance with a court order, including shelter care and other dependency orders.


Wis. Stat. § 48.981 (3m)

Establishes the Alternative Response Pilot Program. Requires the department develop guidelines to determine the appropriate alternative response to a report of abuse or neglect or of threatened abuse or neglect, including guidelines for determining what types of abuse or neglect or threatened abuse or neglect constitute substantial abuse or neglect. The department need not select to participate in the pilot program.  Immediately after receiving a report, a county department that is participating in the pilot program shall evaluate the report to determine the most appropriate alternative response to the report.


Wyo. Stat. § 14-3-204  

Enabling: 2005 Wyo. Sess. Laws, SF 39, Chap. 236 Provides that certain reports of severe maltreatment are to be investigated and that others are to be assigned to an assessment response.

If the report is of child sexual abuse, the county must refer the report to the sheriff or police department. Substantial abuse or neglect requires an investigation. The county must conduct a comprehensive assessment of the safety of the child if the county finds reason to suspect that abuse or neglect, other than substantial abuse or neglect, has occurred or is likely to occur, but that there is no immediate threat to the safety of the child and his or her family and intervention by the juvenile court is not necessary.   If the county conducts an assessment, the county is not required to refer the report to the sheriff or police department or determine whether abuse or neglect has occurred or is likely to occur or whether a specific person has abused or neglected the child.

Based on the assessment, the county must offer services to the child's family on a voluntary basis or refer the child's family to a service provider in the community.






About This NCSL Project

The Denver-based child welfare project staff focuses on state policy, tracking legislation and providing research and policy analysis, consultation, and technical assistance specifically geared to the legislative audience. Denver staff can be reached at (303) 364-7700 or childwelfare@ncsl.org.

NCSL staff in Washington, D.C. track and analyze federal legislation and policy and represent state legislatures on child welfare issues before Congress and the Administration. Staff in D.C. can be reached at (202) 624-5400 or cyf-info@ncsl.org.

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