During the 2012 Legislative Session, the General Assembly passed landmark child welfare legislation to join more than 20 states that have adopted an “Alternative Response” for handling certain low-risk reports of abuse and neglect. The new law took effect in 2012 and Alternative Response implementation began in July 2013.
What is Alternative Response?
Alternative Response is a new approach for managing certain low risk reports of child abuse and neglect. Instead of a traditional “one size fits all” investigative approach that requires workers to treat all cases exactly the same way, Alternative Response allows workers to tailor their approach to best serve families. The result is a smarter system that helps keep kids safely at home.
Under Alternative Response, the Maryland Department of Human Resources (DHR) continues to screen reports of possible child abuse or neglect. The difference is that accepted cases are assigned to one of two tracks: Investigative Response or Alternative Response. High risk reports including cases involving serious physical injury or sexual abuse are referred to the Investigative Response track and will be handled the same way as before, resulting in a formal finding. Certain low risk reports may be pursued through Alternative Response.
For cases accepted in the Alternative Response track, DHR will work collaboratively with the family to provide services without the threat of a formal finding of abuse or neglect. Several studies have shown that families are more receptive to this approach because they see their caseworker as someone who can help them rather than someone who is investigating them. Studies also show that families are more willing to engage with caseworkers in discussing the family’s strengths and how they can work together to overcome challenges.
How Alternative Response Affects Families
Take the case of a single parent of two children, ages 6 and 7, whose employer requires her to work on a holiday. Her children are out of school, the day care center is closed and she cannot secure an adult sitter. If the local department receives a report from a neighbor that children are at home alone, without Alternative Response, this report could trigger an investigation and result in a formal finding of neglect. Alternative Response creates a new way for the caseworker to engage the parent to make referrals for appropriate services and help the parent identify other potential supports.
Alternative Response is a recognized best practice currently used in over 20 states and is endorsed by the National Council of State Legislatures, Casey Families Programs, and the American Humane Association.
Implementing Alternative Response
Since the law passed, the DHR Social Services Administration and executive leadership have been working with local departments and our community partners to develop Alternative Response Implementation Plans, to train staff and to educate the public about this practice shift. Alternative Response is being phased in across the state starting in July 2013. Alternative Response has been implemented in all Maryland counties; Baltimore City will come online in July 2014. Click to view the Policy Directive about Implementing Alternative Response.
For more information, click on our Frequently Asked Questions page. Visit this Website often for the latest updates on Alternative Response implementation. If you have questions about Alternative Response, please contact your local Department of Social Services.