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 takes effect in July 2013.
What is Alternative Response?
Alternative Response is a new approach for managing low risk reports of child abuse and neglect. Instead of a traditional “one size fits all” 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 has been shown to produce improved safety outcomes for kids and stronger families.
Under Alternative Response, the Maryland Department of Human Resources (DHR) will screen reports of possible child abuse or neglect just like it does today. The difference is that cases that are not screened out will be assigned to one of two tracks: Investigative Response or Alternative Response. High risk reports including cases involving serious physical injury or sexual abuse will be referred to the Investigative Response track and will be handled the same way they are today, resulting in a formal finding. Low risk reports can 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 caseworkers also have a much higher job satisfaction level delivering services in this more family friendly manner.
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 was passed, the DHR Social Services Administration and executive leadership have been working with our community partners to develop policy, training schedules for new and existing workers and a plan for communicating these important changes to the public. Implementation will be phased in across the state starting in July 2013 in Garrett, Allegany, Washington, Frederick and Montgomery counties. The roll-out will continue by region over the next year with the expectation of statewide implementation by 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 and to get resources for service providers and families. If you have questions about Alternative Response, please contact your local Department of Social Services.