The state of Ohio will expand to 15 additional counties a pilot project that gives caseworkers the freedom to use an alternative approach to reports of child abuse and neglect and which results in better outcomes for children and families.
From fall 2007 through December 2009, the American Humane Association, along with the Institute of Applied Research and Minnesota consultants — partnering as the AIM Team — worked with Ohio to design and implement the Ohio Alternative Response Pilot Project in 10 counties. The institute conducted an independent evaluation and found that, under a rigorous randomized control trial of 4,822 families over an 18-month period, the “alternative response” practice is safe for children and beneficial to families and caseworkers.
During the pilot project, caseworkers in 10 counties used the alternative response for 25 to 50 percent of all reports of abuse and neglect. Instead of conducting a traditional family assessment, they used an “alternative family assessment response,” in which they assessed the needs of the child or family — in a non-threatening, non-adversarial manner — and then offered services to meet those needs.
The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) and the Supreme Court of Ohio revealed the findings of the 18-month pilot project at a two-day symposium that concluded May 14, 2010.
“Of course, our primary concern is keeping children safe, and alternative response does not change that. It just recognizes that child maltreatment reports have different levels of severity, which require different levels of response,” said ODJFS Director Douglas Lumpkin.
“Alternative response recognizes that no two families are alike and no two maltreatment cases are the same. When appropriate, alternative response can be less traumatic for children and better for families.”
“If the alternative response project continues to show the favorable results we have seen from this evaluation, we anticipate that fewer families will require formal court involvement. Reduced court caseloads will allow greater focus on the cases that do require court involvement and oversight,” said Steve Hanson, Supreme Court of Ohio’s manager of Children, Families, and the Courts Programs.
“The results — across the board — of the Ohio Alternative Response Pilot Project were sufficiently favorable to recommend that Ohio should develop a comprehensive plan and proceed with statewide implementation of alternative response in all 88 counties,” said Caren Kaplan, director of child protection reform for American Humane’s Child Welfare Programs and lead project consultant.
On May 12, 2010, the Supreme Court of Ohio’s Subcommittee on Responding to Child Abuse, Neglect, and Dependency approved that recommendation. Notable outcomes of the pilot project are as follows:
- Child safety is not compromised with the use of this approach; children who have come to the attention of the child protection agency are as safe with the alternative approach as they are with the investigation approach.
- Families that received an alternative response approach were more satisfied with services they received than were families that received an investigation.
- Reports of participating “a great deal” in decision making occurred more frequently for alternative response families than for control families.
- Families that received an alternative response approach were more likely to report that they were “very satisfied” with treatment by their caseworkers.
- Almost 40 percent of county staff involved with the pilot project reported that alternative response had increased the likelihood that they will remain in the field of child welfare.
- Subsequent reporting of families for child abuse and neglect declined under alternative response, particularly among minority families — the most impoverished families in the study.
- Removals and out-of-home placements of children declined.
The results are consistent with a comparable study on alternative response in Minnesota, as reported by G. Siegel and L. A. Loman in 2006. Many other states have found — and Ohio’s early results indicate — that alternative response helps keep families together by reducing the number of children placed in out-of-home care and reducing the level of intervention necessary to keep children safe. Both families and caseworkers in Ohio have reported increased satisfaction with the intervention process.
Based on the success of the pilot project, ODJFS expects 25 Ohio counties to be offering alternative response model by this fall. Eventually, the department hopes to implement the model statewide.
The AIM Team’s final report, the final evaluation, the chronicle of the pilot study, and a report with statutory and rule recommendations (for revising current state law to ensure that Ohio’s statutory and administrative rule framework is consistent with an alternative response approach to child protection policy and practice) are available online.
For more information on alternative response, visit http://www.americanhumane.org/protecting-children/programs/differential-response/.
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