Differential Response: A Dangerous Experiment in Child Welfare

Elizabeth Bartholet

Harvard Law School

August 1, 2014

Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 14-31

Differential Response (DR) represents the most important child welfare initiative of the day, with DR programs rapidly expanding throughout the country. It would radically change our child welfare system, diverting the great majority of Child Protective Services (CPS) cases to an entirely voluntary system. This article describes the serious risks DR poses for children, and the flawed research being used to promote DR as “evidence-based.” It puts the DR movement in historical context, as one of a series of extreme family preservation movements supported by a corrupt merger of advocacy with research. It argues for reform that would honor children’s rights, confront the problems of poverty underlying child maltreatment in a serious way, and expand rather than reduce the capacity of CPS to address child maltreatment. It calls for a change in the dynamics of child welfare research and policy so that we can avoid history endlessly repeating itself.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 56

Keywords: Child welfare, Differential Response, Alternative Response, Family Preservation, Child Abuse & Neglect, Child Maltreatment, Child Safety, Child Rights, Child Welfare Research

JEL Classification: I2, I3

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Date posted: August 7, 2014 ; Last revised: August 26, 2014

Suggested Citation

Bartholet, Elizabeth, Differential Response: A Dangerous Experiment in Child Welfare (August 1, 2014). Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 14-31. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2477089

Contact Information

Elizabeth Bartholet (Contact Author)
Harvard Law School ( email )
Hauser Hall 422
1563 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
(617) 495-3128 (Phone)
(617) 496-4947 (Fax)
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