Just Intervention: Differential Response in Child Protection

21 Pages Posted: 22 Feb 2013

Date Written: 2012


It is widely agreed that the child protection system is broken — it neither effectively prevents child maltreatment nor engages parents. Compounding these failures, the system is often unnecessarily adversarial and stigmatizing, leaving many children and families worse off after intervention and deeply distrustful of the state agency tasked with helping them. In an effort to address these flaws, numerous scholars and experts have called for a public health approach to child maltreatment, the subject of this symposium. Such an approach would entail preventive and community-wide interventions based on an assessment of proven risk factors rather than the current post hoc and crisis-driven intervention based upon vague standards of maltreatment. One promising innovation in this regard is a multi-tiered or differential response to child maltreatment. Under this model, families deemed at lower risk for maltreatment are not investigated, as in the traditional child protection system, but rather are referred to voluntary community services. Only those families deemed at high risk for maltreatment are subject to mandatory interventions and court involvement in the traditional adversarial model. A differential response approach, in theory at least, allows for less stigmatizing and more effective interventions for at-risk families and results in greater cost-effectiveness and fewer new reports of maltreatment. This piece outlines the differential response model and then discusses its benefits, in particular, its procedural justice potential to better engage parents and communities in addressing child maltreatment and bolster the legitimacy of the child protection system. This piece concludes, however, that differential response will not significantly change our approach to child protection for two reasons: (1) the entry point for differential response is usually a report of child maltreatment, rather than an effective preventive risk assessment, and (2) the institutional design and approach to risk of child protective services agencies limit their ability to effectively work with families.

Keywords: child abuse and neglect, family, foster care, prevention, differential response, public health, child welfare, procedural justice, institutional design, child protection

Suggested Citation

Godsoe, Cynthia, Just Intervention: Differential Response in Child Protection (2012). 21 J.L. & Pol'y 73 (2012), Brooklyn Law School, Legal Studies Paper No. 325, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2221959

Cynthia Godsoe (Contact Author)

Brooklyn Law School ( email )

250 Joralemon Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
United States

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