Differential Response: A Dangerous Experiment in Child Welfare

72 Pages Posted: 7 Aug 2014 Last revised: 19 Sep 2015

Date Written: August 1, 2014


Differential Response represents the most important child welfare initiative of the day, with Differential Response programs rapidly expanding throughout the country. It is designed to radically change our child welfare system, diverting the great majority of Child Protective Services cases to an entirely voluntary system. This Article describes the serious risks Differential Response poses for children and the flawed research being used to promote it as “evidence based.” It puts the Differential Response 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 Child Protective Services to address child maltreatment. It calls for a change in the dynamics of child welfare research and policy so that we can avoid endlessly repeating history in ways harmful to child interests.

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

Suggested Citation

Bartholet, Elizabeth, Differential Response: A Dangerous Experiment in Child Welfare (August 1, 2014). 42 Fla. St. U. L. Rev. 573 (2015), Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 14-31, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2477089 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2477089

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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