During the 2012 Legislative Session, the General Assembly passed landmark child welfare legislation to join more than 20 states that have adopted a state-wide “Alternative Response” approach for handling certain low risk reports of abuse and neglect. Maryland’s Alternative Response law took effect in 2012 and Alternative Response implementation began in July 2013. Alternative Response was fully implemented in Maryland as of July 2014.
What is Alternative Response?
Alternative Response is a new approach for managing certain low risk reports of child abuse and neglect. Instead of a traditional “one size fits all” investigative 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 helps keep children safely at home.
Under Alternative Response, the Maryland Department of Human Services (DHS) continues to screen reports of possible child abuse or neglect. The difference is that accepted cases are assigned to one of two tracks: Investigative Response or Alternative Response. High risk reports including cases involving serious physical injury or sexual abuse are referred to the Investigative Response track and are handled the same way as before, resulting in a formal investigative finding. Certain low risk reports may be pursued through Alternative Response.
For cases accepted in the Alternative Response track, DHS 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 families are more willing to engage with caseworkers in discussing the family’s strengths and how they can work together to overcome challenges.
How Does 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 find an appropriate 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. Engagement in services leads to increased service effectiveness and ultimately in improved outcomes, such as child safety and family wellness.
Alternative Response is a recognized best practice currently used in over 20 states and is endorsed by the National Council of State Legislatures, Casey Family Programs, and the American Humane Association.
For more information, Frequently Asked Questions page. If you have questions about Alternative Response, please contact your local department of social services.