Differential Response family assessments: Listening to what parents say about service helpfulness

Tamara L. Fuller, Megan S. Paceley, Jill C. Schreiber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


An increasing number of Child Protective Services (CPS) systems are implementing Differential Response (DR) approaches in which lower-risk families are served through a family assessment response that emphasizes a family centered approach and the provision of concrete and preventative services. Quantitative survey data collected from parents suggests that those who receive family assessments are more engaged, receive more concrete services, and have higher overall satisfaction than those who receive a traditional investigation; yet little is known about which services provided through a family assessment are most helpful to parents. This qualitative study sought input from 20 parents who received a DR family assessment response in order to provide an in-depth analysis of which aspects of their CPS experience they perceived as most helpful. Results suggest that a positive and emotionally supportive relationship with the caseworker was of utmost significance. Other caseworker-provided services were described as helpful, particularly those that helped parents establish or improve relationships with others, including advocacy with other service providers, mediation of family disagreements, and coaching on parenting or relationship skills. Material support, such as providing cash assistance for rent or furniture, was helpful when received but occurred less frequently and was sometimes a source of frustration when accompanied by lengthy waits for assistance. These findings have implications for CPS practice, including enhancing caseworkers' relationship-building and engagement skills through pre-service educational coursework and in-service trainings; allowing caseworkers adequate time to develop supportive relationships with parents; and reducing the institutional barriers that delay the provision of concrete support.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7-17
Number of pages11
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015


  • Differential Response
  • Family assessment
  • Parent perspectives

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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