Maryland Implements New Approach For Working With Families in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases

                                                                                     Alternative Response focuses on improving child safety, strengthening families

BALTIMORE, MD (July 1, 2013) — Today, Department of Human Resources (DHR) Secretary Ted Dallas announces the start of Alternative Response in Maryland, a new approach for managing low risk reports of alleged child abuse and neglect. DHR is implementing Alternative Response geographically in five phases, starting today in western Maryland.

 “Alternative Response is a more appropriate way to handle low risk reports of child neglect,” said DHR Secretary Ted Dallas. “We’re pleased with the broad support we’ve received from our local community partners in preparing for this important change.”

Local departments of social services will screen reports of possible child abuse or neglect just like they do today. Reports that meet the threshold of abuse or neglect will be 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 will be handled the same way they are today, resulting in a formal finding of fault. Low risk reports pursued through Alternative Response instead result in a service plan to address the issues reported to the department.

“We shouldn’t treat a mother who leaves her 7-year-old child at home alone for a few hours while she goes to work the same way we treat parents who abuse their children,” said Dallas. “Alternative Response is a more balanced approach that gives caseworkers the flexibility they need to make the right decisions to keep kids safe and to strengthen families.”

In an Alternative Response, CPS workers engage with families, assess their strengths and needs, create a safety plan and match the family with available community services to address the underlying factors that led to a report being filed. Research has 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. It also shows Alternative Response keeps children safely at home and helps strengthen families.

“Through Alternative Response we are partnering with families in order to effectively address their need for safety by building on their strengths,” said DHR Social Services Executive Director Carnitra White.

Alternative Response builds on DHR’s Place Matters initiative, which promotes safety, family strengthening, permanency and community-based services for children and families in the child welfare system. Since Place Matters started in 2007, the number of children in foster care has decreased by 41%, group home placements are down by half, and 73% of children in care are living with families.

Alternative Response is an evidence-based, best practice in child welfare that’s used in at least 23 states. Legislation signed into law by Governor Martin O’Malley in 2012 authorized DHR to establish a dual-track CPS system that allows workers to tailor their approach to best serve families and keep children safe.

Maryland is phasing in the start of Alternative Response, beginning today in Allegany, Garrett, Washington, Frederick and Montgomery counties. Additional counties and Baltimore City will come online over the next year with the goal of statewide implementation by July 1, 2014.

MEDIA AVAILABILITY: Department of Human Resources Secretary Ted Dallas, Social Services Administration Executive Director Carnitra White and Allegany County Director of Social Services Director Dick Paulman will be available for media interviews.  For in person or studio interviews, please contact Brian Schleter at 410-767-8944.

Filed in: Adoption and Foster Care, DHS News

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