Before Social Services knocks at the door |

Before Social Services knocks at the door

California’s child welfare system is being reformed, and a local program called Differential Response is leading the overhaul in Nevada and Placer counties, and in dozens of other communities across the state.

Differential Response teams work with county and community service providers to support families in which child abuse or neglect might be present. By reaching families at the first signs of stress and struggle, problems can be squelched before they escalate.

“In child abuse cases where a child needed to be removed from the home, almost always there had been low-risk referrals early on that had not been responded to,” said Anne Watts, family support supervisor for the Kings Beach Family Resource Center. “If we can get to the family early on, then ideally we can build on the family’s strengths so that they will have alternative behaviors to respond with, and they will also have resources in the community to go to if they need formal support.”

Each year, child protection agencies in California field more than 500,000 abuse and neglect reports, according to the American Humane Association, a network of organizations that prevents the maltreatment of children and animals, but many of those reports don’t meet the statutory definitions of abuse or neglect and therefore do not warrant a response by protection agencies.

Differential Response enables county child welfare agencies to respond in broader ways, Watts said, by allowing families to participate voluntarily, and by connecting them with a variety of local services, resources and personal advocates.

“Maybe families aren’t ready for support when we make the initial call, but we still provide them with the resources and the contact information that they might need,” said Adela Gonzalez del Valle, executive director of the Truckee Family Resource Center. “Sometimes we get calls from those families weeks later.”

By keeping contact voluntary, Gonzalez del Valle said she has seen a positive improvement in the relationships that at-risk families are building with child welfare service providers.

Eleven California counties are now receiving modest funding to pilot the Differential Response program, including Placer County, which started the program in February, and Nevada County, which picked it up in August.

More than a dozen other states are also using the program, including Virginia, Missouri and Hawaii.

“Prevention work can be successful, and if our data shows that Differential Response has been successful, then there is the potential that the whole state ” then possibly the federal government ” will switch to these early supportive services,” Watts said.

The Kings Beach Family Resource Center and the Truckee Family Resource Center have contacted 61 families since their Differential Response programs began, and now more than 63 percent of those families are engaging in services.

To learn more about Differential Response and the services provided by local family resource centers, contact the Truckee Family Resource Center, located in the Sierra Mountain Middle School building, at 587-2513; or the Kings Beach Family Resource Center, 8321 Steelhead Ave., at 546-0952.

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