Date of Award

August 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Social Work

First Advisor

Steven L. McMurtry

Committee Members

Joshua P. Mersky, Nancy Rolock, Daniel Fuhrmann, Susan Rose


Child Maltreatment, Differential Response, Ncands, Neglect


A growing number of child protective service (CPS) agencies have adopted differential response (DR), which allows for the provision of case management and support to moderate-risk CPS cases without launching a formal investigation. Previous research has established that DR does not compromise child safety, and that it promotes family engagement. Yet DR's broader impact on CPS agencies remains largely unknown. Given that DR diverts some cases from traditional investigations, this dissertation explored DR's impact on child neglect cases that do not get diverted. Specifically, the study examined how DR changes the proportion and characteristics of the population of children experiencing investigations, substantiations, and removals from their homes of origin.

Methods: First, using 2010 data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS), a path analysis compared investigation, substantiation, and removal rates in DR counties and non-DR counties while accounting for county-level covariates. Second, using the same 2010 dataset, multilevel logistic regression models were run to test the likelihood that an investigation was substantiated in DR and non-DR counties after accounting for county- and child-level covariates. Finally, a longitudinal analysis of NCANDS data from 2000-2010 described the degree and rate of change for county-level investigation and substantiation rates coinciding with the launch of DR.

Results: Controlling for county characteristics, the implementation of DR corresponded with significant declines in CPS investigation rates across counties and over time. Further, longitudinal analyses revealed that significant declines in investigation rates occurred during the first three years of DR implementation. In addition, cross-sectional analyses indicated that the rate of substantiated investigations was higher among DR counties than non-DR counties and that this pattern was consistent across children of different racial and ethnic groups. However, the longitudinal analyses showed that DR implementation was not associated with an increase in the proportion of substantiated investigations. DR implementation was also not associated with changes in removal rates.

Conclusion: The reduction of investigations associated with the launch of DR has implications for staffing structures and resource disbursement in CPS agencies and community partners. The findings also inform further discussion about the role of public child welfare agencies beyond investigating maltreatment allegations. Finally, the study reinforces the value of national datasets for assessing widespread system change.