Differential response

Responding to information about children in adversity: Ten years of a differential response model

This article uses a comprehensive database about children in adversity collected over the 16-year period from 1990 to 2005 in the state of Western Australia. The focus of this inter- rogation is the effect of major changes in responses to information about children brought to the attention of the Western Australian statutory authority in a 10-year period during this 16 years. The initiative for these changes was termed New Directions , and its associated policy and practice changes were aimed at differentiating information expressing concerns about children and families from allegations of child maltreatment. They emphasized the provision of supportive and empowering services to families experiencing difficulties – a form of differential response to children in adversity. The article covers the period leading up to the policy and practice change and the 10 years during which these changes were implemented. It examines some effects of the new policy and comments on whether the changes resulted in missed opportunities to protect children from harm, which in turn, might have led to higher rates of re-reporting. The authors present an overall picture of the nature of the information accepted by the statutory authority and how the interpretation of that information might have affected subsequent outcomes for children. In doing so, it shows that the policy and consequential practice changes associated with a differential response mechanism had long lasting positive effects that, despite dire warnings, did not compromise the protection of the small group of children identified as requiring protective interventions