RBC Department of Human Services prepares for official shift to Differential Response practice

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An unfortunate side effect of living on Earth: things happen that you cannot control, and life circumstances, sooner or later, will leave you in a situation you never thought you’d face.

If not addressed, the problems caused disproportionately hurt the most vulnerable – children.

In most cases, kids can’t ask for help themselves, but for the adults in their lives, the fear and shame associated with seeking aid is often too difficult to overcome.

You can report suspected child abuse and neglect through the Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1(844)CO-4-KIDS.

Michelle Reese is well acquainted with this phenomenon as Child Welfare and APS Supervisor for the Rio Blanco County Department of Human Service. She has been working to expand services and capabilities, along with Director Barbara Bofinger, for the past three years, while combating high caseloads and a chronic understaffing problem.

One big goal will be realized in the next few months as the department officially implements “Differential Response” or DR practice.

DR is, “the overarching paradigm shift in counties to assess children for safety through partnering with families, community partners, and facilitate sustainable behavioral change within a family,” according to an informational email from Reese. It provides a much wider array of options for responses to child welfare calls.

Daniel Comer of the Kempe Center, a Denver-based 501(c)3 “focused on the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect,” has been assisting with the transition. In a virtual community forum held June 18, Comer described DR in one word: “flexibility.” 

“I think one of the big payoffs is more follow through on families — making and following through on services that may help them be safe,” he said.

With the DR track added to RBC’s response, child abuse calls that go to the hotline can be screened and caseworkers can determine whether the situation calls for a Family Assessment Response (FAR) (low to moderate risk), where DR practice comes into play, or a High Risk Assessment (HRA), which calls for more intensive intervention.

Child welfare remains the primary objective through the entire process. Caseworkers have full control to reassess and reclassify cases or change tracks if circumstances change.

DR practice allows social workers to access:

• Enhanced screening

• Support planning

• Front-loaded services

• Facilitated family meetings with a neutral party

• Group supervision

• RED teams

DR also allows caseworkers to schedule appointments instead of just dropping by unannounced – ”It’s not about catching folks, it’s about engaging them and helping them address whatever needs to be addressed,” Laura Carter Beck, Differential Response Specialist for the Colorado Department of Human Services, stated during the community forum.

Offering more “front-loaded services” means the department can refer families to community entities like Mind Springs for mental health care (and sometimes provide funding for those services, if necessary.) Reese doesn’t see this chipping away at the caseload immediately, but, “ideally we would like to see a decrease in calls in the future,” because of it. 

Michelle Huber of Mind Springs, who also attended the virtual forum, said they, “are excited to see how families respond to implementing it (DR) fully. It really is about a community and DHS partnering with the families.”

The overarching goal of DR practice is to help families find the resources they need while staying out of the system and the courts. 

“The biggest thing is research* shows that it’s best for families and we want to support that,” Reese said. Carter Beck added, “We know how traumatic out of home placement and removal can be for kiddos, and we want to do everything necessary to kind of prevent those if we can.”

Though RBC’s human services department has already implemented many aspects of DR practice, it won’t be official until the DR “track” is officially turned on in their computer system.

Currently, 50 counties have or are in the process of implementing DR, according to Carter Beck. The goal of the department is a full state rollout by 2024.

Kimberly Dubois, learning and development specialist at the department of child welfare, was also on the call, expressed excitement for RBC’s department and stated, “This is a great practice shift. It opens the ability to engage with families and serve them in a way that helps them remain together, if possible. It opens up the door for a lot of community engagement as well.”

*Find an evaluation of the benefits of the DR approach, completed by Colorado State University’s Health & Human Sciences School of Social Work, at: https://www.chhs.colostate.edu/ssw/wp-content/uploads/sites/7/2018/11/2014_05_02-program-evaluation-of-the-colorado-consortium-on-differential-response-final-report.pdf

BY CAITLIN WALKER | caitlin@ht1885.com

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