DCF: Reaching out to Families in Different Ways

New Differentiated Response System Offers A Friendlier Option

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DCF Careline worker Nana-Kyi Johnson
Photo:Uma Ramiah
It's Not a Hotline. It's a Careline.
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It's Not a Hotline. It's a Careline.

Connecticut's Department of Children and Families has made a fundamental shift in the way they handle reports of child abuse or neglect. A new program allows DCF to tailor its response to a case, depending on its severity.

Before the switchover, things were different. When a call was accepted by DCF's Child Abuse and Neglect hotline, it was investigated. Period. That meant an unannounced visit from a DCF social worker. Maybe an intrusive search for a perpetrator, often followed by charges. And a permanent record -- no matter how mild the report might have been.

But that's starting to change, through what's called a Differentiated Response System, or DRS. Now, incoming reports that are less severe or urgent in nature aren't investigated. Instead, they're fed to a Family Assessment Response track. That's where local area agencies take the case from DCF with the hope of working side by side with that family, to meet their needs.

And, it's not called the Hotline anymore. Now, it's the Careline. 

"Instead of engaging with all families in the same way with the same approach we're taking on a shift in terms of how we look at risk," says Loida Reyes, a program manager for DCF's new Careline.

She says the new system allows more flexibility. And it acknowledges that an aggressive, punitive approach doesn't work for every case.

"Families have the opportunity to engage with department in a much different way, more friendlier, but still get same type of services, still get a thorough assessment. And then as a department we're able to utilize the skills and expertise of our investigators to really concentrate on those cases that need our involvement," she says.

The most severe cases will still be investigated. But if a case meets certain criteria, it'll be sent down the Family Assessment Track. During the week of March 30th, 29 percent of calls accepted by the Careline were sent to the Family Assessment Response track. Now, those cases will be taken up by an agency that will assess the family, and offer support services -- from help with food, clothes, even health -- based on what they might need. And before they show up? They call to make an appointment. 

Karen Ginand and Nana-Kyi Johnson are social workers who staff the Careline. Ginand says DRS is a welcome change for the Careline workers, who are all trained in social work.

"People were really excited in general, you know even people who might be a little disillusioned about working for DCF anymore. It's not like these are people that don't know anything about social work. People are excited to get back to social work. And a lot of people are going above and beyond with their cases trying to do this kind of stuff anyway."

Reyes says the response from families has also been positive. 

"People were actually shocked that DCF was calling them to make them an appointment. Many parents commented, you know, is this for real? You know, kind of shocked at our approach," she says.

DCF projects that after a year, 40 percent of the calls to the Careline won't be investigated. They'll be sent to that Family Assessment Track.