Skip to main content
Sign In

National Quality Improvement Center on Differential Response

Project Abstract

In 2012, the American Humane Association submitted relinquishment paperwork to the Office of Grants Management to have the National Quality Improvement Center on Differential Response in Child Protective Services (QIC-DR) moved to another entity. This request is still being processed, but the work continues as the core QIC-DR staff, and partners, Walter R. McDonald & Associates, Inc., and the Institute of Applied Research, continue to operate the QIC-DR. All three organizations have been pioneers in advancing knowledge about differential response nationally and within States, and are uniquely positioned to collaborate and complement each other’s experiences and networks. The American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law and the National Conference of State Legislatures are contributing their expertise to enhance the QIC’s project activities and thus, the quality of child protective services (CPS).

The purposes of this project are to:
  1. Design and conduct evaluation, to rigorously study implementation, outcomes and cost impact of differential response in research and demonstration sites;
  2. Learn if differential response is an effective approach in CPS; and
  3. Build cutting-edge, innovative and replicable knowledge about differential response, including guidance on best practices in differential response.


Project Approach
The QIC-DR has a two-phase approach. Through a needs assessment, Phase I focused on the identification of knowledge gaps, service gaps, research priorities and experimental design. In October 2009, Phase II began and focuses on the implementation of the research design in three research and demonstration (R&D) sites -- Colorado, Illinois and Ohio -- and dissertation research. The QIC-DR will disseminate the most current and state-of-the-art information to practitioners, policymakers, administrators and researchers. Using a collaborative approach, the QIC-DR serves as a laboratory for innovation, application and learning.

The QIC-DR project team and the Children’s Bureau drew upon the expertise of families and leaders in the field at the Federal, State and community levels, as well as a National Advisory Committee, to guide and select the research focus for the three sites. The R&D sites will ultimately work to answer the following questions: 

  1. Are children whose families participate in the non-investigation pathway as safe as or safer than children whose families participate in the investigation pathway?
  2. How is the non-investigation pathway different from the investigation pathway in terms of family engagement, caseworker practice and services provided?
  3. What are the cost and funding implications to the child protection agency of the implementation and maintenance of a differential response approach?

Phase I - Year 1

Conducting a national needs assessment: 

During Phase I, the QIC-DR, in cooperation with the Children’s Bureau, completed a comprehensive review of existing knowledge on differential response in child protective services through a literature review, legal and legislative analysis, information summits on relevant topic areas with experts in the field, interviews and focus groups, and listening sessions with families and tribal representatives. The website for the project ( houses all of these products as well as an annotated bibliography.


Phase II - Years 2-5

Administering projects:

Colorado, Illinois and Ohio were selected as R&D sites through a competitive process to implement differential response and conduct local evaluations of their differential response model and cooperate with the cross-site evaluation. In addition, with guidance from the Academic Scholars Panel, the QIC-DR has supported five doctoral students' dissertation research to create additional knowledge and more scholarly evidence about differential response.


Evaluating process and outcomes:

A cross-site evaluation will be conducted that will include process (implementation and fidelity), child and family outcomes, and cost study components. The outcomes study will use a randomized control trial (RCT) methodology. Core components of the evaluation will be comparable across sites, and will be fully incorporated into the local evaluation design. The QIC-DR will supply technical assistance and support to the local evaluators in the collection of data. Lessons learned from the implementation study will also be documented.


Disseminating knowledge:

To help build a knowledge-development process and engage the field, information will be shared in a timely manner throughout all stages of the initiative. Products from Phase I will be updated as necessary and continually shared with different audiences. Initial findings from R&D sites on their implementation process, strengths and challenges will also be disseminated. Finally, information on outcomes achieved through the cross-site evaluation will be shared nationally and site-specific outcomes will be synthesized and disseminated as they become available.