Each year, thousands of high-risk families are referred to the child protection agency in Orange County, California, the Social Service Administration (SSA) for maltreatment. Yet not all of these families can or should be served by the child welfare system. Research indicates high rates of re-referral and subsequent child welfare system involvement among families with initial referrals that do not reach a threshold for case opening. Prior research on secondary prevention is mixed as to whether evidence-based practices and other differential response interventions produce significant decreases in CPS recidivism. Children under the age of 5 years old are particularly vulnerable to maltreatment. The purpose of this evaluation is to rigorously assess whether the delivery of an enhanced engagement and service-linkage model called the Neighborhood Resource Network (NRN) decreases subsequent child welfare involvement among families following their first referral to SSA
Between March 2016 and March 2018, 5,460 eligible referrals were submitted by SSA to the research team for random assignment to the intervention and control groups. Following randomization, 2,413 referred families were assigned to the NRN treatment condition while 3,047 were included in the control group. Data on engagement efforts and service delivery were collected from community service providers across the county by a centralized hub community-based agency and overseen by the Orange County Commission on Children and Families. Randomized child welfare referrals were matched with subsequent child welfare records made available by the California Department of Social Services to assess re-referral rates for families assigned to the intervention and control groups.
Of the 5,460 families assigned to the NRN intervention group between March 2016 and March 2018, 865 (35.8%) were successfully contacted by a Community Service Provider (CSP). Among families that were successfully contacted, 102 (1.2%) accepted CSP services, 45 (1.9%) were already connected to services, and 718 (83%) declined services. Two years into the pilot program, 43 families have successfully completed their services plans through a CSP, and 59 have yet to complete their service plans. Within the first two years of implementation, a total of 1,975 or 81.2% of families assigned to the NRN treatment group had no subsequent referral to a CPS agency in the state of California within 6 months, as compared with 81.6% of the control group. Among the 438 intervention families re-referred to SSA, 33.8% resulted in a substantiated allegation. Of the 220 re-referred families from the control group, 39.3% resulted in a substantiated allegation.
Conclusions and Implications
These findings highlight the challenges to engaging families with young children in preventative services. This pilot program has implications for community-based maltreatment prevention and multidisciplinary teaming. Strengths and limitations will be discussed within the context of implementation, fidelity and adherence to the experimental design, collection of administrative data, and interdisciplinary collaboration.