A graduate student who heard my presentation at the West Coast launch of my book contacted me and questioned the utility of a dual-track approach to protective services. He argued, based on his teachers’ guidance, that there is not sufficient evidence-based research to conclude that dual track is superior to the current approach of investigating all reports of neglect, no matter how trivial the protective report might be.
Several studies document that the dual-track approach has positive outcomes for children.* That research, he argues, is conducted in counties that have Title IVE waivers which allow funds saved to be used for enhanced services. Therefore, he concludes, the evaluations of dual-track are looking at situations in which additional funds are used for the dual-track response which he believes is an inappropriate comparison to the current non-dual-track approach since the funding is not equal. Would the same positive outcomes be found, he argues, if additional funds were added to traditional protective service investigations? He acknowledges that dual-track does no harm, but rejects the conclusion that it is a better approach than traditional protective service investigations for low-risk cases of neglect.
There are several problems with the student’s approach. First, he dismisses empirical research on dual-track with the speculation that things might better if additional funds were put into protective services. Using no data to refute data is a spurious approach to evaluate research.
Second, he argues, again based on his teachers’ guidance, that it is better not to act unless you have evidence that the intervention will be helpful. Of course it is important to have documentation that a new intervention works before trying it. However, there are two issues to consider: First, what evidence is sufficient in what situation? In this case, dual-track does no harm, and evidence shows that with additional funds, families who have experienced low-risk neglect are better off if they receive a dual-track intervention.
And second, what are the consequences of no action? In this situation, families who are reported for low-risk neglect, such as keeping a child home from school, are often harmed by a protective investigation, when an assessment and assistance through a dual- track approach, has been shown to be helpful. When the status quo is harmful, the evidence level needed for action should be lower because of the harm caused by the status quo.
Policy makers have to make decisions that affect children’s well-being and often their lives. A dual-track approach to child protective investigations has been implemented in at least 19 states and should be adopted throughout the country.
* See for example: New York State Office of Children and Family Services, Differential Response in Child Protective Services in New York State, Implementation, Initial Outcomes and Impacts of Pilot Project, Report to the Governor and Legislature (Albany: New York State Office of Children and Family Services, January 2011).