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Message from Lois Ann Day, Director, Office of Child Welfare

Hello DHS,

This is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and our staff and community partners across the state are engaged in a variety of activities to increase awareness of child safety. For many years, Oregon and other states relied on foster care as the answer to keeping children safe when they had been victims of abuse and neglect at the hands of their parents or other adults in the home.

For the past five years, with the implementation of the Oregon Safety Model in 2007, we have been focused on strategies to keep children safe and families together by offering targeted services and programs to better support their individual needs. We know that foster care is not always the best solution, and Oregon is one of the states looking at a different way to respond to cases of abuse and neglect of children. This new approach is known as Differential Response, and it is another tool we will use to help achieve our goal of safely reducing the number of children in foster care.

Today, I want to share a guest op-ed I've submitted to the Oregonian newspaper for Child Abuse Prevention Month and Oregon’s push for Differential Response as a better tool for helping keep some children safe and at home. Thank you and have a great week.

~ Lois
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Child Abuse Prevention Month should also increase awareness of child neglect Lois Ann Day, Director, Office of Child Welfare Programs, Oregon Department of Human Services

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, but Oregonians who don't work in the field of child welfare are usually surprised to learn that chronic neglect of children, not abuse, is one of Oregon's most persistent threats to child safety. Neglect is the failure of a child's caretaker to adequately protect a child from harm. Chronic neglect is an ongoing pattern of serious neglect by a parent or caregiver, and the pattern is often corrected only to repeat over the same or new concerns. Oregonians may also be surprised to learn that more than 60% of all incidents of child abuse or neglect in 2010 were founded for neglect or threat of harm for neglect.

Chronic neglect is marked by several risk factors: extreme poverty, domestic violence, substance abuse and mental illness of parent/child. What happens in early childhood can matter for a lifetime and these risk factors, if left untreated over time, can create "chronic stress" for children growing up in that environment. Research on the biology of stress shows how poverty, abuse and neglect can weaken a child's developing brain and permanently set the body's stress response system on high alert. More Oregon children died as a result of neglect than other category of abuse last year. Children who experience neglect enter foster care at a higher rate than other children, and they stay longer.

Chronic neglect is harmful for children and families, and stresses the scarce resources of the state's child welfare system. We must ask ourselves: isn’t there a better way to engage these families than by taking their children into foster care?

Oregon has begun working on a new concept for the transformation of the front door of child welfare. This new concept, called Differential Response, can transform child welfare's engagement with families and in many cases, keep children safely at home after a founded incident of child abuse or neglect. The current model of intervention in Oregon is designed after a law enforcement model from many years ago. It is very effective for interventions in some families experiencing abuse and has for years been the primary national model for child welfare intervention.

Differential Response is based on the idea that "one-size-does-not-fit all," and that families can be successful when interventions are crafted to meet the family's specific challenges. This is a direct response to our growing understanding that the traditional intervention to address child safety is not always the best intervention, and that a differentiation of response options allow workers to meet families where they are in the process of understanding and addressing what is causing their children to be unsafe.

Part of Oregon's efforts to safely reduce the number of children in foster care focuses on building family and community support in a model of shared responsibility. Parents and families need concrete supports to address the underlying issues of neglect. In some cases, these supports are basic food, housing, transportation and employment. In more cases, the need is for culturally appropriate services, like drug/alcohol treatment, mental health treatment and parenting support and skill-building.

For Oregon, transforming our system toward one of Differential Response will add an alternative child welfare intervention that focuses on assessing and ensuring child safety by engaging the family in partnership to keep their children safe. Differential Response will allow for the provision of earlier interventions in partnership with community-based organizations, providing an avenue for the reconnection of the family with their community. The traditional CPS response will continue to be used for higher risk cases where greater state intervention is needed to ensure children are safe.

We didn't create this concept, and Oregon is learning from the other 23 states where all or part of it is in place. We do, however, expect the transformation of our child protection system to a system of Differential Response will result in a more tailored way to keep children safe and families intact.

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