Research shows that children under the age of 5 who remain in the home following initial reports of maltreatment are at heightened risk of being re-reported to the child protection system (CPS). Agencies often refer these families to voluntary community-based service providers who specialize in addressing needs and strengthening families. A small number of existing RCTs suggest that these programs can prevent or reduce maltreatment. However, voluntary programs are plagued with low engagement and attrition.
In an attempt to increase engagement with these secondary prevention services, and, ultimately, decrease subsequent child welfare involvement among families with an initial maltreatment referral, the Children and Families Commission Orange County (First 5 OC) and the Social Services Agency (SSA) of Orange County developed an enhanced engagement and service-linkage model, the Neighborhood Resource Network (NRN). The NRN was established as an outreach program in which Community Service Providers (CSP) make active efforts to engage and provide voluntary services (e.g. parenting programs; auxiliary services; etc.) to eligible families based on the following criteria: (1) the family had been reported for alleged maltreatment, but no child welfare case had been opened; (2) the family had no prior reports of alleged maltreatment; (3) the family had at least one child under the age of five; and (4) the family resided in Orange County, California.
First 5 OC engaged the CDN to help develop a rigorous evaluation of the NRN. The evaluation was designed as a Randomized Control Trial (RCT), in which families are randomly assigned to either the intervention or control group. Intervention families would be actively engaged by community service providers per the NRN protocol, whereas control families would be exposed to the traditional referral process implemented by the county Social Service Administration (SSA). Both groups would then be ‘followed’ using administrative data for one year after the baseline child maltreatment report in order to compare rates of subsequent child protection involvement.
In the first two years of implementation (March 2016 and March 2018), 5,251 eligible referrals were submitted by SSA to the Children’s Data Network for randomized assignment, of which 2,625 of which were randomly assigned to receive the NRN intervention. 385 ineligible referrals were excluded from the analysis post randomization. Randomization functioned as predicted (i.e., no significant demographic or case characteristic differences were observed between the intervention and control groups).
Among all families randomized to the treatment condition (n=2,240), 815 (36.4%) were successfully contacted by a CSP. Of these 815 contacted families, 104 (12.8%) accepted services (4.6% of the total treatment group). Of the 104 families that were both contacted and consented to receive voluntary services through a community provider, 54 completed services (51.9%).