Child Protective Services Worker Alternative Response Information

Wisconsin CPS Alternative Response County Implementation Map

Community members concerned for child safety can make reports to Child Protective Services (CPS). Counties review reports and make a screening decision. Cases are screened-in if they meet statutory guidelines for further assessment.

In January 2010, the Wisconsin State Legislature approved a pilot initiative to implement Alternative Response (AR) in local child welfare agencies in Wisconsin. The AR pilot established a two-pathway system for responding to and assessing screened-in cases within the Initial Assessment (IA) process. Between 2010 and 2016, DCF implemented the AR pathway in 22 local child welfare agencies through a multi-phase approach.

In one pathway, Traditional Response (TR), IA professionals determine if child abuse and/or neglect occurred. This is a maltreatment determination. If abuse or neglect occurred, IA professionals determine by whom. This is a maltreater determination.

In the second pathway, Alternative Response (AR), the primary focus is to create flexibility during the initial assessment process in order to engage families, conduct an assessment, and ensure child safety. Cases assigned to the AR pathway are less severe and less likely to need collaboration with law enforcement or courts. Family engagement helps the IA professional assess for safety and talk with the family about what services will help. In these cases, maltreater and maltreatment determinations may interfere with family engagement. AR assessments do not have maltreatment or maltreater determinations. The conclusion of the IA results in a “services needed” or “services not needed” determination. 

In 2016 and 2017, DCF contracted with the Institute for Child and Family Well-Being at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to conduct an evaluation of the pilot. The two-year evaluation included process and outcome components. The outcome evaluation focused on four areas of inquiry: (1) pathway assignment and reassignment, (2) child safety, (3) family engagement, and (4) client experience with services. The Process Evaluation focused on the description of AR pilot counties, fidelity to AR policies, provision of services during the Initial Assessment, implementation priorities and activities, and implementation supports. Results of the evaluation can be found in the link below.

Between 2016 and 2019, DCF’s Division of Safety and Permanence (DSP) held several meetings with representatives from AR pilot counties and other stakeholders. There were two goals for these meetings:

  1. To understand how AR implementation resulted in changes to child welfare policy and practice; and
  2. To identify actionable options for incorporating learnings from the AR pilot into the larger child welfare system.

Alternative Response Next Steps

Based on the results of the evaluation in combination with the learnings from the pilot counties, DCF has determined that further expansion of the AR Pilot will not be advanced, and the current AR policy addendum will be phased out.

Alternative Response Information

Wisconsin Alternative Response Evaluation Interim Report provides the results of the alternative response process evaluation completed by the Institute for Child and Family Well-Being at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Wisconsin Alternative Response Evaluation Outcome Report presents the results of the alternative response outcome evaluation completed by the Institute for Child and Family Well-Being at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Alternative Response (AR) Evaluation Overview and Highlights presents an overview of the AR Process Evaluation and AR Outcome Evaluation.

Alternative Response (AR) Evaluation Post-Hoc Analysis offers county specific rates of assignment over time (quarterly average) produced by the AR Evaluation Team.

Alternative Response Post-Hoc Race Analysis is the Race/Ethnicity Association to Pathway Assignment and Reassignment results produced by the AR Evaluation Team.

Report of the Experience, Findings, and Recommendations from the Alternative Response Pilot and Think Tank provides information on the process and conclusions of the AR Think Tank.

Alternative Response Think Tank Overview and Highlights offers key takeaways from the Wisconsin Alternative Response pilot and the AR Think Tank.

Resources for Alternative Response Counties

Addendum to the Child Protective Services Access and Initial Assessment Standards: the program requirements and guidelines.

Alternative Response Pre-Service Modules provides online pre-service training related to Alternative Response.

Wisconsin’s Alternative Response Pilot Report to the Legislature is the report to the legislature about the Alternative Response Pilot.

Alternative Response Implementation Readiness Assessment helps counties explore their readiness to implement Alternative Response.

eWiSACWIS Alternative Response Quick Reference Guide is a resource for creating a CA/N Primary - Alternative Response.

Alternative Response Contact Information

For additional information or questions pertaining to Alternative Response in Wisconsin, email