Hawaii Human Services Department Shares Foster Care Expertise with Alaskan Tribes

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HONOLULU, HAWAII – At the request of the Western and Pacific Implementation Center, a project funded by the federal government, the Hawai‘i State Department of Human Services (DHS) will help the State of Alaska and numerous tribal organizations safely reduce the number of Native Alaskan children in foster care.

DHS has been asked to assist Alaska in developing and implementing its version of a Differential Response System. This online and computerized system, which Hawai‘i launched in 2005, carefully weighs risk and safety factors in a family’s home to determine the most appropriate response when investigating reports of child abuse or neglect.


Responses range from offering voluntary family strengthening services to immediately placing children in protective care.

“With our old ‘one-size-fits-all’ system, the State of Hawai‘i was removing children from their families at up to four times the national average with no improvement in safety,” DHS Director Lillian Koller said.

“All that changed five years ago when we implemented our Differential Response System in collaboration with the National Resource Center for Child Protective Services,” Koller said. “Now DHS has garnered national acclaim for safely reducing the number of foster children by more than half while achieving one of the lowest rates of child re-abuse in America.”

“The approach Hawai‘i has taken to designing and implementing Differential Response provides a great example for Alaska because of the importance of local community engagement and ownership in serving children and families,” according to Theresa Costello, director of the National Resource Center for Child Protective Services.

Prior to implementing the new system, nearly 3,000 Hawai‘i children were in foster care. Today, about 1,300 children are in foster care. Also, Hawai‘i’s child re-abuse rate dropped from 6 percent in 2003 to just 3.9 percent in 2009, which is far better than the national tolerance standard of 6.1 percent.

Along with safely reducing the number of foster children, the Differential Response System helped eliminate the disproportionate representation of Native Hawaiian children in foster care.

“In 2005, Native Hawaiian children were more than twice as likely to be removed from their families, compared to Caucasian children,” Koller said. “After launching our Differential Response System, that disparity of Native Hawaiians in foster care was eliminated.

“Now we will provide technical assistance to Alaskan officials with the goal of achieving similar results among Native Alaskan tribes.”

John Walters, Child Welfare Services Program Development Administrator for DHS, is conducting the peer-to-peer training in Alaska during the first week of August.

Accompanying Walters are representatives from nonprofit groups that partner with DHS. They will share advice about implementing family strengthening services, building community support for a Differential Response System, and making culturally appropriate foster care placements.

Efforts by DHS and its community partners to improve the lives of children since 2005 have drawn praise from federal officials, Governing magazine (www.governing.com/poy/Lillian-Koller.html) and the Casey Family Programs 2010 annual report, entitled “How are the Children?”


Submitted by DHS Public Information Officer Toni Schwartz





  1. This is very good. Children need our help and attention and we should lend a helping hand ….especially to people who are willing to listen to our advice.

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