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Saturday, July 07, 2012

Ind. Gov't. - Chicago Tribune reports on problems with the Illinois child abuse hotline

Christy Gutowski, Chicago Tribune reporter, has this very long story that will be in the Sunday paper, headed "Problems for DCFS child abuse hotline: Less than 40% of callers reach a specialist on first attempt; others must leave messages." Some sample quotes:

In January 1980, Illinois was among the first states in the nation to centralize its child abuse hotline with a single toll-free number that rings into the call center, within sight of the Capitol. * * *

Callers dial 800-25ABUSE and reach a "call-floor" specialist who assesses whether the allegation meets the legal requirements for the state to intervene. If the specialists are backed up and it's not deemed an emergency, a worker asks the caller to provide a name and number, and the hotline calls back.

Kendall Marlowe, DCFS' spokesman, acknowledged the problem of using message takers, but he said the alternative is more abandoned calls. Less than 3 percent of hotline calls in the 11-month period resulted in a hang-up, the newspaper found, reflecting the best rate chronicled in more than a decade.

The national average is about 5 percent.

"We very rarely put calls on hold because that doesn't accomplish anything," Marlowe said. "If the child is not in immediate danger, we get the caller's name and number and call them back. The hotline needs to be properly staffed so that we're taking live calls and not relying on a callback system."

Besides Illinois, 33 states have a toll-free child abuse hotline, according to federal government statistics. Officials in Florida, Indiana and New York report that most of their hotline calls are answered within minutes. In Michigan, for example, the average wait is three minutes. None reported a similar message-taking system. * * *

If a caller's information meets specific legal criteria, specialists take a formal report and immediately relay it to the appropriate DCFS office. An assigned investigator then must make a good-faith effort to locate the child within 24 hours — or immediately in the most serious cases. * * *

The majority of hotline calls are made by police, school and hospital staff who are required by law to file a report if they suspect a child is in danger.

Frustrated with the delayed responses, a state committee of medical professionals asked Calica to set up a separate phone line dedicated to mandated reporters. Agency officials argue that would create more bureaucracy.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on July 7, 2012 07:12 PM
Posted to Indiana Government