Guest Columns

HOTLINE STEERING COMMITTEE: KEEPING KIDS SAFE

Child abuse reporting system will ensure that no child’s cries for help go unheard

GUEST COLUMNISTS

Over the last two years Colorado’s child welfare system has undergone a swift transformation under Gov. John Hickenlooper’s child welfare plan “Keeping Kids Safe and Families Healthy.” There is improved training for caseworkers, new prevention programs throughout the state and implementation of best practices to more effectively respond to family needs. But every tragic child death because of abuse or neglect magnifies the necessity of creating a statewide hotline to report child maltreatment.

Since the previous legislature adjourned last May, advocates, state and county human service leaders, emergency responders, and county commissioners have been engaged in an intense process to develop a child abuse reporting system in which every caller’s concern is documented, and no child falls through the cracks.

Members of the Hotline Steering Committee worked throughout the summer to develop a plan. They even visited two states to observe their systems and operations. Based on best practices from across the nation, the Committee developed a budget proposal to create a state-of-the-art system for Colorado.

However, the proposed system is far more than the creation of a single number to report child abuse — it is a cutting edge system that incorporates best practices from around the country. This proposed phone system will enable us to capture critical information such as number of calls received, call volume, call duration, speed of answer, wait time, call transfers and abandonment rate. Right now we have no ability to measure these important factors on a statewide basis.

This data is critical to ensuring that calls across the state are quickly and appropriately handled. The hotline will record and preserve calls for quality assurance, training and performance management purposes, allowing for better training opportunities for workers and increased accountability within the system.

By July of this year, all call takers will be using an enhanced child abuse screening guide. This tool will prompt call takers to ask detailed questions about various forms of abuse and neglect based on the caller’s concerns, collecting information for case workers to respond more effectively to the children and families they serve. And, when the hotline is operational, every person answering these important phone calls will be certified to do so, as part of the newly redesigned Training Academy, developed in partnership with the Kempe Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect.

Certification, training, enhanced screening and enhanced technology are all part of an innovative strategy to target child abuse and ensure that no child’s cries for help go unheard. But, to have a fully functioning child welfare system in Colorado, we need the public’s support.

In tandem with the hotline, a statewide public awareness campaign, if approved by the legislature, will be launched to educate Coloradans about the signs of abuse and neglect and how to make a report.

A recent public opinion survey found that more than half of Coloradans surveyed said they have personally encountered a child that they suspected was a victim of abuse or neglect. Yet, only 10 percent of all reports of child abuse and neglect in Colorado come from the general public. Most reports come from mandatory reporters. Moreover, 49 percent of Coloradans surveyed were unable to identify a proper step to report child abuse or neglect when asked what they would do if they had a concern that a child was being abused or neglected. Only 70 percent of those surveyed persons mandated by law to report suspicions named a proper step to make a report, i.e. call child protection services, a county hotline, police, or 911 in case of emergency.

Ultimately, we need to generate a greater understanding of what everyone can and should do to potentially save the life of a vulnerable child. When the hotline is launched in January 2015, the public will be made aware of one number to call, but more importantly they will be educated on why that call is so important to the health and wellbeing of a child.

We believe these efforts will prove to be essential tools to prevent children from experiencing abuse and neglect, helping us to intercede earlier in a child’s life and transforming our state’s child welfare system to ensure that we achieve the ultimate goal of “keeping kids safe and families healthy.”

Jack Hilbert is a Douglas County Commissioner and co-chair of the Hotline Steering Committee.

Julie Krow is director of the Office of Children, Youth and Families at the Colorado Department of Human Services, and co-chair of the Hotline Steering Committee.

Stephanie Villafuerte is executive director of the Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center, and a member of the Hotline Steering Committee.