AG DePasquale calls 42,000 unanswered ChildLine calls disturbing

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – So disturbed was Auditor General Eugene DePasquale at the findings of an audit of ChildLine, the state’s child abuse hotline, that he didn’t wait for its conclusion.

He issued a preliminary report Tuesday morning and called for immediate corrections.

DePasquale said in 2015, 42,000 calls to ChildLine went unanswered or were dropped. Additionally, he said a third of all calls that were answered were not properly documented or tracked.

The disturbing part, he said, is that credible reports of child abuse likely fell through the cracks.

“In 42,000 unanswered calls, it is very possible something happened to a child as a result of that, but we have no way of knowing that one way or the other and that’s our biggest problem,” DePasquale said during Tuesday’s Capitol news conference.

ChildLine was created in 1975, but when dozens of new child abuse rules and regulations went into effect after the Jerry Sandusky saga, call volume went way up. Call center staffing did not.

DePasquale’s audit found that the calls that were being answered weren’t being monitored by managers for quality assurance. The supervisors, apparently, were too busy answering phones to do their jobs.

“Supervisors monitored only seven calls out of 146,367. That’s .005 percent,” DePasquale said.

It’s only the third time in his three-plus years that DePasquale has issued a preliminary report while an audit is ongoing.

Also unusual: the target of the report agreed with its conclusions and joined DePasquale on the stage. Department of Human Services and Secretary Ted Dallas, who oversees ChildLine, said he’s working hard to fix the problems that he and the Wolf administration inherited.

“I got here and it was an issue I had to confront immediately,” Dallas said. “When we saw the volumes and saw what was going on, we hired additional staff.”

ChildLine was overworked and undermanned, according to Dallas, who says he increased full-time staffing from 49 to 79 employees.

In January 2015, according to DHS statistics, 43 percent of calls to ChildLine were dropped or unanswered. In March of 2016, that figure was down to 12 percent. The department wants to reduce that number to four percent.

“Would I say things are perfect and we don’t have more work to do?” Dallas asked. “Of course not. But I think we’re headed in the right direction.”

A ChildLine employee spoke to ABC27 anonymously. She said staffers are happy the problem is being publicized.

“Everything in the report is true and there’s a whole lot more,” she said.

An hour after the Tuesday news conference, ABC27 called ChildLine and were connected with a caseworker in two minutes. In 2015, according to the audit, the average wait time was nearly seven minutes and the longest 53 minutes; again, potentially to report victims of child abuse or neglect.

According to DHS statistics, in 2013, there were nearly 27,000 suspected child abuse reports received with 3,425, or 12.7 percent, substantiated.

In 2015, there were nearly 40,000 suspected child abuse reports received with 4,172, or 9.5 percent, substantiated.

Clearly, the Department of Human Services is improving, but the report suggests a colossal fail for the statewide overseer of county children and youth agencies.

It’s still puzzling how DHS didn’t react despite the dozens of new child abuse laws that clearly would steer tens of thousands of additional people to its hotline.

“I just think there’s no excuse for that not being anticipated,” DePasquale said.

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