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May 24, 2016

Auditor: 42,000 calls to Pa.'s child abuse hotline went unanswered

'Critical proplems' plague state service, report says

The lives of thousands of Pennsylvania children were put in potential danger last year because of "critical problems" with the state's child abuse hotline, according to a report.

The Pennsylvania Auditor General's Office released findings Tuesday that claim 42,000 calls to ChildLine went unanswered in 2015, accounting for 22 percent of all calls. That falls well short of the service's goal of only 4 percent going unanswered, which was met in 2014.

Adding to ChildLine's problems are constant understaffing and little oversight from supervisors, the report said.

“I’m sounding the alarm as early as I can on these issues because even one unanswered phone call means there could be a child in a life-threatening situation who needs help," said Auditor General Eugene DePasquale in a release.

Pennsylvania Auditor General's Office/Source

This infographic shows problems uncovered within ChildLine, Pennsylvania's child abuse hotline.

ChildLine, which is meant to be available 24/7 for calls on suspected child abuse and neglect, is operated by the Department of Human Services (DHS).

DHS Secretary Theodore Dallas said in a response included in the report he began working to address ChildLine's issue immediately after taking office in January 2015 under then-newly inaugurated Gov. Tom Wolf.

Among the problems the DHS has been working on are staffing resources, data collection and technology enhancements.

Another woe plaguing ChildLine is the number of calls that aren't logged.

In 2014 and 2015, 111,245 calls didn't generate reports that were identified or tracked in any way, according to the audit. That accounts for a third of all calls made during that time period. 

Dallas said in his response, that while his department assumes those calls did not have to do with concerns involving children, he considers the fact they weren't tracked to be a significant matter.

“DHS’s goal should be to answer and track the outcome of 100 percent of the calls,” DePasquale said.

Tuesday's release is only a preliminary report, published early because of the alarming findings, according to the Auditor General.

A full audit and report are expected at the end of this year.