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September 15, 2016

Pennsylvania officials reveal improved service to child abuse hotline

In May, audit revealed 42,000 calls went unanswered in 2015

After a worrisome evaluation highlighted critical problems with Pennsylvania's child abuse hotline, state officials unveiled changes Thursday designed to better serve children in need.

The Department of Human Services (DHS) cited new legislation that went into effect in January 2015 and inadequate staffing levels as reasons why ChildLine failed to answer 42,000 calls last year.

“The improvements we are announcing today represent the highest performance levels since 24 new bills -- that amended the child protection law -- went into effect in January 2015,” DHS Secretary Ted Dallas said.

ChildLine is a 24/7 service operated by DHS to ensure the safety and well-being of children in the state.

In 2015, the department reported a 14-percent increase in phone calls from 164,911 to 188,357, a 39-percent increase in cases of suspected child abuse and a 162-percent increase in requests for child-abuse history clearances.

DHS admitted that 43 percent of calls were abandoned or deflected and 48 percent of clearances were processed within 14 days as required by law.

Now that the department has added staff and improved training, only two percent of calls are abandoned or deflected and all clearances are processed on time.

In May, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale identified "critical problems" with the service after finding that 22 percent of calls went unanswered in 2015. The department's goal is to limit the percentage of unanswered calls to 4 percent.

“I sounded the alarm in May because even one unanswered phone call means there could be a child in a life-threatening situation who needs help,” DePasquale said. “I am pleased to hear that DHS took our interim report recommendations seriously and implemented changes that could help save children’s lives.”

DHS also announced that the public is encouraged to use its website to request clearances and report suspected child abuse.