The rate of dropped calls to the county's 24-hour, child abuse hotline is rising to an alarming level, due to long wait times and ineffective management of hotline staff, according to an Orange County Grand Jury Report released Wednesday.
The number of people calling to report the possibility of a child being neglected or abused who hang up while waiting to talk to a social worker has more than tripled, from 5-8 percent in 2012, to 15-25 percent in 2014.
Callers who hang up rather than stay on hold might be neighbors or family acquaintances "who may have mixed feelings about getting involved in the first place" and may not call again, the report notes, which "could result in a child being left in jeopardy, and ultimately harmed or even suffering fatal injuries."
While most all the employees and supervisors at the county Social Services Agency, which operates the Child Abuse Registry hotline, that were interviewed were alarmed by number dropped calls, the Grand Jury report concluded management wasn't doing enough to help overwhelmed social workers prioritize calls based on urgency during peak hours.
The report also includes the following findings:
- New documentation and paperwork requirements contributed to wait times, because most social workers won't answer calls while they are completing the paperwork.
- Repetitive and duplicated data entry on forms for each call adds to the wait times.
- The volume of calls into the child abuse hotline has increased significantly.
- While the hotline might be quiet for long periods of time, during peak hours, the hotline might receive anywhere from 0 to 20 calls in a half hour period.
- The recent merging of hotlines for Adult Protective Services and Child Abuse Registry means that while employees all felt competent taking calls from both agencies, they still felt unsure and thus be slower at completing calls.
Read the full Grand Jury report on their website.
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