State govt. improves child abuse hotline

By: Rebekah Devorak | Opinions Editor 

Think of the first person you would call for help in a life-or-death situation.

Now, think about what you would do if they decided not to answer the phone.

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services reported on Sept. 15 that it was finally adjusting its ability to answer calls of the “ChildLine” child abuse hotline. According to a May audit of the service, it was found that 22 percent of calls made to the hotline in 2015 were disconnected or dropped before reaching a worker.

That’s nearly 42,000 phone calls. Or, more appropriately, 42,000 abused children who did not get the help they needed. While the auditor may have viewed this number as a statistic, these are real people’s lives who were very severely affected by an inability to answer the phone.

The audit stated that the main reason for the massive amounts of missed calls was due to a lack of staff. Wouldn’t you think that the state would want to allocate as many resources as possible so that there’s someone to pick up the phone when a child in a dire situation needs help? It’s common sense, just as you would want someone sitting behind the telephone if you ever had to call 911. These are not situations where you want to go straight to voicemail.

According to the ChildLine website, its main goal is to “accept calls from the public and professional sources 24 hours per day, seven days per week.” By using the hotline, callers can expect to receive information, counselling and referral services so that families can “ensure the safety and well-being of the children of Pennsylvania.”

The Department of Human Services says that only roughly 2 percent of calls to the hotline so far in 2016 are hang ups or internal errors, which is lower than the rate it was in 2014, at 4 percent.

While this is an area where there no-doubt should’ve always been enough staff members to man the ChildLine hotline, it’s fantastic that the state actually took substantial measures to make a meaningful difference in the number of children being turned away from help. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the department hired new employees, made its training programs more comprehensive and updated technology so that calls could be more easily recorded and processed by workers.

According to Child Help, anywhere between four and seven children die each day due to abuse and neglect in the United States, a country that has one of the worst records when compared to other industrialized nations. The National Children’s Alliance states that there were an estimated 679,000 unique victims of child abuse in 2013.

Here in Pennsylvania, the Department of Human Services’ 2015 annual Child Protective Services Report revealed that there were 40,590 cases of suspected child and student abuse, up by over 11,000 cases from the previous year. Whether this is due to an increase in the actual cases themselves or just an increase in the number of those reporting them, it isn’t clear.

What is clear, however, is that child abuse is happening in our backyard.

It is a gravely serious plague that cannot risk to be ignored or silenced because there aren’t enough people available to assist when these families are reaching out for help. It’s so important that improvements were made to better serve the ChildLine hotline, because that’s a major step in solving the issues of child abuse once and for all.

Nowadays, it’s rare for what is essentially a company, and a government-funded one at that, to receive a negative audit and take the results so seriously. Other services that perform at sub-par levels should take notice.

Department of Human Services, children everywhere thank you for what you have done.