More than a third of callers to Louisiana’s hotline to report child abuse, even professionals who are required to report indications of abuse, either reached a busy line or hung up before someone could answer.
For the calls that were answered, an average of nearly seven minutes passed before someone picked up the phone.
The Louisiana Legislative Auditor compiled information from the state Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) from July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2022, to evaluate how the agency receives and processes reports of child abuse and neglect.
A glaring omission the audit discovered was a lack of performance targets that could be used to determine whether DCFS is answering and processing abuse calls in a timely fashion. The same information could be used to determine adequate staffing levels for the hotline.
Based on data from July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022, auditors determined the peak call period for the child abuse hotline is between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., meaning it could be overstaffed from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
In her written response to the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, DCFS Secretary Terri Ricks largely agreed with the recommendations in the audit report and indicated some of the suggested changes were in the process of being made.
More training suggested
Louisiana established an online mandated reporter portal in August 2018 as an alternative to the phone hotline for health care, school and police personnel, social service provides and clergy to bring non-emergency child abuse and neglect cases to the attention of DCFS. Since its launch, 29% of the 197,302 reports the agency has received have been through the portal. During the same time, the number of emergency reports made through the portal have increased 47% — from 239 in 2019 to 352 last fiscal year.
The audit recommends DCFS develop a strategy to manage increased reporting through the online portal, including expansion of training for professionals who are required by law to file reports of child abuse and neglect. State law mandates that teachers, child care providers and police undergo this training, but the audit notes medical professionals are not required to complete it.
The audit calculated that an average of 6,331 calls per month were made to the DCFS child abuse and neglect hotline from July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022. Of that total, an average 1,111 callers each month got a busy line and decided to receive a callback. Another 1,183 hung up before their call could be answered, and 218 hung up before finishing their report.
DCFS has no targets for unanswered, disconnected or abandoned calls to determine whether its staff is improving or regressing in these areas. Nor does it know if its average 6.9-minute wait time is better or worse than in years past.
In her response to the audit report, Ricks said DCFS Centralized Intake receives hotline data daily and uses it to make staffing decisions. Once it sets performance targets, the agency will use the data weekly, monthly and quarterly to evaluate performance, the secretary said.
The big picture
The Legislative Auditor’s report showed nearly 250,000 reports of potential child abuse or neglect were filed with the DCFS Central Intake staff over the five-year period. Out of that total, the agency accepted 93,415, or 37.4% for investigation. Nearly 65% involved allegations of neglect, 27% physical abuse and 6.7% sexual abuse. The remaining 1.6% of allegations covered maltreatment, near-fatal injuries, sex and labor trafficking, and Safe Haven cases in which a parent can give up custody of a newborn at a designated facility.
The DCFS Child Welfare Division had a budget of nearly $281 million in fiscal 2022, or roughly 35% of the department’s total budget. Since 2018, the Child Welfare Division’s total budget has decreased 13% from $322 million to $280.7 million in 2022, when its Centralized Intake staff totaled 64 employees.
SUPPORT NEWS YOU TRUST.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.