Colorado child abuse and neglect hotline saw more calls than projected
Just a year after Colorado’s statewide child abuse and neglect reporting hotline was launched on Jan. 1, 2015, the number of calls across the state has exceeded expectations. Initially expecting about 130,000 calls, hotline supervisor Jack Hilbert said Colorado saw nearly 209,000 calls this year.
“There was no prior data to pull from,” he said, noting they had pulled the data from county reports.
While the hotline still routes incoming calls to the appropriate county, the new system allows the Colorado Department of Human Services to record data, such as call volume, speed of answer, transfers, wait time and the number of calls received. The number, 1-844-CO-4-KIDS, is also intended to be easier to remember.
While the majority of calls came in through pre-existing county phone numbers, about 27,000 were routed through the hotline. Callers who are not sure of which county the child is located in, are deaf or hard of hearing or speak a language other than English or Spanish can be routed to the Hotline County Connection Center.
“I think there’s been a rise in the general public,” Hilbert said. “We saw a bump in the number of calls during our April awareness campaign.”
In Summit County, 224 calls came into the system last year, about on par for the number of calls in 2014. Where the county stands out is its speed in picking up the phone, ranked as one of the best counties in the state with an average speed-to-answer of 13 seconds, hotline policy analyst Yolanda Arredondo said.
“You have to have committed directors and commissioners to make this happen,” Hilbert said, commending Summit County Commissioner Thomas Davidson and child welfare manager Nicole Bortot on their work to get the hotline up-and-running.
“Summit County was a real pioneer because they were one of first ones to try to pull all calls through CO-4-KIDS number,” he added.
The conversation about the idea of a single hotline began in 2011 and was signed into law in 2013. Davidson helped charter the bill, working on a taskforce to see how other hotlines across the U.S. functioned.
“It needed to work for small rural counties in addition to larger counties,” he said shortly after the new hotline was announced. “We needed people to believe we could implement something like this, not miss a beat and not miss a day that someone would call in.”
The hotline is currently funded for a three-year period.
MAKING THE CALL
Advertised across the state, hopes are that the hotline will encourage more family, friends and witnesses to report a potential incident.
“We’ve heard some people just say that when they called, that they saw it on TV or on a billboard,” Arredondo said. “The statewide number has really made it easier for people to make a point of contact.”
However, the majority of callers are still mandatory reporters. In Summit County last year, just 12 percent of callers were family and friends.
The state will often see spikes in reports before and after holiday breaks and around the weekend. School staff, including teachers, paraprofessionals, principals and others are the most frequent reporters.
“They’re talking about weekend plans, break plans, that general exchange,” Arredondo said. “That offers the opportunity for children to more comfortably disclose if there’s been an incident.”
In some cases, a mandatory reporter will co-report with a family member or acquaintance. For example, a patient might tell their doctor about unusual behavior they had witnessed. In general, most calls — about 60 percent — are just simple questions about procedures or “what if” situations. About 40 percent are child-welfare related.
“When a person is looking for things they might be concerned about, there’s some instinct that takes over with that,” Arredondo said.
Some potential signs include a child acting withdrawn, fearful of a caregiver, or simply unlike his or her normal self. she also said that marks on areas that are not commonly bruised in normal play could be a concern, such as marks on the neck, face or ears.
“Any time they have a concern, we would hope they would make the call,” she said. “You have professionals (who) are well-trained and have that expertise on the other line of the phone.”
All calls made through the hotline or designated county line are confidential and can be done anonymously. Hilbert added that often, if there is not a case of neglect or abuse, a call can direct resources to a family where help might be needed.
“If you see a family sleeping in a car on a cold night in a parking lot with children, that’s a different issue. It’s OK to call just to do a health check and find out,” he said. “The point is, if there’s a child that may be at risk, it’s better to have early intervention.”
He added that catching a case early may prevent a worse situation in the future.
“All you have to do is just pick up the phone, you call the number, and we’ll make the call.”
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