Colorado Child Abuse Hotline Busy In 2015

.jpg photo of DHHS Caseworkers
Caseworkers at Denver’s Department of Human Services

Colorado receives 205,000 calls in first year of Child Abuse hotline

Among the 205,000 calls to Colorado’s child abuse hotline in 2015, nearly 80 percent came from people required by law to report suspected abuse or neglect.

That means regular people — community members who might know best whether a child is physically abused or left alone for hours — aren’t picking up the phone.

On the first anniversary of a statewide hotline, 1-844-CO-4-KIDS, child welfare officials have a message for Coloradans worried about getting involved in their neighbors’ business: callers’ names are kept confidential, including from the family they are calling about.

“We want to make sure that anybody who has any concern about a family makes the call,” said Laura Solomon, intake administrator for the state child welfare department.

More than 88,000 calls this year resulted in further investigation regarding abuse or neglect.

The new number is intended to replace 64 phone numbers — one for each county human services department — with Colorado’s first statewide child abuse hotline.  The system also includes software to record all calls as audio files, a more thorough intake form with new questions for callers, and additional training for intake caseworkers.

It has made it easier to track the number of reports and gather better information, Solomon said.  Child abuse investigations have increased, and fewer people are calling intake caseworkers to ask questions unrelated to child abuse or neglect, such as how to get assistance with their electric bill.

Still, too many people are dialing local county numbers, which are routed to the same call centers.  About 26,000 calls out of 205,000 came directly to the new statewide number, which has been advertised on billboards and radio ads during the last year.

Every call to the hotline is picked up by a call center in Prowers County.  An automated voice asks where the child lives, and the call is dispatched to that county.

In Denver County, the phones ring 80 to 100 times per day, with each of five caseworkers handling 15 to 20 calls.  Most of the calls come from law enforcement and school officials.

The busiest time of day is 3-5 p.m., when class is dismissed and teachers have time to call the hotline, said Stephen DiGiacomo, senior social caseworker in the Denver call center.  In the middle of a slow holiday week, DiGiacomo and his co-workers had already answered 20 calls by mid-morning Wednesday.

Calls that lasted 10 to 15 minutes in the old system now can take up to 30 minutes as caseworkers tab through a questionnaire on their computers, asking questions about culture and language, weapons or vicious animals, and how the child was affected by the suspected abuse or neglect.

“We want to know what exactly are you calling about today and what else do you know about the family,” DiGiacomo said.

In every county, reports taken by intake caseworkers are sent to a team that determines whether to open an investigation, provide child abuse prevention services, or screen out the call.

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