Many calls to state child abuse hotlines never make it to a social worker

OLATHE, Kan. - Filth covered the floors, walls, even the ceiling of a small apartment in Olathe, Kan. The stench was even worse.

Diane Kamin owns the apartment complex. She learned about the clutter, bugs and rampant filth in the apartment when a maintenance worker entered the apartment to do repairs.

Kamin said she called the Kansas child abuse hotline to report the filth because she was concerned about the two children who lived in the apartment — believed by the owner to be 8 months old and 6 years old.

"I don't know how anyone could keep their children in living conditions like that. It is appalling," Kamin said.

Kamin says she called the Kansas child abuse hotline twice. She said one of the neighbors also called the hotline after the neighbor said the boy was left alone overnight.

"(The boy) went across the street to another apartment building and was crying and they (the neighbors) reported it to SRS so actually there were three reports on this unit and they (DCF) have told me that they closed the file," she said.

Frustrated no one would return her calls or send someone to check out the apartment, Kamin contacted the 41 Action News Investigators.

41 Action News contacted the Kansas Department for Children and Families but found it very difficult to get any information.

That's because strict state laws make most of the information kept by the Department of Children and Families confidential — so confidential the agency could not confirm to us if they had received a call or if they had responded.

41 Action News has learned when someone calls the child abuse hotline, a call taker who is not a social worker screens those calls to decide if it should be referred to a social worker for investigation.

They call this "screening in."

Many states use this process so they can better use their limited staff and budgets to respond to the large amount of calls they receive every year.

According to the Kansas Department for Children and Families, calls to the state agency can be screened out for several reasons:

• The child is not harmed or likely to be harmed.
• The complaint concerns a lifestyle issue where a child won't be harmed.
• The credible information received during the call indicates there is little threat to the child.
• It is a duplicate call they are already acting upon.
• They know the information is false.
• They don't have enough information to allow them to locate the child.

Link to form they use to evaluate hotline calls | http://1.usa.gov/UEF29c

"We receive approximately 65,000 calls per a year to the Kansas Protection and Report Center and we assign about half of those for a variety of reasons," Deputy Director Brian Dempsey said.

Statistics show 53 percent of calls state-wide actually are assigned a social worker or "screened in." In the counties near Kansas City (Atchison, Douglas, Leavenworth, Johnson and Wyandotte) that number drops to 44 percent.

"No. We're not worried somebody has slipped through the cracks. We have a continuous quality improvement program and the supervisors in the report center review all the calls that are assessed by the social worker so there is a back up quality assurance process," Dempsey said in response to questions about the assessment process.

41 Action News asked to see those quality improvement reports but was told state law does not allow for those records to be released to the public for review.

National Child Abuse Coalition director John Sciamanna said in a time of limited state budged, states have to use "screening" to properly utilize their resources.

Sciamanna said, nationally, states "screen in" about 60 percent of all hotline calls. He said neglect calls are often the most difficult for call takers to assess.

He said 70-80 percent of calls child abuse hotlines receive are neglect calls. He said deciding whether a child is being neglected is more difficult compared to cases of physical and sexual abuse. He said it's hard to prove the child is being harmed.

Kamin still feels no one responded appropriately to her hotline call.

"I thought they weren't even trying," she said. "They never even followed up on anything."

Kamin says a civil court ruled she could evict the tenants due to the conditions inside the apartment. So she doesn't understand why she couldn't also get the Department for Children and Families to take action.

Intake statistics for Kansas for 2012 Fiscal year | http://1.usa.gov/PrZfhs

The state of Missouri also has a screen-out process. Missouri's "screen-in" rate sits at roughly 65 percent of calls reaching a social worker for investigation.

Experts emphasize that if someone sees or suspects child abuse, the person should call the child abuse hotline. Make sure to report every detail known

that can express the severity of the situation and give as much information as possible that can help locate the child.

Guide to reporting abuse in Kansas | http://bit.ly/TgUJS3

Print this article Back to Top

Comments