Four months ago, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene Depasquale released a scathing interim report on the operations of the state’s child abuse reporting hotline.
On Wednesday, he praised recent improvements to the ChildLine but then released eight more findings and 24 new recommendations.
In the first report, the auditor pointed out that thousands of calls to the ChildLine were going unanswered and that more staffing was needed. He said he released the incomplete report in an effort to get the data into the hands of the Department of Human Services and state legislators before the budget process began.
Since then, money has been added to the ChildLine budget and case workers have been added. That pleases DePasquale, but he said DHS now needs to focus on hitting the internal goal of referring ChildLine cases to investigators within two hours.
“Twenty-two of 85 referrals reviewed were delayed longer than two hours. Two of the 22 took longer than 24 hours to be transmitted,” DePasquale said. “Imagine calling ChildLine to report an abusive situation and finding out later that the report sat around for more than a day before action was taken.”
The report also noted that once cases are referred to investigators nearly half took longer than the state-mandated 60 days to be cleared. Of the 85 calls reviewed as part of the audit, 20 of them did not have outcomes recorded as of March 15, 2015. That means those reports were 35-375 past the 60-day time frame. Another 20 were reported back to DHS 1-296 days late.
That means potential abusers could be continuing to prey on children, months after a complaint is filed.
DePasquale said DHS must remain diligent and proactive on detecting problems with ChildLine operations.
“When we’re talking about the safety of Pennsylvania’s children, we must stay on this in a sense, forever,” he said.
DePasquale is also recommending the DHS appoint an independent ombudsman to handle complaints and monitor the system.