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News : Child Abuse Report Line: More than 15,000 Calls Go Unanswered
Adelaide, Australia, Sept 1, 2015 -- More than 15,000 calls to South Australia’s child abuse hotline were abandoned last financial year, as average waiting times blew out to more than 20 minutes.
Half of all the calls made to the Child Abuse Report Line the year before also went unanswered.
Latest figures show 15,689 calls were not answered in 2014-15, from a total of 40,074.
The previous year, 26,727 calls were abandoned, which was just over half the total 52,829 calls registered.
Over the past four financial years, almost 86,000 calls have gone unanswered.
Over the same timeframe, the average wait to make a report has grown from an average of almost 11 minutes to more than 20 minutes. Many people have waited hours to get through to an operator.
Critics warn that children are being left at risk because Families SA’s call centre cannot cope with demand.
The failing has prompted the State Government to reveal it will trial a program to speed up the reporting process.
Waiting times for the Child Abuse Report Line have blown out to 20 minutes.
Education and Child Development Department chief Tony Harrison last night told The Advertiser that Families SA would hire 10 "civilians" who would be trained to be "dedicated call-takers".
They would follow a script when questioning callers and enter data directly into the computer case management system. Currently, social workers take calls and record handwritten notes before entering the data electronically. The new call-takers would send the information to social workers for assessment and response.
Recruitment is about to start and the new staff will undergo a few weeks of training.
The trial will run for about six months, with regular evaluation, and will be expanded if it proves successful in clearing the backlog of reports.
Mr Harrison said the trial would be "a very different approach to capturing information in a timely manner" which should make the call centre more efficient.
"We all know that the CARL needs an overhaul and improvement," he said.
Since mid 2013, mandatory notifiers such as police officers, doctors or teachers, have been able to make reports online and this has reduced pressure on the call centre operators.
There were 18,613 e-CARL reports made last financial year, up from 13,355 in the previous 12 months.
Child protection experts and MPs have previously called for Families SA to offer a "callback" feature that would allow callers to leave their number and receive a return phone call at a later time rather than remain on hold. However, Education and Child Development Minister Susan Close has said she does not believe this would necessarily help.
Families SA has increased the number of fulltime staff working in the call centre from about 59 in 2013-14 to 78.
Dr Close also announced last week that 60 social workers would be sent to work in schools to tackle child protection problems early and cut the number of notifications made to the report line.
Family First MLC Robert Brokenshire said so many people hung up because the call centre "simply doesn’t have enough staff to handle the volume of calls and people ... don’t have all day to stay on the phone waiting for someone to get to them".
"We have to remember this system is there for the sake of the children and that we can’t afford for reports of abuse to be delayed, or for children to fall through the gaps because there are just not enough resources available," he said.
"Families SA is in desperate need of an overhaul, a major cash injection, and a plan to make it relevant and sustainable into the future."
Opposition child protection spokeswoman Rachel Sanderson said the current situation was "putting vulnerable children at increased risk of abuse and neglect".
"A callback system needs to be an absolute priority as people are going to give up if they are left on hold for two hours," she said.
The CARL call centre operates 24 hours a day, every day of the year.
The latest Families SA annual report conceded wait times "have been a concern".
Many of the callers to the hotline would be mandatory notifiers. If they abandoned a call, they would be obligated to ring back and make a report at another time or make an online report.
A grandmother who spoke to The Advertiser said she remained on hold to the CARL phone line for more than two hours, before hanging up.
She was trying to make a report about her two-year-old granddaughter, who she said was living with her drug-addicted son.
The grandmother said Families SA had not acted on eight reports that the toddler’s parents were using drugs and neglecting the child.
She is worried something serious will happen to the little girl – as it did to four-year-old Chloe Valentine, who died in 2012 in the care of her negligent mother and her then partner. The grandmother called for Families SA staff to visit the house to investigate.
Department child safety chief Etienne Scheepers said in a written statement that the department was "not in a position to release information about individuals".
Mr Scheepers said every notification was assessed by a qualified social worker and "action taken in accordance with departmental policies".
Opposition spokesman David Pisoni said it was "immensely disturbing (that) multiple, credible reports about the welfare of a very young child with ice-addicted parents are not investigated".
"It is equally concerning that the response from Families SA when confronted with this failure is no comment," Mr Pisoni said.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Wednesday, September 2, 2015