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News : Half of Calls to Families SA Abuse Hotline are Unnecessary
Sydney, Australia, Oct 21, 2015 -- Half the calls to the Families SA abuse hotline are clogging the system with unnecessary or minor concerns, such as children not wearing hats to school or fighting with siblings in the supermarket.
It has prompted the child protection agency to plan a public campaign to better educate people about neglect and abuse.
It is hoped this will slash the number of calls swamping the hotline and free up social workers to focus on more serious cases.
Figures show 22,048 of the 44,203 notifications made to the Child Abuse Report Line (CARL) in 2013-14 were not deemed to meet the threshold for abuse or neglect.
A CARL call centre operator has previously told The Advertiser that up to 70 per cent of calls do not indicate abuse or neglect, but the time taken to assess those calls ties up scarce resources.
Many callers provide only vague or scant information or cannot identify alleged abusers or victims.
Examples released by Families SA, following requests from The Advertiser, include callers reporting:
- A parent slapping a child in a public park, but they could not give any details about those involved.
- A child not wearing a seatbelt while travelling in a passing car.
- Siblings fighting in a supermarket and the parent did not intervene.
- A child attending school without a hat.
Education and Child Development Department child safety chief Etienne Scheepers said this last report was "an extreme example — but it does happen".
"These are all issues that need to be dealt with … but it does not meet the (child protection) threshold for us to be engaged with a family," Mr Scheepers said.
"I think people report because they have a genuine concern.
"(But) we receive a lot of notifications where there’s not enough information or the potential perpetrator of the child is not identifiable … or the information is too vague. The numbers of these (kind of reports) are pretty high."
In a bid to ease pressure on the CARL call centre and concentrate resources on serious cases, Families SA is in the early stages of planning a public education campaign.
It will encourage people to consider other agencies they could contact to help children, such as police, their school or welfare or non-government services.
Mr Scheepers said the campaign could be similar to those which dissuade people from unnecessarily visiting the emergency department and instead encourage them to visit a GP.
However, he insisted anyone "seriously concerned" about a "reasonable likelihood of serious harm to a child" should make a notification.
The average waiting time to make a report to Families SA’s hotline is about 20 minutes but many people report waiting for hours.
Last month, The Advertiser revealed almost 86,000 calls had gone unanswered over the past four financial years as social workers struggle keep up with demand.
Department chief executive Tony Harrison has pledged to hire 10 "civilians" who would be trained to be "dedicated call-takers" in the call centre in a bid to clear the backlog.
Certain people who work with children, such as teachers, police and doctors, are required to report any suspicion that a child has been, or may be, abused or neglected.
These mandatory reporters receive training on what constitutes abuse or neglect, unlike concerned neighbours or family members.
The State Government has raised with Justice Margaret Nyland, who is conducting a Royal Commission into the state’s child protection system, whether reforms are needed to the mandatory reporting rules.
Opposition child protection spokeswoman Rachel Sanderson supported a public education campaign.
"Nobody knows what they should be reporting or who to ring, so everyone just rings the CARL line," Ms Sanderson said.
"I think we do need to educate the community as to how they could help or what requires reporting. I wish they had done it (an education campaign) years ago."
Ms Sanderson hoped a better public understanding would ease pressure on the hotline.
"We want the calls answered and responded to quickly," she said.
"There’s a lot of people who are hanging up before they get through because the wait time is so long."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Thursday, October 22, 2015