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News : New Child Safety Hotline Goes Live
Pitkin County CO Jan 2, 2015 -- The new "Keeping Kids Safe and Families Healthy" initiative rolled out Thursday, helping Pitkin County’s adult and family services department address an increased caseload of child abuse and neglect referrals in the Roaring Fork Valley.
According to Nan Sundeen, director of the county’s health and human services department, that rise is due to a combination of taking on additional cases from western Eagle County and changes in laws that require "mandated reporters" who have professional contact with children — such as teachers, coaches, counselors, and pastors — to make a referral if an issue arises.
"We get about 250 referrals a year," Sundeen said. "They range from neglect … to physical abuse, sexual abuse, all the way to parents having children that are out of their control."
Most of the Eagle County referrals are from Basalt and El Jebel, which account for around 100 annually, she noted.
Sundeen said that adult and family services takes all referrals in cases where people are concerned about a child’s "welfare, safety, and well-being."
She pointed out that the amount of referrals has increased greatly since 2008, when just 58 were taken.
"You are required [by law], if you see something you’re worried about, to make a report," Sundeen said of the mandated reporters.
She added that domestic violence is another reason for the increase in referrals, noting that police are now required to report domestic violence incidents to adult and family services if a child was present.
"Domestic violence is so hazardous for children," Sundeen said. "Even if parents think their children are asleep, there’s sort of a toxic stress experience children have, so we try and offer families help."
The state’s new child abuse and neglect hotline went live on Thursday as part of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s child welfare plan, which is designed to help local agencies address issues more quickly, ensuring the safety of any youth who may be in danger.
"In Colorado, we are [what is called] ‘state supervised, county administered,’" she said. "So the state is responsible for all things child welfare, but we provide the services locally."
New laws require caseworkers to ask more in-depth questions and take full referrals even if the call comes from another county.
The program’s goal is to ensure that no calls are ignored, and each caller speaks to a live person. All calls are recorded to ensure that the caseworkers asked all of the right questions, responded in a timely manner, and the data is logged in the system.
Sundeen said that caseworkers also have to assess what meets the definition of abuse and neglect, and the department usually screens out about 40 percent of referrals to other programs in the area, such as the Family Resource Center.
"Sometimes it doesn’t rise to the level for investigating for abuse and neglect," she explained.
The staff consists of four caseworkers, one screener, one bilingual case aid, and a manager.
Sundeen said that a receptionist takes calls between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., and caseworkers handle calls from 4 until 8 a.m.
"So 24/7 we’re taking calls," Sundeen said. "We probably get five to seven a week, and generally there are [no seasonal changes in the amount of referrals.]"
The state allocates $7,800 for the program, covering the cost of training and the phone line. That sum is based on the number of calls the county gets per year.
Sundeen noted that the focus is "keeping families safe and together" as long as there isn’t a serious threat to a child’s safety.
"It’s just one more tool in a toolbox for keeping kids safe," she said. "So, we’re excited about that."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Monday, January 5, 2015