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Investigation Finds ChildLine Overwhelmed

HARRISBURG — Newswatch 16 has found startling evidence showing ChildLine, the state’s hotline for reporting suspected child abuse and neglect, is ha...
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HARRISBURG -- Newswatch 16 has found startling evidence showing ChildLine, the state's hotline for reporting suspected child abuse and neglect, is having trouble answering thousands of calls.

Our investigation discovered that since the start of 2015, roughly 50,000 calls were not answered.

This all comes after the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case led to sweeping reforms in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. More people are required to report suspected abuse or neglect than ever before. The penalties for not reporting suspected abuse are more severe.

ChildLine saw a spike in calls starting in January 2015. The number of calls skyrocketed and so did the number of calls that went unanswered, either hangups or busy signals.

Newswatch 16 obtained numbers from the Department of Human Services showing four out of ten calls were not answered that month alone. Some callers were on hold for nearly an hour during 2015 and one out of five calls was never answered.

In all, 42,000 calls went unanswered in 2015.

We asked an expert if that represents potential child abuse cases that fell through the cracks.

"No question, no question about that," said Dr. Pat Bruno, medical director at the Child Advocacy Center of Central Susquehanna Valley in Sunbury.  "That's a dropped call, a missed call, that's child that could be abused."

That spike led state officials to hire nearly 30 more caseworkers since early last year, a process that's still underway. Meanwhile, there are still around 2,000 abandoned calls every month at ChildLine.

"Our target is to have approximately a four percent abandon rate in those calls. Where we are right now is 12 to 13 percent and that isn't acceptable," said Cathy Utz, Children, Youth and Families Deputy Secretary, Department of Human Services.

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is aware of the problem with ChildLine and is expected to release a preliminary report Tuesday in Harrisburg.