Callers to Florida’s child abuse hot line are giving up in frustration in dramatically greater numbers, the Miami Herald reports. The main problem is a balky computer system that was years late and tens of millions over budget.
In August, a month after the state made a new computer system called HomeSafenet available in all 67 Florida counties, the number of calls to 800-96ABUSE that went unanswered rose to its highest level in more than a year. The percentage of “abandoned” calls, 6.9 percent, was almost double the percentage for July, 3.5 percent.
That translates to 2,462 abandoned calls that didn’t go through. A report is listed as abandoned if the caller is placed on hold, and hangs up before an intake worker, or counselor, can take the call. “When you have calls being abandoned at a 100 percent higher rate, there is a known risk that you are putting a more substantial proportion of Florida children at risk of significant injury or harm,” said Richard Gelles, dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Work, who has conducted studies in Florida. “Clearly, they have not found the formula or mechanism to properly handle the case flow.”
HomeSafenet stores all information about child protection, foster care and adoption in Florida. The Herald says workers complain it is less user-friendly than the old system, and that it slows down counselors at the child abuse hot line.
Ben Harris, a state official, attributes the increase in abandoned calls to two things: The state introduced a new questionnaire for callers that is more complex than in prior years, and counselors are still getting used to the new tool; also, the hot line receives calls about disabled or vulnerable adults who may have been abused or neglected. Such reports require counselors to work with two separate computer systems, resulting in delay.