Auditor: Pa. child-abuse hotline plagued by problems in 2015
York County's Office of Children, Youth & Families isn't the only agency struggling to keep up with a spike in reported child abuse cases in Pennsylvania.
State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said his agency found that 42,000 calls, or 22 percent, to the state's ChildLine child abuse reporting hotline went unanswered in 2015, and numerous others weren't monitored by a supervisor or didn't generate reports.
As a result, DePasquale said, lives were put at risk.
According to the state Department of Human Services, each call to ChildLine is supposed to be answered by a trained intake specialist who then forwards a report to a county agency or law enforcement for investigation or refers the caller to local social services.
Calls to the hotline grew after a law went into effect in 2015 that significantly expanded the categories of adults who must get clearances and undergo criminal background checks before working with children.
'Absolute mess': Gov. Tom Wolf’s press secretary said the state's ChildLine program “was an absolute mess” when the governor took office in January 2015.
“The Wolf Administration began fixing the implementation of the program more than a year before the Auditor General began his audit, and while many strides have been made, there is more work to do,” Jeff Sheridan said in a statement.
Human Services Secretary Ted Dallas says added staff has reduced the unanswered call rate from 22 percent to 12 percent, and he expects to lower that to 4 percent in the coming weeks.
"We are committed to continuing our work with the legislature to implement the law and to finding ways to direct additional resources to ChildLine, and we are pleased the Auditor General is now involved in the process and has highlighted the need for more funding and additional staffing,” Sheridan said.
York County: In York County, changes to the state’s Child Protective Services Law led to a nearly 86 percent increase in referrals, or 2,237 new cases, for the local Office of Children, Youth & Families, which has struggled to keep up.
In April, the office was issued its third consecutive provisional license by the state Department of Human Services after inspectors found numerous violations.
Offices are allowed four consecutive provisional licenses, meaning York County's Children, Youth & Families has two more chances to correct faults before the state steps in.
A 21-page department report issued in April outlines numerous infractions, some of which were found during previous inspections, at the county Office of Children, Youth & Families.
Some of the repeat violations include clerical errors, such as a worksheet that wasn't completed at the end of an investigation, and two instances of children not being seen within 24 hours of suspected abuse being reported.
Another citation notes that a report of suspected sexual abuse wasn't forwarded to law enforcement for more than a week. Caseworkers must notify police of suspected sexual abuse within 24 hours, according to the report.
Corrections: The county has been taking steps to correct the violations since it was first issued a provisional license about a year ago.
The office restructured staffing to improve efficiency and oversight, hired six additional staff and refocused supervisors so they can provide additional support to caseworkers, county spokesman Carl Lindquist said in April.
Despite the increased staffing, he said, additional staff is needed to work through increased caseloads. The office employs about 160 people but has been plagued by high turnover.
"Our turnover in large part is due to the sudden influx of new referrals generated following passage of the new state child-abuse laws. While we, of course, support measures designed to improve child welfare, the new laws resulted in an abrupt, near-doubling in workload, causing some of our staff to either retire or resign in favor of other opportunities," Lindquist said.
The office is requesting the state provide added funding for the 2016-17 fiscal year to cover cost of living increases for employees as well as projected cost increases for contracted services.