JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — State Auditor Nicole Galloway today released her office’s audit of the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline Unit, which is administered by the Missouri Department of Social Services. The hotline received more than 138,000 reports of alleged child abuse and neglect in fiscal year 2017.
Missouri law requires certain professionals who have responsibility for the care of children to report alleged child abuse and neglect. These include health care and mental health professionals, social workers, child care providers, law enforcement officials, school officials, and others classified under the law as mandated reporters. The hotline unit also receives calls and online reports alleging child abuse and neglect from voluntary “permissive reporters,” which includes relatives, neighbors and others.
The audit found that although improvement efforts have been made in recent years to increase responsiveness, insufficient staffing to handle an increasing number of hotline calls has meant longer wait times, or callers having to call back multiple times to make reports. Consequently, there is a higher risk of some abused or neglected children not receiving timely and critical assistance and protection.
“The role of the Hotline Unit is absolutely critical in protecting Missouri’s children,” Auditor Galloway said. “The process of receiving and reviewing allegations of child abuse and neglect – and then taking quick, appropriate action on credible reports – must be as efficient and thorough as possible. While DSS continues to implement changes to improve this process, we found that a lack of resources is still hindering the work of the Hotline Unit.”
Between fiscal years 2013 and 2017, the number of reports made to the Hotline Unit increased by an average of about 4,500 annually, while staffing levels did not keep pace with the increase. Over the same period, the audit found the average hotline wait time more than tripled from one minute, 18 seconds to four minutes, 28 seconds.
The Department of Social Services has made various efforts to improve wait times, including implementing an online reporting system for non-emergency reports in fiscal year 2017 and increasing the number of staff in fiscal year 2018. In addition, the Hotline Unit opened a field office in Springfield. Auditor Galloway said that while those steps have been helpful, the Hotline Unit should continue to increase staffing levels to address the increasing number of child abuse and neglect reports.
The audit also pointed out that the Hotline Unit has not developed and monitored formal and quantifiable operational performance goals or expected levels of performance. As a result, the unit is unable to compare actual performance to expected or desired performance.
A copy of the audit can be found here.