January 21, 2005
DCS announces new child abuse reporting hotline
January 21, 2005 [Star Gazette]
By Terra Temple
It was September 2002 when the Tennessee Department of Children's Services began a new method of reporting child abuse and neglect.
Three years later, that method is making its way across the state.
It will take effect in Northwest Tennessee at midnight Jan. 25.
Now, those referrals in Dyer, Lake, Crockett, Obion, Gibson, Weakley, Benton, Carroll and Henry counties will be made by calling the toll-free number 1-877-237-0004.
That number connects the caller to the Central Intake Unit in Nashville where the call is screened, the decision to assign to the proper county is made and its priority is given.
"Up until this point, we did all of that," said Phyllis Webb, team leader for the Child Protective Services Unit of the DCS office in Dyer County. "Now when it gets here, it will be assigned to an investigator."
Northwest Tennessee is among the last places the CI method has been implemented. DCS hopes to have it statewide by the end of March.
The new process, explained Dianne Mangrum, who became director of Central Intake in January, cuts down on the paperwork done at local offices, giving investigators more time to work on their cases. It also provides the state a way to have a central database system.
When a call comes to CI, the operator asks a number of questions about the situation -- the child's name, age, address, grade and school attended, the parents' names and address and "all the information you can give in regard to the abuse or neglect," Webb said. "The people taking the referral have key questions. You need to provide as much information as you can -- who is doing what -- about the situation. They need all the information possible so they'll know what priority to assign and so we'll know what questions to ask when we get there and so we'll know what to look for."
From the referral given, CI, which through the database can quickly see the past history of the situation, takes the information, filter it through the DCS criteria, assigns it a priority and sends it on to the appropriate office.
"The only thing changing is the number and the way we get it," Webb said of the procedure.
For priority to CI, law enforcement and medical personnel have a separate phone number. However, "in a dire situation, a true emergency, law enforcement can still call DCS directly and we'll let CI know," Webb said. "If law enforcement calls and needs us, we'll go.
Child Protective Services is a unit of the Department of Children's Services. DCS in Dyersburg covers Dyer, Obion, Lake and Crockett counties. Its CPS unit investigates referrals in Dyer and Crockett counties.
CPS reviews reports of abuse and neglect, investigating those reports for 60 days and determining the child's safety.
Webb said they receive approximately 75 to 100 calls a month for Dyer and Crockett counties.
"Those that we screen have to meet criteria for investigation," she said.
That criteria "is lengthy" but depends on three main components -- the situation, the past history and child's age. "If they're 3 and under, we (investigate) no matter what," Webb said.
Cases are assigned a priority number. Priority 1 means the case will be investigated within that day. Priority 2 means it will be investigated within 24 hours. Priority 3 means it will be investigated within five days. All sex-abuse cases are Priority 1.
Once the case is assigned and investigated by CPS, three things can happen:
-- If there is no safety issue, the case is closed.
-- If there is, it then goes to targeted case management where ongoing case managers work on the issues that need to be addressed.
-- If the safety risk is great, the child is removed from the home and then goes to the foster care unit of DCS.
"Our work is short term but it's very intense working within the home," Webb said.
Mangrum noted that investigation process is left to the local level.
"Once we process the referral, we're through," she said. "CI can't assign a case if it doesn't fit the criteria. If there's a disagreement (with CPS), the decision can be revisited. We're there to protect the children and help families."
In the long run, Webb believes the new decision process "will be beneficial. We had a three-prong process here (regionally) as a safety net," Webb said.
But if there are concerns, "there is a process we can discuss the priority (assigned)," she said. "We've done this for so many years and know those we deal with and they know us. Those are the kinds of things that can be worked out."
Central Intake provides the public with a single phone number to report suspected abuse and neglect of children, consolidating and centralizing reports.
DCS began using CI in September 2002 in a pilot program in three regions -- Shelby County, south central and southeast -- operating Monday through Friday. In January 2003, it went 24/7.
Thirteen months later, Davidson County was added. In August 2004, the rest of East Tennessee was added and "calls escalated and went through the roof," Mangrum said. "We find that when we take on a new region, we get more calls than that region ever recorded. As a result, the caseloads go up."
Northwest and Southwest Tennessee were added in January. Knox County and Northeast Tennessee will be added in February. The rest of the state, Hamilton County and the Mid-Cumberland region, will be added by March 31.
"We want people to understand that we're here to help the local (DCS) office protect the children and not be a burden," Mangrum said, noting that almost all CI supervisors have a CPS background and that calls are recorded for quality assurance.
While secretaries took referrals at the Dyersburg office, in many areas the investigators take them. Mangrum noted that by DCS going to CI, it takes that much more paperwork off them.
"When a call's received, the first is decision is by a background check," Mangrum said. "The supervisor will know the number of the reference called in and can see when the case was opened and how many times we've been involved on that child. That takes the people in the local offices a long, long time to do. This will save time in the end when the case is assigned. There's a lot of paperwork that goes with a referral and by taking the reference process off the counties, they're able to do their business -- seeing children instead of having to do a lot of paperwork."
The local DCS office has been aware of the change for a year. Mangrum and other CI representatives came to Dyersburg in mid-December to explain the new process to those working in the field -- school counselors, law enforcement, judges, attorneys, youth workers, etc.
"We found that when we go into a community there are a lot of fears and concerns of calling people that you don't know," Mangrum told them. "We're not taking away from your relationship with local people here. We have the historical data but the information that you have can't be captured in every record. We want to do what we can to protect children. You know what is best for the community and the families you work with."
For emergency cases, calls can still be made to the local office.
"Through the pilot program, we learned in truly emergency situations there's no sense in calling CI, that the local CPS should be called," Mangrum said. "We know that in the time of a crisis situation, time is of the essence. The paperwork can wait. Even if we were called in an emergency situation, we'd get someone out there ASAP."
Calls about child abuse/neglect from the general public can still be made anonymously. Walk-ins can also still come to the DCS office to make a referral; those workers can call CI and help the person file the information. If requested, CI will give notification reports about the case's assignment to the person making the referral.
"It takes a lot of guts for people to make referrals, especially those who aren't in the profession," Mangrum said.
CI operates 24/7 and so far has received approximately 350 calls a day.
"You'll always get a live person when you call," Mangrum said. "If the computers go down, that will do nothing to the quality of calls. We'll go to paper and pencil, call the county and when it comes back up, put it in the system. We're not waiting until it comes up to protect children."
When those referrals come after hours, a paging system is activated until the investigator is contacted.
"They have backups until they get somebody," Webb said. "They'll tell them the situation orally and then send the electronic report the next day."
Webb said from what she's heard from other areas, the response to CI is mixed.
"People always have concerns about changes," she said. "This is the process we've been given and we'll do the best we can with it. I'm sure it will be fine; it'll just take getting used to."
And that is something CI representatives understand.
"We want this to succeed and be good for the community," Mangrum said.
More information about reporting child abuse/neglect and DCS is available at www.state.tn.us/youth/cps/index.htm
Posted by Nancy at January 21, 2005 04:06 PM