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March 10, 2014

Child services hotline adds regional sites

Closest site is in Bedford, but calls may go anywhere

SOUTH BEND — In 2011, the Indiana Department of Child Services began fielding all its 800-number phone calls of abuse and neglect into one centralized call center in Indianapolis.

After media reports of fewer calls being investigated and longer call wait times, legislators allocated money for more hotline employees, and DCS placated local officials with a policy that sent all final reports to local offices for review.

Then last summer, under new DCS Director Mary Beth Bonaventura, DCS unrolled a plan in its annual report to legislators to open four regional call centers around the state in addition to the central office in Indianapolis — including a call center in South Bend that has opened in the last few weeks with a skeleton staff of 11 employees.

By the time it is fully staffed this fall, it will employ 20 intake specialists -- social workers who are trained family case managers with additional call center training — and four supervisors, DCS spokesman James Wide said. The South Bend call center is at 300 N. Michigan St., in the same building as the county DCS office.

More hiring will be done in April, he said.

The three other regional call centers are in Vanderburgh County (Evansville, in the southwest corner); Blackford County (Hartford City, between Fort Wayne and Muncie); and Lawrence County (Bedford). All of the call centers will operate 24/7.

Vanderburgh, which will also have 20 intake specialists and four supervisors, will not be up and running at all until this fall, Wide said. The other two are operational with five intake specialists and a supervisor.

But calls will not be answered regionally, Wide said, instead being assigned randomly by computer. So that means if you call 800-800-5556 — the child abuse hotline — from a South Bend phone, it might be answered by a person sitting in Evansville.

He points out that the call center workers all benefit from the same training and the same database of information.

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