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March 10, 2014

Child services hotline adds regional sites

Closest site is in Bedford, but calls may go anywhere

(Continued)

SOUTH BEND — WHY THERE?

Wide said there was no particular rhyme or reason as to why Vanderburgh, Lawrence, Blackford or St. Joseph counties were chosen to house the regional call centers, except an attempt to broaden the cultural nature of the work force.

“We’re a statewide agency, so you want to cover the state,” he said.

The DCS annual report identified the ever-increasing numbers of reports to the hotline, the high turnover of hotline employees and the need to hire more workers. But it does not explain why those four sites were chosen.

Earlier Tribune reports quoted doctors, social workers, law enforcement officials and judges in St. Joseph County complaining their reports to the centralized hotline were too often disregarded, follow-up was nonexistent and wait times were long. Many of these concerns followed the much-publicized torture death of 10-year-old Tramelle Sturgis in South Bend.

State Sen. Gail Riecken, D-Evansville, was an outspoken hotline critic and a member of the legislative study committee that recommended changes to the centralized call center. (Riecken did not respond to a request for comment last week.)

“The folks here in Indianapolis do not have the flavor of the different areas around the state, so built into the system of a centralized hotline, to me, is defeat,” she testified in 2012.

And DCS tried out some pilot programs in Lawrence County, DCS Chief of Staff John Ryan told the study committee in September 2012. Residents of that county, including the sheriff, had objected publicly to changes in the call center.

Before the hotline was centralized, each county had its own system of taking calls. When the centralized hotline was developed, it standardized how information was collected and disseminated.

As of last year, all hotline reports are sent to local DCS offices for review, and those that are “screened out” are sent to local “child protection teams” that include others in the community, such as law enforcement and education, to discuss what reports are being made locally.

These are all changes that so far please agencies that work with DCS, said Cathleen Graham, executive director of the Indiana Association of Residential Child Care Agencies.

Two years ago, her board was concerned about the hotline issue and others, Graham pointed out in an email last week.

But the 87 member agencies her organization represents have not raised hotline concerns lately, she said, and she’s not sure how call routing will change that.

Otherwise, she said, the group is finding DCS to be more collaborative generally.

“One more positive aspect may be the ability of DCS to recruit from a larger pool of potential staff for the hotline from diverse areas of the state,” Graham said, “since the Indianapolis area was the main source of staffing prior to these more regional sites.”

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