The Florida Department of Children and Families – an agency that partly focuses on child welfare services – revamped its existing telephone hotline for reporting child abuse, neglect or exploitation. The $10 million update has reduced response time for investigators looking into reported cases.
According to the hotline’s website, more than 1 million children fall victim to abuse or neglect each year in Florida, and many of these cases go unreported. The Children and Families Department overhauled its legacy call center hotline system last November with a centralized phone and Internet system. In preparation for the upgrade, the department added approximately 50 additional call takers, bringing its total to 300.
David Wilkins, the department’s secretary, explained that under the previous system, reports phoned in to the abuse hotline from across the state were taken by call center representatives who then manually entered information on computer-based data entry forms. Once the report was complete, it was printed and faxed to the department’s local offices. The information was then entered into the traditional child welfare system to begin an investigation. This cumbersome process often resulted in a response from the department two days after the initial report.
“So we said, ‘Why don’t we do this function just like a retail organization does it?' Like when you call L.L. Bean or Target on the phone, they bring up your buying history, they know what you bought last week, they know what specials they’re pushing this week,” Wilkins said. “And so they can have a collaborative conversation with you on the phone about what needs to happen to conduct that transaction.”
The new reporting system by IBM automates the call process, prompting call center representatives to ask specific questions about the case based on the case history associated with the call. While on the phone with the person reporting the incident, call center staff can query multiple databases, including criminal records, for instance, to gather information about the individuals in question.
Previously if multiple calls were made about the same incident, each call would have prompted a response by a separate investigator. Multiple calls regarding the same incident now result in a single response by one investigator, operating with information gathered from all the calls received.
Kellie Sweat, the department’s director of child protection transformation, said child protective investigators can be notified more quickly about a reported case, based on the incident’s level of urgency.
“We’ve been working awhile to make sure our child protective investigators, the ones that go to the home, are able to spend the majority of their time in the field in the homes with the families,” Sweat said.
Wilkins said that typically in cases of abuse or neglect, many of the same families are reported repeatedly over the years. The system can keep a record of a specific family’s history when reports about them are made to the department.
The abuse hotline also allows reports to be submitted online. The online reporting feature, which lets individuals create a user name and password, immediately sends the report to the department’s central hotline system. This cabability especially comes in handy for individuals who serve as “dedicated reporters” -- people in law enforcement or school counselors whose job requires them to look for cases of abuse or neglect, and report them to the department.
According to officials, the revamped hotline is currently averaging nearly 1,400 calls and 100 online submissions each weekday.