Would a 9-1-1 call wait time of 4 1/2 minutes be acceptable? Most reasonable people would agree that it would not.
Likewise, we would argue that same wait time would not be acceptable for the state’s Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline.
But that’s exactly what’s happening, according to a new state audit. The hotline, administered by the Missouri Department of Social Services, has gone from an average wait time of one minute, 18 seconds in 2013 to four minutes, 28 seconds in 2017.
An Associated Press story we published on Thursday said the calls have increased by an average of 4,500-138,000 in 2017, but the staffing level has not kept pace with the increase. That’s despite the fact that Social Services has made other improvements to increase responsiveness, the AP reported.
Granted, comparing a 9-1-1 call to an abuse hotline call is like comparing apples and oranges in some ways. Nothing is more urgent than a 9-1-1 call, and if abuse is occurring at the time, we urge you to call 9-1-1. However, if someone suspects abuse is ongoing, but not necessarily occurring at that moment, call the hotline.
But either way, both calls require urgent and immediate attention. And either way, a lot can happen in that 4 1/2-minute period. Some of the calls to the hotline, for example, likely are more appropriate for 9-1-1. But anyone who calls the hotline will have to wait 4 1/2 minutes before a hotline worker can even determine whether 9-1-1 is more appropriate.
Social Services implemented an online reporting system for non-emergency reports in FY2017 and increasing the number of staff in FY2018. In addition, the Hotline Unit opened a field office in Springfield.
But those changes aren’t enough. If a hotline can’t process calls quickly, it’s not accomplishing its intended task: to protect children.
The hotline unit still received a performance rating of good because it is overall well-managed and complies with legal provisions.
But it needs to do better. We urge Social Services, possibly in conjunction with the legislature, to find solutions that will result in quicker response times.