Louisiana child abuse hotline wins praise

Baton Rouge, La. - The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services says it has reviewed more than 50,000 reports of suspected child abuse or neglect since establishing its 24-hour statewide hotline one year ago.

DCFS issued the following press release Thursday:

Since launching it's 24-hour, toll-free, statewide hotline, 1-855-4LA-KIDS, one year ago, the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has reviewed more than 50,000 reports of suspected child abuse or neglect.

"In order to ensure that all members of the public, especially mandated reporters, are able to easily contact us to report child abuse or neglect, we launched 1-855-4LA-KIDS. The hotline serves as a single, easy to use number that is linked to a centralized child abuse intake system allowing our staff to more quickly respond, and to manage reports more efficiently and more consistently," said DCFS Secretary Suzy Sonnier.

Sonnier said that before the number was introduced, concerned citizens and mandated reporters had to wade through a long list of parish and regional phone numbers in order to make a report of suspected child abuse or neglect. Now, 1-855-4LA-KIDS is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week by 41 trained child welfare specialists, ensuring that no reports are missed and that each report of child abuse or neglect is handled promptly and uniformly according to best practice.

"A key advantage of the central child abuse reporting hotline is that it allows us to apply a rigorous, multi-level quality assurance process to ensure consistency in determining whether a report meets the criteria for child protection investigation and then to get our staff involved quickly and appropriately" said Sonnier.

In addition to the general public, the central child abuse hotline is an important tool for mandated reporters, including law enforcement officials, teachers and childcare workers, clergy, and health practitioners, who are required by law (Louisiana Children's Code Title VI, Article 603) to report suspected child abuse or neglect.

"As a mandated reporter of child abuse and neglect, I've experienced significantly reduced the wait times since the launch of the child abuse hotline," said Stacie LeBlanc of New Orleans' Audrey Hepburn Care Center. "The child welfare specialists who staff the hotline are highly trained and professional, and this definitely assures more consistency across parish lines in responding to reports. It gives the same level of safety to children across the state no matter where they live."

Since the launch, more than 114,000 calls were received by the hotline. About 64,000 calls were for information or were referrals to other services or agencies, however more than 50,158 calls met the criteria for child abuse intake, which means they were further evaluated as reports of child abuse or neglect.

DCFS reports that the number of child abuse reports has increased each month when compared to the previous year. The increase ranges from 11% to 22%, with the peak increases in the months of August, November and December 2011. The increase is attributed primarily to the ease of use of the single, central number for reports of child abuse or neglect and increased awareness of the importance of reporting.

"Our primary goal is to keep kids safe. The child abuse hotline supports that goal by making it easier for concerned citizens to report suspected abuse or neglect and improving our ability to monitor and track reports of abuse, provide adequate staffing for the calls we receive and ensure that all reports of abuse across the state are evaluated by the same standards" said Sonnier.

Contact 1-855-4LA-KIDS to report suspected child abuse or neglect. Reports to the hotline can be made 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.