The new hotline will replace three separate phone numbers and streamline the service.
It should be noted, however, that this latest improvement is part of a longstanding effort to overhaul the countyâs child abuse reporting system, which until the past few years was so woefully broken that it left an untold number of children in danger.
In 2013, the countyâs Department of Family and Childrenâs Services (DFCS) came under fire for dropping up to half the calls some months to its child abuse hotline. From July 2012 to the following year, call center operators answered an average of just 62 percent of calls. Only a third of the 18 percent of calls that went to voicemail were ever returned.Â About one in every five people hung up, frustrated by the hourlong holds.
Itâs impossible to say how many valid abuse cases went unreported.
âIn years past ... there was a problem with the phone being answered,â county Child Abuse Prevention Council Vice Chair Steve Baron said in an interview earlier this week. âThat problem has been largely rectified.â
Under new leadership, DFCS has since seen a considerable increase in the number of calls answered, Baron said.Â People reported about 3.5 million child abuse cases each year in the U.S., about 58,000 in the Bay Area and more than 1,800 verified cases in this county alone. In 2017, the county hotline logged some 30,000 callsâvirtually of which were answered.
âTheyâre capturing and answering, I believe, over 98 percent of every call that comes in now,â he told San Jose Inside. âSometimes people just hang up or they change their mind so that accounts for the 2 percent. But now thereâs a human being answering the phone and theyâre capturing those calls.â
Gilbert Murilloâwho replaced the managers in charge of the child abuse reporting center during the time it was dropping half its callsâsaid the county had reduced wait times to 16 seconds under his tenure by last year.
For people who would rather not speak to anyone, thereâs also an option to go straight to voicemailâa feature included for the newly launched hotline as well. And according toÂ DFCS Director Francesca LeRÃºe, every single one of those voicemails gets returned.
The countyâs newly announced hotlineâ833-SCC-KIDS (833.722.5437)âwill field calls around the clock and will eventually replace the current system, which consists of multiple phone numbers.
âWe have three different numbers in Santa Clara County, so itâs very confusing for people,â LeRÃºe said. âWe just thought it was important to streamline the process, to have one number, and then decided it was important that it should be, in fact, toll free.â
Funding will remain unchanged with the new streamlined system, she said, and may eventually save money.
But those three existing hotline numbers will stay in place for another year to give the county time to inform people about the new one.
The first big push in promoting the hotline comes as part of National Child Abuse Prevention Month,Â LeRÃºe said. The county encourages the community to wear blue on Friday to call attention to the cause, and to attend the 36th annual Child Abuse Prevention Council Symposium on April 27 in Campbell.
âThereâs still a lot of awareness that needs to come to the community to let people know some facts about what child abuse is, what child neglect is,â LeRÃºe said. âEverybody is Santa Clara County plays a big role in protecting children, itâs everybodyâs responsibility.â
County social workers, executives and @SupCindyChavez raise awareness about protecting children from abuse. #ChildAbusePreventionMonth event highlights new toll-free number to Report Child Abuse in #SantaClaraCountyâ. Call (833) SCC-KIDS (833-722-5437) 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week pic.twitter.com/uL4yzMArpr
â Santa Clara County (@SCCgov) April 4, 2018
This article has been updated to note that Murillo was not in charge of the child abuse hotline during the time it was dropping half its calls. San Jose Inside regrets the error.