Pa. Auditor General releases final audit for child abuse hotline

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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale released his final audit of the Department of Human Services' child abuse hotline. In his audit he said the hotline, also known as ChildLine, has made some changes after her released his interim audit in May. But it still needs to make improvements.

DePasquale said 42,000 calls went unanswered at ChildLine last year, but that number has decreased in the past six months. He said more than 9,000 calls in the first six months of 2016 went unanswered.

"To be blunt, there's still some calls that go unanswered. But compared to the 22 percent and now we're in the single digits, moving about 2 and a half percent, I think we're headed in the right direction. But I want that number close to get as close to zero as possible," DePasquale said.

Other issues he said needs to improve are inadequate staff training, missing reports and late investigation outcomes.

"There had been 76 cases from 2015 for which outcomes of investigations were due and for which there was evidence of child abuse found. However when the outcomes were not reported within 60 days, ChildLine reported the cases as unfounded," he said.

DePasquale said the department has made some improvements. It hired additional staff members and is tracking the reasons for all calls. It has also implemented a new policy where supervisors have to monitor at least one call per month for each caseworker.

DHS Secretary Ted Dallas issued a statement saying,  "We have addressed the AG's concerns with ChildLine and, as we have been doing since day one, will continue to improve processes and practices." He adds because of multiple child protection laws in Pennsylvania, the department has had to work harder to fix the issues at ChildLine.

"Those new laws were not properly then funded. We can't change the past on that. But we can make the future brighter," DePasquale said.

He said usually his audits get a lot of publicity when they find wasted money. But that's not the case in this situation.

"Sometimes our audits actually show the need to put more money into something and the lack of understanding of passing these laws was actually going to require more investment still boggles my mind," he said.

He said the DHS should also appoint an independent child protection ombudsman who would review complaints and recommend system improvements.