Imagine calling the Oregon State Police to report an accident and being put on hold for so long you give up. It’s an unlikely prospect for those calling OSP but, unfortunately, it’s all too common for folks trying to report suspected child abuse or neglect to the state Department of Human Services.
Just as car accidents can cause terrible injuries and even death, so, too, can neglect or abuse of children. Yet more than a quarter of those calling the DHS hotline to report incidents in September abandoned the effort. Those with more patience waited, on average, between 6 and 8 minutes to connect with the trained specialists who screen hotline calls. The numbers during the summer were better, to be sure, but the hotline received fewer calls during those months.
The hotline is, as Kristen Khamnohack, district manager for it, says in her annual report on the project, a work in progress.
The single hotline telephone number (1-855-503-SAFE or 7233) will, no doubt, be an improvement over more than a dozen separate hotlines across the state that it replaces. At least five times since 2002 outside agencies asked to assess the system have said it should be consolidated into a single line, a task that began in 2016. The end result will be more consistency in how calls are handled, and that should improve children’s safety.
Hotline officials have set some ambitious goals for themselves for the coming year, including average wait times of 4 minutes or less and average dropped calls of no greater than 5%. Reaching those goals are critical to making kids in this state safer. We just hope DHS has the sense of urgency the hotline project requires.