Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A nationwide hotline number may have saved a MO child

This is a story I wrote and aired on November 13th. It's concerning a glitch with the child abuse and neglect hotline number, and Missouri's inability to communicate with its surrounding states. If you have an opinion, please leave a comment.

Most of Missouri’s child abuse investigations start with people calling a state hotline. More than 50,000 people pick up the phone each year to make a report. It turns out, however, that many other people can’t get through if they try to call the child abuse hotline.

"Life is quite a bit different, and it will never be the same,” said Connie Hardin. She never hurt her 18-month-old granddaughter, Jaycee, but she feels partly responsible for the toddler's death last May. It's a guilt she lives with "every day, every single day," she said.

Hardin suspected Jaycee was being physically abused. “We felt like something was not quite right,” she said.

But because Hardin lives in northwest Arkansas, and because Jaycee lived in southwest Missouri, Hardin says she didn't know exactly how or where to report her suspicions. First, she says, she called the Arkansas hotline number from the phone book. The call taker told her that she had to make the report to Missouri's Department of Social services and even instructed her to call Missouri's toll free hotline. Hardin said she did – seven or eight times.

But every time she called, she heard this recorded message: "The number you have dialed cannot be reached from your calling area."

The call didn't connect because the toll free number only works within Missouri. So, if you live in Arkansas, you can’t use the number (800-392-3738). This could pose a major problem for people because Missouri has eight states that touch its borders -- Tennessee ties that number--but no other state has more.

There is a long-distance number for people outside of Missouri to call (573-751-3448). Workers with the Department of Social Services in Jefferson City say it's been in place for decades.

"You can contact your hotline for your state and they should be able to give you that number for the Missouri hotline,” said Celesta Hartgraves, an executive for DSS.

But it turns out the Arkansas Department of Children and Family Services didn't know Missouri's toll hotline number. A call taker at Arkansas’ child abuse hotline only had Missouri’s toll-free number, the one that doesn’t work outside of Missouri. Ky3 called all of the other seven surrounding states. Only two -- Iowa and Kansas -- gave us the right number to call (573-751-3448.)

Hardin says getting the wrong number left her helpless.

"All hope was severed; I couldn't get through," she said.

Hardin did get through, but only after she called and made face-to-face visits with both Arkansas and Missouri authorities. When she made the report in July 2005, the Missouri Children's Division investigated and found no evidence of abuse. Hardin says she never knew that because no one from DSS contacted her. At that point, the only thing she did know was that she was disgusted with the system, and it mader her weary of reporting any future suspicions.

“I feel bad about that, and I'll always feel bad about that,” she said.

Jaycee died 10 months later from a blow to her abdomen that was so hard it tore her small intestine. Her stepfather, Joseph Frye, is awaiting trial for her murder.

“It’s too little, too late,” said Hardin.

Hardin feels like she could've prevented her granddaughter's death if Missouri's DSS had a better hotline system. She hopes, by telling her story, it can save the life of someone else.
"Get better protection for the children in the state of Missouri because, to me, that will at least mean that Jaycee's life meant something,” she said.

Hardin says better protection for children should mean having a toll-free number that works from anywhere. Leaders of Missouri's DSS say they will explore ways to change the hotline number, because it's their job to provide what's best for children. DSS, at one point, did have a nationwide number, but it was cancelled because people were calling the number when they should've been calling another one. DSS said not only was that delaying child safety but it also was costing the state money. If Missouri reinstated the nationwide number now, the cost would be based per call, which DSS says is roughly seven cents a minute.

To watch the actual story, click here:


thinkingthings said...

This is such a sad situation, but unfortunately even if this woman had been able to reach hotline workers in a more timely manner there is no real assurance that anything would or could have been done. Caseworkers are limited in what they can accomplish, and cases of abuse or neglect that seem obvious to the mandated reporter are "unsubstantiated" because the caseworker sees no obvious physical signs of abuse at the time of the investigation.

This system is broken. Just this morning I was told by a mandated reporter that she felt humilitated by a hotline worker who did not take her concerns seriously. Mandated reporters are subject to prosecution if they don't call, (and Greene County has certainly done this recently) but they often worry that their calls are not going to be substantiated and the situation may be made worse by the call.

That said, if someone is seriously concerned that a child is in immediate danger of being abused, they should not hesitate to call 911.

WhiteWolf01 said...

I have contacted Missouri helpline a number of times recently about a seriously abusive foster home, all they do is visit the house take the child into another room talk to the child and leave.

This is a travesty and an excuse, these people more endanger a child by their very stupidity and actions on both occasions the child has suffered as a result.

I am still fighting now but am using a different method.

I am sorry but I have renamed Missouri CPS the Child Prostitution Service see my channel sliepnir2006
on you tube.

Missouri is a corrupt deceitful dishonest state that has no credibility in terms of child protection left whatsoever.

This state would not have done anything anyway and as appears so actually did not.

This is typical, call the police not the hotline these people that run this hotline are just liars, they endanger the child further.

I am currently trying to still do something for this child through Claire McCaskill - Senator, Jay Nixon - Governor and the Acting Director of Social Services Celesta Hartgraves.

Yet still this state ignores the abuse that is going on as regards this child.

God help me...