Legislators face a multi-million-dollar decision as they ponder how to upgrade the state‘s child abuse hotline.
Democrats want local hotlines to replace the new centralized Department of Child Services call center that has been criticized for keeping callers waiting and being too quick to rule complaints unfounded. The DCS says the local hotlines would cost $41 million, even if the overnight shift was handed off to police and keeping the price tag even that low would require handing off the overnight shift to police.
Senator Travis Holdman (R-Markle) worries the proposal to hand off third-shift calls to police would saddle local communities with training costs. DCS did not calculate those costs. Holdman says the goal should be to eliminate wait times for hotline callers.
“If we‘re talking about lives of children here, we can‘t have people being put on hold,” he says. “And two minutes — I don‘t want to hold for two minutes, and I don‘t hold for two minutes for very many calls.”
Republicans have proposed a two-track hotline system, with regional hotlines established for judges and other trained professionals, while the general public would still call the current hotline. That would cost half as much, but former Monroe Circuit Judge Viola Taliaferro complains the rerouted callers may have better information than the professionals.
Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane says it is debatable whether it is worth the $21 million difference between Republicans’ proposal and the local hotlines Democrats want.
“It‘s a hard question,” he says. “It‘s not a fair question. But, you know, how can you quantify what we‘re talking about here? I would suggest $21 million. I‘d say better safe than sorry.”
Members reached tentative agreement to recommend turning the panel into a permanent oversight committee, and to immediately notify judges of any new abuse or neglect allegations against caregivers already under investigation. The panel plans one last meeting Nov. 27 to finalize its recommendations.