Fla officials overhaul child abuse hotline

Published On: Dec 14 2012 12:03:11 AM EST
Updated On: Dec 14 2012 12:39:46 PM EST
Nubia Barahona
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -

Child welfare officials have overhauled the state abuse hotline, saying they've added new technology so they can provide investigators with more updated information about alleged abuse and a family's background before a home visit.

The Department of Children and Families hotline receives more than 400,000 calls a year, yet staff were relying on the same outdated procedures and antiquated technology for the past 30 years. And operators were focusing more on speed more than accuracy, Secretary David Wilkins said Thursday.

In February 2011, the call center received multiple calls worrying about the safety of Nubia Barahona, a 10-year-old former foster child whose partially decomposing body was later found doused in toxic chemicals in the back of her adoptive father's pickup truck along a busy highway.

"Through that investigation and that process we uncovered some dramatic problems in the DCF process, procedures," Wilkins said. "A lot of the problems that happened were right at the call center."

A panel investigating problems after Nubia's death made several recommendations to overhaul the system. The new call center launched last month, but officials held a press conference this week.

In the past, operators collected information and sent it to child protective investigators who then had to conduct their own investigation. Often details were missing and didn't include past cases nor did the system coordinate information when multiple calls came in on the same case, Wilkins said.

Now, operators are using updated technology to provide investigators with better information about families at the beginning of an investigation so they can assess child safety and family risk factors before they go out on a case.

The new call center also features an online reporting tool, which Wilkins said will especially helpful for law enforcement and education officials, who are mandatory reporters.

"We're going to be able to respond to these cases in a much more professional manner and a much faster manner with significantly more accuracy," he said.