Michigan debuts toll-free child abuse call-in plan

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LANSING, Mich. (AP) – A new call-in system for reporting abuse and neglect debuts Monday in Michigan, another step toward compliance with a court-ordered mandate for the state to improve conditions for children needing protective services.

The new system establishes a single phone number statewide for reporting abuse or neglect related to children and adults. The number will be staffed around-the-clock, including weekends and holidays. Decisions on whether to investigate a child abuse case are expected to be made on the spot, no matter what time of day or night, before being directly referred to county-level child protective services staff.

The statewide complaint intake system will be based in Kent County, where a six-county pilot program testing the system has run since September. The statewide system replaces one where calls were made to individual Department of Human Services county-level offices, which sometimes led to inconsistent results.

“The virtue of having a statewide, centralized intake is that you have consistency in the standards that the state is applying on the law of abuse and neglect,” said Maura Corrigan, director of the Michigan Department of Human Services. “You don’t get local variations in standards.”

The new, toll-free phone number will be available to both the general public and those mandated by law to report suspected child abuse and neglect such as teachers and doctors.

The centralized system is likely to increase the number of child abuse complaints lodged with the state.

Corrigan, a former Supreme Court justice, has made complying with terms of a settlement related to child protective services and foster care a high priority since becoming the Department of Human Services director in early 2011. A whiteboard hanging in the DHS office notes several of the settlement goals and the agency’s progress toward meeting them.

The central call-in system goal will be met nearly two months ahead of the required compliance schedule.

A New York-based group called Children’s Rights sued in 2006 to force the state to make improvements in foster care and child protective services. A settlement agreement was reached in 2008, and modified last year to give the state some more flexibility in meeting requirements.

Michigan has hired hundreds of new workers to reduce caseloads in foster care and protective services. Ninety-five percent of foster care workers are required to have no more than 15 cases each by October 2013. Neglect workers shall have no more than 12 open investigations by the end of 2013.

There also are strict deadlines for medical assessments for each child. Michigan also is trying to recruit more foster parents.

The phone number for reporting abuse and neglect is 1-855-444-3911.

Below are some of the common indicators that a child is being abused or neglected, according to the  Michigan Department of Human Services: Physical Neglect:

  •     Unattended medical needs
  •     Lack of supervision
  •     Significant weight change
  •     Regularly displays fatigue or listlessness, falls asleep in class
  •     Steals/hoards food, begs from classmates
  •     Reports that no caretaker is at home

Physical Abuse:

  •     Unexplained bruises (in various stages of healing), welts, loop marks
  •     Unexplained burns/scalds
  •     Bruising behind the ears.
  •     Self-destructive/self-mutilation
  •     Withdrawn and/or aggressive-behavior extremes
  •     Uncomfortable/skittish with physical contact
  •     Lack of impulse control (e.g. inappropriate outbursts)

Sexual Abuse:

  •     Pain or itching in genital area
  •     Sexually transmitted disease
  •     Withdrawal, chronic depression
  •     Sexual behaviors or references that are unusual for the child’s age
  •     Poor self-esteem, self-devaluation, lack of confidence

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