Citizens step up reports of child abuse

Almost half the calls made to a statewide child-protection hotline concerning children in Mesa County were from community members, not mandatory reporters, in 2016, a sign that concerned citizens have increased participation in reporting suspected abuse and neglect.

The hotline received 7,287 calls from concerned citizens regarding Mesa County children in 2016, which amounted to 45 percent of the calls concerning local children that year. The participation of members of the regular public represented an increase from 17 percent of the calls made the previous year. The remainder of the calls came primarily from mandatory reporters, such as teachers and medical professionals, who are required by law to report suspected child abuse or neglect.

Those in the child-welfare community called the increase of calls from concerned citizens a sign that regular people who interact with children who are not required by law to report suspected abuse are understanding that everyone plays a role in preventing child abuse and neglect.

“The more eyes, the better,” said Robert Werthwein, director of the Colorado Department of Human Services Office of Children, Youth and Families.

The increase in friends, family members, neighbors and other members of the public participating in the hotline regarding Mesa County children was even more pronounced than the statewide average. Calls from community members across Colorado composed 40 percent of the total calls in 2016, compared to 24 percent the previous year.

Werthwein acknowledged that some people hesitate to report situations to authorities, and sometimes fear that it’s not their business to get involved.

“If you’re feeling uncomfortable with that situation ... That child is experiencing it much more,” he said.

Werthwein also said that his agency is focusing more on prevention and connecting families with resources, and sometimes a report can be the thing that ends up providing parents with the extra help they need.

“We want to move away from this mentality that child welfare is about policing — it’s not. It’s about supporting families.”

The Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline, launched in January 2015, serves as a direct, immediate route to reporting suspected abuse and neglect to any of the state’s 64 counties and two tribal nations. All callers are able to speak with an operator 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by calling 1-844-CO-4-KIDS, or 1-844-264-5437. The website co4kids.org is also a resource.

The hotline added a new category for reporting abuse this year in accordance with legislation passed in 2016. House Bill 16-1224 expanded Colorado’s statutory definition of child abuse or neglect to include cases of human trafficking for sexual servitude.

The number of calls made to the statewide hotline includes reports made to the Mesa County Department of Human Services, Werthwein said, which also operates a local hotline reachable at 242-1211.

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