The front door to the front line for abuse

Shelby Clark is one of three-hundred intake specialists at Statewide Intake, Texas' abuse hotline, "the biggest challenge for us is the information that we take, it can be detailed and it can be sometimes not easy to hear," she says of the up to 14 calls she gets daily. "We have to stay detached and emotionally from the information we take and stay professional."

The hotline has been called "the front door to the front line" of battling child and elder abuse in Texas, and people like Clark could be making a life or death decision. Statewide Intake is open around the clock, 365 days a year.

Richard Zimmerman is the Assistant Commissioner for Statewide Intake. He says April (Child Abuse Awareness Month) and May (Elder Abuse Awareness Month) are the busiest times of the year. "Every Child Protective Services, Adult Protective Services, and Child Care Licensing case investigation begins here at Statewide Intake with the first call from the reporter."

Intake specialists must have a four-year degree. And on their application, they have to write about why they are interested in the job. Zimmerman says that's something new they've added to the process. Once they are hired, intake specialists spend seven weeks training for the job and for several of those weeks they take calls with a trainer by their side.

One of the biggest challenges, Zimmerman says is the call volume. In FY2014, more than 700,000 calls came in. But that number keeps growing, in the last seven months alone, Statewide Intake received nearly 450,000. Right now, the average wait time to get through is about eight minutes.

70 percent of the calls Zimmerman says are for child abuse. "School teachers, law enforcement, judges contact us as well to start those investigations," says Zimmerman.

Calls with enough location information are filtered and sent to caseworkers, where they investigate the case. By law, a copy of the Intake report is also sent to local law enforcement. "We get as little as what city they are living in and are collateral contacts. We can send that out to a local county for investigation," Zimmerman says. He adds they have access to different databases that they can scour to find a match for an address so they can get it moved on to the next phase.

But sometimes there just isn't enough, "At this point if we have absolutely nothing except that allegation we talk with the reporter and encourage them to contact us back," Zimmerman says.

Colton Turner's family says he was one of those types of cases last year. His family says they repeatedly called Statewide Intake to report the abuse. The toddler was found in a shallow grave in South Austin in September. Records show Turner was the subject of four investigations during his short life. At times, according to the CPS report, there wasn't enough information to find where the child and his mother were, during the open investigations, and when some of those calls were made to Statewide Intake.

In those cases, Zimmerman says they are working on adding tools to find those kinds of children, children like Colton Turner. But HB2053, which passed the house at the end of April, would require Texas' Department of Public Safety to work with CPS to do just that. Starting at Statewide Intake.

Georgetown State Representative Marsha Farney authored HB2053, also known "Colton's Law". It passed the House as it was written 144-0.

Georgetown State Senator Doctor Charles Schwertner picked the bill up on the Senate side. It's not clear if he plans to change it or if a plan to find CPS' unlocatable children will be in place by the end of the session.

If you suspect child or elder neglect or abuse in Texas call: 1-800-252-5400.