New Jersey’s child abuse hotline has seen a dramatic increase in call numbers since the Penn State sex scandal broke. New Jersey Department of Children and Families Commissioner Allison Blake said she believes the hotline has seen more calls because of heightened awareness to abuse issues. She spoke with NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider about the issue and how her department functions.
Blake said each call that comes through the hotline is handled individually by “specially trained screeners that will talk with the caller about their concerns, what they’re witnessing, what they may have observed in the past, and then we’ll do a background check.” Department computers are scanned to see if the family is known to the agency. Based on the information gathered, Blake said the case is assigned to a Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) office in the appropriate county for a home visit and investigation.
DYFS has been criticized in the past for the handling of particular cases that resulted in severe injury or death of children, but Blake said the organization does good work. “I’m 100 percent confident that DYFS is prepared to handle its job,” she said. “Unfortunately in the press we only hear about the tragedies and what the public doesn’t know is that DYFS makes a tremendous contribution every day of the week to help families and help children across our state.”
The New Jersey Division on Women is moving from the Department of Community Affairs to the Department of Children and Families effective July 1, which some have called a downgrade. But Blake said all of the staff and existing resources will be transferred along with the division.
Another controversy surrounded Morristown Medical Center, which announced it would be cutting sexual assault services. Medical center personnel had cited a 50 percent cut in state funds for the sexual assault center, but Blake disputes that.
“Morristown Memorial Hospital made the decision themselves to withdraw from providing that service. There was no cut to state dollars and at this point in time we are working with them,” Blake said. “They have rescinded their letter of withdrawal and we have agreed to work with them so that there will be no interruption of services for the people of Morris County.”
Blake said her job has its difficulties. “I think my biggest challenge is making sure that all of the staff of the department, all of the people who are served feel that they are equally important,” she said.