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Web-based system lets police, social workers share data on child abuse

L.A. County's district attorney calls the implementation a 'giant leap forward' and says the system, designed to prevent cases from falling through the cracks, is the first of its kind in the U.S.

February 26, 2010|By Victoria Kim

Los Angeles County authorities on Thursday announced an electronic system for sharing information on suspected child abuse among social workers, police agencies and prosecutors, a move they said would reduce the number of abused or neglected children whose cases fall between the cracks.

Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley called the Web-based Electronic Suspected Child Abuse Report System a "giant leap forward" and said it is the first of its kind in the nation.

Since its launch in April, police agencies in L.A. County have been signing onto the system, and now all are onboard, officials said. About 28,000 reports have been entered into the system so far.

The online reporting "will tremendously enhance everyone's role in . . . protecting our children from harm and mediating their difficult situations and sometimes taking them directly out of harm's way," Cooley said.

California law requires that child welfare agencies and law enforcement cross-report any allegations of child abuse so a criminal investigation can be launched at the same time that social workers are looking after the child's welfare.

Previously, the cross-reporting between agencies relied on a patchwork system via fax or mail that led to reports being lost in the shuffle or being sent to the wrong agency, causing errors and delayed police response. In some cases, charges were dismissed or lesser charges were filed against alleged abusers because of missing information, officials said.

Under the old system, it was also hard for social workers to find out whether criminal charges were ever filed against a child's alleged abuser or to keep track of the court case.

With the new system, investigators working on a child abuse case will be able to see previous reports involving the same child or suspect, including incidents that are often not on the suspect's rap sheet but can be evidence of a "pattern of abusive acts or behavior."

When a report of suspected abuse is made to the county Department of Children and Family Services, the information is shared through the Internet almost instantaneously with the police agency in the child's region. The faster response by law enforcement will help in obtaining victim statements or retaining evidence, officials said. The police investigators will in turn update the electronic report with their findings, helping the social worker in following up with the child.

"Before, we would wait for a social worker to call us before we could respond, because we didn't know where this paper was. With this system, it's immediate," said Sgt. Dan Scott of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. "In our view this is a life-saving system."

victoria.kim@latimes.com

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