Hotline text call generic

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The country's top child abuse hotline recently launched its first text line, and now the nonprofit is looking to Missouri for help determining the efficiency of the service.

The new text line is part of national child advocacy nonprofit Childhelp's efforts to reach more young people, who may be less comfortable or unable to report abuse over the phone.

Michelle Fingerman, Childhelp's national director, told the Kansas City Star that the majority of people calling the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline are adults speaking on children's behalf. But informal testing of text lines in recent years found that more than 80 percent of users were younger than 18 years old, Fingerman said.

"It confirmed what we were suspecting," Fingerman said. "That youth weren't calling, because they were comfortable reaching out in other ways . including text."

Childhelp officials plan to study what works for text line counselors in Missouri, which ranks third in the country for helpline calls made per capita.

The ranking doesn't reflect higher abuse rates than other states. Missouri's rates of substantiated abuse cases dropped to 3 percent in 2017, below the country's 9 percent rate, according to hotline data, federal statistics and the census.

With the state's strong history of using the national hotline, Childhelp leaders said testing the text line's success in Missouri will be key to understanding and improving the service.

Trained counselors face unique challenges when collecting crisis information via text, which could take longer than 45 minutes compared to an average hotline call that lasts about nine minutes. Hotline operators could face difficulties conveying tone or inflection that offers comfort over text or live chats.

"For us it is leveraging technology in a positive way," Fingerman said. "If we know if this is how youth connect at this point, I think our priority is to meet them where they are at."

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