JACKSON – Reporting suspected child abuse/neglect concerns is now faster and easier thanks to a new mobile reporting app offered by the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services.
Available as a free download to any Apple or Android mobile phone as well as through any internet web browser, the new MDCPS Report Child Abuse mobile reporting application was developed by the National Strategic Planning & Analysis Research Center (NSPARC) at Mississippi State University in Starkville. NSPARC developers say the mobile app is the first of its kind in the U.S. and has already improved the quality of reports received by MDCPS.
“As technology advances and more people rely on cell phones to conduct everyday business, this mobile app makes it more convenient for abuse and neglect reports to be submitted,” said MDCPS Commissioner Jess. H. Dickinson. “Our agency is focused on working smarter to make sure the children of Mississippi are protected. If we think there may a better or more efficient way to accomplish our goal, our staff will seek it out and find it.”
MDCPS annually receives about 30,000 reports of suspected abuse, neglect or exploitation of Mississippi children. In fiscal year 2017, MDCPS received 27,777 reports of suspected abuse and roughly 26% of those reports were substantiated.
Dickinson said the user-friendly, intuitive mobile reporting tool allows anyone immediately to submit a report on a child they observe or suspect is being abused or neglected without having to wait until they have access to a computer. Reports may be made via the app either anonymously or by identifying themselves. The mobile report, which takes only about five minutes to complete, is immediately sent to MDCPS Mississippi Centralized Intake staff for screening. Reports are screened and then investigated by MDCPS frontline staff in county offices statewide.
“The MDCPS Report Child Abuse app is very easy to navigate,” said Cindy Greer, MDCPS deputy commissioner for Informative Technology Services. “Our aim was to make reporting less of a hassle and more readily available to all users. You can start, enter and submit a report in five minutes or less.”
MDCPS will continue to accept abuse and neglect reports to its 24-hour hotline phone line 1-800-222-8000 as well as through the agency website:https://reportabuse.mdcps.ms.gov . The reporting app is accessible via the Report Abuse red button located at the very bottom of the website’s home page screen in the right-hand corner. The public is encouraged to use whichever method they prefer. All reports will be screened and investigated upon receipt by the agency.
Greer said the mobile app was developed by NSPARC in partnership with MDCPS Information Technology Department staff to make the reporting process more user-friendly and efficient in hopes of receiving more timely and accurate information. The old MDCPS abuse-reporting form, only available through the agency’s website, contained 15 pages and took about 15 minutes to complete.
The new MDCPS Report Child Abuse mobile app is available for download from the App Store or from Google Play.
The app’s home screen, which includes a “Need help?” button, greets users with a simple message: “If you are concerned about the safety or wellbeing of a child, use this app to make a referral to MS Child Protection Services.” There is a Start Here button to begin the step-by-step, self-guided reporting process. Users are also encouraged to call 911 directly from the app if they observe a child in immediate danger. Users may also tap the 1-800-222-8000 phone number to speak directly with an intake officer instead of continuing their report with the app.
Reporters are asked to provide basic information about the suspected abuse, including the county where the alleged abuse is occurring and information on how to identify and locate the suspected victim. Information is also requested about the type of maltreatment, such as: abandonment, emotional abuse/neglect, physical abuse or neglect, sexual abuse or exploitation/human trafficking among other options.
Reporters are not required to identify themselves but may provide their name and contact information in case investigators need to follow up with them during the investigation. Confidentiality of the reporter is protected by Mississippi law under authority of the Youth Court system.
“This new tool has been well received by our users,” said Stephanie Pepper, who directs the Mississippi Centralized Intake division for MDCPS. “It’s asking for the same info [as the old form] but just in a different way. It uses easy to understand terminology common to child welfare professionals and the general public alike.”
Pepper said the app intentionally uses simpler wording and highly visible “help” icons to guide the user through the reporting process. The app is also more functional for mandated abuse reporters such as school officials and medical professionals who are required by Mississippi State Law to report to MDCPS any suspicion of child abuse or neglect.
As part of the development process, NSPARC researched what tools other states utilize for abuse reporting. NSPARC could only identify five states with web applications.
“We could’ve missed something, but we didn’t find any mobile apps,” said Clint Hester, NSPARC’s software project manager. “The MDCPS app is one of a kind.”
Pepper said MDCPS’s new reporting system could serve as a national model for child abuse reporting.
“We have definitely stepped it up a notch in terms of modern technology,” she said.
The mobile reporting app was released for a limited testing use in August 2017 and then made available to the general public in January 2018. Since its initial “test” roll-out, NSPARC has refined the new system to address user glitches and to make the overall reporting process work smoother.
“We have received valuable feedback and reviews, which are currently being used to enhance the system’s functionality,” Pepper said. “In the first week of implementation, some users reported experiencing freezing with the online tool, but NSPARC responded immediately to resolve the concern.”
State law requires any person who knows or has reason to suspect abuse or neglect of a child by a parent, legal custodian, caregiver or other person(s) responsible for the child’s care to make a report to the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services. Penalties may apply for intentionally providing false information in a report.
To utilize the app, reporters should be prepared to provide the following information, if it is known:
- The victim’s name, address or location, school information, approximate age, race and sex;
- A description of the situation and marks or bruises that may be present;
- Person responsible for the victim’s care, the alleged perpetrator’s name and witnesses to the situation; and,
- Other relevant information that would expedite an investigation such as: manufacturing of drugs in the home, possession of weapons, domestic violence, etc.
By sharing as many details and including as much information as is available, the reporter can better assist MDCPS in providing a swift and effective intervention to benefit the child and family involved.