Child abuse is heinous and its aftermath devastating. It is made more lamentable when someone attempts to report an egregious act - often mustering significant courage to do so in delicate circumstances - only to have that effort go for naught. The tragedy then is compounded, something happening far too often with Utah's child-abuse hotline.

It is critical that calls to the statewide toll-free number - 1-800-678-9399 - are answered promptly and that sensitive information is conveyed to the appropriate sources. Yet members of the state's Child Abuse and Neglect Advisory Council allege that calls are going unanswered or callers leave messages that may not connect.Those types of problems need to be quickly corrected. Concern is not about blame or fault, but for the welfare of children left at extreme risk due to miscommunication. If someone thinks they have filed a report and that it is being acted upon, they may assume their duty is completed. That information may be going nowhere, however, which creates a dangerous situation for many children.

In one instance, a parent agreed to call the hotline about abuse within the family, but the call was unanswered. There was no return call despite a voice-mail message being left. Therapists and counselors know that when someone agrees to begin the process of divulging difficult information, doors must be open to make it easy for them to do so. If they can't speak with someone immediately and get a satisfactory response, they may refuse to venture forth again.

The hotline must be a dependable channel of communication or it should be discontinued. If unreliable, it may do more harm than good.

It would be unfortunate to sever such a conduit, since the numbers indicate it is well used. More than 1,400 calls a month are answered by about eight people at any given time. That level of staffing is obviously inadequate to handle the deluge.

What is needed from the Division of Child and Family Services is greater budget, staffing and commitment to ensure the hotline functions dependably. An assurance has been given that that will happen, a promise that must be kept for the benefit of abused children statewide and those who call with them in mind.