If you call the current D.C. government telephone listing for day-care services, the phone will ring -- endlessly. Likewise, the numbers for foster-care services, protective service for adults, and social service information all will ring indefinitely.
That's because the phone numbers were changed seven months ago and the old numbers were disconnected, but the city Department of Human Services failed to ensure that telephone "intercepts" continued to refer callers to the new numbers.
"We had an intercept on those lines, but we're not sure what happened," DHS spokeswoman Joan Reeves said yesterday after the problem was brought to her attention by a reporter. "We are working on it now to see if we can put intercepts back on those numbers."
Normally with a centrex phone system the old disconnected numbers are automatically intercepted and the caller is referred to the new number, either by an operator or a recording, according to David Laycock, manager of business service for the C&P Telephone Co.
Laycock said DHS officials had not told the company that intercepts were not working. Reeves said DHS was unsure how long the numbers have gone unanswered.
The numbers were changed when DHS, in a cost-saving effort, moved its major social service programs last Jan. 29 from rented space at 122 C St. NW to 500 First St. NW and to the city-owned former Randall School at Second and I streets NW.
At that time, social workers and clients complained of chaotic conditions because in some cases as many as 15 to 20 social workers were forced to share a single telephone and many families, including some facing crisis situations, lost touch temporarily with their social workers.
Those initial problems were remedied with the addition of more telephones at the new sites, DHS officials said. But difficulties persist for many callers trying to reaching the proper city employe by telephone, according to several groups who deal with DHS's Commission of Social Services.
"Those of us who call there all the time know the right numbers," said Nancy Smith, director of the Child Advocacy Center, "but for the general public who looks in the phone book, or for a client who has been out of touch and then has a crisis, it is difficult."
"People tell us they call numbers and just can't get anybody. Five or 10 times a day you'll hear that, people who say they just can't get through," said Etta Horn Prather, director of the D.C. Citywide Welfare Rights Organization.
In all, nine of the 13 telephone numbers for the Commission of Social Services' former C Street headquarters, including the office of Commissioner Audrey Rowe, now go unanswered.
Reeves said that callers seeking help with DHS matters should use the numbers 724-5466, 727-5930, or 724-5470.