Abuse is the physical, psychological or sexual maltreatment of another person. There are several populations that are vulnerable to abuse.
Domestic violence includes behaviors used by one person in a relationship to control the other. These two people can be, or may not be, married. Domestic violence can include husband against wife, wife against husband, brother against brother, or even roommate against roommate. It encompasses anyone in a close type of relationship.
Other types of abuse can be identified as elder abuse and child abuse. The populations are especially vulnerable and frequently cannot speak for themselves.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines child maltreatment as any act or series of acts or commission or omission by a parent or other caregiver that results in harm, potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child.
Currently, there are four widely recognized and identifiable categories of abuse including:
- Physical Abuse
- Psychological/Emotional Abuse
- Sexual Abuse
There are other types of abuse that can fit under these categories such as financial abuse and exploitation, as well.
Neglect is defined as a type of maltreatment that refers to the failure by the caregiver to provide needed, age appropriate care although financially able to do so or offered financial or other means to do so.
Types of neglect can include:
- Physical neglect
- Educational neglect
- Emotional/Psychological neglect
- Medical neglect
Example of child neglect:
Samantha is arrested for drug possession and neglects to tell the arresting officer that her 4 year old daughter is home alone because she had only intended to be gone for an hour to obtain drugs. Samantha is held over night in jail until she plans to post bail. The neighbors hear Samantha’s daughter crying for her mommy at 2:00 a.m. They call the police who find the 4 year old alone in the apartment. “My parents both used drugs and when I was growing up there was no one there to do the basic things that a child needs, like cooking meals. Mum wouldn’t even notice whether I had or hadn’t gone to school as she was always upstairs smashed out of her face. I wanted to go to school as I didn’t want a life like my parents. I could pretend that whilst I was there that everything was fine at home. No-one there knew what was happening at home until the house was raided.”
Example of elder neglect:
An 86 year old man arrived at the emergency room from his sons home with multiple bed sores all over his back an on his heels, and with severe dehydration. He had restraint marks on his wrist. His son said they felt like they had to restrain him or he would wander off during the night.
Psychological and Emotional Abuse
Psychological abuse is also referred to as emotional abuse and is a form of abuse characterized by a person subjecting or exposing another to behavior that is psychologically harmful. It involves the willful infliction of mental or emotional anguish by threat, humiliation, or other verbal and non-verbal conduct. It is often associated with situations of power imbalance, such as abusive relationships.
Psychological abuse may occur as bullying of individuals by groups, often children, or it may be by one partner in a relationship. In domestic abuse psychological abuse nearly always precedes physical violence when this occurs, and also accompanies it. Modern technology had led to new forms of abuse, particularly in children and young adults, by text messaging and online cyber-bullying. Methods of abuse include causing fear by intimidation, threatening physical harm to self, partner, children, or partner’s family or friends, destruction of pets and property, forcing isolation from family, friends, or school or work. More subtle tactics include put downs, hiding objects such as keys, then putting them back without the victim seeing, and denial that previous incidents actually happened.
Examples of psychological abuse can include:
- Put downs
- Threats to leave
- Threats to take things away
- Hiding keys
- Locking the windows or doors to keep someone in
Example of psychological abuse:
Rachel wanted to be well liked at her school. She didn’t really care if her boyfriend was one of the cool guys, but she just wanted someone to like her. When Jake, one of the most popular boys in school, asked her to meet him in outside of the locker room after school she was very excited! They met and he moved really fast…too fast. She wanted to say “no”, but she wanted him to like her so much she just went along with his advances. She really hoped he would ask her on a date. When she got home and finished her homework she went online and found that the other boys, Jake’s friends, had taken pictures of her that afternoon. The pictures were really embarrassing. The messages under the pictures from the other kids at school were horrible. When Rachel got to school the next day she found her locker was covered in the pictures. When she got to her first class there was a picture on her seat. The week continued with pictures and ugly remarks all over the place.
Physical abuse is abuse involving contact intended to cause feelings of intimidation, pain, injury, or other physical suffering or harm.
There are several indicators of physical abuse:
- Frequent physical injuries that are attributed to being clumsy or accident prone.
- Injuries that do not seem to fit the explanation
- Conflicting explanations
- Patches of hair missing
- Frequent absences
- Awkward movements that suggest the person is in pain or sore
- Flinching behavior
Example of physical abuse:
From around the age of 10, nothing Amy did was good enough for her mom. They led a very chaotic lifestyle and one year they lived in 12 different places. The houses were all in bad condition and they were always dirty.
At school people would say ‘you smell’ and Amy was bullied because she was different. The bullies said that if they saw her out of school they’d kill her. She was always scared.
Mom had two or three partners who she’d had turbulent relationships with. Amy was frightened of mom when she was drunk as she was very unpredictable. Mom frequently yelled at and hit Amy. Once she had shoved her so hard she fell down the front steps.
Most of mom’s boyfriends ignored Amy altogether, but some were mean. They would hit her too. One didn’t Amy “hanging around” her own house so told Amy’s mom that he didn’t want her to be there when he was. That is when Amy’s mom moved a sleeping bag into the garage for Amy to stay there when the boyfriend was over.
Sexual abuse is forcing undesired sexual behavior by one person upon another. This also can involve using someone for sexual stimulation. Sexual abuse can involve both touching and non-touching behaviors.
Abusers often do not use physical force, but may use play, deception, threats, or other forms of coercion to engage their victim and to maintain their silence.
Signs of sexual abuse in children:
An increase in nightmares and/or other sleeping difficulties
Not wanting to be left alone with a particular person
Sexual knowledge, language, and/or behaviors that are inappropriate for the child’s age
Signs of sexual abuse in the elderly:
Bruising on inner thighs
Sexually transmitted diseases or infections
Any sudden change in personality
Acting overly compliant
Odd comments about sex or sexual behaviors
Agitation or aggression
Scared or timid behavior
Withdrawal and wanting to be alone
Although many people who have experienced sexual abuse show behavioral and emotional changes, many others do not. It is critical to focus not only on detection but on prevention and open communication.
Approximately 15% to 25% of women and 5% to 15% of men were sexually abused when they were children. Most sexual abuse offenders are acquainted with their victims. Approximately 30% are relatives, and approximately 60% are other acquaintances such as friends of the family, caretakers, or neighbors.
Example of sexual abuse:
Lee was 16 when a friend introduced him to her church youth group. The first time he went, he met the youth leader, Adam. As Lee got more involved in the group, transport started to become an issue, and Adam offered to give him lifts.
Quite early on, Adam and Lee began texting. When Adam suggested we hang out outside of the group, Lee didn’t think anything of it. He thought it was probably common for youth workers to want to spend time with young people.
Lee didn’t have a lot of friends, so it felt like he’d made a close friend in Adam. He was paying attention to Lee, and he enjoyed his company; it felt like he was really looking out for Lee.
Then, Adam started to encourage Lee to hang out with him at his house. He started telling Lee that we had a special friendship.
It was gradual and quite innocent to start with, but Lee began to feel increasingly uncomfortable. Adam started sitting closer to him on the sofa, trailing his finger his – things Lee thought were strange but not big enough to react to at the time.
Over time, Adam started to give him extended hugs and kiss Lee’s face. He’d tell Lee I was his best mate, and what they had was special. He said it was normal to do these things, even biblical, reading Lee passages from the Bible.
As things continued, Lee told him he wasn’t comfortable with what he was doing. He didn’t listen and instead ramped things up by kissing Lee on the lips. The kissing on the lips then became more regular, and Lee felt helpless to tell anybody about what was happening.
When Lee told Adam he wasn’t gay – that he liked girls and wanted him to stop – he’d turn things around by telling him he must want this because he’d instigated it. He’d threaten to take Lee off the preaching rotation or stop giving him lifts. He made Lee feel as if he’d be ostracized from the group if he put a stop to things and told Lee constantly that he wasn’t to tell anyone.
Things escalated when Adam made them masturbate in the same room as each other. When they weren’t together, he’d text Lee telling him he thought about him while he was masturbating. He continued to pressure Lee, saying they were going to spend their lives together and that he wanted us to have sex.
Effects of Abuse
When people live surrounded by fear, negative moods, family stress, and parental violence, there is a profound long-term impact. Research shows children who live with domestic violence often develop psychological, emotional, and behavioral problems.
The Center for Disease Control found that children who witness abuse are at greater risk of:
- alcohol and substance abuse;
- health conditions like cancer, depression, and diabetes;
- poor performance in school;
- early death.
Children who grow up around domestic violence also believe it is normal, and often repeat the cycle of violence in their own adult lives.
Children may experience a range of feelings about living with abuse, even if they don’t say it out loud. Depending on their age, they may:
- Feel responsible for the abuse, thinking, “If I had been a good girl/boy, the violence wouldn’t have happened.”
- Carry guilt for not stopping the abuse.
- Experience constant anxiety.
- Grieve when they are separated from the abuser. They may also grieve for the positive image they had of the abuser before they knew about or experienced the abuse.
- Feel ambivalent. They may have positive and negative feelings about the abuser and/or the victim.
- Be afraid of abandonment. After leaving behind the abusive parent/guardian, they may be scared the victimized parent will leave them or die.
- Seek constant attention from adults.
- Fear being physically harmed. A significant percentage of children who witness domestic violence are also physically abused.
- Be embarrassed. Older children may especially be ashamed of how other people view the family.
- Worry deeply about the future. Because violence is unpredictable, children learn to live in a state of constant uncertainty.
Signs of Abuse in Children
Signs of Physical Abuse
- Unexplained changes in the child’s body or behavior or regression to earlier developmental stages
- Any injury (bruise, burn, fracture, abdominal or head injury) that cannot be explained
- Watchful and “on alert” behavior, as if the child is waiting for something bad to happen
- Shying away from touch flinches at sudden movements or seems afraid to go home
- Appears to be afraid of adults
- Wears clothing inappropriate to the season or weather to cover injuries, i.e., long-sleeved shirts on hot days
- School failure
- Frequent headaches or stomachaches with no medical cause
Signs of Emotional Abuse
- Behavioral changes
- Speech disorders
- Substance abuse
- Developmental delays
- Lack of attachment to the parent
- Excessively withdrawn, fearful or anxious about doing something wrong
- Acts either inappropriately adult (taking care of other children) or inappropriately infantile (rocking, thumb-sucking, tantrums)
- Extremely passive or aggressive behavior
Signs of Sexual Abuse
- Extreme sexual behavior that seems inappropriate for the child’s age
- Sexual acting out on other children
- Genital pain, itching, swelling or bleeding, as well as a sexually transmitted disease
- Refusal to change for physical activities (e.g., P.E. class) or refusal to participate in physical activities
- Fear of being alone with adults, especially of a particular gender
- Suicide attempts
- Trouble walking or sitting
- Nightmares or bed-wetting
- Sudden changes in appetite
- Fear of a particular person or family member
Signs of Neglect
- Frequently absent from school
- Theft of food or money
- Consistently poor hygiene
- Lack of appropriate clothing for weather or season
- Frequently unsupervised left alone or allowed to play in unsafe situations and environments
- Lacks needed medical or dental care
Signs of Abuse In The Elderly
- Dehydration, malnutrition (without illness-related cause), untreated bedsores, and poor personal hygiene unattended or untreated health problems hazardous or unsafe living conditions/arrangements (for example, improper wiring, no heat, or no running water)
- Unsanitary and unclean living conditions (for example, dirt, fleas, lice on person, soiled bedding, fecal/urine smell, inadequate clothing)
- A nursing home resident’s report of being mistreated
- An injury that has not been cared for properly
- An injury that is inconsistent with the explanation for its cause pain from touching
- Cuts, puncture wounds, burns, bruises, welts
- Poor coloration, sunken eyes or cheeks
- Inappropriate administration of medication
- Frequent use of hospital or health care/doctor-shopping
- Lack of necessities such as food, water, or utilities
- Lack of personal effects, pleasant living environment, personal items
- Forced isolation
- Fear; Anxiety; Agitation; Anger
- Isolation, Withdrawal; Depression
- Non-responsiveness; Resignation; Ambivalence
- Contradictory statements; Implausible stories
- Hesitation to talk openly; Confusion or disorientation
Signs by Caregiver:
- Prevents the elder from speaking to or seeing visitors
- Anger, indifference, aggressive behavior toward the elder
- History of substance abuse, mental illness, criminal behavior, or family violence
- Lack of affection towards the elder
- Flirtation or coyness as a possible indicator of inappropriate sexual relationships
- Conflicting accounts of incidents
- Withholds affection
- Talks of elder as a burden
It is crucial for us to all work together to end abuse. All abuse reports in Florida need to be made to the Florida Department of Children and Families.
The Florida Abuse Hotline accepts reports 24 hours a day and 7 days a week of known or suspected child abuse, neglect, or abandonment and reports of known or suspected abuse, neglect, or exploitation of a vulnerable adult.
To make a report, you can:
Report online at https://reportabuse.dcf.state.fl.us/
Use 711 for Florida Relay Services
FAX your report to 1-800-914-0004
If you suspect or know of a child or vulnerable adult in immediate danger, call 911.
Press 1 to report suspected abuse, neglect or abandonment of a child
Press 2 to report suspected abuse, neglect or exploitation of the elderly or a vulnerable adult
Press 3 to verify the identity of a child protective investigator who recently visited you
Press 4 for information/referrals to other services in your local area.
Be prepared to provide specific descriptions of the incident(s) or the circumstances contributing to the risk of harm, including who was involved, what occurred, when and where it occurred, why it happened, the extent of any injuries sustained, what the victim(s) said happened, and any other pertinent information are very important.
Information callers should have ready includes:
Name, date of birth (or approximate age), race, and gender, for all adults and children involved.
Addresses or another means to locate the subjects of the report, including the current location.
Information regarding disabilities and/or limitations of the victims (especially for vulnerable adult victims).
Relationship of the alleged perpetrator to the child or adult victim(s).
Other relevant information that would expedite an investigation, such as directions to the victim (especially in rural areas) and potential risks to the investigator, should be given to the Abuse Hotline Counselor.
To make a report, via fax, send a detailed written report with your name and contact telephone or FAX contact information using the Florida Abuse Hotlines fax reporting form to:
Web reporting should not be used for situations requiring immediate attention. Please contact the Hotlines toll-free reporting number if you believe a child or vulnerable adult is at imminent risk of harm.
Do not delay in contacting the Florida Abuse Hotline even if you do not have all of the necessary information. The hotline counselor can help make an assessment based on the available information and will decide if it is sufficient to accept a report for investigation.
You should have the following information:
Date of birth (or approximate age)
Address, including current location
Information regarding disabilities and/or limitations for vulnerable adult victims
Relationship of the alleged perpetrator to the child or adult victim
If you are placed on hold, and the situation is an emergency or the victim is in imminent danger, you should hang up and dial 911, then follow up with the Abuse Hotline.
MANDATORY REPORTING OF ABUSE CHECKLIST
Who needs to report? There are two types of reporters:
Any person who knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect, that a child is abused, abandoned, or neglected by a parent, legal custodian, caregiver, or other person responsible for the child’s welfare is a mandatory reporter. §39.201(1)(a), Florida Statutes.
Any person, including but not limited to the state, county, or municipal criminal justice employees or law enforcement officers, who know or have reasonable cause to suspect that a vulnerable adult has been or is being abused, neglected, or exploited must make a report. §415.1034(a), Florida Statutes.
Professionally mandated reporter
Anyone who is legally obligated to report known abuse and must also identify themselves when reporting. These include:
Physician, osteopathic physician, medical examiner, chiropractic physician, nurse, or hospital personnel engaged in the admission, examination, care, or treatment of persons; Health or mental health professional;
Practitioner who relies solely on spiritual means for healing;
School teacher or other school official or personnel;
Social worker, daycare center worker, or other professional child care, foster care, residential or institutional worker;
Law enforcement officer;
Judge, §39.201(1)(d)(1)-(7), Florida Statutes
Mediators. §44.405(4)(a)(3), Florida Statutes.
Note: An officer or employee of the judicial branch is not required to again provide notice of reasonable cause to suspect child abuse, abandonment, or neglect when that child is currently being investigated by the Department of Children and Families, there is an existing dependency case, or the matter has previously been reported to the Department, provided that there is reasonable cause to believe that the information is already known to the department. This paragraph applies only when the information has been provided to the officer or employee in the course of carrying out his or her official duties: §39.201 (1)(f), Florida Statutes.
What needs to be reported?
A child in need of supervision who has no parent, legal custodian, or responsible adult. §39.201(1)(a), Florida Statutes.
A child abused by a parent, caregiver, guardian, or other person responsible for the child’s welfare. §39.201(1)(a), Florida Statutes.
Child abuse, abandonment, or neglect by any adult. §39.201(1)(b), Florida Statutes.
Child abuse by a juvenile sex offender. §39.201(1)(c), Florida Statutes.
If the report contains information of an instance of known or suspected child abuse involving the impregnation of a child under 16 years of age by a person 21 years of age or older, the report shall be made immediately to the appropriate county sheriff’s office or other appropriate law enforcement agency. §39.201(2)(e), Florida Statutes.
Reports involving surrendered newborn infants shall be made and received by the department. §39.201(1)(g), Florida Statutes.
Section 794.027, Florida Statutes, requires that any person who observes a sexual battery and who has the ability to seek assistance for the victim without being exposed to a threat of physical violence must make a report.
Vulnerable adult abuse:
Section 415.1034(1), Florida Statutes, states that any person, including, but not limited to any state, county, or municipal criminal justice employee or law enforcement officer, who knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect, that a vulnerable adult has been or is being abused, neglected, or exploited shall immediately report such knowledge or suspicion to the central abuse hotline.
Who do you report it to?
Child and adult abuse should be reported to the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) through either the DCF statewide hotline (call 1-800-96-ABUSE) (1-800- 962-2873) or through the DCF website at http://reportabuse.dcf.state.fl.us. The hotline also accepts faxes at 1-800-914-0004 and web-based chat on their website. §39.201(2)(a), Florida Statutes.
If the abuse is by an adult other than a parent, legal custodian, caregiver, or another person responsible for the child’s welfare, the report will be transferred by hotline staff to the appropriate county sheriff’s office. §39.201(2)(b), Florida Statutes.
If the abuse is by a juvenile sex offender age 12 or under, the report will be transferred by hotline staff to a local county sheriff’s office within 48 hours, and a DCF assessment will be conducted. §39.201(2)(c)(2), Florida Statutes.
If abuse is by a juvenile sex offender age 13 or over, the report will be transferred to a local county sheriff’s office by hotline staff within 48 hours. §39.201(2)(c)(3), Florida Statutes.
What happens if you don’t report?
Failure to report child abuse to DCF is a third-degree felony. §39.205(1), Florida Statutes.
Section 794.027, Florida Statutes, provides that a person who observes the commission of the crime of sexual battery is guilty of a first-degree misdemeanor where that person
1) has reasonable grounds to believe that he or she has observed the commission of a sexual battery;
2) has the present ability to seek assistance for the victim or victims by immediately reporting such offense to a law enforcement officer;
3) fails to seek such assistance;
4) would not be exposed to any threat of physical violence for seeking such assistance;
5) is not the husband, wife, parent, grandparent, child, grandchild, brother or sister of the offender or victim, by consanguinity or affinity; and
6) is not the victim of such sexual battery.
What happens after the report is made?
Once a report is received, the hotline counselor sends the report within one hour to the county investigation office where the victim is located. An investigator is assigned and will respond as soon as possible if the victim is in imminent risk of harm, or within 24 hours if the imminent risk is not present. The investigator may or may not contact the reporter during the investigation.
Definitions for Reporting Abuse
As described in Chapters 39 and 415, Florida Statutes, the Florida Department of Children & Families is charged with providing comprehensive protective services for children who are abused, neglected or at threat of harm and vulnerable adults who are abuse, neglected or exploited in the state by requiring that reports of abuse, neglect, threatened harm or exploitation be made to the Florida Abuse Hotline.
Law enforcement is to take the lead in all criminal investigations and prosecution.
Child – any born, unmarried person less than 18 years old who has not been emancipated by order of the court. (Definitions for Children)
Vulnerable Adult – a person age 18 years or older who has a disability or is suffering from the infirmities of aging. (Definitions for Adults)
A. The Florida Abuse Hotline will accept a report when:
- There is reasonable cause to suspect that a child
- who can be located in Florida, or is temporarily out of the state but expected to return in the immediate future,
- has been harmed or is believed to be threatened with harm
- from a person responsible for the care of the child.
- Any vulnerable adult who is a resident of Florida or currently located in Florida
- who is believed to have been abused or neglected by a caregiver in Florida, or
- suffering from the ill effects of neglect by self and is need of service, or
- exploited by any person who stands in a position of trust or confidence, or any person who knows or should know that a vulnerable adult lacks the capacity to consent and who obtains or uses, or endeavors to obtain or use, their funds, assets, or property.
B. Definition of Caretaker Responsible (Child): Every child should expect to be safe and protected when in the care of:
- a PARENT, even if the parent is a minor; or
- a LEGAL CUSTODIAN; or
- an ADULT HOUSEHOLD MEMBER found in the home continually or at regular intervals; or
- ANOTHER ADULT who has been entrusted with, or voluntarily assumed responsibility for the care of the child; or.
- ANOTHER CHILD, who is an employee or volunteer of a daycare, public or private school, agency, summer camp, or similar facility when given sole responsibility for the care of the child.
C. Definition of Possible Responsible Person (Vulnerable Adult):
- a CAREGIVER to the victim, or
- a VULNERABLE ADULT in need of services, or
- a PERSON who stands in a position of trust and confidence, or
- a PERSON who knows or should know that the vulnerable adult lacks the capacity to consent.
Abuse Reporting Legislation
Florida has enacted legislation to protect persons against abuse. Child abuse is covered by F.S., Chapter 39. 39.201 states that
any person who knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect, that a child is abused, abandoned or neglected by a parent, legal custodian, caregiver, or other person responsible for the child’s welfare or that a child is in need of supervision and care and has no parent, legal custodian, or responsible adult relative immediately known and available to provide supervision and care should report such knowledge or suspicion to the department.
It goes on to state that any person who knows, or who has reasonable cause to suspect, that a child is abused by an adult other than a parent, legal custodian, caregiver, or other person responsible for the child’s welfare should report such knowledge or suspicion to the department.
And finally that any person who knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect, that a child is the victim of childhood sexual abuse or the victim of a known or suspected juvenile sexual should report such knowledge or suspicion to the department.
If you are a/an:
- Physician, osteopathic physician, medical examiner, chiropractic physician, nurse, or hospital personnel engaged in the admission, examination, care, or treatment of persons;
- Health or mental health;
- Practitioner who relies solely on spiritual means for healing;
- School teacher or other school official or personnel;
- Social worker, daycare center worker, or other professional child care, foster care, residential, or institutional worker;
- Law enforcement officer; or
You are required to give your name when you make a report. Your name will be held confidential except under certain exceptions detailed in F.S., Chapter 39.202; however you must give it.
Any person, official, or institution participating in good faith any instance of child abuse, abandonment, or neglect to the department or any law enforcement agency, is immune from any civil or criminal liability which might otherwise result by reason of such action.
A person who is required to report known or suspected child abuse, abandonment, or neglect and who knowingly and willfully fails to do so, or who knowingly and willfully prevents another person from doing so, commits a felony of the third degree.
Florida has enacted legislation to protect adults as well. F.S., Chapter 415 states the Legislature recognizes that there are many persons in this state who, because of age or disability, are in need of protective services. Such services should allow such an individual the same rights as other citizens and, at the same time, protect the individual from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. It is the intent of the Legislature to provide for the detection and correction of abuse, neglect, and exploitation through social services and criminal investigations and to establish a program of protective services for all vulnerable adults in need of them. It is intended that the mandatory reporting of such cases will cause the protective services of the state to be brought to bear in an effort to prevent further abuse, neglect, and exploitation of vulnerable adults.
F.S., Chapter 415 states that any person, including, but not limited to, any:
Physician, osteopathic physician, medical examiner, chiropractic physician, nurse, paramedic, emergency medical technician, or hospital personnel engaged in the admission, examination, care, or treatment of vulnerable adults; Health professional or mental health professional
Practitioner who relies solely on spiritual means for healing; Nursing home staff; assisted living facility staff; adult day care center staff; adult family-care home staff; social worker; or other professional adult care, residential, or institutional staff;
State, county, or municipal criminal justice employee or law enforcement officer; An employee of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation conducting inspections of public lodging establishments under s. 509.032; Florida advocacy council member or long-term care ombudsman council member; or Bank, savings and loan, or credit union officer, trustee, or employee, who knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect, that a vulnerable adult has been or is being abused, neglected, or exploited shall immediately report such knowledge or suspicion to the central abuse hotline.
Reports of abuse, neglect, or exploitation of the vulnerable adult, including reports made to the central abuse hotline, and all records generated as a result of such reports shall be confidential and may not be disclosed except as specifically authorized the Florida Statutes.
Legal Criteria for Reports
Child Abuse, Neglect or Abandonment
The Florida Abuse Hotline will accept a report on a child when:
There is reasonable cause to suspect that a child (an unmarried person who is born, under the age of 18 and who has not been emancipated by order of the court):
is a Florida resident, and can be located in Florida, or is temporarily out of the state but is expected to return;
has been harmed or is believed to be threatened with harm as defined by statute by a parent, legal custodian, caregiver, or another person responsible for the child’s welfare.
is not a Florida resident but can be located in Florida has been harmed in Florida by a parent, legal custodian, caregiver, or another person responsible for the child’s welfare.
Although every person has a responsibility to report suspected abuse or neglect, some occupations are specified in Florida law as required to do so. These occupations are considered “professionally mandatory reporters.” A professionally mandatory reporter of child abuse/neglect is required by Florida Statute to provide his or her name to the Abuse Hotline Counselor when reporting. A professionally mandatory reporter’s name is entered into the record of the report, but is held confidential (§ 39.202, F.S. and 415.107, F.S.)
Occupation and Who They Need To Report For:
Assisted Living Facility Staff: Adult
Adult Day Care Center Staff: Adult
Adult Family Care Home Staff: Adult Bank, Savings and Loan, or Credit Union Officer, Trustee, or Employee: Adult
Chiropractor/Chiropractic Physician: Adult/Child
Day Care Center Worker: Adult/Child
Department of Business and Professional Regulation employees conducting inspections of public lodging establishments: Adult/Child
Emergency Medical Technician: Adult/Child
Florida Advocacy Council Member: Adult/Child
Foster Care Worker: Adult/Child
Hospital personnel engaged in the admission, examination, care, or treatment of children and vulnerable adults: Adult/Child
Health Professional: Adult/Child Institutional Worker: Adult/Child
Law Enforcement Officer: Adult/Child
Long‐Term Care Ombudsman Council Member: Adult/Child
Medical Examiner: Adult/Child
Mental Health Professional: Adult/Child
Nursing Home Staff: Adult/Child
Osteopath/Osteopathic Physician: Adult/Child
Practitioner who relies solely on spiritual means for healing: Adult/Child Professional Adult Care, Residential, or Institutional Staff: Adult
Professional Child Care Worker: Child
Residential Care Worker: Adult/Child
School Teacher: Child
School Official or Other School Personnel: Child
Social Worker: Adult/Child
State, County, or Municipal Criminal Justice Employee or Law Enforcement Officer: Adult/Child
Abuse, Neglect, or Exploitation of Vulnerable Adults
The Florida Abuse Hotline will accept a report on a vulnerable adult when:
There is reasonable cause to suspect that a vulnerable adult (a person 18 years of age or older whose ability to perform the normal activities of daily living or to provide for his or her own care or protection is impaired due to disability or brain damage, or the infirmities of aging:
- is a resident of Florida or currently located in Florida
- is believed to have been neglected or abused by a caregiver in Florida; or
- is suffering from the ill effects of neglect by self and is in need of service, or
- is being exploited by any person who stands in a position of trust or confidence, or
- any person who knows or should know that a vulnerable adult lacks the capacity to consent and who obtains or uses, or endeavors to obtain or use their funds, assets, or property.
- Reports of exploitation cannot be accepted after the vulnerable adult is deceased.
REVIEW through Frequently Asked Questions to the DCF:
1. What is abuse?
For children: “Abuse” means any willful act or threatened act that results in any physical, mental, or sexual injury or harm that causes or is likely to cause the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health to be significantly impaired. Abuse of a child includes acts or omissions. Corporal discipline of a child by a parent or legal custodian for disciplinary purposes does not in itself constitute abuse when it does not result in harm to the child.
For adults: “Abuse” means any willful act or threatened act by a relative, caregiver, or household member, which causes or is likely to cause significant impairment to a vulnerable adult’s physical, mental, or emotional health. Abuse includes acts and omissions.
2. What is neglect?
For children: “Neglect” occurs when a child is deprived of or is allowed to be deprived of, necessary food, clothing, shelter, or medical treatment or a child is permitted to live in an environment when such deprivation or environment causes the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health to be significantly impaired or to be in danger of being significantly impaired.
For adults: “Neglect” means the failure or omission on the part of the caregiver or vulnerable adult to provide the care, supervision, and services necessary to maintain the physical and mental health of the vulnerable adult, including, but not limited to, food, clothing, medicine, shelter, supervision, and medical services, which a prudent person would consider essential for the well-being of a vulnerable adult. The term “neglect” also means the failure of a caregiver or vulnerable adult to make a reasonable effort to protect a vulnerable adult from abuse, neglect, or exploitation by others.
3. What is exploitation?
“Exploitation” means a person who:
1. Stands in a position of trust and confidence with a vulnerable adult and knowingly, by deception or intimidation, obtains or uses, or endeavors to obtain or use, a vulnerable adult’s funds, assets, or property with the intent to temporarily or permanently deprive a vulnerable adult of the use, benefit, or possession of the funds, assets, or property for the benefit of someone other than the vulnerable adult; or
2. Knows or should know that the vulnerable adult lacks the capacity to consent, and obtains or uses, or endeavors to obtain or use, the vulnerable adult’s funds, assets, or property with the intent to temporarily or permanently deprive the vulnerable adult of the use, benefit, or possession of the funds, assets, or property for the benefit of someone other than the vulnerable adult.
4. Who do you consider a child?
A child is an unmarried person who is born, under the age of 18, and who has not been emancipated by order of the court.
5. Who do you consider a vulnerable adult?
A vulnerable adult is a person 18 years of age or older whose ability to perform the normal activities of daily living or to provide for his or her own care or protection is impaired due to disability, brain damage, or the infirmities of aging.
6. What should I do if I suspect a child or vulnerable adult is being abused, neglected, or exploited?
Everyone, including professionally mandatory reporters, should contact the Florida Abuse Hotline when they know or have reasonable cause to suspect that a child or a vulnerable adult has been abused, abandoned, neglected, or exploited. The Abuse Hotline Counselor will determine if the information provided meets legal requirements to accept a report for investigation.
7. When should I call?
Any person, including professionally mandatory reports, should contact the Florida Abuse Hotline when they know or have reasonable cause to suspect that a child or vulnerable adult has been abused, abandoned, neglected, or exploited. The Hotline has counselors available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
8. How do I make a report?
The Hotline counselor will determine if the information provided meets legal requirements to accept a report for investigation.
There are four ways to make a report:
- By Telephone 1-800-96ABUSE 800-962-2873
- By Fax 800-914-0004
- Florida Relay 711
- By TDD 800-453-5145
- Web Reporting https://reportabuse.dcf.state.fl.us
9. What should I expect when I contact the Hotline?
Reporters contacting the Hotline should expect to be asked for the following information:
- Demographical information of the person’s involvement in the situation being reported. This includes the names, ages, dates of birth (if known), race, gender, social security number (if known).
- A means to locate the subjects of the report. Some common means to locate may include, but not be limited to:
- Home Address
- Phone number
- School Name, Address, and Phone Number
- Parents/Caregivers Work Location, Address, Phone Number
- Directions to the Home
- Specifics of the incident being reported. Some common questions asked by the Hotline Counselor include:
- What happened to the victim?
- Who caused the harm?
- What were the effects on the victim?
- Any known history, frequency, etc. of the same or similar incidents.
- Hotline counselors accept reports on the basis of specific criteria from Chapter 39 and 415 of the Florida Statutes. Each call acceptance decision is based only on information provided during the call.
10. What kind of information do I need to have ready when I call?
Specific descriptions of the incident(s) or the circumstances contributing to the risk of harm, including who was involved, what occurred, when and where it occurred, why it happened, the extent of any injuries sustained, what the victim(s) said happened, and any other pertinent information are very important. Information callers should have ready includes:
- Name, date of birth (or approximate age), race, and gender, for all adults and children involved.
- Addresses or another means to locate the subjects of the report, including the current location.
- Information regarding disabilities and/or limitations of the victims (especially for vulnerable adult victims).
- Relationship of the alleged perpetrator to the child or adult victim(s).
- Other relevant information that would expedite an investigation, such as directions to the victim (especially in rural areas) and potential risks to the investigator, should be given to the Abuse Hotline Counselor.
11. Will the person(s) know I reported him or her?
All reports are confidential. Access to these reports is limited by specific criteria in Chapters 39 and 415 of the Florida Statutes (F.S.).
Florida Abuse Hotline Counselors will not acknowledge the existence of any report, will not acknowledge that they have previously spoken to a particular caller, nor will they release any information provided by a caller or any information contained in a report. No reports are released by the Abuse Hotline other than to those persons specifically authorized under Chapters 39 and 415, F.S. Any person with a statutory right to a report copy must contact the local investigative office.
12. Do I have to give my name?
No. You do not have to give your name in order to make a report. Providing your name, however, is helpful in the event a protective investigator needs to ask you more questions or seek clarification about the information you provided to the Hotline Counselor.
The names of reporters are held confidential, and under Florida Statutory requirements, should not be released to the individuals the report is about.
Although every person has a responsibility to report suspected abuse or neglect, some occupations are specified in Florida law as required to do so. These occupations are considered “professionally mandatory reporters.” A professionally mandatory reporter of child abuse/neglect is required by Florida Statute to provide his or her name to the Abuse Hotline Counselor when reporting. A professionally mandatory reporter’s name is entered into the record of the report, but is held confidential (§ 39.202, F.S. and 415.107, F.S.)
13. Are your calls recorded?
Yes, all calls made to the Florida Abuse Hotline are recorded.
14. Why do you record calls to the Hotline?
Chapter 39 of the Florida Statutes mandates that the Hotline records all incoming or outgoing calls.
The Florida Abuse Hotline may use these recordings for quality assurance and training of Hotline counselors.
15. Who is a mandated reporter?
There are specific occupations under the Florida Law that are required to report suspected abuse or neglect.
Mandated reporters can be viewed here:
16. What kind of information do you need from me when I call?
When contacting the Florida Abuse Hotline, please have as much of the information listed below available before you call.
This information is important to know no matter who is reporting or what method they choose to report.
If you are unable to obtain some of the information below, you may still call the Hotline, and a counselor will assess the information available to see if it meets statutory criteria for the Department of Children and Families to initiate a protective investigation.
Be prepared to provide the following information:
- Reporter name (this is required for professionally mandated reporters)
- Victim name, possible responsible person, or alleged perpetrator name(s).
- Complete addresses for subjects, including a numbered street address, apartment or lot number, city, state, and zip code and/or directions to their location.
- Telephone numbers, including area code.
- Estimated or actual dates of birth.
- Social Security numbers, if available.
- A brief yet concise description of the abuse, neglect, abandonment, or exploitation, including physical, mental, or sexual injuries, if any.
- Names of other residents and their relationship to the victim(s), if available.
- A brief description of the victim’s disability or infirmity (required for vulnerable adults).
- The relationship of the alleged perpetrator to the victim.
17. Can I fax in a report?
Yes. To make a report, via fax, please send a detailed written report with your name and contact telephone or FAX contact information using the Florida Abuse Hotline’s fax reporting form to 800-914-0004.
18. How do I report on-line?
Web reporting should not be used for situations requiring immediate attention. Please contact the Hotline’s toll-free reporting number if you believe a child or vulnerable adult is at imminent risk of harm.
19. How do I follow up to find out what happened to the information I reported?
All reports are confidential. Access to these reports is limited by specific criteria in Chapters 39 and 415 of the Florida Statutes. The Hotline counselor will not acknowledge the existence of any report, will not acknowledge that they have previously spoken to a particular caller, nor will they release any information provided by a caller or any information contained in a report.
Any person with a statutory right to a report copy must contact the local investigative office.
20. Why did the counselor tell me they could not accept my report?
The Florida Abuse Hotline is committed to providing a clear understanding of services available to customers, whether from the Department of Children and Families or other state and community agencies.
Prior to concluding each call, the Hotline counselor is required to inform each caller if a report was accepted or not. When a report is not accepted, the Hotline Counselor may provide appropriate referral information to the caller so their concerns can be addressed by the appropriate entity.
21. What happens with the information I give you if a report is not taken?
The Hotline counselor is required to document information for all information received, in the Hotline’s system of record database. This database is maintained for all contacts in compliance with Florida Statutes and for quality assurance and training purposes.
If the report is not accepted, it may be considered for referral to the county office as a prevention referral. If the information is not sent as a prevention referral, then it is maintained in the Hotline’s database.
22. Who do I contact if I want to make a compliment/complaint about the Hotline?
At the end of every call, counselors are required to ask reporters if they would be willing to participate in a customer satisfaction survey. You may include your compliments or complaints at the conclusion of each call as part of the survey.
If the counselor does not transfer you to the survey or if you would like to speak with someone directly, you may ask to speak to a Hotline Supervisor or Call Center Manager.
If the Supervisor or Manager can not resolve your concern, then you may call the Hotline’s administrative number 850-487-6100 and ask to speak to the Operations Manager or Director of the Hotline.
23. What kind of education and/or training do the Hotline Counselors have?
The minimum education requirement for all Hotline counselors is a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. A number of Hotline counselors have obtained or are pursuing their Master’s degrees.
In addition, all Hotline counselors are required to complete a nine-week pre-service training prior to taking calls in Hotline’s call center. This training includes seven weeks of classroom training and practice and concludes with a two-week service practicum. During the practicum period, trainees are taking live abuse hotline calls, but have a trainer, supervisor, or veteran counselor with them to assist and review their decisions and reports.
On-going in-service training is conducted annually with all Hotline Counselors.
24. What if I don’t have an address for the victim(s)?
If you do not have an address, please go ahead and call the hotline and provide the information you do have. While we do need to have the means to locate the subject of an abuse report, there are many other ways we can locate them. Addresses are the best means to locate, but we can also use phone numbers, school names and locations, parent/caregiver work location, Florida tag numbers, directions to the home, and many others.
Gather as much information as you can, and when you call the Abuse Hotline, the Counselor will make a determination based on the information you have available at the time of the call.
25. What if they find out I called in a report on them?
All reporters’ information is confidential. The name of any person reporting child abuse, neglect or abandonment, may not be released to any person other than those allowed to have access to this information according to Florida Statute.
If you believe someone you made a report about has obtained reporter information inappropriately, then please contact the county protective investigations office where the investigation is being handled and ask to speak to a Protective Investigations Supervisor, or you may contact the Client Relations Coordinator in your county.
26. Who has access to the reporter’s information?
Access to reporter information is available to those professionals directly involved in child or adult protective investigations. A list of those individuals with access to this information can be found in Chapter 39 and Chapter 415 of the Florida Statutes.
27. I called in a report last week, and the investigator told them my name, what can I do?
If you believe someone you made a report about has obtained reporter information inappropriately, then please contact the county protective investigations office where the investigation is being handled and ask to speak to a Protective Investigations Supervisor, or you may contact the Client Relations Coordinator in your county to file a complaint.
28. What happens after the Hotline accepts a report from the information I provided?
The Hotline counselor sends a typed report of the allegations to the local investigation County office where the victim is located. After the report is sent to the local office, the report is assigned to a Child Protective Investigator (CPI) or Adult Protective Investigator (API). The CPI/API is then responsible for conducting an investigation on the allegations that meet statutory criteria for the Department of Children and Families to investigate.
29. How soon does DCF respond to the home?
The Department of Children and Families makes every effort to act with a sense of urgency to all allegations of harm to children and/or vulnerable adults.
The Florida Abuse Hotline strives to submit all reports to the appropriate investigative office within one hour after the call to the Hotline ends. Once the report arrives at the investigative office and is assigned to an investigator, the investigator has up to 24 hours to initiate contact with the subjects of the report. In situations in which it is believed the victim is at imminent risk of harm, the investigator will respond as soon as possible.
30. How old does a child have to be to be left home alone?
Chapter 39 of the Florida Statutes (F.S.) mandates that the Hotline be contacted when any person who knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect, that a child of any age is being left home alone without adult supervision or arrangements appropriate for the child’s age or mental or physical condition, so that the child is unable to care for the child’s own needs or another’s basic needs or is unable to exercise good judgment in responding to any kind of physical or emotional crisis.
The Hotline Counselor will assess the information provided in the call and make a determination of report acceptance or non-acceptance based on statutory criteria.
31. Is a child not wearing a seat belt considered abuse or neglect?
Generally, the use of child safety restraints would be within the jurisdiction of law enforcement to investigate, rather than the Department of Children and Families. There are situations, however, in which DCF would become involved in these investigations. Therefore, we encourage callers to contact the Abuse Hotline when they have concerns and allow a Hotline Counselor to make the determination as to whether an incident meets the statutory criteria for acceptance of a report. These calls will be handled on a case by case review of the facts presented in the call. Law enforcement should also be contacted for concerns involving child safety restraints.
32. Who do I contact if I have a complaint about the way an investigation was handled?
The best practice is to contact the Department of Children and Families, an adult or child protective investigative office in the county where the investigation occurred. In addition, investigative complaints can be processed through our Client Relations Coordinator.
33. How can I get a copy of the report made against me?
Any person with a statutory right to a copy of a report must contact the local Department of Children and Families child or adult investigative office in the county where the investigation occurred.
34. How can I get a copy of the report that I made?
Florida Statutes determine who is entitled to a copy of a report of abuse, neglect, or exploitation of a child or vulnerable adult. If you meet the statutory criteria for who is entitled to a copy of the abuse report, then you can receive a copy by contacting the Department of Children and Families child or adult investigative office in the county where the investigation occurred.
35. I made a report: why didn’t anyone contact me?
The reporter may or may not be contacted by the protective investigator handling the case. If you have not been contacted and wish to speak to the investigator handling the case you reported, then you should contact the local protective investigations office.
36. Will the children be removed from the home?
This decision determined by a dependency court judge based on the identified risks to the children’s well-being. The department’s mission is to ensure the children are in a safe environment.
37. Will the children go straight into foster care?
When a placement is needed for a child at risk of harm, the Department makes every effort to arrange for appropriate and safe placement for the child(ren). These decisions are made on a case by case basis. In some cases, the children can be placed with approved relatives or other individuals the child may know personally, in other cases, the child(ren) may be placed in foster care. For further questions related to the process of placement selection, please contact your local Department of Children and Families, Child Protection Office.
Approximately 10% of the elderly population is abused in the United States. With a child population of over 4 million, there were 33,612 substantiated reports of child abuse in Florida. The problem is prevalent and serious.
It is important to take into account the effects of traumatic stress on victims of abuse and on their ability to recount the abusive event. With children and the elderly, there is also, at times, difficulty with communicating what they are going through. Please be vigilant to recognize the signs of abuse. Victims frequently feel afraid of the offender or feel shame about the abuse. Many will be incapable of telling about their situation.
We all share a responsibility to protect children and vulnerable adults from harm.
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