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Child Abuse In Florida MCAP Back to Course Index

 

Child Abuse

 

 

Children are suffering from an epidemic of child abuse and neglect.   In the wake of the quarantines from the COVID pandemic, the issue is larger than ever.

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A REPORT OF CHILD ABUSE IS MADE EVERY TEN SECONDS IN

THE UNITED STATES.
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Every year, more than 4 million referrals are made to child protection agencies involving more than 4.3 million children.

The United States loses on average five children every day to child abuse and neglect.

This would pack 10 modern football stadiums.

The impact of this abuse can last a lifetime.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention links adverse childhood experiences, which include other household dysfunctions along with abuse and neglect, with a range of long-term health impacts.

Individuals who reported six or more adverse childhood experiences had an average life expectancy two decades shorter than those who reported none.

Ischemic heart disease (IHD), Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), liver disease, and other health-related quality of life issues are tied to child abuse.

Mental Health Disorders, Addictions, and Related Issues
  • Risk for intimate partner violence
  • Alcoholism and alcohol abuse
  • Illicit drug abuse
  • Smoking & drinking at an early age
  • Depression
  • Suicide attempts
  • Eating disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Behavior disorders
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Attachment disorders

In the state of Florida, there were 28,268 unique reports of child abuse in 2020.

  • 60% of the victims were female and 40% were male
  • 36% of the victims were between the ages of 0 and 6
  • 35% of the victims suffered from sexual abuse
  • 27% from physical abuse

In the state of Florida in 2019 there were 32,915 confirmed reports of child maltreatment.  

15.6 were under 1 year old
49.6 were under 5 years old


43.9 were White
27.3 were Black
19.7 were Hispanic
5.2 were Two or more races
.3 were Asian

Neglect was the largest type of maltreatment reported.

The legal definition of child abuse in the state of Florida is

“Child abuse” means:

1. Intentional infliction of physical or mental injury upon a child;
2. An intentional act that could reasonably be expected to result in physical or mental injury to a child; or
3. Active encouragement of any person to commit an act that results or could reasonably be expected to result in physical or mental injury to a child.

 

“Neglect of a child” means:

1. A caregiver’s failure or omission to provide a child with the care, supervision, and services necessary to maintain the child’s physical and mental health, including, but not limited to, food, nutrition, clothing, shelter, supervision, medicine, and medical services that a prudent person would consider essential for the well-being of the child; or
2. A caregiver’s failure to make a reasonable effort to protect a child from abuse, neglect, or exploitation by another person.

 

 

ALL OF THIS IS PREVENTABLE.

 

 

 

 

By learning to recognize early signs of abuse we can each make an impact.

The first step in helping abused or neglected children is learning to recognize the signs of child abuse and neglect. The presence of a single sign does not prove child abuse is occurring in a family, but a closer look at the situation may be warranted particularly when these signs appear repeatedly or in combination.

It might be the bruises that you notice on an arm, or a flinch when you reach to shake a hand.  When we learn to pay attention to the signs and notice the symptoms we recognize red flags.  Noticing warning signs is the first step.  We also need to learn how to ask questions from the potential victim and family members, when and how to make a report, and how to link the family with services.  

Child abuse takes many forms, which often occur at the same time.

  • Physical abuse. Physical child abuse occurs when a child is purposely physically injured or put at risk of harm by another person.
  • Sexual abuse. Sexual child abuse is any sexual activity with a child, such as fondling, oral-genital contact, intercourse, exploitation, or exposure to child pornography.
  • Emotional abuse. Emotional child abuse means injuring a child’s self-esteem or emotional well-being. It includes verbal and emotional assault — such as continually belittling or berating a child — as well as isolating, ignoring, or rejecting a child.
  • Medical abuse. Medical child abuse occurs when someone gives false information about an illness in a child that requires medical attention, putting the child at risk of injury and unnecessary medical care.
  • Neglect. Child neglect is failure to provide adequate food, shelter, affection, supervision, education, or dental or medical care.

In many cases, child abuse is done by someone the child knows and trusts — often a parent or other relative. 

Let’s look deeper at the types of abuse.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse involves contact intended to cause feelings of intimidation, pain, injury, or other physical suffering or harm.

Children in physically abusive situations often have unexplained broken bones, bruise marks in the shape of an object such as a belt or hand, or burn marks from cigarettes on exposed areas or on the genitalia.  Sometimes physical abuse doesn’t show.  It is important to recognize potential behavioral signs.  We will explore these, as well below.

Types of physical abuse can include:

  • Hitting
  • Biting
  • Burning with Cigarettes
  • Water immersion burns
  • Ice baths
  • Throwing things
  • Shaking a child or infant

 

Neglect

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

 

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is forcing undesired sexual behavior by one person upon another.  This also can involve using someone for sexual stimulation.  Sexual abuse can include 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 victims and maintain their silence.

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 nearly 60% are other acquaintances such as friends of the family, caretakers, or neighbors.

 

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse, which is sometimes called psychological abuse, is a pattern of behavior that damages a child’s sense of self-worth and negatively impacts their emotional development.  In addition to withholding love and support, the person emotionally abusing the child also may reject, criticize, threaten, demean, and berate the child. They also may humiliate the child, engage in name-calling, and insult them.

Like other forms of abuse, emotional child abuse is about power and control. The perpetrator manipulates and controls the child by using words and actions that are emotionally hurtful and damaging. Experiencing emotional abuse is linked with devastating lasting effects, including increased rates of disease and mental health disorders.

Examples of emotional abuse can include:

  • Constant put-downs
  • Exposure to domestic violence
  • Threats to leave or to remove one of their parents
  • Threats to take critical things away (home, pet, sibling, food)
  • Locking the windows or doors to keep someone in

 

Symptoms

A child who’s being abused may feel guilty, ashamed, or confused. He or she may be afraid to tell anyone about the abuse, especially if the abuser is a parent, another relative, or a family friend. They might even lie to protect their parent or relative. 

That’s why it’s vital to watch for red flags, such as:

  • Withdrawal from friends or usual activities
  • Changes in behavior, such as aggression, anger, hostility, or hyperactivity
  • Changes in school performance
  • Depression, anxiety or unusual fears, or a sudden loss of self-confidence
  • An apparent lack of supervision
  • Frequent absences from school
  • Reluctance to leave school activities
  • Attempts at running away
  • Rebellious or defiant behavior
  • Self-harm or attempts at suicide

Specific signs and symptoms depend on the type of abuse and can vary. Keep in mind that warning signs are just that — warning signs. The presence of warning signs doesn’t necessarily mean that a child is being abused.  You should pay special attention to any signs though.  If you are concerned you should make a report and let the authorities investigate.  

 

Signs Of Physical Abuse

  • Unexplained injuries, such as bruises, fractures, or burns
  • Any injury (bruise, burn, fracture, abdominal or head injury) that cannot be explained
  • Unexplained changes in the child’s body
  • Regression to earlier developmental stages
  • 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 Sexual Abuse

  • Sexual behavior or knowledge that’s inappropriate for the child’s age
  • Pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection
  • Blood in the child’s underwear
  • Statements that he or she was sexually abused
  • Inappropriate sexual contact with 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
  • Depression
  • Runaway
  • Fear of being alone with adults, especially of a particular gender
  • Suicide attempts
  • Trouble walking or sitting
  • Nightmares or bedwetting
  • Sudden changes in appetite
  • Fear of a particular person or family member  

 

Signs Of Emotional Abuse

  • Delayed or inappropriate emotional development
  • Loss of self-confidence or self-esteem
  • Social withdrawal or a loss of interest or enthusiasm
  • Depression
  • Avoidance of certain situations, such as refusing to go to school or ride the bus
  • Desperately seeks affection
  • A decrease in school performance or loss of interest in school
  • Loss of previously acquired developmental skills
  • 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 Neglect

  • Poor growth or weight gain or being overweight
  • Lack of clothing or supplies to meet physical needs
  • Taking food or money without permission
  • Hiding food for later
  • Poor record of school attendance
  • Lack of appropriate attention for medical, dental, or psychological problems or lack of necessary follow-up care
  • Frequently absent from school
  • Consistently poor hygiene
  • Frequently unsupervised left alone or allowed to play in unsafe situations and environments

 

Parental Behavior

Sometimes a parent’s demeanor or behavior sends red flags about child abuse. Warning signs include a parent who:

  • Shows little concern for the child
  • Appears unable to recognize physical or emotional distress in the child
  • Blames the child for the problems
  • Consistently belittles or berates the child, and describes the child with negative terms, such as “worthless” or “evil”
  • Expects the child to provide him or her with attention and care and seems jealous of other family members getting attention from the child
  • Uses harsh physical discipline
  • Demands an inappropriate level of physical or academic performance
  • Severely limits the child’s contact with others
  • Offers conflicting or unconvincing explanations for a child’s injuries or no explanation at all

Child health experts condemn the use of violence in any form, but some people still use corporal punishment, such as spanking, as a way to discipline their children. Parental behaviors that cause pain, physical injury or emotional trauma — even when done in the name of discipline could be child abuse.  Culture and religion is a factor in how parents discipline.  

 

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase a person’s risk of becoming abusive include:

  • A history of being abused or neglected as a child
  • Physical or mental illness, such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Family crisis or stress, including domestic violence and other marital conflicts, or single parenting
  • A child in the family who is developmentally or physically disabled
  • Financial stress, unemployment or poverty
  • Social or extended family isolation
  • Poor understanding of child development and parenting skills
  • Alcohol, drugs, or other substance abuse

 

Long Term Complications From Child Abuse

Some children overcome the physical and psychological effects of child abuse, particularly those with strong social support and resiliency skills who can adapt and cope with bad experiences. For many others, however, child abuse may result in physical, behavioral, emotional, or mental health issues — even years later. Below are some examples.

Long Term Physical Issues of Child Abuse

  • Premature death
  • Physical disabilities
  • Learning disabilities
  • Substance abuse
  • Health problems, such as heart disease, immune disorders, chronic lung disease and cancer

 

Long Term Behavioral Issues From Child Abuse

  • Delinquent or violent behavior
  • Abuse of others
  • Withdrawal
  • Suicide attempts or self-injury
  • High-risk sexual behaviors or teen pregnancy
  • Problems in school or not finishing high school
  • Limited social and relationship skills
  • Problems with work or staying employed


Long Term Emotional Issues From Child Abuse

  • Low self-esteem
  • Difficulty establishing or maintaining relationships
  • Challenges with intimacy and trust
  • Low self-esteem
  • Inability to cope with stress and frustrations
  • An unhealthy view of parenthood
  • An acceptance that violence is a normal part of relationships

 

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 higher risk of:

    • alcohol and substance abuse;
    • health conditions like cancer, depression, and diabetes;
    • poor performance in school; and
    • an 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’s Responses 

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 of 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.

 

How To Help

Once you recognize potential signs it is crucial to know what to do next.  If you suspect abuse is occurring the best way to begin is by talking to the child. 

Don’t assume that the child is being abused. There may be many explanations for why a child is behaving in a particular way or for how a child was injured. Some children have conditions, such as osteogenesis imperfecta or blood clotting disorders, that make them more vulnerable to bruising and/or broken bones.

If the child has a visible injury, ask how the child was injured. Ask open-ended follow-up questions to look for inconsistencies if the explanation for the injury seems implausible or doesn’t match the injuries.

Examples:
Ask an open-ended question:  “I notice that you have a bruise. How did it happen?”

Response:  “My father hit me.”

Additional open-ended questions you could follow up with:

“Where did this happen?”

“Why do you think he hit you?”

“What did he hit you with?”

“How often does this happen?”

“Can you tell me more about that?”

If you have information that leads you to suspect that sexual contact has occurred between a parent (or person legally responsible) and a child, you don’t need to ask additional questions. This is because any type of sexual contact between a parent and child is always reportable. Call the Child Abuse Hotline immediately.

 

Reporting Abuse 

Florida law requires that ANY person in Florida who knows or has reasonable cause to suspect that a child is being abused, neglected, or abandoned by a parent, legal custodian, caregiver, or another person responsible for the child’s welfare MUST  immediately report that knowledge or suspicion to the Florida Abuse Hotline of the Department of Children and Families. The penalty for failing to report is a felony of the third degree. There are also financial penalties for failing to report known or suspected child abuse or neglect.

If you know or suspect that a child under the age of 18 is being abused or neglected, or is at risk of being abused or neglected, you are required to report that to the Florida Abuse Hotline.

Remember, it is not your job to know whether abuse has occurred or not, IT IS YOUR JOB report your concerns. 

The Florida Abuse Hotline accepts reports 24 hours a day and seven 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.

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.

 

To make a report, you can:

If you suspect or know of a child in immediate danger, call 911. 

 

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 is very important.

 

FAX:

 

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:

(800) 914-0004.

 


Web Reporting:

 

Web reporting should not be used for situations requiring immediate attention.
Online: https://reportabuse.dcf.state.fl.us/

 

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.

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.\

 

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:

Mandated reporter:

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 another person responsible for the child’s welfare is a mandatory reporter per §39.201(1)(a), Florida Statutes.

Professionally mandated reporter:

Anyone who is legally obligated to report known abuse must identify themselves when reporting.  These include:

  • Physician
  • Osteopathic physician
  • Medical examiner
  • Chiropractic physician
  • Nurse
  • Hospital personnel engaged in the admission, examination, care, or treatment of persons
  • Health or mental health professional
  • A practitioner who relies solely on spiritual means for healing
  • Schoolteachers or other school officials or personnel
  • Social worker, daycare center worker, or other professional child care, foster care, residential or institutional worker
  • Law enforcement officer
  • Judge
  • Mediators

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 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.

  • has reasonable grounds to believe that he or she has observed the commission of a sexual assault;
  • has the present ability to seek assistance for the victim or victims by immediately reporting such offense to a law enforcement officer;
  • fails to seek such assistance;
  • would not be exposed to any threat of physical violence for seeking such assistance;
  • is not the husband, wife, parent, grandparent, child, grandchild, brother or sister of the offender or victim, by consanguinity or affinity; and
  • is not the victim of such a 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 at 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.

The child and adult online reporting forms allow the reporter to request notification by email whether their allegations have been accepted for investigation. If a reporter would like to receive an email notification, they will need to include a valid email address in the indicated field within the online report. The reporter can expect to receive an email with the acceptance decision along with the first name and identification number of the Hotline Counselor who processed the online report.

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 a threat of harm and vulnerable adults who are abused, 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.

 

Definitions For A Report

Child: any born, unmarried person less than 18 years old who has not been emancipated by order of the court.  

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; 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. 


Legal Criteria for Reports

 

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.

OR: 

    • 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.

 

Prevention

By state law, Child Protective Services (CPS) is responsible for the secondary prevention of child abuse and neglect. That’s because their legal authority to go into a home and investigate begins only when there is a reasonable suspicion that abuse or neglect has already happened. CPS’s role is to provide immediate protection of the child if needed, and services to keep the abuse from happening again or getting worse.

Primary prevention means doing something to prevent child abuse and neglect before it happens. 

As a mental health care provider or human service provider, you can assist in the primary prevention of child abuse or neglect through support services and education. 

Abuse or neglect is more likely to happen when families are under stress. In your professional role, you can help families reduce their stress and thus reduce the chance of abuse. Remember that in providing support to a parent, family member, or caregiver, you are providing primary prevention for the child. You can learn when and how to use education materials or call in the many other resources in this community to help families and children.

Support Resources: (Florida Department of Children and Families)

Domestic Violence
800-500-1119
Provides crisis intervention and support services to adult survivors of domestic violence and their children free of charge.

Suicide Prevention
800-273-8255
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free, and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources, and best practices for professionals.  Local counseling and resources are available from the 2-1-1 Network.

ACCESS Florida
850-300-4323
Food assistance program (SNAP), medical assistance (Medicaid), and temporary cash assistance for families with children (TANF).

2-1-1 Network
2-1-1 or 866-728-8445
Information and referral to community resources and services throughout the state.

Florida Network of Youth and Family Services
800-RUNAWAY / 800-786-2929
Serves homeless, runaway, and troubled youth ages six and older and their families.

Child Care
Information to help select a child care provider and search for providers in your area.

Homelessness
Information regarding homelessness and links to local community providers of services.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health
Information regarding prevention and resource links to locate resources and services to assist with substance abuse and/or mental health needs.

Parent Education and Family Stabilization
Courses are designed to educate, train, and assist divorcing parents regarding the impact of divorce on parents and children.

Positive Parenting Guide
Provides information about child development from birth through the teen years, tips for creating the stimulating and nurturing environments children need, tips for managing the challenges of family life, and contact information for valuable community resources

Parent Help-Lines:  292-BABY (292-2229)

Work with caregivers on stress management and parenting tips.  Such as:

  • Reach out. Meet the families in your neighborhood, including parents and children. Consider joining a parent support group so that you have an appropriate place to vent your frustrations. Develop a network of supportive family and friends.  
  • Don’t respond in anger. If you feel overwhelmed or out of control, take a break. Don’t take out your anger on your child. Talk with your doctor about ways you can learn to cope with stress and better interact with your child.
  • Take breaks when you can. When an infant is sleeping try to nap so you are able to take care of them during the fussy times.
  • Join a small playgroup and trade babysitting.  It is important to take a break from childcare from time to time when it is safe.
    Check out local church programs.  
  • Look into after-school programs.  These are low-cost programs that assist with work schedules and homework.

 

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:

    1. By Telephone 1-800-96ABUSE  800-962-2873
    2. By Fax 800-914-0004
    3. Florida Relay 711
    4. By TDD 800-453-5145
    5. 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, they 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 online?

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.

To make a report via the Florida Abuse Hotline’s web reporting option, please gather all of your information in advance, review the Guide for Reporting online, and then make a web report.

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.

View Statutes for who has a right to the copy of a report related to child victims

View Statues for who has a right to a copy of a report related to adult victims

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.

View Statutes for who has a right to the copy of a report related to child victims

View Statues for who has a right to a copy of a report related to adult victims

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.

 

Conclusion

 

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.

 

References
http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention, accessed on 2022,  May

http://https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/child-abuse, accessed on 2022,  May 

Tracy, N. (2021, December 17). Types of Child Abuse, HealthyPlace. accessed on 2022, May 4 from https://www.healthyplace.com/abuse/child-abuse-information/types-child-abuse

 

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