Making and Screening Reports of Child Abuse and Neglect - Florida

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Individual Responsibility to Report

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 39.201

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 shall report such knowledge or suspicion to the central abuse hotline of the Department of Children and Family Services.

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 also shall report such knowledge or suspicion to the department on the central abuse hotline.

Content of Reports

Citation: Admin. Code § 65C-29.002

When a report is being accepted, the hotline counselor shall ask all reporters to provide the following information:

  • Information regarding subjects of the report, including name, race, sex, date of birth, Social Security number, ethnicity, school, employment, address, phone number, and/or other acceptable means to locate the victim if the address is not known
  • The relationship between the victim and the alleged perpetrator
  • Names and contact information for any person who can assist the child or additional information about the family's circumstances
  • The type of maltreatment alleged and the nature and extent of harm suffered by the victim, including when the incident occurred or whether it is a chronic, ongoing situation
  • Any known history of abuse, neglect, or abandonment of persons named in the report
  • Whether the alleged perpetrator continues to have access to the victim and the possibility of continued maltreatment
  • The current condition of the child
  • Other children in the environment
  • The name and occupation of the reporter, relationship between the child and the reporter, contact information for the reporter, and any other information the reporter believes will be of assistance

Reporting Suspicious Deaths

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 39.201

Any person required to report or investigate cases of suspected child abuse, abandonment, or neglect who has reasonable cause to suspect that a child died as a result of child abuse, abandonment, or neglect shall report his or her suspicion to the appropriate medical examiner. The medical examiner shall accept the report for investigation and shall report his or her findings, in writing, to the local law enforcement agency, the appropriate State attorney, and the department. Autopsy reports maintained by the medical examiner are not subject to the confidentiality requirements under § 39.202.

Reporting Substance-Exposed Infants

Citation: DCF Oper. Proc. # 170-8(1-3)

Attending health-care providers are required to identify and refer all infants prenatally exposed to controlled substances and alcohol for early intervention, remediation, and prevention services. Identification of use/abuse of alcohol and/or illegal substances shall be determined as follows:

  • The mother's admission of use (in-person interview or screening question)
  • A positive drug screen (prenatal or at birth)
  • Medical staff assessment

Statute § 39.201 requires mandatory reporting when any individual suspects that a child is being maltreated. Harm from exposure to a controlled substance or alcohol is defined in statute § 39.01(34)(g), as follows:

  • A test administered at birth to an infant that indicates exposure of any amount of alcohol or a controlled substance or metabolites of such substances, the presence of which was not the result of medical treatment administered to the mother or the newborn infant
  • Evidence of extensive, abusive, and chronic use of a controlled substance or alcohol by a parent to the extent that the parent's ability to provide supervision and care for the child has been or is likely to be severely compromised

Agency Receiving the Reports

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 39.101

The department shall operate and maintain a central abuse hotline capable of receiving all reports of known or suspected child abuse, abandonment, or neglect and reports 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 such supervision and care. The hotline must accept reports 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and be capable of accepting reports in writing, through a single statewide toll-free telephone number, or through electronic reporting. A person may use any of these methods to make a report to the central abuse hotline.

The central abuse hotline is the first step in the safety assessment and investigation process. The central abuse hotline must be operated in such a manner as to enable the department to do the following:

  • Accept reports for investigation when there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child has been or is being abused or neglected or has been abandoned
  • Determine whether the allegations made by the reporter require an immediate or a 24-hour response
  • Immediately identify and locate previous reports or cases of child abuse, abandonment, or neglect through the department's automated tracking system
  • Track critical steps in the investigative process to ensure compliance with all requirements for any report or case of abuse, abandonment, or neglect
  • When appropriate, refer reporters who do not allege child abuse, abandonment, or neglect to other organizations that may better resolve the reporter's concerns
  • Serve as a resource for the evaluation, management, and planning of preventive and remedial services for children who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected

Initial Screening Decisions

Citation: Ann. Stat. §§ 39.201; 39.301

Personnel at the department's central abuse hotline shall determine if the report received meets the statutory definition of child abuse, abandonment, or neglect. Any report meeting one of these definitions shall be accepted for a protective investigation.

If the report involves child abuse by someone other than a caregiver, the report shall be transferred immediately to the appropriate county sheriff's office. If the report involves the impregnation of a child under age 15 by a person age 21 or older, the report shall be made immediately to an appropriate law enforcement agency.

Upon receiving a report, the hotline shall determine if the report requires an immediate onsite protective investigation. For reports requiring an immediate onsite protective investigation, the hotline shall notify the department immediately to ensure that an onsite investigation is promptly initiated. For reports not requiring an immediate investigation, the hotline shall notify the department in sufficient time to allow for an investigation.

The department shall forward immediately allegations of criminal conduct to the appropriate law enforcement agency of the municipality or county in which the alleged conduct occurred.

Agency Conducting the Assessment/Investigation

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 39.301

Protective investigations shall be performed by the department or its agent.

To the extent practical, all protective investigations involving a child shall be conducted or the work supervised by a single individual for there to be broad knowledge and understanding of the child's history. When a new investigator is assigned to investigate a second and subsequent report involving a child, a multidisciplinary staffing shall be conducted that includes new and prior investigators, their supervisors, and appropriate private providers to ensure that, to the extent possible, there is coordination among all parties.

The department shall immediately forward allegations of criminal conduct to the appropriate law enforcement agency. The term 'criminal conduct' includes when a child is known or suspected to have died as a result of child abuse or neglect or have been the victim of criminal child abuse or neglect, aggravated child abuse, sexual battery, sexual abuse, institutional child abuse or neglect, or human trafficking.

Upon receiving a written report of an allegation of criminal conduct from the department, the law enforcement agency shall review the information in the written report to determine whether a criminal investigation is warranted. If the law enforcement agency accepts the case for criminal investigation, it shall coordinate its investigative activities with the department, whenever feasible. If the law enforcement agency does not accept the case for criminal investigation, the agency shall notify the department in writing.

Assessment/Investigation Procedures

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 39.301

An assessment of safety and the perceived needs for the child and family shall be conducted in a manner that is sensitive to the social, economic, and cultural environment of the family.

For each report accepted for investigation, the department or the sheriff providing investigative services shall perform the following child protective investigation activities to determine child safety:

  • Conduct a review of all relevant, available information specific to the child and family and alleged maltreatment; family child welfare history; and local, State, and Federal criminal records checks
  • Conduct face-to-face interviews with the child; any siblings; and the parents, legal custodians, or caregivers
  • Assess the child's residence, including the following:
    • The composition of the family and household
    • The name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, sex, and race of each child named in the report
    • Any siblings or other children in the same household or in the care of the same adults
    • The parents, legal custodians, caregivers, or any other adults in the same household
  • Determine whether there is any indication that any child in the household has been abused, abandoned, or neglected; the nature and extent of present or prior injuries, abuse, or neglect; and any evidence thereof
  • Determine the identity of the person or persons apparently responsible for the abuse, abandonment, or neglect, including their name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, sex, and race
  • Complete an assessment of immediate child safety for each child based on available records, interviews, and observations with all household members and appropriate collateral contacts, including other professionals
  • Document the present and impending dangers to each child based on the identification of inadequate protective capacity through utilization of a standardized safety assessment instrument

Timeframes for Completing Investigations

Citation: Ann. Stat. §§ 39.101; 39.301

After the central abuse hotline receives a report, the department must determine the timeframe in which to initiate an investigation. The department must commence an investigation as follows:

  • Immediately, regardless of the time of day or night, if it appears that any of the following applies:
    • The immediate safety or well-being of a child is endangered.
    • The family may flee or the child may be unavailable for purposes of conducting a child protective investigation.
    • The facts reported to the central abuse hotline otherwise so warrant.
  • Within 24 hours after receipt of a report that does not involve the criteria specified above.

The department shall complete its protective investigation within 60 days after receiving the initial report unless any of the following applies:

  • There also is an active, concurrent criminal investigation that is continuing beyond the 60-day period and the closure of the protective investigation may compromise successful criminal prosecution of the child abuse or neglect case, in which case the closure date shall coincide with the closure date of the criminal investigation and any resulting legal action.
  • In child death cases, the final report of the medical examiner is necessary for the department to close its investigation and the report has not been received within the 60-day period, in which case the report closure date shall be extended to accommodate the report.
  • A child who is necessary to an investigation has been declared missing by the department, a law enforcement agency, or a court, in which case the 60-day period shall be extended until the child has been located or until sufficient information exists to close the investigation despite the unknown location of the child.

Classification of Reports

Citation: Admin. Code § 65C-30.001

The following terms apply to reports made to the hotline:

  • An 'allegation' is a statement by a reporter to the abuse hotline that child abuse, neglect, or abandonment is known or suspected.
  • A 'finding' is the investigative determination that there is credible evidence to support or refute the alleged child maltreatment.
  • 'No jurisdiction' is the designation given to abuse reports that have been accepted by the abuse hotline, but upon further investigation, the investigator determines that the department or sheriff's office does not have the authority to investigate because the allegations and/or facts surrounding the report do not meet statutory criteria, including the following:
    • The alleged perpetrator is a staff member in a general hospital, while acting in an official capacity.
    • The alleged perpetrator is a law enforcement officer or employee of a jail, municipal, or county detention facility, juvenile boot camp facility, or Department of Corrections, while acting in an official capacity.
    • The alleged perpetrator is a noncaregiver, except in cases of human trafficking.
    • The allegations concern a child who is residing and located in another State at the time of the report.
    • The allegations concern a child who resides on an Indian reservation or military base.
  • A 'nonjudicial case' means the children have been determined to be unsafe, a safety plan is required, and the family has consented to services and supervision aimed at addressing the conditions that make the child unsafe.
  • 'Patently unfounded' refers to reports that, after initial contact with participants, are subsequently determined to have no basis in fact as demonstrated by readily observable and corroborated information. This is not the presence of evidence to refute or the absence of evidence to support the maltreatment, but rather the presence of evidence in direct contrast to what was reported.