The “trigger” that begins investigations into child abuse largely rests with the training, experience and sensitivity of 188 personnel in Miami-Dade County.
At a time when headlines daily expose such cases, Florida Department of Children and Families is covering 1,200 to 1,500 reported incidents in the county every month, estimated Glenn Broch, Southern Region Family Safety director.
More funding to hire and train more case investigators to lighten the load would allow earlier discovery of abuse cases, he stated.
His remarks were made during a media focus on Florida’s current DCF child welfare system that has allowed the deaths of 20 children statewide since April as well as the recent resignation of DCF Secretary David Williams.
Interim DCF Secretary Esther Jacobo, who replaced Williams, told a House Healthy Families Subcommittee in September that she has embarked on sweeping changes for agency case procedures, emphasizing more immediate assistance rather than relying solely on incident-review.
That session was followed Sept. 30 when a Miami-Dade legislative delegation heard pleas from veteran Miami-Dade DCF staff members to increase budgets for additional training and staff members to divide caseloads, permitting more thorough investigations in shorter time periods.
“Miami-Dade averages about 17,000 cases each year,” Broch told a Citizens Advisory Committee audience in West Kendall’s Hammocks District Police Station on Sept. 27. A current website statistic states that 6.3 cases were reported per 1,000 children ages 5-11 during 2012.
The likelihood of many unreported cases was underlined by Broch who noted that communities such as Miami-Dade, with high concentrations of immigrant populations, rates of reporting child abuse may be negatively affected by cultural, economic, legal and practical factors.
“That often prevents immigrant children who are abused from seeking help, either because they are unaware of available services or want to avoid contact with governmental and law enforcement agencies,” he stated.
Nevertheless, only 3 percent of the reported cases in Miami-Dade wind up in court and placement in foster home environments.
“Even a trained, experienced investigator gets only a snapshot of an environment where child abuse may be suspected,” he said, noting that beginning investigators with bachelor’s degrees start at a $39,000 per year salary, supervisory staff at $49,000.
“It may take six months or longer of careful investigative procedures to document abuse cases requiring removal of children from a home,” Broch pointed out.
To reliably detect incidents of abuse, investigators must be able to make determinations without infringement on civil and human rights, a sensitive area in every case depending upon family circumstances, he said.
The Department of Children and Families has developed a new Web-based course specifically aimed at teachers in grades 1-12, a one hour course titled “Identifying and Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect.” This course satisfies the requirement specified in Florida Statute Section 1012.98(12).
Broch urged citizens to become familiar with the Florida Abuse Hotline, legislation signed by Gov. Rick Scott that requires any individual who suspects that a child has been abused by any person report that to the Florida Abuse Hotline.
Any allegations that a child was abused or neglected by a caregiver will be investigated by the DCF, Broch explained. Child abuse reports by someone other than a caregiver will be accepted at the Hotline and electronically transferred to the appropriate local law enforcement agency where the child lives.
Penalties for those who suspect a child is being abused but fail to report it have been increased from a misdemeanor to a felony.
Broch urged anyone who suspects or knows of any child who is being harmed to call the Hotline at 1-800-962-2873 (TDD 1-800-453- 5145), and, if the child appears in immediate danger, call 9-1-1 immediately.