Thousands of reports of abuse coming in on the Florida Department of Children and Families abuse hotline are being rejected or ignored, thanks to a little known new screening practice recently undertaken by the department. Child welfare managers in Broward County, Florida, brought the new screening rules to light during a routine practice review.
The new screening procedures were put into effect to ease the burden on the overwhelmed child welfare system. The Department of Children and Families calls the new practice “necessary triage” that allows them to focus on the most at-risk children. They point to a number of frivolous complaints filed, but reports of abuse, kidnapping, rape, child abuse, neglect and domestic violence are now being routinely being labeled as “unworthy of investigation” as well. A spokesperson for the department said the new rules are a work in progress, which the department will continue to refine.
One of the new policies that was leaked to the press includes a revision of guidelines on what is considered abuse, and includes a directive to reject complaints about signs of a beating unless the child was taken to a doctor or the hospital or was permanently disfigured. This would basically rule out any signs of abuse reported by childcare workers. Child advocates are up in arms over what they call a “dangerous shortcut” that will leave many children at risk. A one year old child, Bryce Barros, has already fallen victim to the new rules; he was beaten to death by a family member even after a Broward County domestic violence judge contacted the hotline on three separate occasions on behalf of the child.
The economic downturn is being blamed for a large part of the problem; stress and loss of income within families has put more children at risk, just as funding for the Department of Children and Families is being cut by the state. An increase in frivolous complaints lodged by child care workers afraid of being prosecuted for failure to report suspected abuse was also cited.
You can learn more about the new screening procedures at Cries for help to DCF hot line go unheeded by design.