Everyone’s Responsibility: What To Do If You Suspect Child Abuse

Thank you to Wolfson Children's Hospital for offering these tips and resources to help keep children safe in our community.

child abuseDoing your part as a good neighbor means so much more than merely keeping a lovely landscape and tidy sidewalk. Making a positive contribution to your community includes watching out for the safety of its children. After all, it truly does take a village!

According to state child protective service agencies, more than 1 million children suffer from child abuse and neglect every year in the United States. Sadly, many of these kids may not even get the help they so desperately need due to witnesses who hesitate to call proper authorities. But did you know that if you fail to report suspected child abuse in the state of Florida, it could result in a third-degree felony charge? Florida requires anyone who suspects that a child has been abused to report it, or they could face up to five years in prison, five years of probation, and a $5,000 fine.

“In Florida, every adult is a mandatory reporter,” explained Jennifer Andrews, DO, fellow with the UF Health Jacksonville Child Protection Team and medical staff member at Wolfson Children’s Hospital. “That’s important for people to know because it raises their level of responsibility, especially if they see something very concerning.”

When to suspect abuse

According to Dr. Andrews, many child abuse cases don’t always have obvious physical signs, which makes it challenging for most people to know exactly what to be looking for. Some things you may spot that would warrant a report to authorities include:

  • Bruises on babies or children who are not yet mobile
  • Bruises in places not associated with common injuries, such as the buttocks, cheeks, back, and thighs
  • Injuries on both sides of a child’s body
  • Injuries or bruising in patterns, such as handprints or belt marks

“If there are physical injuries, signs of certain types of neglect, or if the child gets admitted to the hospital, that’s when the Child Protection Team gets involved,” Dr. Andrews said.

How to make a report

In the state of Florida, there are two ways you can make a report of suspected child abuse:

  1. Immediately call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1.800.962.2873.
  2. File the report online.

The Florida Abuse Hotline accepts reports around the clock of known or suspected child abuse, abandonment, or neglect. The hotline also accepts reports of abuse of vulnerable adults such as the disabled or elderly.

Callers remain completely anonymous and all reports, including those made online, are kept confidential, Dr. Andrews added.

The next steps

Concerns are all that is needed in order to file a report — confirmation that child abuse has occurred is not required.

“Florida law defines abuse as a willful act or threatened act that can result in risk of harm,” Dr. Andrews said. “If you think someone is doing something that can hurt a child, that’s your margin to report.”

After a report is made, it gets assigned to a specially trained child protection investigator who will make contact with the child, typically at school or away from his or her parents. The investigation also involves speaking with those who regularly interact with the child, such as neighbors or relatives.

Contrary to popular belief, most abuse reports actually don’t result in the automatic removal of a child from their home.

“I always remind people that just because investigators are called out, it doesn’t have to result in a punitive outcome,” Dr. Andrews said. “The Florida Department of Children and Families serves as a gateway to a lot of community resources that can be very beneficial to a family, including parenting classes, substance abuse treatment, or even vouchers for daycare. The main goal is to keep families together safely.”

VIEW AGE-BASED PARENTING TIPS

We know parenting can be tough. Wolfson Children’s Hospital offers many resources and tips to encourage Positive Parenting, broken down by the child’s age. Additionally, THE PLAYERS Center for Child Health at Wolfson Children’s Hospital provides advice to guide you in the right direction. For more information, call 904.202.WELL (9355).

Wolfson Children’s Hospital is the only hospital just for kids in the North Florida and South Georgia region, providing care for children of all ages with congenital heart conditions, cancer, neurological disorders, orthopedic conditions, behavioral health disorders, and more.

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