Child Abuse Hotline Takes No Action, Child Dies
Earlier this February in Tampa Bay, a 5-year-old girl was thrown off a bridge and killed. The child’s followed not one, but two calls to the Department of Children and Families– neither of which resulted in an investigation. If you notice the warning signs of a child in danger of physical abuse, you should be aware that calling a child abuse hotline may not be enough. Depending on your relationship to the child, seeking the assistance of a domestic violence attorney can be critical to ensure that you are doing everything in your power to help prevent future domestic violence.
Three Missed Chances
One week before the child’s death, a worried caller phoned the Department of Children and Families and informed them that the child had been physically abused. Instead of following up to obtain details like the child’s address, the operator closed the investigation. Twelve hours before the child’s death, the Department received a second call, this time from the child’s father’s own divorce attorney. He was concerned for his client’s mental state: he had spent the morning driving his daughter to various churches in his pajamas; he believed his Bible was in Swedish; and he was paranoid that his daughter was not his own. The caller was concerned for the child’s safety.
Nevertheless, the relatively inexperienced operator merely labeled the call and did not open an investigation. Still, the caller pressed on and notified the operator of an open investigation into the family. Apparently, however, the operator could not find the investigation, and did not request assistance from a supervisor. After these two missed chances, the father sped past police officers on his way to the bridge, but was not apprehended.
A Pattern of Lapses
The tragic case in February was not the first ignored call– or even the first resulting in the death of a child. In 2011, the Department were informed that a set of twins had been locked in a bathroom and bound with ropes for several days. Despite this warning, the operator did not contact the police or even flag the call as an emergency.
Going forward, analysis of the department’s policies revealed that it was severely understaffed and overwhelmed. Further, it failed to take advantage of the potential for cooperation with the police and the mental health services in the area. According to a new protocol, an investigator will be required to visit a home within four hours of a caller reporting that a child’s caregiver is undergoing a psychotic episode. Despite these attempts at improvement, an investigative report into the department’s policies still criticizes the department for zeroing in on providing basic needs, rather than being sensitive to potential domestic abuse issues.
If you are aware of a domestic violence issue, especially one in your family or where you have a guardianship interest in the child, you may not want to rely on a government agency to take appropriate action. When you hire an experienced Florida domestic violence attorney at the Law Office of Julia Kefalinos, Attorney, P.A., you gain an advocate for your position who understands the options that may be available to you.