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Op-Ed: A Case of Child Abuse is Reported Every 10 Seconds in the US

ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN) – According to Childhelp.org, a case of child abuse is reported every ten seconds in the United States. We lose on average four to seven children a day to child abuse and neglect.

Like the 12- and 16-year-old siblings from Orange County whose father killed them in February 2020 before taking his own life.

According to the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) Child Fatality Prevention website in 2020, there were 445 child deaths called into the Florida Abuse Hotline. Of those,173 had prior family involvement with DCF in the last five years, 104 had **prior involvement with the child, and 20 had *verified prior involvement with DCF in the past 12 months.

*Verified – enough evidence exists to determine that the death was caused by abuse, abandonment, or neglect.

**Prior involvement indicates that the deceased child or the family had contact with Florida’s child welfare system – through a child protective investigation by DCF or one of six sheriff’s offices and/or foster care or family support services provided by one of Florida’s 19 Community-Based Care Lead agencies.

Chapter 39 of the Florida Statutes (F.S.) mandates that any person who knows or has reasonable cause to suspect, that a child is abused, neglected, or abandoned by a parent, legal custodian, caregiver, or another person responsible for the child’s welfare shall immediately report such knowledge or suspicion to the Florida Abuse Hotline of the Department of Children and Families.

In 2012, House Bill 1355 was passed into law and is known as the “Protection of Vulnerable Persons” Ch. 2012‐155 of the Laws of Florida. The bill adds to the current reporting requirements of 39.201, F.S removing the limitation that only “caregiver” abuse be reported to the hotline by requiring any person to report known or reasonably suspected physical or emotional abuse of a child by any adult person. The bill also requires any person to report known or reasonably suspected sexual abuse of a child by any person. The bill also states that the knowledge and willful failure of a person, who is required to report known or suspected child abuse, abandonment, or neglect is elevated from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony. As a result, the potential prison sentence is raised from 1 year to 5 years, and the potential fine is raised from a maximum of $1,000 to a maximum of $5,000.

But we are not just losing our children to abuse and neglect, a further breakdown of the numbers shows we are also losing them to other preventable causes. Statewide in 2020, the breakdown looks like this:

  • 22 deaths from inflicted trauma
    • Like the Brevard County two-year-old who died in July of 2020, three days after being admitted to the hospital with unexplained injuries.
  • 68 deaths due to drowning
    • Like the five-year-old from Alachua County who drowned after being left alone in the bathtub for a brief period of time
  • 69 deaths related to sleep
    • Like the Hillsborough County five-month-old who died while sleeping on a pull-out couch with the parents and two-year-old sibling.
  • 33 deaths due to accidental trauma
    • Like the three-year-old from Lee County who was not restrained and was thrown from the car during a motor vehicle accident
  • 77 deaths from other causes
    • Like the two-month-old from Citrus County who died as a result of methamphetamine toxicity

All of these deaths could have been prevented in numerous ways. There are several programs to help educate parents, friends, and families on ways to prevent such tragedies.

DCF’s Sleep Safe Program says that infant death by suffocation is 40 times greater when the child is sleeping in an adult bed.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the ABC’s of sleep:

Alone – no pillows, blankets, crib bumpers, toys, soft objects, or loose bedding should be in the crib with the child.

Back – Place the child on his/her back to sleep unless under the direction of their pediatrician.

Cribs – Infants should always sleep in a crib, portable crib, or bassinet and never on an adult bed, couch, or recliner with or without a caregiver.

The Florida Department of Health’s “Child Abuse Death Review Annual Report” showed that 58.8% of infant sleep deaths in 2019 were the result of the child being in an adult bed.

Florida loses more children under five years old to drowning than any other state. DCF’s Eyes on the Kids program encourages parents to practice four water safety rules:

  1. Supervision – someone should always be actively watching the children around water.
  2. Barriers – A child should never be able to enter a pool area without an adult.
  3. Swimming Lessons –  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children ages 4 and older learn to swim. It also encourages caregivers of children ages 1-3 to consider swim lessons for their child, as studies have shown it reduces drowning incidents. Caregivers should learn to swim as well.
  4. Emergency Preparedness – The moment a child stops breathing there is just a small window of time in which resuscitation may occur, but only if someone knows what to do.

According to DCF’s High Temperatures and Hot Cars program, the temperature in a parked car can increase by 20 degrees in just 10 minutes. A cracked window is no match for the heat buildup in a parked car and a child’s body temperature rises five times faster than an adult’s.

Parents and other adults can leave a child in a car when they are distracted, multi-tasking, rushing, or if there is a change in their routine. Some tips to help avoid leaving a child in the car include:

  • Be sure to check the back seat before you leave the vehicle.
  • Put your purse, briefcase, lunch, etc. in the backseat so you are sure to look before you lock the door.
  • Do not let your children play near vehicles; they may accidentally lock themselves in.
  • If there is a change in plans and someone else is dropping the kids off, have them call you at drop off so you know everyone made it safely.

The Ounce of Prevention Fund of Florida offers these 15 tips to help prevent child abuse and neglect:

  1. Be a good neighbor – Offer to babysit so that the parent(s) can run errands, take time out or spend time together.
  2. Learn the signs of abuse and neglect.
  3. Encourage local schools and community organizations to offer parenting classes.
  4. Take care of yourself – When big and little problems become too much, take time out – don’t take it out on your kids.
  5. Know the risk factors – substance abuse, social isolation, stress, and economic problems all increase the likelihood of abuse and neglect.
  6. Start a parent support group – sometimes it helps to talk to someone who has been there before.
  7. Learn how to cope with crying – crying is normal for babies, but it can become frustrating when your baby doesn’t stop.
  8. Help distribute parent educational materials.
  9. Volunteer in your community – find opportunities to be involved with prevention programs, become a Guardian Ad Litem, or speak up to advocate for family-friendly programs and services.
  10. Find resources – learn what services are available in your community and share that information with family and friends.
  11. Promote respect – treat children the way you would want to be treated.
  12. Mentor a new parent – kids don’t come with instruction manuals.
  13. Adopt a family – Families need help with lots of issues. Businesses and individuals can help families get through stressful times.
  14. Make a donation – donate to an organization that works to prevent abuse like the Ounce of Prevention Fund of Florida.
  15. Report suspected abuse or neglect – it’s better to be wrong than to have a child suffer or die from abuse or neglect.

Let’s work together to make sure we don’t continue to lose children to abuse, neglect, or any other preventable cause.

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Lynn DeJarnette is a contributing writer for Florida National News. | info@floridanationalnews.com

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