Q: What should you do if you suspect child abuse?
A: Florida Statutes, Chapter 39.201, directs everyone, including mandated witnesses (teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers, etc.), to contact the Florida Abuse Hotline when they know or have reasonable cause to suspect that a child has been abused, abandoned, neglected or exploited.
The number to call is 1-800-962-2873 (1-800-96-ABUSE). Counselors are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to take the calls.
If it is not an emergency situation, you can report online to http://www.dcf.state.fl.us/abuse/report/.
Be prepared to provide as much specific information as possible. Counselors will want the details of the incident. They will ask for name, age, race and gender of the child involved. They will also ask for an address or a means to locate the victim.
But it is always best to report an incident, even if you don't have all of the identifying information. The information reported is tracked and may be useful in case of a future report or one made by another witness.
Callers may remain anonymous unless they are mandated witnesses. All reports are confidential. Information contained in the reports is only released to people specifically authorized by Florida law. The operators will not acknowledge the existence of a report, or that they have talked to a particular person.
After the hotline takes the call, they send a report of the allegations to the Manatee Sheriff's Office so a child protective investigator can initiate an investigation. The child protective investigator has 24 hours to do an investigation unless it is determined that the child is in imminent risk of harm.
In Manatee County, the child protective investigators treat each report as an immediate response and attempt to investigate within three hours.
Q: How many child abuse reports were made last year in Manatee County?
A: The Department of Children and Families, Manatee County Reports and Removals Analysis for May 2011 through April 2012 indicates 3,810 calls were received and forwarded to the Manatee County Sheriffs Office's Child Protective Investigation Division for investigation. Of those calls, 280 resulted in the re
moval of a child.
Q: What is happening in the community to help combat child abuse?
A: One recent initiative that started in Sarasota is now reaching into Manatee County. BAANK (Believers Against Abuse and Neglect of Kids) seeks to create a bridge between the faith community and the child welfare community by assisting the forming of partnerships that address matters of prevention to adoption.
BAANK promotes such initiatives as Foster Nights Out (respite care for foster parents), the posting of DCF hotline posters in the faith community, and court-approved faith parenting programs throughout the 12th Circuit.
BAANK is a ministry of the Central Church of Christ in Sarasota. It is one of the responses the church has made to the 2004 death of Carlie Brucia on church property. BAANK director Rod Myers serves on the Family Safety Alliance, the Behavioral Health Strategic Planning Work Group and the Comprehensive Abuse Prevention Plan committee.
Through relationship building, trust is established and opportunities for faith/state partnerships emerge. BAANK is developing a data base of partners with whom to communicate information and opportunities.
They invite the community to become a part of the circle of friends. Rod can be reached at 941-374-1818 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pam Hindman, director of the Guardian ad Litem program for the 12th Judicial Circuit, writes this weekly column for the Herald. Readers who have questions for "ASK the GAL" about child abuse, foster care, child protection, adoption, or who might be interested in learning more how to become a GAL volunteer can e-mail Pam at email@example.com, or write to her at Guardian ad Litem Program, 1051 Manatee Ave. W, Hensley Wing, Suite 330, Bradenton 34205.