DCF Secretary Wilkins: Do the Right Thing to Protect Children, Prevent Harm and Save Potential Victims
By Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins
Allegations of tragic sexual abuse of children have recently sparked
discussions and debates at all levels surrounding this destructive and
unfathomable crime. Without question, it is a difficult and uncomfortable
topic, but one that deserves our focused attention so we can all prevent
future harm and save potential victims.
At the Florida Department of Children and Families, we know that lives are
saved every day by individuals who intervene on a child’s behalf. Children
are our most precious gifts and the idea that anyone would harm them
provokes outrage and remains difficult for most of us to comprehend. All of
us – parents, family, loved ones or even perfect strangers – are often
their front line of protection. Not only does it take courage for a child
to speak up about an abusive situation, but it can take courage for those
whom they confide in to report it to the proper authorities. These critical
actions ultimately keep children from being harmed further, and can stop
other vulnerable children from being abused in the future.
When faced with the knowledge or suspicion that a child is or has been
victimized by abuse, there are several obligations that each of us must
accept. There is our legal obligation, our moral obligation and most
importantly our obligation to that child.Florida law clearly defines that
any person who suspects child abuse is required to report that information
to our agency. But, beyond what is required by law, we must also fulfill
our moral obligation to keep children safe from harm.
Our state abuse Hotline receives calls from teachers, doctors, counselors
and law enforcement officers. We also get contacted by grandmothers,
neighbors, parents and even older children. According to Chapter 39 of
Florida Statutes, “Any person who knows, or has reasonable cause to
suspect, that a child is abused, abandoned, or neglected by a parent, legal
custodian, caregiver, or other person responsible for the child’s
welfare …shall report such knowledge or suspicion to the department.”
In Florida, mandatory reporting laws apply to any person who suspects a
child is being harmed. We can all be proud that Florida has one of the
strongest laws in the nation requiring the reporting of suspected child
abuse. This law, which also stands as a moral statement on the importance
we all play in preventing and stopping abuse, makes it clear that there are
no special professions that make people more responsible for a child’s
welfare. All reports to the Hotline are confidential and the name of the
person who called in to report abuse or neglect can never be shared, even
with those involved in the case.
Our state abuse Hotline is one of the few nationwide that is centralized,
which means all allegations of child abuse or neglect come into one
location. Our dedicated Hotline employees ensure that all the information
about one family is linked together to provide our investigators in the
field with criminal history and prior abuse investigations within minutes.
This network helps investigators make critical decisions about the best
possible way to keep a child safe.
There are many signs that a child is being abused or neglected. Children
may have obvious injuries from physical or sexual abuse. They may show
aggressive behaviors themselves, or conversely, shrink away from adults or
show a fear of certain individuals. Children who are being neglected often
have extreme misbehavior and are very clingy to other adults. If you
believe a child is being abused or neglected, please call the Florida Abuse
Hotline at 1-800-962-2873. For a TDD line, call 1-800-453-5145. You can
also fax in an abuse reports to 1-800-914-0004 or report online at
As we continue to follow these breaking news headlines and more details
emerge, ask yourself what you would do in a similar situation. Do what you
hope someone else would do for yourself or your child. Do the right thing.
A child’s life could depend on you.