Senate Bill 24 seeks to hold the Department of Children and Families accountable by requiring the department to compensate children for any injuries and damages caused by the department’s negligence.
The measure explicitly addresses children left in the care of an abusive parent or guardian after the agency had been alerted but failed to remove the child from an abuser’s care.
Republican Sen. Ana Rodriguez introduced the bill at the close of the legislative session last year. If the bill becomes law, $20 million would be appropriated from the General Revenue Fund to DCF to compensate that child.
The money will be put into a trust established solely for that child’s use and benefit. The trust will be liable for attorney fees, lobbying, and other expenses.
The Florida Abuse Hotline receives more than 300,000 child-related calls, web reports, and faxes annually. It screens those which meet the requirements for investigation or assessment of special conditions with no alleged maltreatment.
Many people say a policy like SB 24 is necessary to protect those victims of an overwhelmed system. Sharon Starke, a single mother, believes it is the only way to keep children from being mistreated or harmed in avoidable situations.
“It’s difficult enough to see a situation in which you have to report child abuse, but then to have nothing done and the child continues in that circumstance is terrible. I believe this will be the wake-up call they need,” Starke said.
Access to the 24-hour, seven-day abuse hotline is available on the Florida Department of Children and Families website at https://www.myflfamilies.com/service-programs/abuse-hotline/report-online.shtml. This page also includes reports of known or suspected abuse, neglect, or exploitation of a vulnerable adult. Reporters must have a valid email address in the corresponding area in the online report if they want to receive email notifications.
A notice detailing an update for hotline users enables them to obtain updates on whether their claims are accepted for investigations written in large red letters.
Darren Clark, who has reported abuse, appreciates the attempts to keep them updated on the situation.
“I’ve reported abuse once. Now that there’s a way to track the status of the investigation, it helps me sleep a little better at night knowing that I can send another report if something isn’t done instead of sending one and not knowing and something bad happens,” Clark said.
The Special Master Bills committee is now considering the measure.