David Abramowitz: Stopping abuse and neglect

Published: Sunday, March 17, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 15, 2013 at 11:28 p.m.

I was proud to defend our country for 30 years in the U.S. Army. I am now proud to lead the Florida Department of Children and Families in Northeast Florida.

We all respect the sacrifices made by our soldiers and their families. But many people don't know about the sacrifices made by DCF's dedicated investigators. In military terms, they are the Special Forces, the Navy SEALS.

Every day, DCF investigators work hard to protect children and vulnerable adults from abuse and neglect. I've seen their efforts firsthand, having gone out with our investigators nearly 60 times. Too often, they see disturbing and horrible situations.

What does a DCF investigator do? They respond to abuse reports quickly. They investigate cases thoroughly, questioning alleged perpetrators and gaining information from people who know the families. They see victims of abuse and respond with compassion. They work late at night, early in the morning, on weekends and holidays. They are first responders, like police officers, firemen, and yes, like soldiers.

The investigator faces many tough decisions and often deals with hostile and defensive family members. When we place a child into protective custody, we may be called overzealous. But we only do this if a child is in danger due to extreme abuse or neglect.

There are cases where a child has been abused and where DCF had been to the home before. But in most of these cases, despite thorough investigations, we did not find enough evidence that the child was at risk.

The state's confidentiality laws regarding child protective investigations produce unintended challenges. When we face criticism, we're often unable to explain the full story about what really happened.

Florida law now requires that anyone who suspects that a child is being abused or neglected must report it to the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-962-2873.

But what some may not understand is that allegations of bad parenting or questionable decisions made by relatives may not meet the legal definition of abuse or neglect.

Our investigators have helped Florida's child welfare system rank among the five best in the country, according to the 2012 Right For Kids Rankings report. But we want continuous improvement.

That's why we're developing a transformation to further improve Child Protective Investigations, with more details coming in the weeks ahead.

DCF's investigators work hard and deserve our respect.

David Abramowitz is northeast region director for the Florida Department of Children and Families.

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