Who should report the suspected abuse of a child in Florida?
The Department of Children and Families has teamed up with sexual-abuse survivor Lauren Book to get that message out to the public through a new multimedia awareness campaign called “Don’t Miss the Signs.”
“We not only have a moral obligation to report child abuse, we have a legal obligation to report child abuse,” DCF Secretary David Wilkins said at a kick-off media event Monday.
In the past, only so-called “professional reporters,” such as doctors and teachers were required to report suspected abuse to the state’s child abuse hotline. But since a sweeping new reporting law went into effect last October, all Florida residents are obligated to make the call if they suspect a child is being abused — including abuse by a parent or primary caregiver as well as a coach, teacher or neighbor.
The first month the law was enacted, calls to the hotline increased 16 percent. While DCF receives about 300,000 hotline calls each year, Wilkins said thousands of cases still go unreported.
So far, no one has been charged under the new law with a first-degree misdemeanor for knowingly failing to make a report, but he and Book stressed the importance of community members to step up.
“At the end of the day, it’s a call to protect children,” said Book, who, as a teen, was sexually abused for years by her nanny. She plans a second 1,500-mile walk around the state this spring to raise awareness of the problem. “All you are doing is calling someone to come out to investigate. You are saving a life. Kids don’t have to suffer as long as I did.”
The $500,000 multimedia awareness campaign, funded through a $1.5 million appropriation to DCF last year for reporting system improvements, will feature television and radio public service announcements, billboards, posters and brochures describing the signs of abuse as well as a website, DontMissTheSigns.org that includes an online petition pledging to report abuse.
Book, who created the foundation Lauren’s Kids, and developed a kindergarten curriculum intended to prevent childhood sexual abuse, urged state residents to sign the petition and do their part.
“All Floridians need to know the signs and know what to look out for,” Book said. “We need all Floridians to commit their eyes and voices to protect our kids.”
To report abuse call the hotline at 800-962-2873 or file a report at DontMissTheSigns.org