Family law horror stories continue to shock us. Twelve children are found handcuffed, prisoners of their parents. ‘Child support’ takes on the opposite meaning in shocking cases as parents deny their offspring basic necessities like food and clothing. In situations like the above, typical family law issues like visitation and spousal support take a backseat to restraining orders and foster care. The general public is left to ask the same sad question regardless of individual circumstance: How could this happen?
We at the Coleman Law Group wish we had the answer. What we can offer is suggestions for action. Here’s how to identify whether a child is in an unsafe situation, how to report it, and what to do to help those who are hurt heal.
Define the situation. Concerned that your neighbor’s disciplinary method for his toddler doesn’t mesh with your hands-off ‘time out’ policy? Keep in mind that the practice of spanking does not necessarily indicate abuse. Corporal punishment that does not lead to a child’s harm is not punishable. You can disagree with your neighbor’s method of punishment for Junior’s shortcomings. However, it is not against the law.
Abuse is present if a child is hurt or threatened with hurt that affects their physical and emotional wellbeing. Withdrawing food and other basic necessities also constitutes abuse and neglect. Neglect raises another red flag and needs to be identified and shared with authorities. Do you believe a child is not receiving essential items like medicine? Are they left alone without supervision?
If you suspect abuse or neglect, report it. You can share your concern online at Florida Department of Children and Families MyFLFamilies.com. You can also call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 800-962-2873. Be prepared to share as much information as you can, including ages of those involved, what you have witnessed, etc. A list of helpful items to know is found at http://www.myflfamilies.com/service-programs/abuse-hotline/what-we-need-know. Reporting via fax is an option as well.
If you don’t have all the information requested by the Florida Department of Children and Families, call the number anyway. It’s better to err on the side of caution and report the incident. Also, if you believe imminent danger is possible, call the number and forego the online form. Your personal information will be kept confidential – and you may save someone’s life. Please note that the information shared above is also pertinent for other neglect or abuse situations, such as abuse or neglect of the elderly.
We’ll never know why some people choose to neglect, abuse or exploit others. However, we can take action when evidence of such action (or inaction) is present. Further help abused and neglected children by becoming a guardian ad litem and advocate for minors in court. Coleman Law Group founder Constance Coleman is herself an attorney ad litem, and she is dedicated to helping children find peace at the end of their legal journey. Learn more at guardianadlitem.org