National Child Abuse Prevention Month, also known as Child Abuse Prevention Month, is an annual observance in the United States to raise awareness of child abuse, abandonment and neglect. April has been designated Child Abuse Prevention Month in the United States since 1983. The goal is to encourage communities to rededicate themselves to the support of families, to actively prevent child abuse and neglect, and to take positive action to monitor the well-being of children.

How does Florida define child abuse?

Approximately 2 million children in the United States received prevention services in 2019. Abuse statistics commonly include incidents of neglect and abandonment as well. The definition of abuse or neglect can vary from case to case, but general definitions can be found in Florida Statute § 39.01:

  • “Abuse” means any willful act or threatened act that results in any physical, mental, or sexual abuse, injury, or harm that causes or is likely to cause the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health to be significantly impaired.  Abuse of a child includes acts or omissions.  Corporal discipline of a child by a parent or legal custodian for disciplinary purposes does not in itself constitute abuse when it does not result in harm to the child.
  • “Abandoned” or “abandonment” means a situation in which the parent or legal custodian of a child or, in the absence of a parent or legal custodian, the caregiver, while being able, has made no significant contribution to the child’s care and maintenance or has failed to establish or maintain a substantial and positive relationship with the child, or both.  For purposes of this subsection, “establish or maintain a substantial and positive relationship” includes, but is not limited to, frequent and regular contact with the child through frequent and regular visitation or frequent and regular communication to or with the child, and the exercise of parental rights and responsibilities.  Marginal efforts and incidental or token visits or communications are not sufficient to establish or maintain a substantial and positive relationship with a child.
  • “Neglect” occurs when a child is deprived of, or is allowed to be deprived of, necessary food, clothing, shelter, or medical treatment or a child is permitted to live in an environment when such deprivation or environment causes the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health to be significantly impaired or to be in danger of being significantly impaired.  The foregoing circumstances shall not be considered neglect if caused primarily by financial inability unless actual services for relief have been offered to and rejected by such person.

Services are often provided to address the cause of abuse or neglect, ensure the safety of children in their home, or reunite children with parents who have lost custody due to abuse or neglect. These services vary widely, from drug testing and treatment, to counseling and other mental health services, and any other services designed to prevent child abuse or neglect. In Florida, these services are often initiated by the Department of Children and Families (DCF). DCF will often file a court case, known as a dependency case, to protect children and initiate services through a case plan.

Florida Dependency Cases

Dependency cases in Florida include a series of steps to assess and resolve child abuse. A “dependent” child is one who has been found by a court to be the victim of abuse, abandonment or neglect by those responsible for the child’s care. In such a case, the child will be appointed an attorney, called a Guardian ad Litem, to represent him or her throughout the case. DCF will be represented by an attorney, and the child’s parents have a right to counsel as well.

Florida dependency cases typically involve numerous court hearings to serve various purposes. As a parent accused of abusing or neglecting a child, you have two options to resolve the case favorably. First, because the burden is on the State to prove that the dependency allegations are true, you may dispute the allegations and take the case to trial. If you win at the dependency trial, the case is over and the child must be returned to your care. But, even if you fail, services designed to remedy the cause of the dependency finding must be provided to you. The State MUST make reasonable efforts to reunite you with your child (in fact, this is a condition of their government funding). If you comply with the services, and resolve the underlying issue, the child must be returned to you. If the child remains dependent despite rehabilitative services, the State will seek to terminate the parents’ rights to the child or place the child in a permanent guardianship with a 3rd party, such as family.

Experienced Representation in Florida Dependency Cases

Andrew D. Wheeler has represented over 1,000 clients in dependency cases over the course of nearly 20 years. This includes parents, children and individuals seeking to obtain custody of dependent children, such as grandparents or others with an interest in the dependent child. If you need to discuss your rights in a dependency case, schedule a consultation today by clicking HERE or calling (850) 613-6923.