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Child Protective Services in Florida

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Work
Wordcount: 2913 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Family instability is a serious risk factor for behavioral and emotional problems in children. Job loss, substance abuse, serious illness, divorce, and incarceration can cause disruptions in the life of a family. Fragile and at-risk families are at an even greater risk for these disruptions to occur. Major changes in family life may lead to poverty, abuse or neglect. Maintaining a stable, healthy family is a child’s best chance at avoiding these problems. Children who come from stable homes are more likely to be in good health, stay drug free, do well in school, and remain socially and emotionally healthy. 

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The Florida Department of Children and Families is dedicated to the well-being of children and their families. The department is responsible for a wide-range of services which include assistance to families working to safely stay together or be reunited, foster care, adoption, children and young adults transitioning from the foster care system to being independent and other services. The Department of Children and Families consists of many different departments such as the Florida Abuse Hotline.

The Florida Abuse Hotline serves as the main reporting center for allegations of abuse, neglect and exploitation for all children in the state of Florida. The hotline receives reports by phone, fax and web-based reports from concerned citizens and professionals who feel that a child is being abused, neglected or abandoned. (Florida, Department of Children and Families Abuse Hotline, 2018) Some people are legally required to report any suspicion of child abuse or neglect due to their professions. These people are called mandated reporters. Mandated reporters are typically social workers, teachers, health care workers, law enforcement and counselors among other professionals who work with children. (Steen, 2014) Reporter information is confidential however mandated reporters are required to give their name in case the investigator needs to ask for clarity about the intake report. A mandated reporter who fails to report the suspected abuse or neglect of a child may be held accountable if he or she fails to do so. Anyone who suspects a child is being abused or neglected is encouraged to report. (Child and Family Services Reviews Intake Process, 2018).                                                                                                                                                          Child maltreatment is any action that may result in the risk of serious harm, physical injury, emotional harm, sexual abuse, exploitation of a child, or death by a parent or caregiver. The maltreatments may range from household violence threatens child to environmental hazards. The report must meet certain criteria in order to be screened-in and given to intake. If a report is made but does not meet criteria it will be screened-out and not referred for further investigation. This means that the report did not meet the state’s agency guidelines for child maltreatment. It may also mean that there was not enough information given about the child or family in order to identify or locate them. However, if a future report is made on the child the child protective investigator will be able to see that there was a screened-out report.                                                         When a report is screened-in for investigation it goes to the intake worker for that county. The intake worker then assigns the report to a child protective investigator. (Steen, 2014) When the child protective investigator receives a report, he or she will look at the urgency of the report. The initial report has a response time of either twenty-four hours or four hours. A twenty-four-hour report means that the investigator has twenty-four hours to go out in the field and locate the child. In this case the investigator has time to gather a little more background information on the child and their family. A four-hour or immediate report does not provide the investigator with much time to wait. This typically means that the child is in current danger or something of significance has occurred. The child protective investigator must lay eyes on the child and investigate the allegations. If a child is unable to be located the investigator must make daily attempts to find the child until he or she is located.

Upon receiving the initial report, the investigator may look at prior reports to see if there is a pattern of maltreatment or if the family has a verified report with the department. A verified report means that there was enough evidence found to support that the allegations did occur. The CPI looks at the parents or caregivers and children who reside in the home. Typically, the child is the victim (V) and the caregiver or parent is the alleged perpetrator (AP). The investigator may count prior investigations that involve any adult members who live in the current household with the child who were deemed alleged perpetrators. The report will say if each participant lives in the home or outside the home. The investigator also checks for prior criminal records related to the alleged perpetrator to see if the person has spent any time in jail or prison. Every case is different, so a person’s criminal record may not reflect what he or she is being accused of. He or she may also look to see if the parent or caregiver has a valid driver’s license. The child protective investigator also looks at the demographics of those involved in the case as well as vital statistics. In some cases, it may be necessary for the investigator to request medical records regarding the parent or child.

The CPI may want to look at a family’s medical records for a multitude of reasons. The investigator may want to make sure the child is being taken to yearly checkups. The child may have a medical condition that requires frequent doctor’s visits or certain medications. In this case, the investigator is trying to confirm that the child is receiving the medications they need and that their parents are taking them to all doctor’s appointments. The CPI may ask for a pill count of the prescription and make note of how often the child is to take the medicine. Medical neglect is defined as a parent’s failure to provide adequate medical care for their child especially when the child has a serious injury or illness. The investigator may also look at mental health records if the child or parent has had or needs psychiatric care. Failure to provide a child with psychiatric care or treatment also falls under medical neglect.

When a child protective investigator goes out in the field he or she’s first priority is to see and talk to child. An investigator always talks to the child first. It is important that the investigator is able to talk to the child one on one. This way the child feels that they can speak freely. During a child interview the investigator will introduce themselves and ask the child if they know what DCF is. Some children may say yes, and others may have no idea. Julia, the child protective investigator I’ve been shadowing this semester explains her job to children like this “My job is I talk to kids all the time and I ask a lot of questions.” She is explaining what she does in a way that a child will understand. After introducing herself she may ask “So tell me about what happened yesterday” or “Do you know why I’m here?”. The child may not be aware of the situation that occurred, or the child may know that something happened but is unsure of the details. The first statement “tell me about what happened yesterday” gives the child a chance to tell his or her version of the events that occurred. At this point it is important to listen and take notes. It is especially important to make note of anything relevant to the allegations. If the child is unaware of why the department is involved the investigator may tell the child that she received a report that something occurred at their house. The occurrence may have been that mom and dad got in to an altercation in front of the child or that the child was left unattended for a period of time. During the child interview the investigator is also looking at child functioning. (Radey, M., & Stanley, L. 2018)                                                                                                                                             Child Functioning is concerned with the child’s general behavior or demeanor, emotions, temperament, development, academic status, physical and mental health status. This domain addresses how a child functions day to day and how the child is functioning currently rather than focusing on a particular point in time (I.e. CPI contact, time of maltreatment). The information related to child functioning varies according to the child’s age. “Functioning is considered with respect to age appropriateness” (SDMM, pg.5). Areas to consider when gathering information and assessing the child are trust, sociability, communication skills, independence, intellect, and daily habits. When the investigator is finished with the child interview she will move on to interviewing the parents or caregivers.                                                                                                                 During the adult interview the CPI will ask the same general questions. She will ask the parent to tell her what happened and address the allegations. The investigator also looks at adult functioning. This has to do with how parents and caregivers in the household are functioning. (SDMM, pg.5) Adult functioning is concerned with how the adults in the family feel, think, and act on a daily basis. This domain focuses on the parent as an individual outside of the parenting role. Everyone is an individual before they are a role, like a sister, wife or mother. The investigator is concerned with how the adults behave regardless of the fact that they are caregivers. “This assessment area is concerned with life management, social relationships, meeting needs, problem solving, perception, rationality, self-control, reality testing, stability, self-awareness, self-esteem, self-acceptance and coherence”. (SDMM. pg. 5-6) At the end of the interview the CPI will address any concerns she may have with the caregiver or parent. If the investigator has concerns she may suggest voluntary services, In Home Safety Services, in home non-judicial services, or court-ordered services.                                                                                                                 Parents and their children may agree to participate in services on their own. Voluntary services are not monitored by the department. The family may choose to attend counseling outside of the home or they may ask for in-home services. While In-home services are not necessarily monitored by the department they can act as eyes in the home. These services go out to the home and work with the family. Services can provide the family with counseling, basic needs (i.e. food, formula, diapers), parenting classes and other community resources. The main goal of in-home services is to keep children and their families together while strengthening the family system. (Child Welfare Information Gateway, pg. 2) If a family agrees to in home services but fails to keep appointments or participate the service provider can let the CPI know that the client is not holding up their end of the deal. (Child Welfare Information Gateway, pg.4) This way the CPI can document that the family agreed to participate in services but failed to follow through. This documentation will be helpful in case another report is made on the family. The next investigator will be able to see that the family was offered services and that a different approach may have to be made.                                                                                                                               In-home non-judicial services are offered when something of significance has occurred within the family. In-home non-judicial services are not court ordered but the parent or caregiver must sign a document provided by the department that says they agree to work services. In this case if the parent refuses to work services it could result in the removal of their children. Child Protective Investigators will make every attempt to keep a family together.                                                                      Court ordered services means that a judge has ordered the parents or caregivers to participate in services. The court may order the parents to participate in counseling, parenting classes, random drug tests or other services that may help the family. When parents refuse to cooperate with the court the result is typically the removal of the child or children from the home (Child Welfare Information Gateway, pg.4).                                                                                                                 When an investigator removes a child from his or her home there must be present danger. Present danger is something that just happened, is happening, or happens all the time. Present danger is a situation that you cannot walk away from. Examples of present danger are life threatening living arrangements, a caregiver is acting bizarre, out of control, inebriated, or is incapacitated.

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On rare occasions a child protective investigator may remove the child if there is impending danger. Impending danger means that the family’s conditions or situation is out of control and it is only a matter of time before this leads to present danger. As you can see the Child Protective Investigator looks at every aspect of the family before making a professional opinion.                                          While the investigator is quite involved with children and their families, their sole job is to investigate the allegations they have received. A case can stay with an investigator for up to sixty days. The child protective investigator investigates matters and closes her case. The case is ultimately transferred to a case manager if needed who may stay with the case for up to six months. Shadowing in the role of an investigator has been a learning experiencing and while this job is not easy it is important. Investigators work long and hard to make sure that children are kept safe.


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  • Department of Children and Families Office of Child Welfare. Child Protective Investigator and Child Protective Investigator Supervisor Educational Qualifications, Turnover, and Working Conditions Status Report (pp. 1-20, Rep.). (2014). FL.
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