17 Sep 2014

Impact of Child Abuse Cases in Florida

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- According to the Department of Children and Families,
there are almost 800 reports of suspected child abuse every month. That's
because, in part, some parents don't know where disciplining your child
stops and abusing your child starts.

"That happens - ultimately what we have to do is enforce the law," said
John Harrell, spokesperson for DCF.

According to Florida state law, child abuse is partly defined as "an
intentional act that could reasonably be expected to result in physical or
mental injury to a child."

Harrell says it's as simple as leaving a mark on the child.

"A mark, a bruise, or an injury," he said.

A team of doctors at DCF look at suspected cases. That, combined with
interviews, helps determine if there's enough evidence to warrant action.

Harrell says children are fragile, and there's always some sort of risk
when hitting a child, even for discipline.

"There are ways to discipline your child without hurting your child,"
Harrell said.

"If a parent think it's all right to hit my child if I don't leave a
bruise, that could escalate the next time, then what do you have," he
it doesn't end with the bruise. Dr. Andrew King, a psychologist at UNF,
says the mental consequences can last for years.

"The physical injuries heal relatively quickly as compared to the emotional
wounds that seems to stay there," he said.

Dr. King says child victims of abuse can have nightmares, and act out both
at home and school.

"The impact is very negative on the child's self-esteem" he said.

There are a list of factors to help determine the impact of abuse on a
child. They range from how long the abuse has been happening to if it's a
trusted adult or stranger doing it. Dr. King says therapy is key to helping
a child recover.

"What we want the child to do is move from a victim mentality to survivor
mentality," he said.

It's something he says may not be easy.

"It's a tremendous uphill battle," he added.

Florida law requires suspected child abuse or neglect be reported to the
Florida Abuse Hotline. That number is 1-800-96-ABUSE.

There are other resources available to families and victims of child abuse.
The United Way's 2-1-1 line is staffed around the clock. More information
is available by clicking here.