August 31, 2005
DCF plans to reduce child abuse by half with prevention program
The Associated Press by Brendan Farrington
August 31 2005
TALLAHASSSEE - The Department of Children & Families announced a five-year plan Tuesday to cut child abuse rates in half by working with communities and other agencies to improve prevention programs and better target families needing help.
"No agency is expected to be responsible for prevention of child abuse and neglect on their own," said Beth Englander, who directs DCF's child welfare office. "The statewide plan reflects conventional wisdom and belief that plans across the state need to be connected."
Florida's abuse and neglect rate is 31.5 per 1,000 children. Only two other states had a rate above 20 victims per 1,000. DCF wants to reach a rate of 15 per 1,000, according to a report prepared by the Florida Interprogram Task Force made up of DCF and several other agencies.
"If we focus on prevention, if we use the community-based care model to expand services for families, to make them more loving and wholesome, one would hope that we can cut child abuse in half," said Gov. Jeb Bush.
The task force came up with a 136-page plan that serves as a first step toward that reduction. It outlines goals, but more specific, steps on how to achieve them will be developed over the next few months, along with proposed legislation to help the effort.
A key will be looking at existing prevention programs and figuring out what works and what doesn't.
Communities throughout the state have many programs to help families. Officials would focus on successful programs and bringing them to communities with less effective programs.
"Plans across the state need to be connected," Englander said. "The plan is intended to be a blueprint to pull together all of those activities comprehensively for the first time."
Officials already have an idea of areas where they need to send resources.
Typical abusers are in their mid-20s, high school dropouts, poor and emotionally stressed. Abuse is also more likely to occur in poor neighborhoods with high residential turnover, high unemployment, crime problems and less contact and trust between neighbors.
The question becomes how to improve those conditions.
"I do think that it's probably difficult to do, but you always set these goals a little bit higher," said Sen. Skip Campbell, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat who chairs the Senate Children & Families Committee. "Nothing's impossible."
The Child Welfare League of America agrees it is possible, though difficult. Prevention services do work, the trick will be getting the Legislature to pay for them year after year, said Linda Spears, a vice president with the Washington-based organization.
"It takes a lot. I think it's doable. The real question is whether the state can and will commit the investment," Spears said. "Florida has done this kind of work in some communities and sustained it well in some communities, but it requires a stick-to-itiveness."