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Mandate Reporting 101: Suicide Crisis among young children
Mental Health Professionals (MFT, MHC, CSW, etc.) are mandated reporters of suspected abuse with respect to children and elderly people. As professionals, they are required to be knowledgeable with his or her state laws regarding family, marriage, children, and custody, including abuse and violence.
What needs to be reported according to Florida Statutes?
For Child Abuse:
- A child in need of supervision who has no parent, legal custodian, or responsible adult 39.201(1)(a)
- A child abused by a parent, caregiver, guardian, or another person responsible for the child's welfare 39.201(1)(a)
- Child abuse, abandonment, or neglect by an adult 39.201(1)(b)
- Child abuse by a known or suspected juvenile sex offender 39.201(1)(c)
- If know or suspect child abuse involving impregnation of a child under 16 years of age by a person 21 years of age or older, the report shall be made immediately to the appropriate county sheriff's office or other applicable law enforcement agency 39.201(2)(e)
- Knowledge of surrendered newborn infants can be received by the police department 39.201(1)(g)
- Any person who observes a sexual battery and who has the ability to seek assistance for the victim without being exposed to a threat of physical violence must make a report 794.027
Vulnerable adult abuse:
- Any person who knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect, that a vulnerable adult has been or is being abused, neglected, or exploited shall immediately report such knowledge or suspicion to the central abuse hotline 415.1034(1)(a)5
To whom & how?
- Child and adult abuse should be reported to the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) at 1-800-96-ABUSE or http://reportabuse.dcf.state.fl.us
What could happen to mandate reporters if they did not report an incident?
- According to Florida Statutes failure to report child abuse to DCF is a third-degree felony 39.205(1)
- A person who observes the commission of the crime of sexual battery is guilty of a first-degree misdemeanor where that person has reasonable grounds to believe that he or she has seen the commission of a sexual assault/battery 794.027
What happens after the report is made?
- Once a report is received, the hotline counselor sends the report within one hour to the county investigation office where the victim is located. An investigator is assigned and will respond as soon as possible if the victim is in imminent risk of harm, or within 24 hours if the imminent danger is not present. The investigator may or may not contact the reporter during the investigation.
What happens if you make a false report?
- According to Florida Statutes, a person who knowingly and willfully makes a false report of child abuse, abandonment, neglect, or abuse of a vulnerable adult, or who advises another to make a false report, is guilty of a felony of the third degree 39.205(9), 415.111(5). However, anyone making a report who is acting in good faith is immune from any liability 39.205(9), 415.111(5)(b),
Today's climate in our society, unfortunately, is filled with pain, sadness, and anger. There have been too many school shootings and suicides. Though each story may be unique, the underlying concerns are the lack of awareness, support, and proper communication across victims and the supposed caretakers (parents, teachers, therapists, etc.). What are we missing? What are the signs? What is being done? It's unreal to hear in the news the amount f suicides among young age children, as young as seven years old. How does a seven-year-old get to such a dark-desperate place to want to take away their life? In many of the cases where the young children have committed suicide, the schools have been questioned with regards to their knowledge and lack of appropriate and effective responses that could have perhaps prevented some of these tragedies; in fact, some schools have been sued accordingly for their neglectful responses. Though there is no doubt that these incidents bring shock, pain, and deep sadness across the community, peers, teachers, and loved ones, there is a need for change. Everyone should be concerned and take seriously any minute sign children display, whether it's voiced and explore it to identify potential support and resources to address the systemic problem. Though many schools across the states have taken notice of the tragedies occurring among youth and have some policies and procedures in place, it would appear some have not adequately monitored or responded accordingly, which could have perhaps prevented some fo these tragedies. Last Spring (2018) in California a teacher and a school counselor in Yuba City was informed by a student of her friend having suicidal thoughts (as evident in a text) and though the exact details are not known of all the steps taken it would appear the school counselor did the bare minimum in responding to this allegation. The problem is that the bare minimum, in fact, was not even done, which would have included alerting the parents of the child with suicidal thoughts. Therefore, just recently, the parents of this child have filed a lawsuit (negligence and wrongful death suit) against the key parities associated with the school for failing and "refusing" to take action in a violation of the school's suicide prevention policy and the California Education Code. As a community, teachers, counselors, peers, adults, other professionals, if aware of any questionable harmful incidents, whether its self inflicted or potentially against others, we should voice the concerns and seek support and resources to find potential solutions. Given the prevalence of these incidents of homicide and suicide, there should be some preventative education for students, parents, educators, and counselors to become knowledgeable on emotional and mental wellness to include bully, addictions (eating and drugs), depression, anxiety/stress, etc., to take the signs of symptoms serious and be supportive of another, and realize whats their role in the community at large, as sometimes we may be guilty by association. Some people are active participants in the pain of others and others in some way intentional also involved by ignoring the issues and not being supportive etc. We live in a world of me, myself, and I instead of recognizing the value of others and how what we do and don't do impacts all those around us in some way.
As a clinician and supervisor, I was and am very concerned with the lack of reporting. Reporting abuse and harm (self or intended for others) has been framed as a scary situation that most clinicians try to avoid at all costs to not lose their client, to not be a part of more pain/problems, to not lose their license, etc. But little do these clinicians know that in the long run, more harm is being done by not acknowledging the seriousness of the problem (abuse and harm of self or others). To clinicians, I say it's better to lose a client for them not wanting to work with you (broken trust) than losing an actual life.
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