Specialisation: Florida

Family Violence in Florida

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to examine family violence in the context of Florida law and identify best practices for addressing this issue. The paper begins by defining what is currently considered violence, abuse, and neglect according to Florida law and the context in which it occurs. Next, it identifies the national best practices for addressing family violence. The next section analysis a current organizational policy, specifically the policy of the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), against these best practices. The strengths and weaknesses of the policy are identified, and recommendations for improvement are proposed. The paper concludes by identifying the avenue through which to route the improved policy, such as the legislature, stakeholders, or organizational head.

Keywords: Florida Law, family violence, child abuse and neglect, Florida Department of Child and Families (DCF).

Introduction

Family violence is a serious issue that affects many individuals and families in the United States, and Florida is no exception. Despite the existing laws and policies, family violence remains a significant problem in Florida. For instance, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), there were over 100,000 reports of child abuse and neglect in the state in 2019 alone (Montanez, Donley & Reckdenwald, 2021). Some of the factors that contribute to the high rates of family violence in the state include poverty, substance abuse, lack of education and employment opportunities, and a lack of access to services and resources (Hines, Malley-Morrison & Dutton, 2020). It is crucial to note that family violence affects individuals of all ages, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds. It can have devastating effects on both the victims and the offenders and can lead to long-term physical and mental health problems, as well as social and economic consequences (Hines et al., 2020). Therefore, this paper seeks to approach family violence from the criminal justice perspective by defining violence, abuse, and neglect contextually within Florida law, identifying national best practices for addressing family violence, analyzing Florida DCF policy, and providing appropriate recommendations.

Definitions

In Florida, violence, abuse, and neglect have specific definitions. To begin with, according to Florida Statute 741.28, “family violence is defined as any assault, battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or any criminal offense resulting in physical injury or death of one family or household member by another family or household member.” (Houseman & Semien, 2022 p. 9). It is crucial to note that child neglect and abuse are also forms of family violence. Notably, Florida law defines abuse as any intentional or negligent infliction of physical, emotional, or mental harm to a person. This includes sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, and neglect (Truyol, 2019). Child abuse and elderly abuse are also defined under Florida law as abuse. Lastly, according to Florida Statute 827.03(2), neglect is defined as the failure of a caregiver to provide a person with basic needs, including food, shelter, supervision, and medical care. This can include but is not limited to, physical neglect, medical neglect, and emotional neglect (Truyol, 2019). It is important to note that the definitions of violence, abuse, and neglect can vary depending on the context in which they are used. For example, the definition of abuse in criminal law may be different from that in civil law. Additionally, different organizations may have their own definitions and policies that align with the laws.

National Best-Practices

When it comes to addressing family violence, several best practices are commonly used in the United States. These include a multi-disciplinary approach, victim-centered approach, trauma-informed approach, evidence-based practices, risk assessment and management, cultural sensitivity, and community engagement (Reeves, 2020). The first widely used best practice in the US is a multi-disciplinary approach that involves collaboration between various organizations and agencies, including law enforcement, social services, healthcare providers, and community groups, to address family violence. A multi-disciplinary approach allows for a comprehensive and coordinated response that addresses the various needs of victims and offenders, such as safety, well-being, and rehabilitation. Some of the key features of a multi-disciplinary approach include coordination, teamwork, communication, flexibility, and case management (Reeves, 2020). For instance, a multi-disciplinary approach involves coordination between different organizations and agencies, such as law enforcement, social services, healthcare providers, and community groups. This allows for a more efficient and effective response to family violence, as different organizations can share information and resources, and work together to provide a range of services to victims and offenders (Reeves, 2020). This approach also emphasizes teamwork among different organizations and agencies. This allows for different perspectives and expertise to be brought to the table, which can lead to more effective and holistic solutions to family violence. A multi-disciplinary approach seeks to promote open communication and collaboration between different organizations and agencies. This allows for regular and ongoing sharing of information, which can help to identify and address problems early on and improve the overall response to family violence (Reeves, 2020). Notably, this approach allows for flexibility in addressing family violence, as different organizations and agencies can adapt their services to the specific needs of victims and offenders. This can be particularly important in cases where victims and offenders come from diverse cultural backgrounds or have unique needs. Lastly, this approach includes case management, which is the process of coordinating and monitoring services for victims and offenders. This allows for a more comprehensive and effective response to family violence, as it ensures that victims and offenders receive the services they need, and that progress is tracked (Houseman & Semien, 2022). Some examples of organizations that might be involved in a multi-disciplinary approach to address family violence include law enforcement agencies, social services agencies, health care providers, faith-based organizations, community-based organizations, schools, legal aid societies, and shelters.

The second national best practice is a focus on victims’ safety and well-being, which includes providing victims with support services such as counseling, shelter, and financial assistance. This approach is known as the Victim-Centered Approach (Withiel, Gill & Fisher, 2021). Some of the key features of this practice include safety planning, support services, legal protection, housing, and advocacy. The first feature is safety planning, which involves working with victims to identify potential risks and hazards, and developing a plan to minimize or eliminate these risks. This can include providing victims with resources such as emergency phone numbers, safe locations, and financial assistance (Withiel et al., 2021). The second feature is support services, where the victims of family violence often require a range of support services, such as counseling, therapy, and medical treatment. These services can help victims to cope with the trauma of violence and begin to heal. Victims of family violence may also require legal protection, such as restraining orders or orders of protection. These legal measures can help to prevent further abuse and provide victims with a sense of security. Notably, victims of family violence often require advocates to help them navigate the legal and social service systems. Advocates can provide victims with information, support, and assistance with accessing services and resources. Lastly, safe and affordable housing is often an essential need for victims of family violence (Withiel et al., 2021). Without a safe place to live, victims may be forced to return to their abuser or become homeless.

The third national best practice is a trauma-informed approach, which recognizes the impact of violence on victims and takes this into account when providing services. A trauma-informed approach ensures that services are sensitive to the unique needs of victims, and that staff is trained to recognize and respond to the signs of trauma (Hornor et al., 2019). The fourth practices are evidence-based practices, which are practices that are effective in reducing recidivism and promoting positive outcomes for victims and offenders (Stark, Choplin & Wellard, 2019). Examples of evidence-based practices include batterer intervention programs and counseling services for victims and offenders. The fifth practice is risk assessment and management. This involves identifying the level of risk of harm to victims and taking appropriate actions to ensure their safety (Myhill & Hohl, 2019). This can include providing safety planning and resources and monitoring the perpetrator to ensure they are not able to harm the victim again.

The last national best practices are cultural sensitivity and community engagement. It is always important to take into account culture when addressing family violence, as different cultures may have different attitudes and beliefs about violence, abuse, and neglect. Culturally sensitive practices involve understanding and respecting the unique cultural backgrounds of victims, offenders, and their families (Nancarrow et al., 2020). In some cultures, what is not considered violence may be violence in another culture. Apart from cultural sensitivity, community engagement is another practice that includes working with community organizations, advocacy groups, and other stakeholders to raise awareness about family violence, provide education and training, and promote community involvement in preventing and addressing family violence (Roguski & Edge, 2021). It is crucial to note that these best practices are not mutually exclusive and should be used together in a comprehensive approach to address family violence. It is also important to note that best practices are continuously evolving as new research and data become available, and they should be reviewed and updated regularly.

Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) Policy on Child Abuse and Neglect

There are also various organizations and agencies in Florida that play a role in addressing family violence, such as the Florida DCF, Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), local law enforcement agencies, and Florida’s State Attorney’s Office. These organizations have policies and procedures in place to respond to and address family violence, and these policies are regularly reviewed and updated to ensure they are in line with current best practices. In terms of specific policies, one example is the Florida DCF policy on child abuse and neglect, which outlines the procedures for investigating and responding to reports of child abuse and neglect. It includes how to identify and assess risk, provide services to victims and families, and hold offenders accountable (Florida Department of Children and Families, n.d.). The policy also includes guidelines for mandatory reporters, such as teachers and healthcare professionals, who by law are required to report any suspected abuse or neglect to the appropriate authorities.

According to this policy, when a mandatory reporter in Florida suspects that a child may be a victim of neglect or abuse, they are required to report their concerns to the Florida Abuse Hotline, which is operated by the DCF (Liu & Vaughn, 2019). The reporter can make the report by phone or online, and they are required to provide their name and contact information as well as information about the child and the suspected abuse or neglect. Once a report is received, DCF will assess the information provided to determine if an investigation is necessary. If the report is determined to be credible, a DCF child protective investigator (CPI) or a law enforcement officer will conduct an investigation. The CPI will work to gather information from the child and their family, as well as from any other relevant sources, to determine whether abuse or neglect has occurred and what steps need to be taken to guarantee the child’s safety (Liu & Vaughn, 2019). If the investigation finds that abuse or neglect has occurred, DCF will work with the child and their family to provide services and support, such as counseling or parenting classes, to address the issues that led to the abuse or neglect. If necessary, DCF may also take legal action to remove the child from home and place them in a safe environment (Liu & Vaughn, 2019). It is important to note that as a mandatory reporter, one is protected from civil and criminal liability for making a report in good faith.

The Florida DCF Policy on Child Abuse and Neglect generally aligns with industry best practices for addressing and preventing child abuse and neglect. One of the key elements of the policy is the mandatory reporting system, which requires certain professionals, such as teachers and healthcare providers, to report any suspected abuse or neglect to the appropriate authorities (Gover, Boots & Harper, 2021). This is a common practice in the field and is considered an important step in identifying and addressing abuse and neglect. Another important aspect of the policy is the investigation and intervention process that DCF undertakes when abuse or neglect is suspected. This process includes gathering information from the child, the family, and other relevant sources, as well as providing services and support to the child and their family. This approach is in line with best practices, which recommend a comprehensive, family-centered approach to address abuse and neglect (Gover et al., 2021). Additionally, DCF also provides support to families to address any issues that may have led to the abuse or neglect, and work to prevent it from happening again in the future. This is in line with best practices that recommend a multidisciplinary approach to the problem. Therefore, when analyzing this policy against industry best practices, it is clear that it aligns with many of the principles outlined above. Generally, it aligns with these best practices, by providing for mandatory reporting, conducting investigations, and providing interventions, a family-centered approach, and a multidisciplinary approach. However, there are also areas where the policy could be improved. For example, the policy does not specifically mention the importance of a trauma-informed approach, and it could be strengthened by including more detailed guidance on how to provide services that take into account the unique needs of victims of family violence (Florida Department of Children and Families, n.d.). Therefore, it is worth mentioning that to ensure that the policy is aligned with best practices, DCF must regularly evaluate and updates its policy and procedures to reflect new research, trends, and emerging issues in the field.

Policy Strengths and Weaknesses

The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) has a policy in place to address child abuse and neglect, which includes procedures for investigating and responding to reports of child abuse and neglect. This policy has several strengths that align with current best practices, as well as some weaknesses that may not be fully in line with best practices. The first strength is that it utilizes a multi-disciplinary approach. As noted earlier, the DCF policy includes collaboration with other organizations and agencies, such as law enforcement and healthcare providers, to address child abuse and neglect. This allows for a comprehensive and coordinated response to these issues, as different organizations can share information and resources, and work together to provide a range of services to victims and offenders (Florida Department of Children and Families, n.d.). Second, the DCF policy includes provisions for providing services to victims and their families, such as counseling, therapy, and medical treatment. This helps to ensure that victims’ needs are met and that they have access to the support they need to recover from abuse and neglect. Third, the DCF policy includes provisions for using evidence-based practices when addressing child abuse and neglect (Gibbs et al., 2018). This includes practices that are effective in reducing recidivism and promoting positive outcomes for victims and offenders.

Although the DCF policy has the above strengths, it also has some weaknesses or misalignments with the current practices. For instance, while the DCF policy includes provisions for identifying and assessing risk, it may not fully address the importance of risk management and ongoing monitoring to ensure the safety of victims. This can include providing safety planning and resources and monitoring the perpetrator to ensure they cannot inflate any harm to the victim again. Second, the DCF policy may not fully address the importance of cultural sensitivity when addressing child abuse and neglect (Mackie et al., 2020). As pointed out earlier, different cultures may have different attitudes and beliefs about violence, abuse, and neglect. Thus, when addressing family violence, it is important to consider this when working with families from diverse backgrounds. This includes understanding and respecting the unique cultural backgrounds, beliefs, and traditional norms of victims, offenders, and their families. Lastly, the DCF policy may not fully address the importance of community engagement in addressing child abuse and neglect. This includes working with community organizations, advocacy groups, and other stakeholders to raise awareness about family violence, provide education and training, and promote community involvement in preventing and addressing family violence (Gibbs et al., 2018). Considering these weaknesses, there need urgent interventions to bring the DCF policy into full alignment with current policies.

Recommendations

In order to bring the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) policy into full alignment with current best practices, various recommendations should be considered. First, the DCF policy should consider incorporating risk assessment and management. Specifically, the policy should include more explicit provisions for risk assessment and management. For instance, the DCF policy should develop and implement a standardized risk assessment tool that is used by DCF employees when assessing the risk of child abuse and neglect. This tool should be evidence-based and take into account a variety of factors, such as the history of abuse or neglect in a family, the presence of domestic violence, substance abuse, or mental health issues, and the age and vulnerability of the child (Turner, Medina & Brown, 2019). Another way is to provide training and resources for DCF employees to help them understand how to use the risk assessment tool and interpret the results. This can include ongoing training and support, as well as access to specialized resources, such as mental health professionals or substance abuse counselors.

DCF can also incorporate risk management strategies into its overall approach to child welfare. This can include developing a comprehensive safety plan for each child and family that takes into account the risk of abuse or neglect and the specific needs of the child and family. The safety plan should include specific interventions that address the identified risks, such as counseling, parenting classes, or home visits. DCF should also establish a system of ongoing monitoring and case review to ensure that the interventions and safety plans are effective in managing the risk of abuse and neglect (Turner et al., 2019). This can include regular check-ins with the family, as well as regular reviews of the child’s and family’s progress. Additionally, DCF can incorporate a multidisciplinary approach to risk assessment and management, involving professionals from different fields such as mental health, law enforcement, and education to ensure a coordinated and comprehensive approach to assessing and managing risk. Finally, DCF should involve the families themselves in the risk assessment and management process. According to Turner et al. (2019), this can include engaging families in the development of their safety plan and working with them to identify their strengths and needs, as well as encouraging them to actively participate in the interventions and services provided.

Second, the DCF policy should include more explicit provisions with respect to cultural sensitivity when addressing child abuse and neglect. One way is to incorporate cultural sensitivity training for all DCF employees, including social workers, investigators, and managers. This training should cover a wide range of topics, including cultural diversity, bias, and implicit prejudice, and how to communicate and work effectively with families from diverse cultural backgrounds (Salinas-Miranda, 2022). Another way is to ensure that DCF policies and procedures take into account the cultural background of families when assessing and responding to child abuse and neglect. This can include providing translated materials and resources for families who speak languages other than English, as well as having multilingual staff available to assist families. DCF can also establish partnerships with community-based organizations that serve diverse cultural groups, such as churches, community centers, and advocacy groups (Salinas-Miranda, 2022). These organizations can provide support and resources to families, as well as act as cultural brokers to help bridge the gap between the DCF and families from diverse cultural backgrounds.

DCF can also adopt a family-centered approach that respects and values the cultural beliefs, practices, and values of families, and involve families in the decision-making process. This can include involving families in the development of their safety plans, using family-centered and culturally-specific interventions, and providing families with culturally-competent services. Additionally, DCF should also ensure that its policies and practices are inclusive of the diverse family structures that exist in various cultures, such as extended families and fictive kin, and recognize their role in providing care and support for children. DCF can also establish a system for tracking and analyzing data on child abuse and neglect cases involving families from diverse cultural backgrounds, in order to identify trends and areas for improvement in its response (Salinas-Miranda, 2022). This can include regularly collecting data on the cultural background of families, as well as information on the types of abuse and neglect that are occurring and the outcomes of cases.

The third recommendation that can bring the DCF policy into full alignment with current practices is incorporating and including more explicit provisions that allow for greater community engagement in addressing child abuse and neglect. One way this can be achieved is by establishing formal partnerships between the DCF and community-based organizations, such as churches, schools, and advocacy groups. According to Vukovic (2022), these partnerships can provide support and resources to families, as well as act as a liaison between the DCF and the community. Community-based organizations can also provide valuable insight into the specific needs and cultural backgrounds of families in their communities, which can help the DCF to better tailor its services. Another way is to increase public awareness and education campaigns to increase community involvement and understanding of child abuse and neglect, in order to create a culture where child safety is a priority. This can include public education campaigns on the signs of child abuse and neglect, as well as information on how to report abuse and neglect and where to get help.

Furthermore, DCF can also establish community advisory boards or committees, which would provide community members with an opportunity to provide input and feedback on the agency’s practices and policies. This can include representatives from community-based organizations, as well as parents, educators, and other community leaders. In addition, DCF can also incorporate community-based participatory research (CBPR) methodologies into its approach to child welfare. CBPR is a collaborative, community-driven approach that involves community members in every aspect of the research process, from identifying research questions to implementing interventions (Vukovic, 2022). This can help to ensure that the research is responsive to community needs and priorities and that the findings are relevant and useful to the community.

Avenue for Implementation

The avenue through which to route the improved policy can vary depending on the specific recommendations and the nature of the changes being proposed. One of the possible options is the legislature. If the changes to the policy require changes to state laws or regulations, then the legislature may need to be involved. This can include working with legislators to introduce and pass new legislation or working with state agencies to update regulations (Fowler, 2022). The second option is stakeholders such as community-based organizations, advocacy groups, and other organizations that work with victims and offenders can play an important role in shaping and implementing the improved policy. This can include engaging with stakeholders to gather feedback and input on the policy changes and working with them to implement the changes. The third option is the organizational head, such as the head of the DCF, or other relevant agencies or departments, which can also play a key role in shaping and implementing the improved policy. This can include working with senior staff and other key leaders to gather input and buy-in for the policy changes, and ensuring that the changes are implemented effectively within the organization (Fowler, 2022). In this case, to implement the above recommendations, the DCF should work with stakeholders such as law enforcement, social services, healthcare providers, and advocacy groups to gather input and support for the changes. Additionally, the policy should be reviewed and updated by the DCF’s organizational head to ensure that it is in line with the latest best practices. It is important to note that involving a combination of the above avenues is the best approach, as it ensures that the policy changes are grounded in the best practices and the needs of the community, while also ensuring that the changes are implemented effectively. It also ensures that the relevant authorities and stakeholders support the policy changes.

Conclusion

In conclusion, family violence is a serious issue that affects many individuals and families in Florida, and laws, policies, and practices must be in place to address it effectively. Addressing family violence requires a multi-disciplinary approach, a focus on victims’ safety and well-being, and a commitment to using evidence-based practices. By critically analyzing existing policies and incorporating the latest best practices, organizations can help to reduce the impact of family violence and promote positive outcomes for victims and families.

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