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Florida takes new steps to prevent child abuse

4:21 PM, Jan 28, 2013   |    comments
Advocate Lauren Book announces a new campaign that aims to help prevent child abuse.
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- You now have a legal obligation to report child abuse and neglect under a new law in Florida.

The law contains the toughest child abuse reporting requirements in the nation, according to Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins.

"Florida by far now has the toughest abuse reporting and so this is the beginning because the way you solve any problem is first you have to know how big a problem you have. If we truly can get everyone to be reporting what's really happening out there, we really have a chance to significantly reduce abuse in this state."

Since the law took effect last October, Florida's Abuse Hotline has recorded a 16 percent increase in calls about abuse and neglect. Wilkins says DCF has hired about 40 extra counselors to handle the increased volume. Counselors also take reports of abuse via Web chat sessions.

The law requires people to report child abuse and neglect or they could face a felony charge including up to five years in prison. Another provision allows the state to fine an educational institution $1 million if it fails to report cases of child abuse or neglect.

"We now in this state not only have a moral obligation to report child abuse, but we also have a legal obligation to report child abuse," said Wilkins.

Advocate Lauren Book has worked tirelessly in recent years to boost Florida's efforts against child sexual abuse, including creating a curriculum used in kindergarten classes.

Now Book is teaming up with DCF on a campaign to help people recognize signs of child abuse.

It's called "Don't Miss the Signs" and encourages people to take action if they suspect child abuse.

Book's "Lauren's Kids Foundation" helped DCF develop the campaign.

"We're asking all Floridians across the state to pledge their eyes and their voice to protect our children. On our Website: dontmissthesigns.org, there is a pledge and we're asking all Floridians to take this pledge."

State lawmakers funded the program with $1.5 million. It includes the "Safer, Smarter Kids" curriculum, TV and radio ads, a television program, posters and brochures that explain different signs of possible abuse for children of different ages.

Some signs include: a child who misses school, is withdrawn in class, or startles easily.

Book says one in three girls and one in five boys will be sexually abused before they're 18.

She says 95 percent of sexual abuse is preventable and she hopes "Don't Miss the Signs" will help more people step up and help a child who might not know how to ask for help.

Learn more at DontMissTheSigns.org.

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