The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) handles all reports of suspected child abuse and neglect, as well as reports of suspected abuse or neglect of a vulnerable adult. A vulnerable adult is defined as any adult who cannot perform daily activities or care for himself due to disability, physical injury or advanced age. When a report is made to the DCF, all of the information provided is recorded, regardless of whether the report is accepted or not. When a report is accepted, the DCF case is referred to the appropriate county office for investigation.
DCF Reports Are Confidential
All DCF reports and the information contained within them are confidential. This means that, with the exception of individuals authorized to access these reports, a person cannot automatically access DCF reports even if she believes her name has appeared in one. This includes those individuals who make the reports. The information collected and, if accepted, the official copy of the report, are only available to those authorized by law to view them.
Who Is Authorized to Access DCF Reports?
Under Florida law, only DCF agency employees, law enforcement officers and, in cases where they are involved, employees involved in the licensure of foster homes, childcare centers, domestic violence shelters and similar organizations may view the contents of a DCF case. When an individual or organization outside these entities, such as a child’s parent, needs to access confidential DCF records, she has to petition the court for a specific order.
Petition the Court for DCF Access
When an individual files a petition to make a confidential DCF case public record, she must provide information that demonstrates why it is necessary that the court allow her access to the documents. The court then carefully weighs that information against what it determines to be the child’s best interest, the child’s siblings’ best interests and the privacy rights of all other parties involved in the DCF case to determine whether to approve or deny the petition. Even when a DCF case is made public, the name of the person who originally made the report will not be made public in order to protect his privacy.
In cases involving an investigation of serious bodily injury to a child, a representative of the Department of Children and Families may file a petition for the immediate release of records pertaining to the investigation. Just like in other cases that make DCF records public, the court may redact personal identifying information in these reports when they are released. When filing this type of petition, DCF is required to serve the petition on the child’s parent or guardian, the child and the alleged abuser named in the report. The court then has only 24 hours to determine whether to release the records or not.
If the court approves a petition to make DCF records public, it may require that names and other specific information be redacted from the publicly available versions of the records. This information may be made public when the court determines that there is probable cause to believe the individual named in the report did, in fact, commit an act of child abuse, neglect or abandonment.
Make a Request for DCF Records Online
There are also other records that DCF handles, such as background screening information about individuals working in childcare and after-school programs. This information is public record. An individual searching for this information can file a request for public records through DCF’s website. Similarly, someone searching for information about registered sex offenders in Florida can access the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Sex Offender Registry through the DCF website.
You can contact the DCF Office of Communication by phone at 850-488-4855 with any questions.
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