The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) is the state agency that 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.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
You can contact the DCF Office of Communication by phone at 850-488-4855 with any questions.
Role of the Florida DCF
The DCF is responsible for child welfare and ensuring that children statewide are safe and well cared for. It delivers foster care and related child welfare services. Floridians who are concerned about a child can contact the DCF to report abuse. Some people, like doctors, teachers and child care workers are required by law to report their concerns to the DCF. Reports can be made to the DCF's Florida Abuse Hotline by phone or online 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The DCF also oversees the Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health to provide training, technical assistance and resources to the public and to health services providers.
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 caregivers and 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 the state of Florida can access the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Sex Offender Registry through the DCF website.
- Florida Department of Children and Families
- FDLE: Sex Offender Registry
- Florida Department of Children and Families: What Is a Public Record?
- Florida Statutes: 39.202
- Florida Health: Substance Abuse
- One Tough Job: Keeping the Kids Safe
- Fostering Champs: Child and Family Services Plan 2020 – 2024 - CHAMPS
- You can contact the DCF Office of Communication by phone at 850-488-4855 with any questions.
Lindsay Kramer is a freelance writer and editor who has been working in the legal niche since 2012. Her primary focus areas within this niche are family law and personal injury law. Lindsay works closely with a few legal marketing agencies, providing blog posts, website content and marketing materials to law firms across the United States.