Child abuse reports rise in South Florida

South Florida has seen a rise in child-abuse cases and officials are calling for more awareness after a year in which the state’s social service agency has investigated some gruesome ones.

In Broward County, cases rose to 15,748 in 2010, compared with 14,876 the year before, according to the state Department of Children & Families. In Palm Beach County, cases rose to 12,183 — up from 11,947 the previous year.

“You’ll see a lot of domestic violence,” DCF spokesman Mark Riordan said. “That’s where the cycle is perpetuated. It’s a learned response.”

Despite increases, DCF officials attribute part of the rise to differences in their reporting system, which now assigns investigators to cases that aren’t necessarily neglect or abuse. Cases now can include the power going out at a home because parents failed to pay the power bill, Riordan said.

Experts say it’s things such as a pile of unpaid bills because of a poor economy that can lead parents to excess stress and child abuse.

“Everything depends on the person and how they are able to cope with stress,” said Suzanne Guyette, director of the social services hotline 211 in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast. “There are always places like 211 you can call if you’re worried about becoming a victim or worried you might become an abuser.”

The hotline got 831 calls in 2010 related to child abuse and neglect, up from 327 calls in 2006.

“It’s almost exploding, the amount of domestic violence,” said Monica King of the Broward County Children’s Services Council. “There are parents who lack some basic skills and they are put in a position where they have to rely on caretakers and are not doing some of the basic checks like ‘Who is this person?'”

Despite the rise in abuse reports, the DCF removed fewer children from homes.

In Broward County, 1,504 children were placed in foster care in 2010, down from 1,915 in 2006. In Palm Beach County, 856 children were placed into foster care, down from 1,507 children during the same time frame, records show.

When DCF investigators “determine that the family dynamic is suitable, we will allow children to remain in the home,” Riordan said. He stressed, though, “that we must deem the situation safe.”

Cases of child abuse and neglect were among some of the most heinous crimes in 2010. Murder-suicides also contributed to domestic crimes.

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