BSO CPIS: PROTECTING BROWARD FAMILIES

One of my priorities as sheriff of Broward County has been to protect our county’s future, and that future rests in the lives - and in the hands - of today’s children. Neglect, abuse and the social and emotional well-being of our children is something I take very seriously. Unfortunately, Broward County ranks high among Florida counties for the number of monthly child abuse reports. Child abuse and neglect can be triggered by a persistent economic crisis and the increased stressors that come with it; however, there is no excuse for caregivers putting any child’s safety at risk.

For the past 14 years, the Broward Sheriff’s Office has assumed full responsibility for child abuse investigations in Broward County. Our Child Protective Investigations Section (CPIS) embraces this responsibility by collaborating with other law enforcement agencies, mental health, substance abuse and social services community partners.

In 2013, there were 14,150 Broward child abuse investigations - a slight increase from 2012. BSO CPIS also referred 1,100 families to dependency court to oversee families warranting child protective services last year. Domestic violence and substance abuse issues were the most prevalent factors in these cases. The majority of BSO CPIS investigations involved collaborations with multiple agencies to determine services and child safety options. BSO also embraces using less restrictive actions whenever possible. The agency referred another 1,400 families to family preservation programs under agreements with BSO to aid families and reduces child-welfare recidivism.

The additional funding from the state’s proposed 2014-15 budget, if adopted by the legislature, will enable BSO (and all Florida sheriffs’ offices) to improve the outcomes for the at-risk children with whom we work. The proposed budget commits more than $31 million for child protection services piloted by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and an additional $8 million to fund the sheriffs’ offices that conduct child protective services.

The safety of our county’s children and families is critically important, and this additional funding will allow CPIS to have resources that are vital to this essential task. Currently, BSO has 69 active investigators. The average caseload per investigator is approximately 22 cases, which is higher than the DCF-recommended maximum of 15 cases per investigator. BSO CPIS needs more eyes in the field, and we need to ensure our investigators have the tools they need to make better decisions for our families. This funding will not only put BSO within standard recommendations for best practices, but it will also greatly improve the outcomes for the at-risk children in our county.

Our entire community shares in the responsibility of protecting children who are often reluctant to come forward to report abuse for fear of retaliation. They sometimes feel helpless and without hope. It is up to us, the community, to ensure our children remain safe and protected. The Broward Sheriff’s Office embraces community prevention efforts. BSO CPIS directs our families with problems to get suitable help, treatment and services before family issues worsen and child harm results.

As of October 1, 2012, Florida law expanded and now requires any person who knows or has reasonable cause to suspect that any child is abused to report such knowledge or suspicion to the Florida Abuse Hotline: 1-800-96-ABUSE. CPIS can be contacted at: (954) 797-5299. If you see something, say something to your local law enforcement agency. All families deserve to live in communities with resources and information that provide safe and healthy experiences for our children.

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