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Child Abuse

Florida Statutes, Chapter 39 is the law on “proceedings relating to children.” Three areas of concern are identified in the statute: child abuse, child abandonment or neglect of a child. Often the legal definitions can be confusing to the public and child service agencies are bound by confidentiality in specific cases.

A common statement one hears frequently is: “It has gotten to where you can’t spank your child.” In all fairness, there has been some confusion in law as to what is defined as discipline and there are many questions. Florida Statutes, Chapter 39.01 (2) does specifically state that, “Corporal discipline of a child by a parent or legal custodian for disciplinary purposes does not in itself constitute abuse when it does not result in harm to the child.” So the questions to consider are: Is the discipline using only the hand or does it include using a belt, switch, or hair brush? What is the nature and extent of the injury, if any? Is the discipline the same as an angry attack? Were there resulting marks or bruises? Were these bruises or marks significant?

As to the issue of abandonment, another common statement is “I only left my child with grandparent/friend while I was having financial hardship.” Did the parent leave the third party authorization to address the child’s school and medical concerns? Has the parent made any financial contributions to the child’s care? How long is the child left with relatives or friends? Did the parent maintain a substantial and positive relationship with the child?

“I just left a few dirty dishes in the sink.” This is a question of neglect. Most often people think of failure to provide adequate food and shelter but neglect is not just a dirty house. Does the child have sufficient food? Does the child have adequate clothing? If not, was the parent offered and declined related social services? Has this deprivation caused the child’s development to be impaired? Has the parent provided medical and dental care? Is the child missing numerous days of school because of the inability of the parents to provide care?

Child abuse is sometimes a difficult topic to discuss but it is critical for the community to be aware of the issues. To report abuse call 1-800-96-ABUSE.

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When the Florida court decides on the issue of child custody and visitation, the gender of the parents is not considered. For example, a mother will not automatically receive custody of the children just because she is the mother. The judge must only consider what is in the best interests of the child. Florida divorce law requires Shared Parental Responsibility. This means that even though the child may live with one parent, the other parent has equal say in raising the child. Each party must be consulted on the education, health, religion, and discipline of the child. And, if the parties cannot agree on these important issues, the judge will make the decisions.
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