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The Florida Statutes

The 2023 Florida Statutes (including Special Session C)

Title V
Chapter 39
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F.S. 39.302
39.302 Protective investigations of institutional child abuse, abandonment, or neglect.
(1) The department shall conduct a child protective investigation of each report of institutional child abuse, abandonment, or neglect. Upon receipt of a report that alleges that an employee or agent of the department, or any other entity or person covered by s. 39.01(36) or (54), acting in an official capacity, has committed an act of child abuse, abandonment, or neglect, the department shall initiate a child protective investigation within the timeframe established under s. 39.101(2) and notify the appropriate state attorney, law enforcement agency, and licensing agency, which shall immediately conduct a joint investigation, unless independent investigations are more feasible. When conducting investigations or having face-to-face interviews with the child, investigation visits shall be unannounced unless it is determined by the department or its agent that unannounced visits threaten the safety of the child. If a facility is exempt from licensing, the department shall inform the owner or operator of the facility of the report. Each agency conducting a joint investigation is entitled to full access to the information gathered by the department in the course of the investigation. A protective investigation must include an interview with the child’s parent or legal guardian. The department shall make a full written report to the state attorney within 3 business days after making the oral report. A criminal investigation shall be coordinated, whenever possible, with the child protective investigation of the department. Any interested person who has information regarding the offenses described in this subsection may forward a statement to the state attorney as to whether prosecution is warranted and appropriate. Within 15 days after the completion of the investigation, the state attorney shall report the findings to the department and shall include in the report a determination of whether or not prosecution is justified and appropriate in view of the circumstances of the specific case.
(2)(a) If in the course of the child protective investigation, the department finds that a subject of a report, by continued contact with children in care, constitutes a threatened harm to the physical health, mental health, or welfare of the children, the department may restrict a subject’s access to the children pending the outcome of the investigation. The department or its agent shall employ the least restrictive means necessary to safeguard the physical health, mental health, and welfare of the children in care. This authority shall apply only to child protective investigations in which there is some evidence that child abuse, abandonment, or neglect has occurred. A subject of a report whose access to children in care has been restricted is entitled to petition the circuit court for judicial review. The court shall enter written findings of fact based upon the preponderance of evidence that child abuse, abandonment, or neglect did occur and that the department’s restrictive action against a subject of the report was justified in order to safeguard the physical health, mental health, and welfare of the children in care. The restrictive action of the department shall be effective for no more than 90 days without a judicial finding supporting the actions of the department.
(b) During an investigation, the alleged perpetrator may be represented by an attorney, at his or her own expense, or may be accompanied by another person, if the attorney or the other person executes an affidavit of understanding with the department and agrees to comply with the confidentiality requirements under s. 39.202. The absence of an attorney or accompanying person does not prevent the department from proceeding with other aspects of the investigation, including interviews with other persons. In institutional child abuse, abandonment, or neglect cases when the institution is not operational and the child cannot otherwise be located, the investigation must commence immediately upon the institution resuming operation. If requested by a state attorney or local law enforcement agency, the department shall furnish all investigative reports to such state attorney or agency.
(c) Upon completion of the department’s child protective investigation, the department may make application to the circuit court for continued restrictive action against any person necessary to safeguard the physical health, mental health, and welfare of the children in care.
(3) Pursuant to the restrictive actions described in subsection (2), in cases of institutional abuse, abandonment, or neglect in which the removal of a subject of a report will result in the closure of the facility, and when requested by the owner of the facility, the department may provide appropriate personnel to assist in maintaining the operation of the facility. The department may provide assistance when it can be demonstrated by the owner that there are no reasonable alternatives to such action. The length of the assistance shall be agreed upon by the owner and the department; however, the assistance shall not be for longer than the course of the restrictive action imposed pursuant to subsection (2). The owner shall reimburse the department for the assistance of personnel provided.
(4) The department shall notify the Florida local advocacy council in the appropriate district of the department as to every report of institutional child abuse, abandonment, or neglect in the district in which a client of the department is alleged or shown to have been abused, abandoned, or neglected, which notification shall be made within 48 hours after the department commences its investigation.
(5) The department shall notify the state attorney and the appropriate law enforcement agency of any other child abuse, abandonment, or neglect case in which a criminal investigation is deemed appropriate by the department.
(6) In cases of institutional child abuse, abandonment, or neglect in which the multiplicity of reports of abuse, abandonment, or neglect or the severity of the allegations indicates the need for specialized investigation by the department in order to afford greater safeguards for the physical health, mental health, and welfare of the children in care, the department shall provide a team of persons specially trained in the areas of child abuse, abandonment, and neglect investigations, diagnosis, and treatment to assist the local office of the department in expediting its investigation and in making recommendations for restrictive actions and to assist in other ways deemed necessary by the department in order to carry out the provisions of this section. The specially trained team shall also provide assistance to any investigation of the allegations by local law enforcement and the Department of Law Enforcement.
(7) When an investigation of institutional abuse, neglect, or abandonment is closed and a person is not identified as a caregiver responsible for the abuse, neglect, or abandonment alleged in the report, the fact that the person is named in some capacity in the report may not be used in any way to adversely affect the interests of that person. This prohibition applies to any use of the information in employment screening, licensing, child placement, adoption, or any other decisions by a private adoption agency or a state agency or its contracted providers.
(a) However, if such a person is a licensee of the department and is named in any capacity in three or more reports within a 5-year period, the department may review those reports and determine whether the information contained in the reports is relevant for purposes of determining whether the person’s license should be renewed or revoked. If the information is relevant to the decision to renew or revoke the license, the department may rely on the information contained in the report in making that decision.
(b) Likewise, if a person is employed as a caregiver in a residential group home licensed under s. 409.175 and is named in any capacity in three or more reports within a 5-year period, the department may review all reports for the purposes of the employment screening required under s. 409.1415(2)(c).
History.s. 39, ch. 98-403; s. 8, ch. 99-168; s. 15, ch. 99-193; s. 42, ch. 2000-139; s. 7, ch. 2000-263; s. 3, ch. 2003-127; s. 3, ch. 2005-173; s. 30, ch. 2006-86; s. 7, ch. 2006-194; s. 26, ch. 2008-245; s. 7, ch. 2012-178; s. 51, ch. 2014-224; s. 6, ch. 2017-151; s. 3, ch. 2018-103; s. 14, ch. 2020-138; s. 4, ch. 2021-51; s. 9, ch. 2021-170.