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Child Abuse Hotline call dismissed before girl thrown off bridge

DCF: Dismissing call was deadly mistake

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The head of the Department of Children and Families made his first appearance before a Senate oversight committee since a 5-year-old was thrown off a bridge by her distraught father. Senators were told a different response to a hotline call could have dramatically changed the outcome that day two weeks ago.

It's unclear if the House Committee will take up the Jonchuck case at it's next meeting, but the chairwoman promised to dedicate a full meeting to probe the death of 5-year-old Phoebe Jonchuck in the near future.

Nearly half a million times a year the phone rings at the Child Abuse Hotline. Just over half the calls are accepted.

Two weeks ago it rang with concerns, even fear, for the safety of Phoebe. Instead of triggering an investigation, which would have required an in-person interview within four hours, the call was dismissed.

DCF Secretary Mike Carroll told a Senate oversight panel that dismissing the call was a deadly mistake.

"I listened to the call, personally, a couple of times," Carroll said. "In my gut, I said, 'For the life of me I don't understand why we screened this call out."

While Carroll thought the call should have been accepted, he met with those who made the decision.

"It became clear that folks who worked on this struggled with it. But they really believed they followed the protocol in place as they thought it was dictated," Carroll said.

After the explanation, Carroll immediately changed criteria for accepting abuse complaints. Senators praised his response.

"Sometimes you do everything right and you still get a bad result, and that's going to happen," said Sen. Nancy Detert.

Across the Capitol, Carroll spent two hours before the House oversight Committee, where not one question about the Jonchuck case was even asked. News4Jax asked the chairwoman why.

"I'm waiting to see what the report comes out," said Rep Gayle Harrell. "I don't want to rush to judgment till I get that SERT report."

The House Committee meets again the first week of February.

It's unclear if the House Committee will take up the Jonchuck case at it's next meeting, but the Chairwoman promises to dedicate a full meeting to probe the death of Phoebe Jonchuck in the near future.

The full report on DCF's involvement Jonchuck family won't be ready for about two more weeks.