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Florida lawmakers question training, supervision at DCF

DCF acknowledges missed opportunities to save girl thrown off bridge

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Lawmakers are questioning training and supervision at the state's child abuse hotline after the Florida Department of Children and Families acknowledged that it missed at least two opportunities to save a 5-year-old girl who was thrown off a bridge by her troubled father.

DCF is now questioning how it handled two hotline calls and its interaction with the Jonchuck family.

The state spends $18 million a year operating the child abuse hotline, but two calls warning of danger to 5-year-old Phoebe Jonchuck one week before her death weren't taken seriously.

DCF Secretary Mike Carroll acknowledged the second call in a meeting with lawmakers.

"In hindsight, looking at those calls, we probably should have accepted them both and we should have initiated an investigation on (the) dad," Carroll said.

Lawmakers with oversight praise the agency for its transparency in the death investigation, but they say the missed calls raise serious questions about training at the hotline.

"What are the qualifications to be on the hotline? What's the training? Who's answering the phones?" asked Sen. Eleanor Sobel.

"What training do you think was lacking at the hotline?" asked reporter Mike Vasilinda.

"I don't know, and I think the secretary realized that and he's already instituted some changes," said Rep. Gayle Harrell.

A full report on the days, weeks and months leading up to Phoebe's death is due Monday.

Carroll told lawmakers that not only did his agency mishandle the calls, it also failed to assess the danger and provide services.

"Dad was allowed custody of that child and there were really no services put in place for that child, so you are going to see that's going to be a finding, too," Carroll said.

Records released by DCF show that in 2012, child protective investigators knew the family had trouble and did nothing.

The report on Phoebe's death is required under a law passed last year. The report will contain a full history of the state's contact with the family -- what it did right or wrong and the redacted calls made to the abuse hotline.