Crimes against children are on the rise nationwide. Researchers say serious injuries due to abuse have been on the steady increase for more than a decade. But what do those numbers mean for the panhandle?
The Department of Children and families says here in their 14th circuit (Bay, Gulf, Washington, Calhoun, Jackson and Holmes county). The number of reported cases are high - very high. But they say the numbers don't tell the whole story.
Courtney Peel with DCF says their cause is a noble one.
"Support the victim of domestic violence and hold the batterer accountable," Peel said.
It's a task that has become even more important nowadays. A recently published study from the American Academy of Pediatrics says child abuse is on a small yet steady increase nationwide. Hospitalization among children has risen nearly 5% in the past 12 years.
The 14th Circuit is also seeing a high number of reported cases as well.
"Circuit 14, here in Bay County specifically, has one of the highest reporting rates in the state of Florida based on population," Peel said.
Statistics from DCF show 300 reports of abuse in August alone, and 3,000 reports between January and August of 2012. DCF supervisor Jerry Corley says you have to look beyond the numbers.
"It's a good thing in the sense that we've got a community of professionals that are watching out for the children and being eyes and ears for those who are vulnerable and can't report themselves," Corley said.
Those eyes and ears have to be even sharper, as conditions in the home and economy worsen.
"High unemployment, not a lot of support systems in the family like we had years ago," Corley said.
"Substance abuse locally is our highest maltreatment," Peel said. "We're seeing meth, synthetic drugs, prescription medication."
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, but current conditions and statistics suggest that your awareness should go beyond those 30 days.
"Don't let the concern or fear of what will happen to you get in the way of what might happen to the child," Peel said.
Peel says a new law came into effect Monday that will make not reporting a known abuse a 3rd degree felony. So now, not only can your conscience be compromised, but so can your legal status.
If you know of abuse going on in a home, contact the Florida Abuse Hotline (http://www.myflfamilies.com/service-programs/abuse-hotline) at 1-800-962-2873. By law, your call will remain confidential.