Every Florida child advocate and child abuse lawyer is watching the case of John Jonchuck, the man accused of tossing his daughter over a bridge into Tampa Bay. The latest news revealed that the Florida child abuse hotline created to protect at-risk children from reported abuse ignored at least two calls seeking to warn the Florida Department of Children and Families about potential abuse in the household of Phoebe Jonchuck. The young girl allegedly was later thrown by her father off a bridge and into Tampa Bay.
The admission came from Mike Carroll, the secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families. He was speaking to Florida lawmakers this week about DCF’s actions leading up to and following the alleged incident by Phoebe’s father, John Jonchuck.
“In hindsight, looking at those calls, we probably should have accepted them both, and we should have initiated an investigation on (John Jonchuck),” said Secretary Carroll. He was speaking to the Florida House Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee. “The report will find that.”
The hotline (1-800-962-2873) was created to field calls about neglect, abuse or abandonment to Florida children.
Carroll’s admissions came as legislators continue to seek ways to improve the actions and transparency of the state’s child welfare system. Laws passed last year, including the creation of a rapid response team that will report on DCF actions in cases like that of Phoebe Jonchuck, were created to increase transparency and accountability in the system.
The hope now is that the team’s report will not only acknowledge failures – something Secretary Carroll already has said the report likely will reveal – but highlight areas of improvement.
Florida lawmakers have made significant, laudable strides in improving how Florida agencies protect and care for our at-risk children. For his part, Secretary Carroll in the aftermath of Phoebe’s death revised the hotline protocols to now require action when a mental health issue or crisis has been reported.
There should be few surprises in the report, except for the number of clues missed along the way. According to news reports, John Jonchuck had run-ins with the law, including domestic abuse in the past. One of the hotline calls was from his attorney warning authorities that he was acting irrationally.
Every child’s death under DCF care is a tragedy. One can only hope that Phoebe’s death will spark continued pursuit of improving systems already in place to protect other kids under state care – and prevent such tragedies from happening again.