JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- This week, as chilling testimony in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case gets underway, here in Florida the Department of Children and Families is busily preparing for a new law to go into effect.
Come October, Florida will have one of the toughest child abuse reporting laws in the nation.
"What we're saying to the public is - if you suspect a child is being abused or neglected by anybody contact us," said DCF spokesman John Harrell.
Current state law only requires mandatory reporting of child abuse if the abuser is a parent or a caregiver. But once the "Protection of Vulnerable Persons" law takes effect, DCF will be able to get involved no matter who the suspect may be. The agency is projecting this new flexibility will spur a major influx of calls to their abuse hotline.
"Based on our research, with this new law we're expecting about 30,000 more calls," Harrell said.
The DCF abuse hotline already gets approximately 400,000 calls a year. To handle the increase, the agency is hiring 47 additional staffers statewide.
The new law will also strengthen penalties, from a misdemeanor to a third-degree felony, for those who knowingly fail to report child abuse.
State universities and colleges could face a $1 million fine.
"All these changes are going to help keep children safer in this state," said Harrell.
According to Harrell, the majority of child abuse cases nationwide go unreported.
If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected you can report it by calling DCF's hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE. You can also submit an online report at www.dcf.state.fl.us.