As communities struggle, DCF promotes Community of Hope

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- At the Edward Waters College campus, the Schell-Sweet center has become part of the Department of Children and Families initiative to reach struggling communities.

"It is very necessary," said Marie Heath,"our boots on the ground approach."

Heath runs the center and said the Community of Hope Project is working.

"We've been able to measure the unmet needs in the area," she said, "and develop programs to meet those needs on a weekly basis."

While the center has a number of programs for seniors, they target all age groups.

"We realize we cannot impact the senior community without taking care of the families," said Heath.

DCF's Community of Hope initiative targets the Northwest Quadrant where unemployment is high and three times as many children are removed from homes because of abuse or neglect.

"We just need to make sure that Duval County is aware that DCF is a boots on the ground organization," said Heath, "It is not just about taking kids out of families and putting them foster care. They are really making a significant effort of taking care of the family holistically."

John Harrell is spokesperson for the agency and said the annual report points out that its hope initiative is working

"What this does in a number of ways is make the community more aware," he said.

The report is full of highlights to reveal the program's integrity and its commitment to making communities safe and secure for children.

It states that DCF investigated 30,000 reports of child abuse and neglect in 2013.

"It has been pretty consistent with previous years," said Harrell.

But it also shows that only one out of every four cases are reported. Also under reported is the abuse, neglect and exploitation of vulnerable adults.

"Only about one in about 14 cases of adults being abuse neglected exploited ever get reported," said Harrell.

Which is true, but in 2013 there was a 6 percent increase in complaints of abuse against the elderly from the previous year.

DCF hopes the report, which is entitled "Moving forward with a purpose," will cast a light on the needs of the community.

Heath said it has in her area of service.

"I'm here to attest to the fact that they are doing more than child care prevention. They are actually taking care of families with children in the area," said Heath.

Harrell said DCF would like to get more communities and businesses involved in its Community of Hope projects and encourages more reporting of abuse by calling 1-800-962-2873.


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