Hotline Lapses Found in Jonchuck Case
After John Jonchuck was accused of throwing his 5-year-old daughter Phoebe off a Pinellas County bridge last month, The Florida Department of Children and Families deployed a Critical Incident Rapid Response Team to investigate the agency's handling of the case.
According to the official report released Monday, the agency could have done a better job to protect Phoebe from her tragic death.
The report indicates that DCF abuse hotline officials failed to follow-up on two calls they received about potential harm to Phoebe. The first one, received in December, was screened out because the counselor who got the phone call was unable to verify Jonchuck's address and closed the case for that reason. According to the report, this was a violation of Florida Abuse Hotline protocol.
The second call was placed Jan. 7, the day before Phoebe died. It was screened out because standards for dealing with caregivers experiencing mental health issues weren't clear. The counselor who took the call reviewed guidelines and concluded that criteria to assign an investigators were not met. That decision was influenced by the caller reporting that Phoebe was with her step-grandmother and not with her father, John Jonchuck.
The report noted there was no recent evidence that John Jonchuck was experiencing significant mental health issues prior to January 7 and that "predicting the extreme events that manifested in the hours leading up to Phoebe’s death would have been virtually impossible."
As a result of this case, DCF has added new questions to its hotline screening process to better evaluate calls. Also, protocol now requires immediate investigation of situations in which a caregiver may be experiencing a psychotic episode.
Megan Milanese is a reporter with WUSF in Tampa. WUSF is a partner with Health News Florida, which receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.