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DCF Abuse Hotline Refused 2 Calls Before Phoebe Jonchuck Was Thrown Off Bridge

| February 4, 2015

John Jonchuck, 25, threw his daughter Phoebe off the

John Jonchuck, 25, threw his daughter Phoebe off the Dick Misener Bridge in St. Petersburg on Jan. 8, killing her.

The secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families told lawmakers Wednesday that the state abuse hotline screened out not one but two calls about potential danger to 5-year-old Phoebe Jonchuck — with the first call a week before her death in the waters of Tampa Bay.

Details of one call about the actions of John Jonchuck, Phoebe’s father, had already been known. But Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll said an upcoming report will also show that the hotline did not act on the earlier call. John Jonchuck was charged with dropping his daughter off a bridge last month.

“In hindsight, looking at those calls, we probably should have accepted them both, and we should have initiated an investigation on (John Jonchuck),” Carroll told the House Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee. “The report will find that.”

Carroll sent what is known as a Critical Incident Rapid Response Team to Tampa. The teams were created last year when, following a wave of child deaths, the Legislature passed a sweeping reform law aimed at strengthening accountability measures at the Department of Children and Families. Legally, the report of the team investigating Phoebe’s death is due within 30 days — and Carroll told the committee it would be ready by Monday at the latest.

He also acknowledged the report would reflect poorly on his agency, which had compiled an extensive file on the Jonchuck family before the tragedy.

“It does appear that we had issues with our assessment of that case, and (the) dad was allowed custody of that child, and there were really no services put in place for that child,” Carroll said.

The context for the secretary’s remarks was a discussion of transparency in reviewing child deaths — following months of controversy over the state’s procedure for conducting reviews under the new law.

Subcommittee Chairwoman Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, has predicted further legislation regarding the death reviews in the upcoming session. And she vowed Wednesday to shine a “beam of transparency” on the death-review process.

“The fact that Florida has such a high number of child deaths is absolutely appalling to me and to every member of this committee and to the Florida Legislature,” Harrell said. “We are doing everything we can to prevent child deaths. …We want transparency in our system.”

The state abuse hotline screened out a call from John Jonchuck’s lawyer the day before Jonchuck allegedly dropped his daughter from the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. On Jan. 7, the lawyer called to warn that Jonchuck was “driving all over town in his pajamas with Phoebe” and “seems depressed and delusional.” For whatever reason, the message was not deemed urgent.

In the shock that followed the girl’s death, Carroll changed a hotline protocol to require an immediate response when a case involves a potential mental health crisis. That response would include a report to law enforcement and a face-to-face contact within four hours.

But the existence of an earlier call, made with days to spare before Jonchuck’s drive to the bridge, promises to roil the case anew.

The report of the Critical Incident Rapid Response Team is expected to examine the case in every respect. The team is comprised of experts in a variety of fields, including law enforcement, substance abuse, mental health and domestic violence — all of which appear to be relevant to Phoebe’s death.

John Jonchuck had a lengthy arrest record, including multiple arrests for domestic violence, stalking and battery on Michelle Kerr, Phoebe’s mother, and one for battery on his own mother, Michele Johnchuck. He was also arrested for driving under the influence in 2013. Additionally, DCF records show that in 2012, child-protective investigators examined charges that Jonchuck had choked Kerr, struck Phoebe and used the drug crystal meth.

“(Jonchuck) has a criminal history that includes charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, larceny and multiple domestic-violence charges,” noted the investigator’s report. “The mother indicated on the last report that there had been domestic violence between her and the father.”

But the investigation concluded that “the updated risk assessment for signs of present danger is low.”

Carroll told the House panel that the factors troubling Phoebe’s family were endemic to the child-protection system.

“These issues go back generationally,” he said. “What we need to do is move our battle upstream. We need to do a better job at dealing with young folks who have substance-abuse and mental-health issues — even before they become parents. Because a young man who has a substance-abuse issue, I’ll guarantee you, is going to become a parent. And then he’s going to have a young baby in his care. And that baby is at the highest risk.”

–Margie Menzel, News Service of Florida

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26 Responses for “DCF Abuse Hotline Refused 2 Calls Before Phoebe Jonchuck Was Thrown Off Bridge”

  1. confidential says:

    Awful tragic sad end of a gorgeous and innocent child! The Florida Children Welfare is a joke!

  2. confidential says:

    How much of our taxes go to pay these children program administrators high compensations and all their red tape instead of paying for rapid and effective response to protect the children? We may be shocked to learn.

  3. Bethechange says:

    WHY does it seem harder to adopt an animal from the humane society than to be granted the ‘right’ of parenthood. Parenting has been the most amazing journey of my life. And providing for all the needs of precious life is often challenging. Why is it that our society can’t resign itself to the fact that some are not up to the challenge? It perpetuates the suffering of the innocent. Farbeit for me to deny anyone their rights, but would it really offend one’s Constitutional sense to consider measures; education, early childhood workshop, anything that puts pregnant couples to the test before custody is granted? I see the suffering every day and the band-aid, after-the-fact approach is simply not good enough. Also wondering exactly WHERE on the mentally ‘ill’ spectrum this guy is. Like the depressed end, or the sociopathic end? Look closely at Phoebe’s face in the picture and see if you can wrap your brain around it.

  4. Livesinpalmcoast says:

    Wow, that is all I have to say! Dcf is a joke…..this is so sad.

  5. PeachesMcGee says:

    Children are not disposable.

    • Ken Dodge says:

      Children are not disposable? Are you speaking of pre-, or post- Roe v. Wade?

      • Nancy N says:

        That’s a typical conservative GOP attitude to bring abortion into an issue like this. A large part of the problem in this situation is that the current GOP leadership – which is writing our state’s budgets – is more concerned with getting children born than with what happens to them AFTER they are born. The GOP and its supporters scream loudly about stopping abortion, but have no interest in having their taxes pay for services to protect those babies once they leave the womb.

        Our social responsibility to protect the vulnerable doesn’t begin and end at the womb. Here’s a crazy idea – how about spending more time worrying about what is happening to the kids in our communities, and less time worrying about the reproductive organs of women?

        • Obama 2015 says:

          These conservatives are really something, aren’t they? They’re all in favor of the unborn. They will do anything for the unborn. But once you’re born, you’re on your own. Pro-life conservatives are obsessed with the fetus from conception to nine months. After that, they don’t want to know about you. They don’t want to hear from you. No nothing. No neonatal care, no day care, no head start, no school lunch, no food stamps, no welfare, no nothing. If you’re preborn, you’re fine; if you’re preschool, you’re f**ked.”

          Conservatives don’t care about you until you reach military age. Then you’re just what they’re looking for. Conservatives want live babies so they can raise them to be dead soldiers.

          George Carlin..

  6. Nalla C. says:

    I think I’m not the only one to mention before today that the biggest issue DCF faces is “not enough resources to properly do their jobs”. It may have some overpaid higher-ups. That’s happening all over, not just at DCF. But dammit, when do we get it through our heads that the “little people” do the actual work and there are simply not enough of them to do what is necessary here when it becomes necessary, because we are literally starving our government of revenue? This is a serious, common end result and it will continue until we wake up and start pushing back on these “Government BAD” people. Innocent children will continue to DIE.

  7. Matthew says:

    Tragic, to her and how denying two calls could easily save a life but denied in a tragic, yet sorrowful ending.

  8. m&m says:

    DCF must have lost her as they have so many times in the past with other children. They are a disgrace to children and families and should be disbanded or be charged with assisting in murder.

  9. Sherry Epley says:

    The Funding Cuts, by our present administration, for this department, however, are NO joke! This from First Coast News:

    DCF’s budget is down around $20 million from last year alone, and more than 70 positions were cut.

    So Jacobo asked the Governor to put that money back and assign two case workers to families in crisis and reduce the caseload of child protective investigators.

    “Our investigators, by nature, are sensitive people. They care deeply about helping, about stopping abuse and neglect. They’re very devoted to their jobs, and they work hard and long hours,” Harrell said.

    The changes to the caseload and procedure are drastic and would cost money.

    Harrell says he’s not sure they’ll be able to get the money.

    The Governor’s office refused to comment on the specifics of his proposed budget, which isn’t due out for another month.

  10. beachbum says:

    Having never had to deal with, or depend on, DCF, I must speak in their defense. It’s so easy to place blame in the hindsight of a tragedy, especially when that tragedy involves the death of a child. I’m sure that somewhere down the line, someone didn’t do what they were supposed to do on that given, pivotal day at that given, pivotal moment. HOWEVER, when will our society hold women responsible for family planning, choosing a respectable, capable father for their children, and raising them without the assistance of our government agencies? We are supposed to birth, nurture, educate and protect our children, not depend on a stranger at the other of the phone to do so. The blame here lies with Phoebe’s family, harsh as that may be. May this child’s soul now be at peace. The look on her face in this photo is so haunting; I’ve no doubt her life was one nightmare blending in with another. Praying for her eternal comfort….and that she left behind no siblings that are still living the horror.

  11. confidential says:

    @Sherry not enough money for DCF in Florida right..?Then why don’t you ask your Governor to Stop giving our taxes to the wealthy like the France’s of Nascar and the Aronson’s in Miami Caribbean Cruises and Dolphins Stadium owners, et etc. We sure pay good taxes for the services we do not get…like billions in useless foreign aid and foreign wars maam and tax loops to the wealthy…then of course not enough for the children after DCF administrators juice compensations.
    My heart just cries for the horror this innocent girl was put thru…so please do not defend the culprits!

    • yota says:

      I agree with that Confidential if it was one of DCF family member or friend that father would of had supervised visitation at the least if at all. And the response would of been protective custody for the child.
      Unbelievable response by DCF. I think police should have more authority to intervene when Such red flags are raised. Don’t tie the police up in regulation they are there to serve and protect.

  12. confidential says:

    As a western and supposedly civilized society on the #1 country of this word, we also have the responsibility to protect all our children or we become insensible political justifiers for this unspeakable crimes against our children no better than overseas fanatics.

  13. My O My says:

    What a beautiful little girl. Someone should be held accountable. Why have DCF if we are constantly going to read about how they fail? I would like to see some figures of what those those that head up and work for this outfit are paid. Maybe it needs to be dissolved and something better needs to be put into place to protect children. This little girl’s life could have been spared. May she rest in peace.

    • Enlightened says:

      I have personally made a call to DCF. They did respond, but the family is given advance warning that they are coming, thus giving them time to prepare. This is such a joke. Needless to say, the family is still getting away with being incompetent parents. I feel deeply troubled by the actions of some adults who thing of children as things instead of individuals. Their actions speak louder than anything. DCF will be back and hopefully take care of this problem. Meanwhile, I keep praying that there is not another incident where these children are left alone.

  14. m&m says:

    Sherry The little girl was murdered and DCF is responsible. Don’t try to throw the blame somewhere else.

  15. Sherry Epley says:

    Dear “confidential” . . . I couldn’t agree with you more about a governor and legislature that is so inhumane and corrupt, I am embarrassed to be a Florida native and now currently living here again. Rick Scott is most certainly not MY governor! While I tried to point out the problem with budget cut backs to the DCF and how it actually takes money to fund those services, somehow my post was misunderstood. . . SORRY!

    @m&m. . . just how in the world can anyone expect the DCF to provide quality services with such severe budget cut backs? It all begins FUNDING and putting in place great management and people from a decent governor and legislature that is dedicated to protecting children, the disenfranchised, the elderly. . . unfortunately that is certainly NOT the governor or legislature we currently have in Florida! Don’t blame the case workers. . . who are clearly struggling with their extremely limited resources. . . this is a “top down” problem! And the top is none other than Rick Scott!

  16. hello says:

    blame the people that make false reports, thats why nothing is taken seriously anymore. I wonder how those people sleep at night.

  17. Sherry Epley says:

    Right on Nalla C . . . and Nancy N!

    It’s incredibly hypocritical and unreasonable that “conservative” political forces are doing every thing they can to chip away at women’s rights to control her own body and to keep her reproductive choices limited/controlled by the “big bad government” they say they are against.

    YET. . . once a child is born (sometimes come hell or high water), they do NOT want “their” tax dollars used to support/protect/benefit that child in any way! Then on top of it all. . . comes the disparaging remarks about how those who are not perfect parents are the “TAKERS” and should be held totally responsible for their situation. . . without any government assistance what so ever. Once that life is out of the womb, does it no longer matter?

  18. confidential says:

    Now you are talking Sherry and clarifying you position.
    Often I think that DCF high paid administrators positions should be terminated and use those funds instead to fund a 503C non profit all volunteer organization to run our DCF organization for a while and see if materializes some improvement. I see locally even our Rescue and Humane Societies are managed better than our DCF program, probably full of wasteful red tape and corporate government political bureaucracy. Look at those local volunteers doing a compassionate work in the local rescues, Humane Societies and hospital. Probably they will excel and won’t mind to be part of saving children lives too. Just put the DCF costly budget that we taxpayers fund, to really work for the children of Florida, once and for all.

  19. Nalla C. says:

    Though I agree with cutting back those “administrator salaries” at the top of ANY government agency, particularly DCF–“volunteerism” is NOT the answer.

    No, no, no, no, NO. That’s largely what you have now–people doing this unbelievably gut-wrenching, heartbreaking work for pitiful salaries, and doing it on what amounts to “skeleton staffs”.

    It’s ridiculous. Sometimes, Government IS The Answer. Pay these counselors what they are worth, hire enough of them to do what needs to be done, and LET THEM DO THEIR JOBS. My God, how much simpler can this possibly be?

  20. Sherry Epley says:

    Right On Nalla C! No volunteer on earth has the background in professional social work to do these jobs well. Professionals need to be hired, paid a decent wage, and appreciated for their much needed services.

    The real problem is that our current, inhumane, administration has other ideas on how to spend our tax money:

    She said sarcastically: It’s so much more important and beneficial to our citizens to cut taxes for the 1% and fund the sports teams! Anyone getting rich off that “trickle down” out there?? Why not beg a little harder for those minimum wage, tourist serving jobs?

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