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Beating death of 3-year-old shines light on child abuse in the Big Bend

Posted at 5:15 PM, Oct 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-22 17:16:03-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — The woman accused of murdering a 3-year-old Tallahassee boy is staying in jail after a judge found probable cause for both child abuse and murder charges.

The charges facing 23-year-old Te'Lea Jefferson speak to a bigger issue in Tallahassee: Child abuse.

Sadly, the Children's Home Society says it's a problem that's only getting worse with the pandemic.

Documents say Jefferson confessed to beating 3-year-old, Miguel to death with a tire iron on Monday. While these circumstances are rare, calls of child abuse in Tallahassee are not.

"We are currently appointed to 700 children in six counties," said Deborah Moore, the Circuit Director of the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program.

The Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program covers the entire Big Bend area.

Courts may assign representatives from the Guardian ad Litem Program to children after independent investigations by the Department of Children and Families.

Along with community volunteers, they gather info for the child and help decide what step is best for them, whether it's with family members or foster care.

"It's different for each child, but many experience abuse and neglect and consequently have experienced trauma," Moore said.

Miguel's older brother, who's 6 years old, went with DCF after investigators found older signs of bruising and scars on Miguel.

Officers say Jefferson admitted she hit both boys.

"It would be nice to think that child abuse was on the decrease but that's simply not the case, particularly since we've been in this pandemic, since mid-March," said Cecka Green, the regional executive director of Children's Home Society of the Big Bend."

The Children's Home Society handles case management, foster care, and operates a child protection team.

Before the pandemic began, Green said they received 15,000 to 20,000 calls a month. Now, they're only seeing about 3,000 calls a month.

Green says that's partially due to fewer eyes and ears being able to report abuse.

"Now we're in a space where many children are home doing hybrid, and more opportunities for frustrations to arise," Green said.

Green says if you see a child thinning, has bruises, or flinches at their name or touch, call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1- 800-96-ABUSE.