Florida Child Welfare Investigators Criticized for Incompetance

Filed under: In The News

Credit: Corbis

Say you're a child welfare investigator.

You get numerous reports that children in a particular family are being abused. Most recently, you hear they are being tied up and confined to a bathtub.

How can you tell if these allegations are true?

This is where your skill, training and experience as a professional investigator comes in. You go to the house and ask the parents if they are abusing their children. They say no.

And that's that. Case closed. No need to see the children. Why would their parents lie?

Being an investigator always looks so tough on TV. But it's really quite simple -- at least if you work for the Florida Department of Children and Families.

The Miami Herald reports caseworkers for the department are coming under fire for being Florida's answer to the Keystone Kops. A Miami grand jury released a report July 25 accusing investigators of "a persistent, insidious bias of trust" in responding to numerous complaints that a couple was abusing their adopted twin children.

One of the twins, 10-year-old Nubia Barahona, died -- allegedly due to abuse and neglect at the hands of her adoptive parents, Jorge and Carmen Barahona.

While the Barahonas stand trail for murder, many fingers are pointing at child welfare investigators. One of the investigators went to the Barahona house Feb. 10 after hearing the children were tied up in the bathtub. She left without physically checking on the children, taking the parents' word that everything was all right.

"Were Nubia and [her brother] Victor in the house tied up in that bathtub at that very moment?" the Miami Herald quotes from the grand jury's 25-page report. "We will never know."

Four days after the abuse report was filed, the Herald reports Jorge Barahona was found passed out next to his pickup truck along Interstate 95 in West Palm Beach. Nubia's decomposing body was in a garbage bag in the flatbed. Her twin, Victor, had allegedly been doused with deadly chemicals and was slouched in the cab.

Prosecutors say the couple kept the twins bound in the bathroom of their West Miami-Dade home for months, beating and starving them. The Barahonas were indicted on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse and neglect for Nubia's death and her brother's alleged abuse. They both face the death penalty.

As a result of the crime, the Herald reports, the Department of Children and Families is revamping its abuse hotline, hiring more investigators and and improving relationships with law enforcement agencies and other community groups.

"We appreciate the hard work and effort that the grand jury put into their report and recommendations. The tragic death of Nubia affected everyone in our community," the Herald quotes from a prepared statement from department spokesman Lissette Valdes-Valle.

"We are thoroughly reviewing the Grand Jury's recommendations in order to see what supplemental actions we can incorporate to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring in the future."

The grand jury listed numerous red flags from the twins' foster care records and asked: "How could anyone have missed the looming disaster if they had read all of this information in one place and at one time?"

"Patterns were still recognizable early on, and increasingly, as time went by," the report goes on. "Immediately prior to the finalization of the adoption, alarm bells should have been going off for all to hear."

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.