What is FCA?

Child Advocacy Blog


Florida Department of Children & Families & The Legacy of Nubia Barahona: When Warning Signs Must Be Taken Seriously

By Gloria W. Fletcher, Esq.

The South Florida murder case of Nubia Barahona had warning signs all over it. School teachers reported a thin, hungry child with a sickly appearance and who hoarded food. Social workers noted how the family rarely let them see Nubia and her twin brother, Victor.

In the end, Nubia was killed, her brother allegedly tortured – and both became the subjects of reports by commissions and blue ribbon committees. Their adoptive parents, Jorge and Carmen Barahona, stand accused of the horrific crimes.

The lessons made clear from the reports and committees and commissions: Warning signs were overlooked and opportunities were lost to save these two children.

The importance of taking seriously the warning signs offered by those charged with caring for these kids can never be overstated. We implore school teachers to speak up and report puzzling behavior or troubling signs. We expect social workers and investigators who visit the homes of foster or adopted children to report their findings back to their superiors.

The case of the Barahona twins rose to the highest South Florida ranks of the Florida Department of Children and Families. Its Miami director, Jacqui Colyer, retired from her post. Three DCF workers were either fired or resigned. Colyer and four others were reprimanded for their handling of the Barahona case.

Soon after the Barahona case emerged, DCF put in place 19 short-term changes to improve the safety of children under its care. These included new procedures for hotline workers, as well as DCF working more closely on investigations with law enforcement. The changes followed a report released from a Miami-Dade County grand jury that found DCF missed signs of abuse in the case, placed too much trust in the adoptive parents and failed to communicate effectively with child abuse investigators, according to news reports.

Then last month, the Florida Legislature responded by voting to limit executive salaries at “community based care agencies” paid by the state to ensure these children’s welfare.

“Heads rolling” and fee cuts won’t bring Nubia back; it won’t spare Victor a lifetime of horrific memories.

We can have countless “safeguards” in place. But they only work if people listen. Kids and adults in charge have to be heard.

Leave a Reply