Barahona child abuse allegations bring changes to Florida Department of Children and Families

Overhauls at state child welfare system

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - There were several lessons learned from one of the worst child abuse cases in recent state history. Nubia Barahona's body was found in the back of her father's pickup truck one year ago Tuesday. Her death came after years of unspeakable child abuse allegedly at the hands of her adoptive parents Jorge and Carmen Barahona. The case is leading to a major overhaul of the Department of Children and Families.

DCF administrators admit grave mistakes were made in the handling of the Barahona case; those mistakes revealed glaring problems within the agency. Changes are already in place to improve the system, and much more is planned, but solely dependent on the legislature and funding.

"It's a case that everyone in this department thinks about everyday. The secretary has a picture of Nubia on his desk in Tallahassee so he never forgets," says Dennis Miles, the Interim Regional Managing Director of the Southeast Region for DCF.

Adoptive parents Jorge and Carmen Barahona are accused of beating and torturing both Nubia and her twin brother Victor for years;  abuse that allegedly led to Nubia's death.

Out of this tragedy comes opportunity, opportunity for a better system. DCF has already hired 10 new investigators to lighten the case load.

"They're not overwhelmed because they're running 20-30 cases. They can really take that case and spend quality time to find what's happening in that case and what needs to happen," says Miles.

The case also showed serious communication flaws between welfare workers. 
 
"There were silos of information with different agencies and different people who had been involved in the case but they weren't always talking to each other," says Miles.

Miles says a hotline will help consolidate information to make family history much more accessible. In the meantime, two bills in Congress call for more efficiency in the investigative process, and less turnover.

"To be able to bring their salary up is critical to retention, to be able to create a career path to hold on to our best investigators is going to be tremendous," says Miles.

One bill also calls for 120 new hires statewide to further divide the workload and better serve the communities.
But that all depends on whether the legislature agrees, and if there's money available to fund it.

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