On Monday, DCF announced the firing of two people and reprimanded five more — including Miami’s top DCF administrator — in the wake of Nubia’s death in the Barahona abuse case.
A fund has been established by the United Way of Miami-Dade to accept donations for Nubia’s three surviving siblings, including twin brother Victor. Donations may be made by check or online.
Checks should be made payable to the Nubia Memorial Fund and either mailed or dropped off at the United Way of Miami-Dade, 3250 S.W. Third Ave, Miami, FL 33129.
Donations can be made online at http://www.unitedwaymiami.org/nubiamemorialfund.
By Diana Moskovitz and Carol Marbin Miller
One month after 10-year-old Nubia Barahona was found dead in the flatbed of her adoptive father’s pickup truck, state child-welfare administrators fired two workers connected with the case, including the investigator assigned to look into an abuse report four days before the girl’s body was located.
Department of Children & Families Secretary David Wilkins also announced Monday proposed changes in the wake of the tragedy, including developing new ways to measure performance at the state’s abuse hotline, adding 80 child protection investigators, and reexamining their role within the state’s child welfare system.
Andrea Fleary, already on probation after being given two “final’’ counseling notices for poor performance, was terminated from her position as a child abuse investigator. DCF also fired her supervisor, Kevin Ramos.
A third person connected to the investigation, Angela Dilworth, chose to resign, even though, “she was not facing any disciplinary action whatsoever,” DCF spokesman Mark Riordan said.
Five other employees also received reprimands: the agency’s top Miami administrator, Jacqui Colyer, and four workers at the state’s abuse hotline, counselors Katie Stuck, Marvina Jackson and Brian Gautier, and supervisor Milton Hart. ( I don’t understand how any of these people inlcuding Jacqui Colyer are part of the solution. It is time to clean house from the top down. If not things will return to business as usual as soon as Nubia and her brother fall out of the lime light. As soon as the public goes back to their business as usual so will DFC and there will be no one watching the watchers. More children will die.)
The hotline received three calls warning Nubia and her twin brother were in danger over the four days before Feb. 14, when they were discovered by a road ranger on the side of Interstate 95 in West Palm Beach, Victor in the truck’s cab, burned by unidentified chemicals, and Nubia in the flatbed, awash in chemicals and stuffed in a trash bag.
Adoptive father Jorge Barahona was nearby, unconscious.
In the case of Colyer, the reprimand was not for any specific actions on her part, but because the mistakes came from an operation she oversees, said an agency spokeswoman.
Despite the reprimand, Wilkins said, “I also believe Jacqui Colyer is part of the solution.’’
A Coral Gables attorney, Matthew E. Ladd, speaking for Fleary, accused DCF last week of trying to pin blame on Fleary to draw attention away from the agency’s own mistakes.
Ladd said DCF has intentionally misled Floridians into believing that Fleary wrote in a safety assessment that Victor and Nubia were safe following a visit to the Barahona home in which Fleary never actually saw the children. Fleary was, instead, referring to two other children adopted by the Barahonas, who were at the home that day, he said. Those two children were not the subject of an abuse report.
Earlier this month, DCF released Fleary’s investigative work, heavily redacted, blacking out most of what Fleary wrote.
“This is a deliberate effort of the bureaucracy trying to save itself at the expense of the very dedicated front-line investigators,’’ Ladd wrote in a press release. “DCF’s failure to clear investigator Fleary’s good name is an obvious attempt to scapegoat.’’
Wilkins, who took over DCF weeks before the twins were found, flew to Miami to announce the firings, discipline and changes. He also released a detailed report on his agency’s response to the Barahona case.
Since the time the twins were found in the truck, a Delray Beach brother and sister were found dead and stuffed in luggage inside a Palm Beach County canal. And, within the past two weeks, two other Miami-area children with a history of DCF involvement also were harmed: a disabled Hialeah boy who was nearly starved to death, and a Homestead infant who died Saturday. Both cases remain under investigation.
Wilkins talked broadly Monday about how DCF planned to reevaluate itself and its subcontractors in the wake of what happened. Among the specific goals he mentioned were adding 80 more investigators, which would be spread across three areas: northeast Florida, the Tampa Bay area and South Florida.
The move, Wilkins said, would lower the average case load by three, from 17 to 14, for each investigator.
He also talked about changing how hotline employees are evaluated. His goals included immediately eliminating all incentives based on the length of time a counselor spent on a call. The report released Monday suggested, “Emphasize quality over speed.”
“This tragedy was more than just mistake and poor job execution by selected employees and subcontractors,’’ Wilkins wrote in a prepared statement about the Barahona twins. “It was a total systemic failure of the child-welfare system created by a fragmented business model with antiquated processes, procedures and technologies and conflicting rules and incentives.’’
Other recommendations include:
• Changing procedures so that hotline calls from teachers, principals and school counselors are treated as “urgent.’’ Four of the abuse or neglect calls concerning Nubia came from school personnel.
• Launching a review of all child-abuse investigators already under a corrective action plan – as Fleary was – to ensure the plans are sufficient to protect children.
• Requiring all privately run foster-care agencies, such as Miami’s Our Kids, to review the status of all foster children to ensure they are receiving adequate medical, dental, vision and mental-health care. In Nubia and Victor’s case, caseworkers failed to ensure the children were going to the doctor and dentist as needed, and all three surviving Barahona kids will require extensive dental work.
• Reviewing the process by which foster-care agencies hire expert witnesses, including psychologists. A Miami psychologist, Vanessa Archer, had recommended the Barahonas adopt the twins, but had no knowledge that school workers and a lay guardian had expressed significant concerns about the couple, the twins’ foster parents at the time.
Two weeks ago, both Jorge Barahona and his wife, Carmen, were charged by Miami-Dade police with first-degree murder, child abuse and neglect in connection with Nubia’s death and a yearlong reign of terror they are accused of inflicting on the twins. Police say the couple beat the children, tied them up and left them for hours in a bathtub.
The two are awaiting trial in jail — Carmen in Miami, Jorge in West Palm Beach, where he also was accused of child abuse and attempted murder for the injuries to Victor.
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