State-Run Child Protection Services to Blame for Children’s Death?

BY CHRISTINA ANZIANO

 On February 16, 2011, prosecutors charged with felony aggravated child abuse, his ten year-old adopted son was the victim.  The charge came after West Palm Beach police officers discovered the boy in Barahona’s pickup truck on February 14, 2011.  When police arrived at the truck, they found the boy in the passenger seat; he was soaked with an unknown toxic chemical and had severe burns on his abdomen, buttocks, and upper thighs.  Barahona will likely be charged with murdering the boy’s twin sister, whose body was discovered in the back of the same pickup truck. 

During Barahona’s probable cause hearing, the court heard testimony from a Florida Department of Children & Family Services investigator.  The investigator testified that she visited the Barahona household on February 11th after DCF received a complaint the day before.  She testified that she did not see or speak to the children that day, but only spoke to the mother.  When asked why she did not return the following day to check on the children, the caseworker responded that she was not permitted to make visits on weekends. 

Barahona and his wife had two other adopted children in addition to the brother and sister.  The children have since been removed from the home and returned to the Florida foster care system.  DCF made several visits to the Barahona home since the four children were adopted.  There is evidence that the children were repeatedly abused.

The Barahona story is eerily similar to the Nixmary Brown case.  At the time Nixmary was killed, New York City’s Administration of Children’s Services was investigating her family for child abuse and neglect.  ACS was largely blamed for failing to prevent Nixmary’s death.  In the aftermath of the case, ACS workers have been more prone to removing children from homes at the first sign of abuse.  However, there are still major flaws in ACS case-management.  In 2010, Brooklyn prosecutors initiated a criminal investigation of ACS.  The investigation began as a result of ACS’s failure to adequately monitor a four year-old girl, who was allegedly killed by his mother. 

These cases bring about several questions:

  • What will happen to ACS and the Florida Department of Children & Family Services?       
  • Will NYC and FL take proactive steps to restructure their agencies? 
  • Or will they simply suspend the investigators who were assigned to the abusive households?        

In the Barahona case, there is the additional issue of adoption:

  •  How will this case affect Florida’s foster care system?
  • Will the state legislature enact laws to require additional pre-adoption procedures, such as a lengthier investigation of adoptive parents? 
  • Will this case cause children to remain in the foster care system longer? 
  • Will Florida put a limit on the amount of children one family can adopt?
  • Will the state require more frequent home visits to adoptive households?