Judge shows outrage at DCF's handling of abuse call in Barahona case

Date: 2011-02-16

By ANA M. VALDES

MIAMI — A Miami-Dade family court judge lashed out at a state Department of Children and Families investigator on Wednesday, after learning that department officials failed to immediately respond to hints from an 11-year-old boy that two of his adopted siblings were being abused by their parents.

At a hearing Wednesday, a DCF investigator who went out to Carmen and Jorge Barahona's western Miami-Dade County home twice since Feb. 10 told Judge Cindy Lederman that the couple's autistic son Jorge may have tried to tell her that something was wrong with 10-year-old twins Victor and Nubia.

But the boy's mother dismissed him as being "low-functioning" and told him to wait in the computer room, a DCF official told Judge Cindy Lederman on Wednesday during a family court hearing.

"Wouldn't that make you suspicious?" asked Lederman. The investigator responded that one of her conversations with the boy took place very late on a Friday evening.

"So we don't do investigations on weekends? Is that what you are telling me?" the judge said.

DCF officials say secretary David Wilkins has asked for a full investigation into how the case was handled.

Just a few days after DCF's visit, Victor was found Monday drenched in hazardous chemicals inside his father's pick-up truck on Interstate 95, between Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard and 45th St. Jorge Barahona was found on the ground outside the vehicle. In the bed of the truck was Nubia's body, placed in a bag by her father before he decided to drive to Palm Beach County with plans to kill himself, according to his statement to West Palm Beach police.

State officials said Wednesday Carmen's granddaughter told a relative about how the Barahonas allegedly tied up Victor and Nubia by their wrists and ankles and confined them to the bathroom for most of the day. It was the girl's revelation that resulted in the call to DCF's abuse hotline.

Investigators who questioned the 7-year-old girl after the incident said Carmen Barahona would tell her granddaughter not to tell anyone about how the twins were treated because it was a "family secret."

Officials also said Carmen lied to investigators, telling them she and her husband had been separated for six months when in fact they were never apart.

Lederman on Wednesday ordered Carmen Barahona to stay away from Jorge and Jennifer, the two other adopted children now living in foster care, and agreed with school officials that the children should continue attending class at Blue Lakes Elementary.

She also denied Carmen Barahona's request that the children be placed with a family friend.

"Anyone who knew anything about what was going on with these children will not get near them," Lederman said. "I assume that DCF is taking the quality of this investigation very seriously."

Outside the courtroom, when asked why DCF investigators did not take more immediate action when the abuse call came in, spokesperson Mark Riordan said "to know what is going on with the family, we need some time. Here, we just didn't have that time."

At the hearing, health department physician Dr. Walter Lambert told the judge Nubia may have suffered from a type of hormonal disorder that resulted in her having surgery last summer. No additional details about her condition were released.

Lambert also said Victor, who until Wednesday was at St. Mary's Medical Center with severe burns, was moved to Jackson Memorial Hospital's burn center in Miami. Lambert did not offer additional details on what type of chemical produced these burns.

DCF officials also said investigators had visited the home last year, after hearing allegations that Nubia was having health problems.

An attorney representing the twins' biological aunt and uncle in Houston was also at the hearing, and told the judge the couple was willing to adopt Victor.

After the hearing, attorney Steve Grossbard said he was involved in the twins' adoption proceedings in 2004, and recalls there being some concerns with the Barahonas. He said it wasn't until he read Wednesday morning's newspapers that he realized the case involved Victor and Nubia.

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