By Ralph De La Cruz
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Unfortunately, the case of Nubia and Victor Doctor has become an almost predictable Florida tragedy: Child abuse/neglect/negligence followed by death, grief, media coverage, public outrage at the failures of the Department of Children and Families and, finally, investigation.
In this case, the complexity increases because it’s not just about the criminal abuse itself. You see, Nubia and Victor were not Jorge and Carmen Barahona’s biological children.
They were placed in the Barahona household as foster children, and then were adopted by the Barahonas over the objections of their state-designated advocate, the Guardian ad Litem. And despite the fact that records showed police were called to the Barahona home 16 times since 1998.
So not only are there those familiar questions about DCF incompetence, but this time there are concerns about the entire child-welfare system, from how foster parents are selected to adoption. How it’s all run, who’s watching, and how effectively they’re monitoring things. There’s even the issue of privatization, which became the operative state policy after the Wilson case.
Friday, a three-person panel appointed by DCF Secretary David Wilkins met for the first time to figure out what went wrong and what needs to be changed in the future. They’re expected to meet twice more next week before giving Wilkins their findings March 11.
The three appointees are upstanding citizens with strong reputations and experience with these issues. Their appointment is a smart move by Wilkins because this is such a complex case.
But if the trio really wants to cut through the superfluous and the distractions, I suggest they go to a story in The Miami Herald.
Actually, it’s not the story but some of the comments below the story that are particularly revealing: an exchange between a reader, PirateCafe, who said he was an abused foster child. And Marzie_BN, who says she’s been a Guardian ad Litem since 2004.
I believe their claims. But whether they are those things or not doesn’t really matter. It’s obvious they are personally, and sometimes brutally, familiar with the system.
The exchange is emotional and ultimately tender. One of the most compelling things I’ve ever read in a newspaper. And their back-and-forth does an incredible job of explaining the complex nature of the problems facing the DCF.
The two explain and propose many things. But one thing they never suggest is that the DCF is overstaffed. Quite the opposite.
And that’s why everyone who is feeling angry and heartbroken today should save a little of that outrage for the budget proposed by Gov. Rick Scott.
The budget that suggests cutting almost 2,000 DCF jobs.
Now, I’m no sharp-penciled, number-crunching Poindexter or gazillionaire CEO, and certainly no politician. Merely a journalist, a humanist, But as such, I know:
We can’t afford it.