MIAMI (CBS4) – An independent panel of child welfare experts held a meeting Friday afternoon for the first time to discuss one of the worst child abuse cases in South Florida history as it tries to determine what went wrong in the state’s effort to protect Victor and Nubia Barahona.
“This was a terrible tragedy,” said panel chairman David Lawrence in reference to the Barahona case. “And none of us should be permitted to do anything less than learn from it.”
Lawrence, a children’s advocate and chairman of the Children’s Movement of Florida, is a member of the three-person independent investigative panel that will hear testimony about what happened to the Barahona children.
“I met with the secretary of the Department of Children and Families just this morning in Tallahassee and I’m absolutely convinced that he wants to get to the bottom of this and find out what needs to be fixed and the rest of our committed as well,” said Lawrence on Thursday.
DCF Secretary David Wilkins called for a management review of the circumstances that led to death of 10-year-old Nubia and critical injuries to her twin brother, Victor.
In addition to Lawrence, panel members include Jim Sewell, a Department of Children & Families manager who led the 2009 review into the death of Gabriel Myers, and Bobby Martinez, a former top federal prosecutor in Miami.
“Seems like there was an awful lot of eyes on these kids and I know that the school had opinions and I know that there were other professionals that had opinions but again, this was something that was not rushed to or done lightly,” Fran Allegra of Our Kids of Dade-Monroe said.
At one moment, a DCF official said part of the problem is staffing.
“We’ve got a problem with staff turnover. A number of people have left. We had a group leave this fall,” said Peter Digre of DCF.
Lawrence said the panel is taking a closer look at the case and will come up with solutions to prevent this in the future.
“We need to find quickly what went wrong, what needs to be fixed, how we can do this better and that is what we will do,” Lawrence said.
The Blue Ribbon planning said it will hold four other hearings will be held and the panel hopes to have findings and recommendations within a month.
Meantime, DCF investigator Andrea Fleary has been placed on administrative while her handling of the Barahona case is being looked into.
Records show she has been severely reprimanded in the past.
Fleary received a report that Victor and Nubia Barahona were being tortured four days before Nubia’s body was found, but she didn’t call police.
CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald uncovered these previous problems on the job.
Last year she was cited for “poor performance and negligence.” after her handling of a case involving a teenage girl who was repeatedly found naked in bed with her father.
In 2003, Fleary received a “final counseling notice.” when was accused of allowing kids she was supposed to be protecting to visit with a potentially dangerous relative.
“The best you can do in this human world is what specifically happened and how can we make sure this sort of thing doesn’t happen again,” said Lawrence.
He hopes to have a report ready by March 11.
Jorge Barahona, meantime, is charged with attempted first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse for allegedly pouring chemicals on his son, Victor, the same day that Nubia’s body was found in the pickup’s flatbed dead, stuffed in a bag and steeped in unknown chemicals.
Authorities have yet to disclose the cause of Nubia’s death.
Victor continues to recover at Jackson Memorial Hospital’s burn unit. However, health department physician Walter Lambert told a Miami-Dade family court judge Wednesday that Victor may be discharged from the hospital on Friday.