MIAMI (CBS4) – Child welfare attorney Christy Lopez-Acevedo testified Tuesday before a blue-ribbon investigative panel, telling a tale of warnings ignored that should have alerted state officials of the abuse of at least two children at the home of Jorrge and Carmen Barahona.
She said that four years before 10-year-old Nubia Barahona died, a teacher told a Miami-Dade judge the girl was being abused at home and hit on the bottom of her feet to avoid any bruising. Allegations surfaced that Nubia came to school dirty, was very thin, and had been hoarding food in her desk in 2007. Those warnings were made by school officials to a judge who was deciding if the Barahonas should adopt the children, according to Lopez-Acevedo.One teacher told Nubia that after she had an accident at her school, she was going to call her then-foster mother, Carmen Barahona, but Nubia begged her not to call.
“Momma is going to hit me with a (flip-flop) on the bottom of my feet,” Nubia said, according to Lopez-Acevedo.
“I am fully aware, that this is a sign of torture, with no bruises,” Lopez-Acevedo said. “When I heard this last night, it was overwhelming.”
She then broke down and asked, “Can I have a minute?”
The testimony was made to an independent panel of child welfare experts that met for a second time Tuesday to discuss the Barahona case. The panel is investigating what went wrong in the state’s effort to protect Nubia and Victor Barahona.
David Lawrence, a children’s advocate and chairman of the Children’s Movement of Florida, is chairman of the three-person panel, which heard testimony Tuesday morning from former Guardian Ad Litem attorney Lopez-Acevedo.
“These are signals of the highest order,” Lawrence said. “How seriously did folks take what the principal was saying? It just seems stunningly tragic to me. It makes you cry.”
When Lawrence asked Lopez-Acevedo why the twins weren’t removed from the Barahona home, she replied, “We had the psychologist telling us that it was detrimentally harmful to take these children.”
She was also asked about solutions.
“I would have gotten all of their teachers into court,” said Lopez-Acevedo.
Attorney Lopez-Acevedo added that the system in place is far from perfect.
“We’re not experts,” Lopez-Acevedo said. “People rely on what they are told by the psychologists and other experts as to whether or not it would hurt a child to pull him or her out of a home.”
The Barahonas also threw up roadblocks in the way of a guardian ad litem, who was court ordered to protect the interests of the children. Paul Neumann had objected to the Barahona’s adoption of Nubia and Victor in 2008.
“There was voice mail that he was not allowed to come to the home,” Lopez-Acevedo said. “I saw him. They, the kids, loved him, they never complained about Paul. This was more like what’s going on, what don’t you want to see.”
Others expected to testify before the panel include: Dr. Walter Lambert, the state child protection physician, forensic psychologist Dr. Vanessa Archer who was part of the Barahona case prior to the twins’ adoption in 2008 and Sonia Ferrer, director of the Miami Guardian Ad Litem Program.
However, the panel will not hear from Neumann. He was removed from the Barahona case and will not testify due to a pending motion.
Jacqui Colyer, regional director for the Department of Children and Families is also expected to explain what opportunities were missed, what actions must be taken in order to improve DCF performance and the impact of home schooling.
Fran Allegra of Our Kids of Dade-Monroe is also expected to speak about foster care adoptions and post-adoption services and the actions that must be taken to improve performance.
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.
The Blue Ribbon planning will hold three other hearings and hopes to have findings and recommendations within a month.
Jorge Barahona 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.
At the Barahona’s Southwest Miami-Dade home on Tuesday morning, police returned to the house in its on-going investigation into abuse allegations. Click here to read more.