The twin victims of the Barahona child abuse case have taken the state and its contractors to federal court, in what childcare advocates say is a bold effort to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.
A lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida names Victor and Nubia Barahona as plaintiffs, even though Nubia, 10, was beaten to death just over a year ago. Her body was found in a trash bag in the back of her adoptive father’s pickup, and her twin brother Victor, who was in the front seat, barely survived after getting severe chemical burns all over his body, authorities said.
Their adoptive parents, Jorge and Carmen Barahona, have pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder.
The twins are represented by adults advocating on their behalf in the lawsuit, which is the first legal action the kids have taken against those allegedly responsible for the abuse they suffered. It alleges the children’s constitutional rights were violated.
The Department of Children and Families – which began outsourcing foster care in 2005 – and the contractors said they cannot comment on the litigation. The judge has placed a gag order on all the parties involved in the lawsuit, which is moving forward in federal court.
“When agencies and state agencies fail to provide even the modicum of process and procedure to protect a child, they’re at risk,” said veteran attorney Joel Hirschhorn, who provided an independent analysis of the lawsuit allegations for NBC 6. “The child becomes at risk, and the agency needs to be held to answer.”
The lawsuit charges that the state’s foster care supervisor Our Kids, its subcontractor the Center for Family and Child Enrichment and DCF investigators did not do their jobs. Two of the DCF investigators are still on the state’s payroll, NBC 6 learned.
The 114-page lawsuit says the state and the contractors missed numerous red flags. The foster care contractors’ lack of action allegedly resulted in the twins suffering physical harm, medical harm, psychological harm and trauma and pain and suffering.
“When a child is deprived of life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness by the state process, there is a denial of the equal protection of the law,” Hirschhorn said.
The lawsuit charges that the “horrific case represents a series of gross departures from the standard of care, inexcusable and critical failures, and inordinate delays in meeting child welfare standards, and deliberate indifference and systemic failures to known risks by defendants from its beginning to tragic end.”
If it weren’t for those failures, the twins would not have suffered years of abuse and neglect from their parents or have been adopted by them, the suit says.
Hirschhorn says ultimately it’s not about getting money for Victor Barahona, though he expects that will happen. The suit asks for damages and relief that the court deems appropriate.
“The fact that a judge will enter an order saying ‘You folks did wrong, this child should have never been put in that place, and I’m going to award compensation of X number of dollars,’ that sends the message,” he said.