Closing the Cracks Children Fall Through


MIAMI – An acquaintance of mine is headed to Tallahassee today to have his brain picked.

He was summoned by lawmakers struggling with how to caulk the proverbial cracks that children keep falling through, the children who endure heartbreaking abuse, the ones who are murdered or neglected to death, the ones who leave a trail of tears that reveals their fates were sealed by some mistake or misstep by those with the state's Department of Children and Families who were supposed to be protecting them.

Again. And again.

This acquaintance, his will be a good brain to pick, as he has been intimately involved with Victor Barahona, was one of the advocates for Victor and his twin Nubia who tried to raise red flags about their care (or lack thereof) the were getting from their then-foster parents, Carmen and Jorge Barahona.

As you may know by now, the Barahonas were allowed to adopt the twins, and now stand accused of their systematic abuse, and Nubia's murder.

Just this week, we heard Victor's descriptions of how he lived, what he endured, the trauma deep within, as told by the woman who cared for him after his ordeal.  Her audiotaped interview was made public by the State Attorney's Office.  I cried listening, and you may, too.

Which brings me back to the brain-picking that will occur over the next few days in Tallahassee.

Lawmakers are considering bills that DCF brass says will strengthen the system.  Opponents have concerns the bills eliminate significant standards now in place. 

And skeptics will say, "Changes? Again?"

Change has become a familiar part of the aftermath: Rilya Wilson, Bradley McGhee, Ezramicah Hilliard...

People who have the best interests of children at heart and a desire to succeed convene Blue Ribbon panels, write scathing reports, face Grand Jury investigations, revamp procedures, launch new technology, and reorganize. 

Again and again.

But just in the last week, a Miami-Dade judge demanded to know why a child-abuse investigator didn't notice signs of abuse on a 9-year old boy until he was found wandering alone in the street trying to escape abusers.

And in Hillsborough County, 8-month old Gabrielle Crawford slipped through caseworkers' cracks and died.

Whatever process, bureaucracy or statute lawmakers craft won't matter much if the people in the trenches make poor judgment calls, cover their backsides or slack on their smallest responsibilities.   Protecting the most vulnerable is more than a tough job.  It has to be a calling, a mission.

Lawmakers will see an example of that when they meet with my friend today.

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