The case of a surviving abuse victim that led to the overhaul of Florida’s child welfare system may be close to reaching a resolution. While the claims bill to further compensate the victim has usually died in the past legislative sessions, it’s now headed to the Governor for final approval.
“You know, it’s the worst,” said Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami), about a year ago. “It’s the most horrifying of all, and it’s incredibly disappointing that we couldn’t get something done this year.”
It was just last year when Flores’ claims bill—for the third year in a row—died in Florida’s legislative committee process.
At the time, Flores said she wouldn’t give up trying to compensate Victor Barahona for the numerous abuses he and his twin sister Nubia suffered at the hands of their foster parents who later adopted them. Left to die and covered in toxic chemicals in the bed of a truck, 10-year-old Nubia didn’t survive.
“When I’m back here next year, I’ll fight for this issue, and I think that next year, we’ll have both a Senate President and a [House] Speaker, who will be a lot more open and willing to deal with claims bill on average,” she added, at the time.
Now, the Flores prediction has come true. This year, both Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran have allowed for many claims bills that have usually stalled to get to the floor.
That includes Flores’ Barahona bill, which unanimously passed the Senate last week.
“I don’t even say that it feels good because it’s a horrible tragedy that befell these children at the hands of DCF, but to be able to have some sort of resolution to I think the most horrible, tragic case of child abuse in recent history, I think brings some small solace,” Flores said, Friday.
This week, the House bill version by Rep. Jose Felix Diaz (R-Miami) had a similar positive reception in his chamber. Speaking on the floor, he recounted some of the specific abuses the younger Barahonas endured.
“In 2010, when many of us were elected, we heard about Nubia Barahona and her brother who were adopted by a husband and wife who tortured these kids for years,” said Diaz, Wednesday. “They would tie them up, they would beat them they would smear feces on their face, and make them eat it—the most horrible, atrocious things that you can imagine. And unfortunately, the Department of Children and Families—along the way—had many red flags that they did not pay attention to.”
The Barahona’s case led to a major overhaul of the Florida Department of Children and Families. Included in the reforms was beefing up the state’s abuse hotline as well as legislative fixes, like hiring more child protective investigators and creating a team responsible for child death investigations.
“Luckily, as a legislative body, we came together and we passed significant child welfare reforms a year after. It’s one of the votes I’m most proud of,” Diaz added. “And, I think that today, we have an opportunity to make the surviving brother—because the sister was killed—whole…there was a judgment entered into against the Department for $5 million. They’ve paid $1.25 million through the CFO’s office. This claim is for the remaining $3.75 million.”
With the House and Senate’s passage of the bill for Victor Barahona, it now heads to the Governor’s desk.
For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.