2011 Legislative Session
JACKSONVILLE (FBW)—Every morning Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins gets a report of the tragedies affecting the more than 18,000 children in the state’s foster care system.
“It’s like getting up in the morning and having somebody just slap you,” Wilkins said March 31 in an exclusive interview with Florida Baptist Witness.
“It’s a tough way to start every day, but it’s also empowering,” he said, seeing the thousands of people at DCF and related entities “who have committed their lives, just like I have committed my life to this job, to try to help those kids. It’s actually very impressive to see the machine that exists—all trying to help those who need the help the most.”
On Valentine’s Day—less than one month after his appointment by Gov. Rick Scott as the new head of DCF—Wilkins, a longtime member of Bradfordville First Baptist Church in Tallahassee, was confronted with “horrific” news that a child was murdered and her twin brother was seriously injured allegedly by the adoptive parents who had been entrusted with their care in DCF’s system.
The children were found in their adoptive father’s truck on the side of I-95 in Palm Beach County—Nubia, 10, beaten to death and decomposing in a trash bag in the trunk, and her twin brother, Victor, near death and convulsing from being doused with toxic chemicals in the driver’s seat.
According to Palm Beach Post, Jorge Barahona, 53, is being held in Palm Beach County Jail on charges of attempted murder and aggravated child abuse, while Carmen Barahona, 60, is likely to face charges she helped her husband hide his alleged crimes against their adopted children.
After hospitalization, Victor Barahona is in a therapeutic foster care home and his prognosis is “very good,” DCF communications director Joe Follick told the Witness on April 1.
The Barahona case has once again put DCF in the center of controversy, another in a series of incidents stretching back many years that has renewed questions about Florida’s child welfare system.
“I feel that the crisis with Nubia Barahona has obviously defined me in terms of a lot of the mission I know I have to deal with in the short term,” Wilkins told the Witness in the 45-minute interview at DCF’s Jacksonville office.
Wilkins appointed a three-person panel to investigate the Barahona incident and make recommendations for improvements. In response, he said DCF has implemented much of the panel’s recommendations—19 short-term initiatives and five “major items … structurally changing how we run our business” that will take more than 60 days to implement.
“I want the people of Florida to recognize that despite major crises that occur, the last thing that we should do is to give up on the kids,” he said. “The kids are our future and I think we all have obligations to help those in need, whether you’re faith-based or you’re not faith-based or regardless of your background or your point of view politically. We all have an obligation.”
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