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Tragic Barahona case prompts extensive changes to Florida's Abuse Hotline

8:30 PM, Dec 12, 2012   |    comments
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The shocking and tragic case of twins Nubia and Victor Barahona in South Florida prompts dramatic new changes at the Florida Department of Children and Families abuse hotline.

The Florida Abuse Hotline is where calls about the Barahona twins first came in. DCF Secretary David Wilkins admits the calls were not handled well last year and that caused a delayed response from investigators in the case.

The body of 10-year-old Nubia was found in a garbage bag covered with chemicals and Victor was horribly injured.

Wilkins says the Barahona case uncovered dramatic problems in DCF procedures and he launched extensive changes to the way hotline calls are handled.

Wilkins says the hotline used to collect information from callers and forward the data to investigators for further investigation. He says it operated like a data entry operation.

Now the hotline is set up to provide operators/counselors much more background when a call comes in.

When counselors start entering names, addresses and other information into their computers, Wilkins says the system immediately provides background details and prompts the counselor with a list of pertinent questions.

"The system is also connecting you with history, which you would not even think about asking. But then all of a sudden you find out while you're on the call that this is the fifth time a call's been called in on this person. Or this person is related to somebody else that we have an issue on. So it gives the call-taker a lot more information to, in essence, dive deeper into the conversation to collect more information."

Wilkins says in the Barahona case, there was a long history of calls to the abuse hotline, but when a new call came in about Nubia, the operator did not have access to that past information.

"Because we didn't have that history, the call was not coded as what we call an immediate call, which was get out there right now. So the worker didn't get out there until a couple of days later, which as we're still learning more about that case, Nubia could have died in that timeframe from when that first call occurred to when the actual act of violence occurred in the home."

Wilkins says now hotline counselors can diagnose the problem faster and more accurately. He says that will help DCF handle its 400,000 abuse calls a year more professionally and children will be safer as a result.

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