March 15, 2011

Abuse Report Recommends Supervising Homeschoolers

Many people in Florida and across the nation were horrified last month to learn of the alleged pattern of abuse and neglect that apparently resulted in the death of a young girl named Nubia.

On February 14, 2011, police found Nubia’s adoptive father and her twin brother Victor on the side of the interstate in West Palm Beach. Victor had been doused with chemicals while Nubia lay dead in back of the pickup.

This tragedy began approximately five years ago when serious allegations of abuse and neglect were made against the couple who were then foster parents to Nubia and Victor—the Barahonas. Over the next four years, two more reports of abuse and neglect were made against the Barahonas by mandated reporters. However, after a report was investigated in June of 2010, the Barahonas withdrew both children from public school, stating that they would teach the children at home.

Since the Department of Children and Families (DCF) had a long history with the Barahona family over a five-year period, DCF Secretary David E. Wilkins called a special panel to investigate this case. The purpose of the panel was to determine what went wrong and what DCF policies or practices needed to be reviewed and changed. This three-person panel released its results on March 10, 2011.

The majority of the Nubia Report deals with the many errors made by DCF personnel, including:

  • Critical deficiencies in a court-ordered psychological evaluations of the children before the adoption was finalized,
  • The failure of proper coding to indicate the seriousness of at least one set of allegations,
  • And the failure by third-party agencies and case managers responsible for foster care and adoptive services to adequately follow up with the family.

With their findings, the special investigators made some recommendations to try to address these problems.

However, in spite of numerous warning signs over many years while the children were enrolled in public school, supervised by DCF, and mandated to receive psychological evaluations, the panelists also recommended several changes that could impact homeschool families.

The first such recommendation of the panel was that DCF work with the public school system and the Department of Education to create an “alert system” with “appropriate follow-up inspections” for children removed from the school system and placed in homeschooling. All of the facts in this tragic situation have shown a well-documented pattern of abuse and neglect that continued for years while the children were enrolled in the public school system and under the daily observation of school officials. While it appears that the school officials did their job and repeatedly reported suspected abuse and neglect of these two helpless children, DCF failed to address the situation time and time again.

Adding policies and procedures to target children who are removed from the public school to be taught at home by their parents will result in the investigations of innocent and law-abiding families without adequate evidence or cause.

The second recommendation concerning homeschoolers that is made in the Nubia Report is perhaps even more alarming. Under recommendations relating to “service delivery” the special panel recommended that “DCF should take the necessary legislative and/or administrative steps to ensure that foster children who have been adopted and are being home schooled are seen on a regular basis by case management personnel” [emphasis added].

Florida law currently requires the adoption entity to supervise a family for at least 60 days after the initial placement of the child, or monthly until the adoption is finalized. Generally, once an adoption is finalized, there is no further supervision of the family. Occasionally, most often in the adoption of children with special needs, an adoptive family may receive a state subsidy and have a temporary case manager after the adoption is finalized.

The Nubia Report special investigators recommended changing Florida law to mandate supervision of adoptive parents in a way that is not done, to our knowledge, anywhere else in this country. The proposal would enact a state law or rule to require adoptive parents to be visited on a regular basis simply if they decide to teach their children at home. The mere fact that a parent seeks to homeschool their adopted children should not require parents to be subjected to governmental supervision by DCF.

Florida law does not need any additional programs or procedures to target homeschool families. State law already prohibits abuse and neglect. Proper procedures are in place that, if followed, will protect innocent children. Administrative rules already exist to address the situation when adoptive parents are reported due to allegations of abuse or neglect. If appropriate, post-adoption services can be provided to the family at that time. Adding policies to focus on homeschoolers is unwarranted and unnecessary.

We at HSLDA abhor child abuse and neglect. We fully support bringing to justice those who commit atrocious acts against children. However, HSLDA strongly opposes targeting homeschool families who have done nothing wrong and who want the best for their children. Removing a child from a public or private school to teach them at home is not in any way evidence of abuse or neglect and should not be used to trigger social service investigations. We will continue to monitor the recommendations made in the Nubia Report and notify you of any steps taken against those legally homeschooling their children.

 Other Resources

Florida Department of Children and Families: The Nubia Report—The Investigative Panel’s Findings and Recommendations (Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)

The Sun-Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, Florida: “Girl's death could spark review of Florida's home schooling law”

The Miami Herald, Miami, Florida: “Two fired, five reprimanded after Nubia's death in the Barahona abuse case”