JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As police continue to investigate the disappearance of 21-month-old Lonzie Barton, last seen with Ruben Ebron over three weeks ago, many people are asking what has happened to Lonzie's 5-year-old sister, now that her mother, Lonna Barton, is in jail and her little brother is missing and, according to police, possibly murdered.
According to officials, the little girl has been receiving therapy, she's already had two appointments, and any kind of visitation at the jail with her mother must first be agreed upon by the little girl's therapist.
Dr. James Vallely, assistant professor of pediatrics with the Forensic and Child Protection Division of UF Health, who is not affiliated with the little girl or the case, said that the therapy is definitely necessary because of how difficult it must be for her to understand what is going on.
Vallely said not only is it likely confusing for her, but he said she's probably also experiencing a great deal of separation and loss, first for her brother Lonzie, but secondly for her mother, who is now in jail and not around.
He said therapy is a good start, but it most likely won't be a permanent fix.
Lonna was in court again Thursday morning to determine who would take care of the little girl, who had been staying with Lonna Barton's mother, Deborah Lauramore, since Lonzie disappeared.
"The judge is going to be looking for the safest, best fit. The decisions will be first based on who is closest to this child and then family that can provide a nurturing and safe environment. If there's a couple of good people, he'll probably go with the one that's the closest family relative," Vallely said.
The little girl was supposed to start kindergarten Monday, but Vallely, who works with children and conducts mental evaluations through the UF Child Protection team, said that could pose problems for her.
"If those other kids know the circumstances it could be very stressful because they're going to, at the most innocent level, ask her questions, and at the most malevolent level, bully her and tease her and things like that," Vallely said.
Vallely believes therapy is a short-term solution to help stabilize the patient emotionally and behaviorally in the face of crisis, but he said what will serve this little girl into the future is a stable, loving and nurturing environment.
"Therapy is not going to be there for more than a year or two at max, but if you grow up from 5 to 20 and the last 15 years are stable, that's going to counteract the effects of 0-5," said Vallely.
The judge deciding custody for the little girl is hoping to hear more from the girl's therapist about what treatment she is receiving and how the little girl will overcome the trauma of all this.