Oxygen Insider Exclusive!

Create a free profile to get unlimited access to exclusive videos, breaking news, sweepstakes, and more!

Sign Up for Free to View
Crime News Breaking News

Counselor Who Didn't Report Abuse Of Gabriel Fernandez Or Anthony Avalos Put On Probation

Barbara Dixon has been given four years of probation for failing to report the abuse of either Gabriel Fernandez or Anthony Avalos, two boys who she was assigned to counsel after allegations of child abuse. Both died.



By Gina Tron
The Tragic Case of Gabriel Fernandez

A Los Angeles County counselor who failed to report the suspected abuse of either Gabriel Fernandez and Anthony Avalos has been put on a four-year probation in connection with their deaths.

The California State Board of Behavioral Sciences placed Barbara Dixon on the four-year probation which started on March 31, the Los Angeles Times reports, after determining that she failed to report allegations of abuse as part of a directed settlement. She had also faced charges of gross negligence and unprofessional conduct by the licensing board, but those were apparently dropped as part of the settlement. The agreement required her to participate in psychotherapy, law and ethics training and coursework in child abuse assessment.

The licensed marriage and family therapist is accused of failing to report allegations that Fernandez was abused in 2013 or that Avalos was abused in 2015, when she was providing counseling services to each boy as a subcontractor for Los Angeles County. 

(L-R) Gabriel Fernandez and Anthony Avalos

Fernandez, age 8, died in 2013 after enduring months of abuse by his mother, Pearl Fernandez, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre. During the time they had custody of him, they put out cigarettes on him, shot him in the face with a BB gun, made him eat cat litter and feces, and forced him to sleep in a locked cabinet, often while gagged and bound.

During those horrific months of torture, several people tried desperately to help Gabriel: his teacher Jennifer Garcia called the Department of Children and Family Services multiple times to report the visible signs of abuse, ABC7 reported. Arturo Martinez, a security guard at the Department of Public Social Services in Palmdale, called 911 — risking his job —when he noticed Gabriel had sustained burn marks, bruises, lumps and lacerations, according to a separate ABC7 report.

Dixon was providing in-home counseling to Gabriel at the time through Hathaway-Sycamores Child and Family Services, a nonprofit community mental health agency.

She testified in another case in 2017 that she thought Gabriel may have been abused one month before his death, according to testimony obtained by Oxygen.com.

Dixon said that Gabriel had a black eye and bruises on his ankles and wrists, which his family attributed to a bicycle accident. She claimed she believed the family at first but, after a walk alone with Gabriel, she grew suspicious of that story. She allegedly required that Fernandez seek treatment for Gabriel, but there's no evidence that she followed up on her own requirement. Dixon alleged that a supervisor prevented her from reporting the abuse to the DCFS hotline, despite being a required reporter. 

Both Fernandez and Aguirre are now serving time for Gabriel's murder.

After Gabriel's death, Dixon was assigned to provide counseling services to Anthony Avalos in early 2015 after L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services received multiple allegations of abuse against Anthony' mother, Heather Barron. When Dixon was assigned the case, Anthony was not living with his mother.

Though no new allegations of abuse came through the hotline while Dixon was supervising his case, she allegedly received a report that Anthony had been sexually abused, and failed to report that claim. Anthony's uncle confirmed Barron's abuse of him, which Dixon documented in her notes but also failed to report to DCFS.

Anthony was returned to his mother's care shortly after his uncle confirmed the abuse, and Dixon documented the boy's poor emotional state after the move but never assessed if he was being abused again. Her in-home counseling of Anthony ended after a year.

Barron called 911 in 2018 to claim Avalos, 10, had fallen, KTLA reported. However, he had cuts and bruises all over his body, as well as a traumatic brain injury; he died the next day. He had allegedly been tortured for five or six days before he died. Prosecutors claim that Barron and her boyfriend, Kareem Leiva, poured hot sauce all over his face and mouth, beat him with a belt and dropped him on his head repeatedly. Like Gabriel, he had cigarette burns all over his body. Barron and Leiva are also accused of starving him and performing sex acts in front of him.

Their trial is upcoming.

Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Jon Hatami, who is also an advocate for abused children, told Oxygen.com on Wednesday morning that he doesn’t feel like Dixon’s punishment is enough.

“So many people failed Gabriel and Anthony,” he said. “It's just heartbreaking and not right."

"I do feel that four years probation is unfair and not a just punishment," he added. "Someone who failed to protect children and report child abuse should not be given another chance to fail again. That's too dangerous." 

Dixon’s conduct was first reported to the state board in 2019 by an anonymous person, the Times reported.