Children ‘not interviewed’ in DCFS abuse inquiry

  • Kathy Lynn Simmons, Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

    Kathy Lynn Simmons, Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Vulnerable children who made accusations of abuse and neglect against staff at the island’s child protection agency were not interviewed during an inquiry into whether the head of the department ignored their allegations.

At least six youngsters are believed to have raised the alarm about mistreatment by Department of Child and Family Services employees yet none of them are believed to have been approached by investigators looking into director Alfred Maybury’s handling of the complaints.

Lawyer Saul Dismont said yesterday that “nobody had interviewed” a client of his: a boy who alleged he was physically assaulted by a male staff member at the department’s residential treatment services facility.

He said he was aware of five other children who had made complaints about department staff.

“I’m not aware of any of those children having been spoken to or interviewed,” added Mr Dismont.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Legal Affairs insisted a “full and thorough investigation was carried out” but declined to answer a question about whether any children were interviewed.

She pointed to a statement made by the Ministry in January about the inquiry, which said: “The investigation revealed there was no misconduct by the director ... The investigation involved a series of interviews with staff members, a detailed review of the department’s practices and procedures and a review of the financial activities within the department.”

The ministry said then that the findings of the inquiry would not be made public.

Shadow Attorney-General Scott Pearman said last night: “It’s incredibly difficult to see how a thorough investigation could have been carried out if all or most of the complainants were not spoken to. I just don’t see how that’s possible.”

He had earlier issued a statement questioning how the Government could expect the public to have any faith in a “so-called investigation which is so fundamentally flawed that the complainants are not even interviewed”.

The Opposition MP said: “The Government needs to treat these appalling allegations concerning our most vulnerable with the seriousness they deserve. Allegations of abuse and neglect against Bermudian children cannot simply be swept under the rug as if nothing has happened.”

Mr Pearman called on Attorney-General Kathy Lynn Simmons, who is responsible for the Department of Child and Family Services, to appoint an independent counsel to get to the bottom of the allegations.

He said that person needed to be “someone who has the public’s confidence to investigate these appalling allegations thoroughly and properly” if the public was to have faith that the island’s vulnerable were “truly being protected”.

Mr Maybury was suspended on August 23 last year after it was alleged that he failed to ensure the safety of children in the department’s care and did not follow financial instructions.

He returned to work at Child and Family Services in January after five months off work on full pay.

The ministry spokeswoman said in January: “These claims levelled against the director were not substantiated.”

She said yesterday that the Maybury inquiry was two-pronged: with one part conducted by the Department of Internal Audit and the other by the permanent secretary responsible for the Department of Child and Family Services.

We asked the spokeswoman to clarify whether that meant it was conducted by Wayne Carey, who was PS for the now-defunct Ministry of Social Development and Sport until November 1, or Marva O’Brien, PS at Legal Affairs, but she declined to answer further questions.

The spokeswoman said the permanent secretary was the only recipient of the Internal Audit report, in accordance with the Internal Audit Act 2010.

She added: “The Children’s Act 1998 clearly lays out the framework under which investigations are conducted. Likewise, the Public Service Commission regulations, schedule 2, also gives specific guidance on internal investigations, all of which are rigorously adhered to.

“It must be clearly stated that legally, a [Cabinet] minister cannot undertake a disciplinary investigation of public officers. That can be done only by a head of department.

“Equally as a matter of confidentiality, information cannot and will not be shared about minor children with the public, the media or third parties.”

The spokeswoman said: “We have laws protecting children, their identity and undue harm from media probing. To continually subject children to ongoing and unnecessary media attention does not serve these vulnerable members of our society.”

The Royal Gazette has submitted a public access to information request to Legal Affairs for the report into Mr Maybury’s conduct, with a decision due on March 13.

The newspaper has not identified any of the children who made complaints about mistreatment or sought personal information from the Government about them.

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Published Feb 28, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Feb 28, 2019 at 10:01 am)

Children ‘not interviewed’ in DCFS abuse inquiry

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