Girl, 16, dies in US treatment facility
A 16-year-old girl sent for overseas treatment under a care order from government child protection services has died at a treatment centre in the United States, it was revealed yesterday.
It is understood the teenager died at a secure treatment centre in Utah.
The Government confirmed last night that an investigation had been launched into the death.
Alfred Maybury, the director of the Department of Child and Family Services, put the phone down after he was contacted on his mobile about the sudden death by The Royal Gazette.
Later calls to Mr Maybury were unanswered.
Tiffanne Thomas, director of Therapeutic Consulting Services, who has acted as a litigation guardian for vulnerable youngsters, said last night: “It is my understanding that this young person was sent to a treatment facility overseas that has been deemed suitable to meet the needs of our most at-risk Bermudian children.
“I have previously called for more oversight as it relates to sending our children overseas.
“For the Government to state on the record that personnel from DCFS visit children every six months is woefully inadequate and it suggests that we are simply sending our vulnerable children to a place that is out of sight and out of mind.”
Ms Thomas added that more needed to be done by the DCFS to protect young people in care.
She said: “I can say from my experience representing children that not only is this standard inadequate, but it is not entirely factual as it is not the lived experience of the many children whom I have had the privilege of representing.
“I have had many young people recall being overseas over the course of years without contact from anyone from DCFS.
“This longstanding practice needs to be evaluated and a more suitable and ethical approach to treatment must be developed.
“We cannot continue to simply invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into a system that is not effectively and independently monitored.”
Ms Thomas has campaigned for youngsters to be given proper representation at court hearings to decide their future and if they should be sent abroad for treatment.
Efforts to contact several Utah-based facilities, where Bermudian children have been sent for years, and the Utah Department of Child and Family Services were unsuccessful.
Ms Thomas said the death of the teenager in “what was supposed to be a secure environment that is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, leaves many questions, which should cause a level of outrage in every citizen of this country”.
She added: “Now is not the time for politically motivated press releases geared at ensuring that the Government is painted in a favourable light.
“Rather it is the time for honest and difficult conversations.
“After all, we are talking about the loss of a life. The life a child who is essentially the Government’s child because this child was under the care of DCFS.”
The girl died on Saturday night but it is not yet known where she was being treated.
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Legal Affairs said last night: “We regret to inform the public of the unfortunate passing of a child referred to an overseas facility for treatment.
“We extend our deepest and most sincere condolences to the family.
“Out of respect for the family and the ongoing investigation into this matter, no further information will be provided at this time. We further call on all media outlets to operate in a professional, compassionate and respectful manner during this period of bereavement by the family.”
Over the past year many concerns have been raised about the DCFS’s use of overseas facilities, with youngsters alleging they were forced or tricked into attending institutions where they were mistreated.
Most of the children sent overseas through the psychoeducational programme since it began before 1999 did not have independent legal representation during court proceedings.
The ministry said earlier this year that the department vetted overseas institutions every year and that children had weekly conference calls and were visited every six months by a case worker.
It said the psychoeducational programme was for children “who could not be effectively serviced locally or those who had exhausted all local available therapeutic services”.
But at least two schools where Bermudian students were sent — the Glen Mills Schools in Pennsylvania and the Family Foundation School in New York — were later closed over allegations of abuse.
In June, a spokeswoman from the Ministry of Legal Affairs said: “The Department of Child and Family Service Psycho-Educational Programme provides children and youth with protection, care, and nurturance by licensed therapeutic overseas facilities.”
She added: “The department’s first priority is to protect the welfare of children who require intervention and need additional care outside of what is being provided at home.
“Since the programme started, we can point to numerous positive outcomes. However, we are not at liberty to publicly release information or discuss those cases. It is up to individuals to share their stories.”
• On occasion The Royal Gazette may decide to not allow comments on what we consider to be a controversial or contentious story. As we are legally liable for any slanderous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.
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