Independent probe into girl’s death requested
An investigation into the death of a teenage Bermudian girl in an American treatment centre should be independent, an Opposition MP said yesterday.
But the Government would not confirm who would carry out inquiries after the 16-year-old died on Saturday.
Scott Pearman, the One Bermuda Alliance shadow legal affairs minister, said: “Our thoughts are with the grieving family and friends of this young woman at this tragic time. It is not right to comment further until we are in possession of all the facts.
“Obviously, we hope the Government’s investigation is immediate, independent and thorough, but now is not the time for comment on the involvement of the Department of Child and Family Services.”
Mr Pearman added: “We trust those who do comment on this tragedy respect that there are those who are suffering deeply. Their privacy must be respected.”
The girl was referred for treatment under a care order from child protection services and was sent to a secure institution in Utah in the American Midwest.
Police said yesterday that they were working with authorities in the United States to establish what happened.
The Ministry of Legal Affairs refused to answer questions from The Royal Gazette, but said an update would be provided “at the appropriate time”.
The Government confirmed on Sunday that an investigation into the sudden death had been launched.
It was asked by The Royal Gazette yesterday what that would include, who would carry out inquiries, and if the DCFS had requested the involvement of an independent organisation.
Queries also included the name of the institution involved, how long the girl had been there, as well as how often and when she had last been visited by staff from the DCFS.
The Government was also asked if there were other Bermudian children at the same institution and, if so, whether they would be removed while investigations were carried out.
The legal affairs ministry, which is responsible for the DCFS, said: “At the request of the family and in light of the ongoing investigation, we are requesting that the media be sensitive to the wishes of the family, respect their requested confidentiality and allow an appropriate update to be provided to the public at the appropriate time.”
Kim Wilson, the health minister, was asked about the Government’s inquiries at an unrelated press conference yesterday.
She said: “The Government is extremely committed to ensuring the safety and the protection of all our citizens, be it seniors and/or children.”
Ms Wilson explained that the DCFS had “indicated that an investigation with respect to the horrible circumstances surrounding that matter is being looked into and commenced ASAP”.
She added she was “not in a position” to say who would investigate.
A police spokesman said: “The Bermuda Police Service is liaising with the local Department of Child and Family Services, as well as police authorities in Utah in the United States, in an effort to determine the details of this unfortunate incident.
“However, it is not the practice of the BPS to reveal any information on matters of this nature.”
A spokeswoman for the Utah Division of Child and Family Services said it was “unaware of any incident involving a youth over the weekend”.
She added that child protection services would become involved in cases where abuse or neglect was suspected.
The state’s Department of Human Services added: “When a minor enters our state from another state or country, the sending entity — in this case the Department of Child and Family Services of Bermuda — maintains custody and responsibility for the health and safety of the minor with the programme provider they have selected for placement.”
A spokeswoman said: “While we cannot provide any details about an active investigation, please know that all serious incidents are required to be reported to the Utah Department of Human Services Office of Licensing by any programme licensed in our state.
“We conduct an investigation of any health and safety violations that may have been contributing factors.”
The Royal Gazette revealed last November that only two out of 50 vulnerable Bermudian children sent to overseas institutions as part of the Government’s psychoeducational programme in the previous five years had had legal representation.
None of the children sent overseas by the Family Court had legal representation before 2014.
The Court of Appeal ruled in June that ministers had broken obligations under the Children Act 1998 for some time because they had failed to provide a funding mechanism for litigation guardians for children involved in court proceedings.
The court also found that children had been denied effective access to, and participation and representation in, court proceedings, which had breached their human rights.
The Government refused to say if a litigation guardian had been appointed for the 16-year-old before she was referred to the US institution.
• 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 libellous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.
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