DCFS ordered to do Pati review on US school
The island’s child protection department has been ordered to review a request for records about a controversial US reform school where boys were sent for more than three decades.
Gitanjali Gutierrez, the Information Commissioner ruled that the Department of Child and Family Services had failed to comply with part of the Public Access to Information Act.
She said an internal review must be carried out into a request from The Royal Gazette in June for information about Glen Mills Schools in Pennsylvania, with a decision to be provided by January 16.
The decision notice revealed that the DCFS told the Information Commissioner’s Office the request was “extensive” and meant people had to work beyond regular hours.
Ms Gutierrez wrote: “This decision finds that the department failed to decide the applicant’s request for an internal review within the statutory time frame set forth by the Public Access to Information Act 2010.”
She said that the decision was made in the context of a “failure to decide” case.
Ms Gutierrez’s notice explained: “This decision does not address whether a public authority has properly denied access to a record.
“Rather, it addresses the basic obligation upon a public authority to respond to a requester within the statutory time frames.”
It showed that an initial decision was not given inside six weeks of receipt of the Pati request — a deadline of August 6.
The DCFS extended the time frame to respond until September 17 on August 9, but no decision was issued by then.
The Gazette asked for an internal review to be carried out by the head of the public authority a week later.
No decision was provided within six weeks of the internal review request’s receipt and an independent review by the Information Commissioner was sought on November 7.
The DCFS was asked by the ICO to make submissions.
Ms Gutierrez wrote: “In its submissions, the department accepted that it had not issued an internal review decision within the statutory time frame as a matter of oversight.
“The department explained that it has been working on the Pati request utilising the resources available and noted that the request was ‘quite extensive’, which has required extensive research and has impacted it financially due to labour resources being extended beyond regular working hours.
“The Information Commissioner appreciates the department’s continued effort to respond to the applicant’s Pati request.
“It is a matter of fact, however, that the department did not provide the applicant with an internal review decision within the statutory time frame.
“The Information Commissioner is satisfied that the department failed to comply with section 43(2) of the Pati Act.”
Ms Gutierrez said that her decision, dated December 19, was filed with the Supreme Court. She added: “If the department fails to comply with this decision, the Information Commissioner has the authority to pursue enforcement in the same manner as an Order of the Supreme Court.”
Glen Mills Schools was among the places used by the DCFS as part of its psychoeducational programme. The last time a child was sent there was in 2017.
The schools’ operating licences were revoked in April as investigations were launched into allegations of serious mistreatment of children.
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Legal Affairs, which includes the DCFS, said: “The Information Commissioner’s decision has been received and once the department has reviewed it, appropriate actions will be taken in accordance with the Pati Act.”
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