A mother’s anguish over tragic death in Utah

A mother claimed yesterday that her teenage daughter’s referral by Bermuda’s child protection services to a US treatment centre was a “Band-Aid” measure after the young girl died at the overseas facility.

She wanted to know what steps were taken before the 16-year-old was sent to Utah.

The woman adopted the alias “Snow Black” during an interview with journalist Ceola Wilson, which was broadcast on Fresh TV and streamed online through its Facebook page.

She claimed that her questions to the Department of Child and Family Services remained unanswered.

Her comments came after The Royal Gazette dedicated a week last month to its Who Cares? series about the DCFS psychoeducational programme, which has seen governments on both sides of the political divide spend more than $33 million over the past ten years to send Bermudian children to overseas institutions. The teenager, who was named by her mother during the interview as Kirsta Simons, was thought to have taken her own life.

Ms Black, whose real name was not used to protect the identities of her younger children, said: “I want to know what happened, I want to know why she was sent overseas. I want to know ... what support was given to Kirsta before she went overseas to deal with the concerns, or issues, or behaviour issues that she was having at that time because in my opinion she was just shipped off and a Band-Aid was stuck on an open wound.”

The Ministry of Legal Affairs, which includes the DCFS, confirmed in November “the unfortunate passing of a child” who was referred to a treatment facility abroad.

It emerged later that the girl was a student at West Ridge Academy, in West Jordan, Utah, where investigations by local police and the state’s Department of Human Services Office of Licensing continued yesterday.

Ms Black said: “It breaks my heart that my daughter’s gone.”

She said: “I don’t understand how this happened, I don’t understand why it happened and I don’t understand why I have been kept out of proceedings, out of what was going on, out of plans that were made for my child.

“She was outside of the island before I even knew where she was, and for months, from my understanding, and I’m angry.

“I’m really angry, especially to the fact of I’m contacting necessary people who I feel should have told me what was going on and I was ignored. To date, those e-mails were not responded to.”

Ms Black, who was speaking from the Great Britain, said she lost contact with her daughter in October 2018.

She was asked what information was provided to her since her child’s funeral last November.

Ms Black replied that she had a meeting with Alfred Maybury, the DCFS director, “and a few others” where she received a death certificate.

She added: “That’s the only thing I have received officially.”

Ms Wilson referred to questions from Ms Black to the DCFS about what assessments were carried out before it was decided her daughter would be treated in a secure unit, as well as whether any risk assessments were completed in relation to the teenager being put on a plan or going overseas.

Ms Black said she had received no answers to her queries.

She said: “Can you imagine how it was for me to explain to my younger two that they wouldn’t see Kirsta again?

“My daughter’s first thing out of her mouth was, ‘but I wanted to see her’. When she comes to me and she says, ‘mommy, I miss Kirsta’, how am I supposed to explain to her? “Or when she says, ‘mommy, what happened to Kirsta?’ How am I supposed to explain to her what happened? She deserves answers too.”

Ms Black was asked why her oldest child was placed in the care of the DCFS.

She replied: “I made choices in my life that I’m not proud of.”

Ms Black added that she had changed and said: “I’ve accepted my responsibilities.

“I did apologise to Kirsta. I apologised for failing her as a mother, which wasn’t easy, and I know I messed up.

“I know that, in regards to that, my heart is at peace, because I know that Kirsta understood, we had that conversation and she understood, and Kirsta forgave me.”

Asked if she had a message for young mothers “who may be making the wrong choices”, Ms Black said: “In every situation, every plan that you make, always put your children first.”

Ms Black wrote to her daughter through a third party in November, but could not say if the teenager received the letter.

In it, she recalled the earliest moments of being with her firstborn. She told her daughter: “I remember looking down into your eyes and instantly falling in love. It was a different type of love that I had never experienced before. It was a love that no matter what happened, it would always be there, it would never go away and it would only grow stronger.”

Ms Black added: “I often pray to God that He will guide you and protect you, keep you safe and out of harm’s way, bring the right people into your life, people that will influence you the right way, people that you can look up to.”

Janet Farnsworth, the executive director of West Ridge Academy, said last night that the facility was in contact with “the adoptive* mother of the student that passed away”.

She added: “One of our therapists continues to reach out, offering her comfort during this time of grief.

“We are not aware of any concerns that the family has shared with the news, or with the DCFS staff, in regards to their daughter’s care.”

Ms Farnsworth explained: “As you can imagine, given this tragedy, we have spent a significant amount of time reviewing our policies and procedures, conducting critical reviews surrounding this specific incident, and training and debriefing with all the members of our staff in the weeks since this young lady passed away.

“We have not made changes to our operations based on our internal investigation, nor have we been mandated any changes from investigators or licensing at this point.

“We will continue to invest time and resources to reviewing all safety protocols that are part of our programme. Our commitment is to ensure the safety and comfort of the fragile population of young clients that we serve.”

Sergeant J.C. Holt, of the West Jordan Police Department, said yesterday that initial accounts indicated that the teenager’s death appeared to be “a suicide-type situation”.

He added that a final report from the state medical examiner’s office was not yet received.

A spokeswoman for Utah’s Department of Human Services confirmed that its investigation remained active.

The Ministry of Legal Affairs did not respond to a request for comment.

Update: *It was understood Kirsta Simons was in foster care rather than adoptive care. In this case, the biological mother retains all rights.

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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