Social worker questions DCFS overseas policy

  • Unacceptable situation: independent litigation guardian Tiffanne Thomas (File photograph)

    Unacceptable situation: independent litigation guardian Tiffanne Thomas (File photograph)

A social worker asked the Government yesterday for proof that its use of overseas institutions for vulnerable Bermudian children was successful in the wake of the death of a Bermudian teenager in the United States.

Tiffanne Thomas, who has acted as an independent advocate for more than 30 children involved in Family Court proceedings since 2014, was speaking after police released a report that found that 17-year-old Kirsta Simons took her own life in November at a residential institution in Utah, about 2,500 miles from home.

Ms Thomas said: “I cannot ignore the fact that it seems as if the more questions that are asked, the more questions there are.

“The death of one child is one too many and it is not unreasonable for a family to want to seek answers; that’s a part of making sense of their loss.

“Any suggestion to the contrary is completely insensitive and outrageous.”

Ms Thomas added the definition of insanity was “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”. She said: “How then do we define the practice of continuing to send our most vulnerable citizens, our children, to another country under the guise of treatment, yet we have no proof that this intervention is successful?

“According to previous reports published in The Royal Gazette, when children are sent overseas, we are to believe it is a last resort because the child is presenting with needs that cannot be met locally.”

An article in the Salt Lake Tribune on Monday reported that Kirsta’s mother said she had struggled to get answers about why her daughter was sent to Utah or what treatment she received there.

The mother added Kirsta had been in foster care for most of her life and in the care of the Department of Child and Family Services since 2010.

Ms Thomas highlighted that $33 million had been spent by the DCFS on overseas treatment for youngsters over the past decade, as revealed by The Royal Gazette’s Who Cares? investigation in December.

She said: “Yet we have been told that there is no evidence or data to suggest that this approach to treatment has been successful.

“How can we truly justify continuing this practice in the face of a lack of empirical evidence?

“There is no longitudinal data that suggests that three, six or nine years post-intervention the person continues to demonstrate an improvement.

“Further, the notion that releasing any data would breach confidentiality is absurd.

“There is absolutely no way releasing statistical numerical data would reveal the identities of those who received the services, even in a society the size of Bermuda, yet when this rationale is provided we are just supposed to accept it.

“That is unacceptable. This issue is not political, it is about our children.”

Ms Thomas suggested that as well as reassessing the practice of sending children overseas, Bermuda should be working with the institutions abroad to try to provide comparable services on the island.

“After so many years of sending children overseas, it is safe to suggest that Bermuda has developed some level of relationship with the treatment providers,” she said.

“Why haven’t we explored the possibility of sending Bermudians overseas to cross-train or having a team from overseas come here to train our local service providers?

“Surely there must be a more sustainable way of ensuring that we are meeting the needs while being diligent with our resources.

“We have a responsibility to reconsider our current practices and no one who demands answers or strives to ensure accountability ought to be shunned or ostracised.”

She added: “A society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable. We would be naïve to think that our geographical location means that our thoughts, attitudes and treatment of our most vulnerable are not known beyond our shores.

“While we consider ourselves to be a sophisticated society by many standards, when it comes to the treatment of our most vulnerable there is room for significant improvement.”

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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