Anniversary of trauma and pain
An anniversary is the yearly recurrence of the date of a past event. For some, an anniversary date is a reminder of a pleasant or happy event or time. For others, it is an unpleasant reminder of pain, hurt and suffering. It is a date that one would rather forget, but is unable to do so for many reasons.
Like the anniversary date for all of our young people who got caught up in the Department of Child and Family Services, and were sent away to facilities that exploited their innocence — and, for some, ruined their lives.
Our young people were forgotten and their feelings and fears are now being swept under the carpet because no one at the DCFS wants to answer the hard questions or be held responsible or accountable for the physical, emotional and psychological devastation and destruction of the souls of our children.
We cannot begin to measure the benefit of, or detriment to, our children being sent to facilities overseas without accurate data. Equally, we cannot begin the healing process without being able to measure the level and degree of harm that our children have endured.
There is so much that we need to know, such as the gender breakdown of our children who were sent away, their ages, the reasons they were sent, how many times they were visited by the DCFS and their family. If the DCFS and the Government do not know or cannot aggregate the data, then that is not OK and we, the public, cannot accept it as being OK. The DCFS is responsible for protecting our children.
In January 2019, a government spokeswoman revealed that allegations of abuse and neglect against two DCFS staff members were “substantiated”.
It was also reported that the pair remained employed by the department to work with vulnerable youngsters. How can that possibly be deemed to be fair and equitable to our children?
It’s not acceptable to me. How can it be for anyone?
DCFS staff who have been found to have abused and neglected vulnerable children are being employed to care for our abused and neglected vulnerable children? And we the taxpayers pay their salary?
We have seen the reports that an arrest warrant had to be issued for the head of the DCFS because he refused to adhere to two summonses to appear in court. What does it say of the DCFS if the person who is ultimately responsible for protecting our vulnerable children ignores court orders?
It is no wonder that many of our children who age out of DCFS residential care, go from full-time “care” to full-time neglect. Data regarding this would be an excellent marker in determining the success or failure of the DCFS.
We have also read that in the purported investigation of the director that not one of our young victims was interviewed. There is no way that any viable conclusion can be considered as having any integrity when those who were violated were not considered or consulted. How is that possible?
Also, if two members of DCFS staff were found to have abused and neglected children, is the director not ultimately responsible? And who but the head of a department is responsible for the “weaknesses in some of the operations at [its Residential Treatment Services]”, as we are told the investigation revealed this year?
Who else is responsible for having sent our children to Glenn Mills and the other terrible facilities we have read about?
Glenn Mills and other facilities have served as an incubator — birthing our children into gang and other antisocial behaviour found at those facilities. I am certain that they have been a catalyst to the incarceration of many of our young people and a contributor to our country’s familial and societal dysfunction.
In the 2017 Throne Speech, the Government made a commitment to “achieve a greater degree of protection and care for children”. Two weeks ago, the Progressive Labour Party government celebrated its two-year anniversary — two years in government and it has done nothing to protect our children.
It seems every few months there are more concerning reports from those who were children in the care of the DCFS. However, the DCFS debacle remains as unaddressed and unresolved as it did when it first arose.
There is nothing more important than our children, and these issues with the DCFS are beyond politics. They appear to span multiple governments. Yet, the government of today continues to look the other way and appears to hope this matter, and all the ugliness that is associated with it, will just go away. It will not go away any time soon, and it is time for our government to take action.
The litigation guardian Tiffanne Thomas and the lawyer Saul Dismont have worked feverishly to address these issues on behalf of our victimised children. Meanwhile, Martha Dismont, of Family Centre, and other agencies such as the Coalition for the Protection of Children and Saving Children and Revealing Secrets are continuously working with families to address the trauma and abuse our children have endured because of the institutional neglect carried on by the DCFS — neglect that is being perpetuated by a government that chooses not to address it.
MP Michael Weeks said that he would work collectively with the Government to build a better and fairer Bermuda. This comment was made after his unexpected removal as the Minister of Social Development and Sport.
I know Michael Weeks. I knew him long before he got involved in politics, and I know he has genuine care and a great heart for our vulnerable children. I also know that he has great knowledge and experience of the system that is failing them.
The time has come for him to speak about what he knows to be true: the good, the bad and the ugly. It is time for all those with such knowledge and compassion to come forward, irrespective of our political differences. We surely all agree that our most important obligation is to protect our children, especially those most vulnerable.
I say that a better and fairer Bermuda cannot be built for our children unless, and until, this Government is willing to uncover and expose the shifting foundation that the DCFS is standing on. Until then, no wrongs committed against our children and their families can be made right and many more children will suffer as others have.
It is our vulnerable children and their families who must have their anniversary date of trauma and pain replaced with an anniversary date when they can celebrate that the Government and the DCFS have finally acknowledged the wrongs committed against children, and they have taken the necessary steps to rectify the issues in whatever way is required.
It is well overdue.
• Leah Scott is the Deputy Leader of the One Bermuda Alliance and the Opposition MP for Southampton East Central (Constituency 30)
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