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No answers over DCFS staffer who worked while facing assault allegation

Kennette Robinson (Photograph from Facebook)

The Government has stonewalled questions about why a senior social worker who admitted pushing a child in her care was allowed to remain at work while the incident was investigated – despite a policy that required her to be put on leave.

Kennette Robinson, 52, the second-in-command at the Department of Child and Family Services, was cleared in Magistrates’ Court on May 26 of the assault and mistreatment of the 17-year-old girl.

The criminal case took almost two years to get to trial and Ms Robinson is understood to have worked throughout, including continuing to sit on and manage the Child Care Placement Board, which considers whether children need to go into care, in Bermuda or abroad.

She was also twice reappointed as a children’s officer, under the Children Act 1998, by the Cabinet minister responsible for DCFS.

Ms Robinson said in evidence during her trial that the teenager began shouting at the airport on May 8, 2019 because she did not want to be sent to an overseas institution.

Three sources who spoke to the newspaper at the time claimed the youngster was being forced to return to a residential treatment centre as part of the Department of Child and Family Services's psychoeducational programme.

Ms Robinson, DCFS’s assistant director, told the court she held the child back by her belt as she tried to leave the airport and took a pair of headphones from the girl and “threw them to the floor and stomped around them” causing her to cry.

The Ministry of Legal Affairs said in a press release in January last year that social workers could not “prevent the free movement of a child”.

Ms Robinson said she pushed the teenager in the upper chest after the girl lunged at her from behind.

The Department of Child and Family Services has a policy that there can be “absolutely no physical discipline of children” in care.

The policy was referred to in the British Parliament in December 2011 when Lord Howell of Guildford, a Foreign Office minister, said in Bermuda “corporal punishment may not be carried out on any child in care, whether in a children's home or foster care.”

The department’s protocol said: “DCFS workers are expected to exercise sound professional judgment in their contact with children at all times in order to avoid perceptions and accusations of misconduct.”

Staff must take training in de-escalation techniques and therapeutic crisis intervention to help them deal with traumatised youngsters.

The policy said: “In situations where a distressed child is in need of comfort, please use discretion.”

The department must investigate any accusation of abuse made against a DCFS employee.

The policy said the investigation team would write a letter to recommend the accused be put on administrative leave during the inquiry.

The director of DCFS then requests that the Head of the Public Service place the worker on leave until the outcome of the investigation.

It is not known if Alfred Maybury, the DCFS director, sent such a letter to Derrick Binns, the Head of the Public Service.

Dr Binns earlier said he would “not discuss internal personnel matters publicly”.

Mr Maybury was suspended on full pay in 2018 after being accused of failing to properly handle complaints of abuse made about staff by youngsters in care.

It was claimed the director failed to ensure accused employees were suspended and let them continue to have contact with a child who had made allegations of mistreatment against them.

Mr Maybury was also accused of not following financial instructions.

He was cleared of any wrongdoing in January 2019, though the investigation team’s report has not been made public.

Dr Binns placed Cheyra Bell, a DCFS worker, on administrative leave in September 2018 after she was accused of drinking on duty.

A recent judgment in a civil lawsuit brought by Ms Bell ruled the suspension was in line with a July 2012 memorandum of understanding between the Head of the Public Service and the Bermuda Public Services Union.

The memo said an official can be placed on administrative leave while a department investigated allegations of misconduct or gross misconduct, which includes violence on the job and actions that endangered others.

The Royal Gazette asked the Government if Ms Robinson remained at work and if an internal inquiry had been launched into her conduct after her first court appearance in December 2019.

The query highlighted that Ms Robinson had e-mailed a Gazette reporter a few days before, in response to a request for information from the Child Care Placement Board, which suggested that she was at work.

There was no response.

David Burt was asked why Ms Robinson remained at work at a press conference last August.

The Premier said he had “no idea of the situation” and would speak to Dr Binns.

A Ministry of Social Development spokeswoman, in response to further questions, said this week: “Personnel matters are not discussed or debated with the media.

“Ms Robinson has been acquitted in Magistrates’ Court of all charges and remains on her post within the DCFS.

“We will offer no further comment on this matter.”

The Royal Gazette was not at the hearing at which Ms Robinson was acquitted by magistrate Khamisi Tokunbo but has obtained a written copy of his judgment.

Mr Tokunbo said in relation to the mistreatment charge that the child was in the care of DCFS and Ms Robinson’s actions were reasonable and “as any parent might have acted by way of chastisement”.

He added the only evidence for the assault charge came from the girl and that he had “doubts as to whether she was punched by the defendant”.

Mr Tokunbo said there was “ample evidence that she was coaxed or encouraged to pursue these proceedings”.

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