Mr Premier, where is your outrage?
“Premier: Questions Remain on JSC Report on December 2, 2016, Pepper Spray Protest at HOA”
“A regrettable lack of co-operation has deprived the people of Bermuda of the full truth of what led to the events of that terrible day”
“Burt not satisfied with protest findings”
These are headlines and quotes regarding David Burt's feelings on the Joint Select Committee Report on the December 2, 2016, an event that will be etched for ever in the minds and memories of our people.
There still remain many unanswered questions.
However, a committee was formed to investigate the matter, interviews conducted and a conclusion, albeit not satisfactory to many, was reached.
The Premier has been very vocal about his dissatisfaction regarding the lack of exposure of the “full truth” with regards to the December 2016 protest findings. I am puzzled as to why Mr Burt does not demonstrate that same level of disgust and outrage about what has been going on, and continues to go on, at the Department of Child and Family Services regarding our vulnerable youngsters.
There is no way that he should be satisfied with the abysmal “investigation” into the serious allegations that have been made against staff at the DCFS, and the lack of intervention by the director.
As our children begin a new school term, it is the appropriate time to raise this issue again. And I will continue to raise it, because our children deserve to be protected and respected.
Mr Burt should be appalled that a conclusion of the purported investigation was reached despite none of the children who were either the victims of alleged assault or neglect having been interviewed. None of us should be satisfied with that position — most of all, the Premier.
In a Royal Gazette article published on June 22, 2019, Court of Appeal judge Dame Elizabeth Gilloster wrote in her judgment that there is a “clear and serious continuing breach by ministers responsible for the Department of Child and Family Services to ensure the human rights of children were protected. The current position is unacceptable and amounts to a flagrant disregard for the human rights of children in the relevant family proceedings”.
Where are the headlines demonstrating the Premier's outrage about this? As the father of two children whom he clearly adores, surely the Premier must be fully supportive of ensuring that our children and their human rights are protected?
From 1998 to 2016, not a single vulnerable child involved in Family Court proceedings was provided with legal representation.
From 2016 onwards, only two out of 56 vulnerable Bermudian children sent to overseas institutions had legal representation. That is unacceptable, to say the least.
It was also reported that two staff members at the DCFS were disciplined after allegations of abuse and neglect were substantiated.
The incidents were never reported to the police. Surely this is just as worthy of a police investigation as the December 2, 2016 incident was?
It is alleged that employees were accused of being drunk on duty, leaving children unattended at youth groups and driving children while intoxicated.
There were 18 alleged grievances cited against Alfred Maybury, the director, including failure to protect children in his care, failure to ensure accused staff were suspended and failure to investigate accused staff.
On top of that, it is also alleged that Mr Maybury, in his capacity as director, punished and bullied a vulnerable child because that child reported that they were being abused by a DCFS staff member. Even worse, Mr Maybury continued to allow the staff member accused of abusing the vulnerable child to have contact with that child.
In section 9(1) of the Children Act 1998, it states the Director of Child and Family Services shall:
a, Arrange for the investigation of any allegations or report that a child may be in need of protection, care or supervision and, where necessary, arrange for the delivery of childcare services for the benefit of the child
b, (When a child is in the care of the director) provide accommodation for him and maintain him
The Premier stated that the December 2016 event was “actions of violence perpetrated against Bermuda and there is an attempt to cover up the persons who are responsible”.
Yet Mr Maybury, who was reinstated in his post as director of the DCFS on the day it was revealed that the two staff members were cited for the abuse and neglect claims, is accused of failing to investigate the allegations against the aforementioned staff members, as well as two other DCFS employees.
Actions of violence have been perpetrated against our vulnerable children and the DCFS cover-up continues!
Mr Premier, where is your outrage on this?
Mr Burt stated that his government would keep pursuing the truth about what happened during a demonstration, against the public-private partnership deal with Aecon, to build the new airport. (The Royal Gazette, July 22, 2019).
Why is there not the same commitment and resolve by the Premier to keep pressing on the DCFS matters, pursuing the truth about what happened to our vulnerable youngsters?
Don't they deserve that same level of doggedness and determination, to get to the bottom of the trauma and injustices that they have endured because of the complete and utter neglect of the DCFS?
From the outside looking in, the DCFS is in complete disarray.
A full and thorough investigation into the allegations of abuse, and an interview of everyone who encountered any form of abuse, is of paramount importance.
The department is being sued by a couple over the seizure of their three-year-old son ( The Royal Gazette, August 6, 2019). There have been various reports by mothers and children who have been directly affected by DCFS decisions to send children abroad without any legal representation.
One mother said her children were traumatised by their overseas experience, at the initiation of the DCFS (The Royal Gazette, April 10, 2019).
Another mother stated her three children were separated and sent overseas to a string of different institutions for up to seven years without any legal representation.
Tiffanne Thomas has been openly critical of DCFS policy, stating that the scheme for government staff to visit our vulnerable youngsters placed in overseas “care”, and I use that word very loosely, to be woefully inadequate. (Royal Gazette, April 8, 2019)
A young man directly impacted by decisions concerning his future made by the DCFS spoke out against comments made by the department and the Attorney-General, Kathy Lynn Simmons.
He said that he was deceived by the DCFS into believing he was going on a holiday, only to find out that he was going to be “dumped at a facility”.
There is a phenomenon that occurs in humans where they become numb to the news of traumatic events and/or situations.
It is called desensitisation. When trauma that has occurred to our vulnerable children starts to become nothing but statistics to us, we become less compassionate.
It seems to me that because this issue with the DCFS does not have a direct impact on the Premier's life or his children, it does not seem to resonate with him.
The Premier said, in respect of the December 2, 2016 event: “It is my thought and opinion that this is a very elaborate cover-up, and somebody doesn't want to know the truth of what happened this day, and it is our responsibility to continue to search for that truth, on behalf of all of those persons who will for ever remember the trauma which they experienced on December 2.” (The Royal Gazette, July 22, 2019)
Yet the Ministry of Legal Affairs and the DCFS continually decline to comment.
The Department of Child and Family Services is the responsibility of the Ministry of Legal Affairs — how do you say, “pass the buck”?
When asked, the DCFS refused to provide the names of the institutions where our vulnerable youngsters were sent, citing it would be a breach of confidentiality.
How? The names of the children were not requested, just the names of the institutions. That's a red flag waving in a blustery wind of deception if I ever saw one.
Ms Simmons stated in the Senate that she is happy to answer any “legitimate” question. Well, how long is a piece of string?
What is the criteria for determining what is a legitimate question?
Any question that seeks to ascertain what injustices have been committed against our vulnerable youngsters has to be deemed legitimate.
A spokeswoman for the ministry said it does not comment on individual cases.
OK, well, can the ministry give a general statement about its position and the events that our vulnerable young persons have endured as a result of the neglect of the DCFS?
All I can say is, surely, our vulnerable youngsters deserve the same respect and diligence in searching for answers.
Paraphrasing the Premier's comments, no stone should remain unturned and justice for your vulnerable babies must prevail.
As the leader of his country, I am waiting to hear the voice of the Premier on this critical issue. And I am not interested in being directed to Kathy Lynn Simmons or anyone else in the ministry.
The minister serves at the pleasure of the Premier and, ultimately, the buck stops with him. So the answers to these questions start with him.
As a community, we cannot allow ourselves to become desensitised to this very relevant issue.
This is important and should pull at the hearts of every single one of us. But for the grace of God, goes my child or someone else's. And may God's grace rest upon the children and the families who have been impacted by this travesty.
The DCFS cover-up is just as important as the December 2, 2016 event.
Accordingly, it is my opinion that this situation is equally deserving of a sincere and genuine level of disgust by the Premier at how the whole matter has been handled.
A complete and thorough, independent investigation must take place for the sake of our vulnerable children.
• Leah Scott is the deputy leader of the One Bermuda Alliance and the opposition MP for Southampton East Central (Constituency 30)