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Maybury to be sued by clients

On administrative leave: Alfred Maybury, director of the Department of Child and Family Services (File photograph)

Vulnerable children who claim they were let down by the head of the Government’s child protection unit plan to sue him, according to a lawyer.

Alfred Maybury, director of the Department of Child and Family Services, was placed on administrative leave over claims that he failed to properly handle complaints against his staff by youngsters in their care. His suspension and an inquiry into his actions were sparked by a letter to Michael Weeks, the Minister of Social Development, and Sport, from Saul Dismont, an associate at Marshall Diel & Myers law firm.

In his August 10 letter, Mr Dismont claimed Mr Maybury, in addition to failing to protect children in the department’s care from allegedly abusive and negligent staff, unlawfully obstructed an independent social worker, representing one of the youngsters in the role of a litigation guardian.

Mr Dismont told the minister: “In the coming weeks, expect a number of civil claims from a number of children relating to claims against the director.

“All of those claims have come to light due to the children having had the benefit of a litigation guardian and a lawyer.”

The lawyer warned Mr Weeks against any attempt by the Government to amend the Children Act 1998 which, under sections 35 and 36, grants every child who needs it the right to representation in court and allows litigation guardians to access departmental files on their clients.

The letter to the minister alleged that Mr Maybury banned litigation guardian Tiffanne Thomas from accessing the records of a boy she was representing, referred to as BC to protect his identity, after she uncovered reports that he had been violently assaulted by a male staff member at the youth residential treatment centre.

Three other staff at the centre were reported to have neglected the children in their care.

Mr Maybury is accused of failing to ensure the accused staff members were suspended and allowing them to continue to have contact with BC, despite a restraining order issued against them by a magistrate.

It also detailed how he ignored orders requiring his attendance in the Family Court, in relation to a separate matter, leading to a warrant for his arrest being issued.

“One of the great purposes of the role of a litigation guardian is to have access to the director’s records in order to oversee the director, who is otherwise unmonitored, and report their findings to the court,” Mr Dismont wrote.

“The ... actions of the director are a clear attempt to obstruct that power.”

He added: “Like the ... attempts of the director to obstruct the litigation guardian from effectively reporting to the courts, any attempts to meddle with section 35 or section 36 are likely to be interpreted as the minister and the Government trying to protect themselves from vulnerable children who may have a valid claim against them.

“Please also consider that if any amendments to the Act are made, this letter may be relied on as evidence that before making such amendments, the ministry was aware of pending lawsuits against it made by vulnerable children.”

Mr Weeks told news website Politica, after it broke the story of Mr Maybury’s suspension, that though amendments to the Children Act were coming there were no plans to “dilute the duties of the litigation guardian”.

He was quoted as saying: “As minister responsible for Child and Family Services, I recognise the need for having a voice for our children.”

A Supreme Court judge ruled in June that unless public funding was made available for vulnerable youngsters, hundreds of whom appear before the courts without representation every year, their “constitutional right to meaningful participation in decisions which may be of vital importance to their lives and wellbeing will often remain unrealised”.

Asked whether the Government had any plans to allocate funding for litigation guardians and lawyers, a ministry spokeswoman said: “The decision to provide funding for litigation guardians and lawyers has not yet been determined. Any budgetary allotments must be approved by Cabinet.”

Questions about how long the investigation into Mr Maybury’s conduct was expected to last and whether he remained on full pay while suspended went unanswered, as did queries about whether the staff members accused of the abuse and neglect of children were still working with minors or when the inquiry into their behaviour was expected to conclude.

The spokeswoman said: “The ministry does not comment on personnel matters.”

The Department of Child and Family Services has a budget of about $16 million, more than half of which is spent on staff salaries.

It also spent $3.2 million last year on “professional services” which is thought to include the cost of outside legal counsel who represented the department in court.

The spokeswoman could not provide a breakdown of the $3.2 million or disclose the cost of outside legal counsel by press time.

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