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DCFS pair ‘abused and neglected’ children

Kathy Lynn Simmons, Minister of Legal Affairs, who has responsibility for the Department of Child and Family Services (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

Two staff members at the island’s child protection agency have been disciplined after allegations of abuse and neglect against them were “substantiated”, The Royal Gazette can reveal.

Police confirmed yesterday that neither incident had been reported to them.

A statement from a government spokeswoman suggests the pair remain employed by the Department of Child and Family Services and are still working with vulnerable youngsters, under supervision.

The revelation that abuse and neglect claims against the pair were borne out comes as the department director Alfred Maybury returns to work today after a five-month suspension on full pay.

Mr Maybury, a senior civil servant, was accused of — among other things — failing to investigate the allegations against the two staff members and two other DCFS employees.

Late on Friday afternoon, a government spokeswoman said a “thorough investigation” had found “no misconduct” on the part of Mr Maybury and he would be reinstated.

The spokeswoman said yesterday, in response to a question, that the full report into Mr Maybury’s conduct would not be made public.

Brief details about the two employees who were found to have abused or neglected the children in their care were provided by the Department of Child and Family Services in response to a Pati request from The Royal Gazette.

The department’s information officer said the allegations were “substantiated”.

She added: “The employees in both matters were disciplined in accordance with the government code of conduct, discipline and misconduct procedures.”

Her response said investigations into the two other staff members accused of abuse and neglect were continuing, and that the pair remained on administrative leave.

The department said it could not share any information on Mr Maybury’s suspension because those records were held at the headquarters of the Ministry of Legal Affairs. It offered to transfer the Pati request to that public authority.

The abuse claims against the four staff members were uncovered by Tiffanne Thomas, a freelance social worker, when she was reviewing the files of a boy in care whom she represented, as first reported by the Politica news website last September.

The files revealed that department social workers had made two separate child protection referrals concerning allegations of physical abuse of the boy — referred to as “BC” — by a male staff member.

Ms Thomas later discovered that other children had complained about neglect by staff at the department’s residential treatment centre.

Employees were accused of being drunk on duty, leaving children unattended at a youth group and transporting children while intoxicated.

It is not known whether BC’s alleged assailant is one of the two staff members to have been disciplined or if he is still under investigation.

A restraining order was issued against the alleged male assailant and the three other employees on July 19 last year by magistrate Tyrone Chin to prevent them having any contact with BC.

Ms Thomas, acting as litigation guardian for BC, instructed lawyer Saul Dismont to apply for the order and Mr Maybury opposed it, on the grounds that it was based on an accusation not yet determined to be true.

Mr Dismont wrote a letter of complaint about the DCFS director in August to Michael Weeks, who was then the Minister of Social Development and Sport.

It listed 18 grievances against Mr Maybury, including that he had failed to protect the children in the agency’s care, failed to ensure the accused staff were suspended, failed to investigate the allegations against them, punished and bullied BC for reporting the abuse and allowed the accused staff to have contact with BC.

The letter triggered Mr Maybury’s suspension and the launch of an inquiry by the ministry.

The social development ministry was axed in October and Mr Weeks was fired in a Cabinet reshuffle.

Responsibility for the Department of Child and Family Services was transferred to Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney-General.

On November 6, a government spokesman confirmed that the Department of Internal Audit was conducting a review into the Department of Child and Family Services.

The government spokeswoman said on Friday: “The ministry placed Mr Maybury on paid administrative leave on August 23, 2018 after allegations from an external party stated that Mr Maybury had not performed his role in accordance with the ministry’s policies and procedures, as they relate to the care and safety of children in residential treatment services, and he did not follow financial instructions.

“These claims levelled against the director were not substantiated.”

She added: “The review found weaknesses in some of the operations at RTS and these are currently being corrected. Steps will always be taken to ensure that the care, welfare and wellbeing of the children is addressed with sensitivity and respect.”

The spokeswoman would not provide the public service salary pay grade of Mr Maybury or the four staff members.

She also would not answer questions specifically on the two employees who were disciplined or the two still suspended, explaining that the Government “does not provide information on human resources matters”.

She said questions about the DCFS touched on “areas of care that are sensitive” and reporting of the information had to be handled carefully “so as not to adversely affect” clients of the department.

She pointed to the following statement when asked if the two disciplined workers were still employed by the DCFS and having contact with youngsters.

“If the allegations against a DCFS officer are substantiated, when he or she returns to work after a period of administrative leave, in addition to disciplinary action, they are required to undergo increased supervision for a defined period.

“The officer and everyone involved in the allegation must participate in restorative mediation. The officer must also take part in mandatory in-service training on preventing child abuse, a review of the mandatory reporting guidelines and the code of conduct requirements.

“The officer receives enhanced monitoring and supervision by their immediate supervisor to ensure their successful transition back into their work environment.”

The Pati disclosure included the department’s protocol for investigating complaints against staff members.

The protocol prohibits staff from any physical discipline of children at any time and says they must not physically, sexually or emotionally abuse or neglect any child. It adds: “When an accusation of abuse is made against a DCFS worker, the department is required to investigate.”

Cases of serious physical abuse and neglect or sexual abuse must be reported by the department to the police.

A police spokesman said: “There were two incidents of note. We cannot go into the specifics of each case but what we can say is: neither incident has been reported to the BPS. The first incident was investigated internally and did not warrant the involvement of the BPS. The second incident was investigated internally as well. However, due to the time period from when the incident occurred and when it was brought to the attention of DCFS, there was nothing to corroborate the incident.”

On occasion The Royal Gazette may decide to not allow comments on a story that we deem might inflame sensitivities. 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. To view the Pati request responses, click on the PDF links under “Related Media”