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Attorney-General critical of media over DCFS

The Attorney-General asked The Royal Gazette yesterday to stop inquiring about a government programme that sends vulnerable children overseas and about child-abuse allegations at some of the schools used.

The youngsters go to institutions abroad as part of the Department of Child and Family Services' psychoeducational programme after social workers decide they have exhausted all the services available on the island. Almost all of the children involved had no legal representation.

Kathy Lynn Simmons said in the Senate: “Please do not harass these institutions. Please do not try to obtain information that is detrimental to what we are trying to accomplish. If you have a legitimate question, I'm more than happy to answer it.”

She said there had been a “very unfortunate narrative and dialogue” on the psychoeducational programme. Ms Simmons, the Senate leader and Minister of Legal Affairs, was speaking during the motion to adjourn.

The Human Rights Commission criticised the psychoeducational programme in an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court in 2017. The HRC said sending youngsters to secure institutions in the United States was a “disturbing practice”.

The commission also alleged that some children were forced to take medication and denied contact with family and friends.

The Royal Gazette has since interviewed several children involved in the programme who claimed they were tricked or forced into going abroad and abused and mistreated while there.

The Gazettereported in April that vulnerable boys were sent for decades to American reform school Glen Mills, in Pennsylvania, which has now closed down after allegations of child abuse and cover-ups.

Ms Simmons said there had been “all kinds of negative comments made about why, how, where, who?”

She added: “We've had parents speaking out, we've had The Royal Gazette fishing overseas and undermining the operations of the Government, with respect to the services provided to our children.”

Ms Simmons said she travelled overseas last month to visit Bermudian children at “more than” six facilities.

She was accompanied by Marva O'Brien, the legal affairs permanent secretary, and Alfred Maybury, the DCFS director.

Ms Simmons said she “will applaud until the end of time” the relationships created by Mr Maybury with overseas institutions “to provide services that we do not and cannot provide for our children”.

She said visits were made to residential care facilities, psychological assessment facilities and hospitals. She also highlighted sex offender programmes.

Ms Simmons said that one programme focused on children with “various sexual disorders — things that I've never even heard of”.

She added: “I got a lesson on the effects of pornography and I intend to come back to this chamber with real details and to speak about it publicly.”

Ms Simmons said that there were problems in Bermuda “that surpass political partisanship”.

She added: “There have been numerous reports — negative reports — about our operations, about the staff of child and family services. I can say hand on heart where there is ever a misdeed it is dealt with, with the procedures that are in place to deal with it.”

Mr Maybury was suspended on full pay last August after he was said to have ignored allegations about the mistreatment of children in care by some DCFS staff. He returned to work in January after an investigation found the claims against him were “not substantiated”.

The Government has refused to release the inquiry's findings under public access to information. Two staff members who were disciplined after allegations of abuse and neglect against them were “substantiated” are understood to have returned to work.

Ms Simmons told the Senate that the people overseas responsible for the island's children were “dedicated, committed and were so happy to see that Bermuda actually cares”.

Ms Simmons added: “We are actually miles ahead.”

She said she would introduce legislation to protect children in “the months that come” and that she had invited several of the specialists she had met overseas to visit Bermuda. Ms Simmons told senators there was “much work to do”.

She added: “There are issues and matters pertaining to our children and the socioeconomic condition of this country that we must partner and move forward on in the interest of the country.”

The Royal Gazette has asked overseas institutions about allegations of mistreatment, as well as for information about their treatment programmes.

None of the children involved in psychoeducational programmes have been identified. The DCFS refused to reveal the list of institutions where it sends children last November on the grounds it would be a “breach of confidentiality and directly impact the children and parents who currently have children overseas”.

Questions asked, but only some answered

The Royal Gazette has asked the Ministry of Legal Affairs a series of questions about the Department of Child and Family Services' psychoeducational programme.

They included:

• When did the psychoeducational programme start?

The Government said: “The establishment of the psychoeducational programme preceded 1999.”

• How many children have been in the programme since?

We received figures for 2013 to 2018 only.

• How many of those children had legal representation?

The Government said two of 50 children sent overseas since April 2014 were represented. None had representation before that date.

• Which institutions and countries have the children at present in the psychoeducational programme been sent to?

The Government refused to provide a list.

• Did each of the children in the programme get representation by a litigation guardian and lawyer in the legal proceedings which led to them being sent overseas?

No answer was received.

• The late Nelson Bascome, then the health minister, in 2003 talked about plans for a $9 million care centre for “delinquent youth” to be called the Youth Pathways Village.

He said: “A number of children with high-risk behaviour problems we have had to send abroad because we do not have the facilities in Bermuda to facilitate them.

“The Youth Pathways Village ... will offer greater security than we have now to cater for them.”

• The ministry was asked what happened to the Youth Pathways Village plan.

No answer was received.

• Was the $9 million allocated for the centre spent on anything else or was it not spent at all?

• How many children have been through the psychoeducational programme since 2003?

We received figures for 2013 to 2018 only.

• Does the Government have any plans for an island-based alternative for the children in the psychoeducational programme?

No answer.

• How many children from Bermuda have been sent by the DCFS to now-closed reform school Glen Mills, in Pennsylvania?

The Government said: “ ... at this time the number of young men that have been sent there is unknown and time restraints have not allowed us the opportunity to obtain the number. This would need to be manually done and is time prohibitive.”

• Had any of the children sent to Glen Mills over the past 35 years committed a crime before they were sent there?

No answer.

• Did any of the children sent there have legal representation in the form of a litigation guardian and/or lawyer?

No answer.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in August 2018 that the Philadelphia Department of Human Services had stopped sending children to Glen Mills because of allegations of violence against youngsters in its care. Was the department aware of this report?

DCFS said it found out about the allegations only in February this year.

• The Inquirer reported that in 2000, Glen Mills overhauled its staff training and safety programmes after eight children told inspectors they were physically abused. Was the department aware of these allegations and of the changes that Glen Mills put in place at the time?

No answer.

“If you have a legitimate question, I'm more than happy to answer it”: Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published June 06, 2019 at 9:00 am (Updated June 06, 2019 at 10:15 am)

Attorney-General critical of media over DCFS

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