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Second inquiry into child services

Former minister: Michael Weeks

A second inquiry has been launched into the island’s child protection agency in less than three months.

The Government revealed yesterday that the Department of Internal Audit was conducting a review into the Department of Child and Family Services.

A spokesman said: “The review will follow the professional standards for internal audit and the necessary agencies will be notified as required, based on the findings.”

He did not respond to a question on what prompted the review.

News of the audit follows the launch of a separate investigation in August by the Ministry of Social Development and Sports into allegations that children in care were mistreated by Child and Family Services staff and that director Alfred Maybury ignored their complaints.

Questions sent to David Burt on whether he fired Michael Weeks over the inquiry into the mistreatment of children got no response.

Two sources told The Royal Gazette that they understood the Premier was unhappy that Mr Weeks, former Minister of Social Development and Sports, ordered the suspension of Mr Maybury, pending the outcome of the inquiry.

Mr Burt announced a reshuffle on Thursday, removing Mr Weeks from the Cabinet and getting rid of the Ministry of Social Development and Sports altogether.

The Premier reassigned responsibility for Child and Family Services to the Ministry of Legal Affairs, led by Attorney-General Kathy Lynn Simmons.

The first source, who asked to be anonymous, said: “It is understood that the minister was kicked out for being a threat to the Government, as he was insistent on investigating allegations of assault [and] negligence of children ... at the Department of Child and Family Services.

“There was resistance from the Premier and the Attorney-General in relation to the suspension of the director. [Mr] Weeks wanted an investigation of the director and the department. There was resistance from the Premier and the Attorney-General in relation to the investigation.

“Now [Mr] Weeks is out and his portfolio has been reassigned to the Attorney-General.”

The second source, who also asked not to be named, claimed Mr Maybury was suspended at Mr Weeks’s insistence, after a preliminary inquiry found substance to allegations set out in a letter to the minister from lawyer Saul Dismont, an associate at Marshall Diel & Myers law firm.

The letter claimed that Mr Maybury, in addition to failing to protect children in the department’s care from allegedly abusive and negligent staff, unlawfully obstructed independent social worker Tiffanne Thomas, who was representing one of the youngsters in the role of a litigation guardian.

Mr Weeks gave an interview to the news website Politica, which broke the story of Mr Maybury’s suspension, in which he confirmed that an inquiry had been launched and would be “conducted by an independent party not yet identified and completed as quickly as possible”.

He also pledged not to “dilute the duties of the litigation guardian” because he said he recognised the “need for having a voice for our children”.

The second source said: “Michael Weeks made Cabinet aware of what’s going on with the department. The Premier didn’t respond well to that.”

The source added that social development permanent secretary Wayne Carey resigned after Mr Weeks was fired, although this could not be confirmed yesterday.

An e-mailed request for comment from the Premier on why he got rid of Mr Weeks and whether Mr Carey had quit went unanswered by press time.

Mr Burt’s spokeswoman said today he never saw the questions as, due to an oversight on her part, they were not forwarded to him.

Announcing the reshuffle at Government House last week, Mr Burt said: “Let me first extend my sincere thanks to former minister Michael Weeks who brought a valued empathy to the former Ministry of Social Development and Sports. His commitment will continue to serve the country and the party well.”

A request for an update on the Maybury investigation got no response from the Ministry of Legal Affairs.

But Senate leader Ms Simmons told ZBM last night that the inquiry was ongoing and the Government was “committed to ensuring the wellbeing of our children”.

The Attorney-General added: “The Department of Internal Audit is engaged in determining whether the department’s policies and procedures are followed and their findings will be provided to the permanent secretary.”

Mr Weeks could not be reached.

Update: This story was amended to alter the sentence: “David Burt stonewalled questions on whether he fired Michael Weeks over the inquiry into the mistreatment of children.” The edit was made after the Premier’s spokeswoman said she failed to forward the questions from The Royal Gazette to him yesterday.