Simmons: law prevents release of Maybury report
Findings from an investigation into Bermuda's child protection agency are prevented by law from being released, senators heard yesterday.
Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, said legislation meant the report of an inquiry into the Department of Child and Family Services, could not be shared publicly.
She was responding to Nick Kempe, the Opposition Senate Leader, who cited an article in The Royal Gazette, which reported yesterday that it asked the Government under public access to information for the “full report” into allegations against Alfred Maybury, the DCFS director.
Mr Kempe quoted from the story when he told senators it showed that the legal affairs ministry refused to disclose whether a record existed because to do so would “add unnecessary confusion to misinformation which is already present in the media and public domain”.
Mr Maybury was suspended last August after being accused of ignoring allegations about the DCFS staff mistreating children in care.
He returned to work in January after the Government announced that a “thorough investigation” had found the claims against him were “not substantiated”.
Mr Kempe said: “I'm struggling to understand how the release of an investigation would add more confusion.
“One would think that if there's concerns about rumour and innuendo, that releasing a report would put to bed any confusion and, in the name of transparency, allow the public to understand what it is exactly the government investigation has uncovered or not, and would provide people with some insight into why certain decisions were made or not made.”
He also referred to earlier comments from Ms Simmons in the Senate, when Mr Kempe said she spoke about “requesting the newspaper to not ask essentially uncomfortable questions”.
The Attorney-General claimed last week that the Gazette was “fishing overseas” as part of its inquiries into a government psychoeducational programme that sends vulnerable children abroad.
She urged then: “Please do not harass these institutions. Please do not try to obtain information that is detrimental to what we are trying to accomplish.”
Mr Kempe said yesterday: “That approach to asking questions, whether it be a source of journalism or the Opposition, I think is entirely counterproductive to the checks and balances that we've built into our society.”
Ms Simmons said she listened to his remarks with “great dismay”.
She explained: “We cannot characterise an investigation as something that is fraught with innuendo or respond to reports that put it in a category of information that should be dealt with outside the parameters of the law.
“The Internal Audit Act 2010 prohibits release of the report pertaining to the investigation into child and family services. From a legal perspective, we are not allowed to disclose the report.”
Ms Simmons offered reassurances that the department “always” acted in the best interests of the children it served and ministry officers would not respond to stories reported by individuals to the press with details that would provide “clarity to the situation but which would also involve having to release personal information about the child or family situation”.
She added: “Last week, I spoke about the reporting that did nothing to advance our interests, and when I say our interests I mean our collective interests in terms of the efforts that we make to support and protect our children.”
Ms Simmons said she planned to offer a statement about her trip abroad to visit children's facilities but was “daunted” and “had to put the brakes on” when she learnt from one of the overseas facilities that inquiries were made about a child “who was there some time ago, which breached all protocol”.
She indicated she was distracted by providing the establishment “reassurance that Bermuda remains a committed partner”.
Ms Simmons said treatment for some children was not available on the island.
She explained: “We simply don't provide the programmes, resource, expertise that would be able to address the very intricate dysfunction and problems and psychological issues that arise with respect to some of our children.
“So we are actually very pleased that we have these relationships, but I can say hand on heart I don't know one child who would ever jump with glee and happiness if they were told that they were being sent overseas for assessment, if they were told that they had to leave their family and their friends.”
In the House of Assembly last Friday, Craig Cannonier, the Leader of the Opposition, suggested there be a “shuffle in the management” at the DCFS.
Mr Cannonier said: “I do believe that there are certainly some realities that Bermuda has to face. I am sure that everyone in this House of Assembly does not appreciate when they open up the paper and they once again are seeing that we are having challenges within the DCFS, that we see there are people, individuals, private citizens speaking out about some of the conduct and some of the things that were going on within this ministry.
“I believe that at this time, having looked at the newspaper just now, that it is extremely challenging. I am encouraging this government, and it is my opinion that there needs to be a shuffle in the management within that department.”