COI budget won’t cover DCFS probe
Funds earmarked for a Commission of Inquiry will not cover an investigation into the island's child protection agency, the Premier has confirmed.
David Burt told Scott Pearman, the Opposition shadow legal affairs minister, that the $325,000 set aside in the Budget for a commission would be used for an inquiry into allegations of historic land grabs.
Mr Pearman said: “I'm wondering whether all of that amount is earmarked for the Commission of Inquiry into land issues, or whether any of that is earmarked for a potential Commission of Inquiry into the Department of Child and Family Services.”
Mr Burt replied: “It is for the Commission of Inquiry into land grabs.”
He was speaking during the Budget debate in the House of Assembly on Monday.
The planned probe will investigate alleged thefts at a series of public hearings to be scheduled later this year.
Mr Pearman said on Tuesday that the One Bermuda Alliance had several times asked for an outside examination of the DCFS after allegations made by people sent overseas for treatment and others interested in the welfare of youngsters.
The Government said later that children deserved better than “political gamesmanship” and that funding was in place to “make life better and safeguards stronger” for Bermuda's young people.
Mr Pearman said on Tuesday “It would be easy to lose count of the number of times the One Bermuda Alliance and others have called for an independent inquiry into allegations concerning the Department of Child and Family Services.
“I think, at the last count, it was at least six from the OBA. Each time there has been vocal community support, but only silence from Government.
“That is why, in our Budget Reply, we specifically included a recommendation to have ‘sufficient funds to enable a thorough external enquiry into the operations, effectiveness, care and concern underlying the choices made on behalf of our children for overseas care'.”
The reply said that the department's “policies and practices have left many unanswered questions”.
The Court of Appeal ruled last June that ministers had “for some time” breached obligations set out in the Children Act 1998 because they failed to introduce a scheme to fund litigation guardians for young people involved in court proceedings.
Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, announced last December that a panel of people had been set up to act as court-appointed litigation guardians.
Mr Pearman added that the Opposition supported the Government's pledge to help young people who grew too old for the care system through halfway house programmes.
He said: “Their commitment does not address at all the matters requiring an independent inquiry.”
Mr Pearman added that funds could be found by cuts in the number of ministers and consultants.
He said: “Our vulnerable children should be the priority.
“A thorough and independent report into DCFS is vital. There have been far too many allegations against the department which remain unresolved.
“We have no idea if its work meets recommended best practice or not. We don't know the threshold test that DCFS applies when it comes to sending vulnerable children overseas.
“We have no way of knowing if there are gaps that need plugging, money that needs spending, standards that need to rise.”
Mr Pearman added: “It may be that an inquiry shows that DCFS uses best practice. But we don't know, and we must know for the sake of our children.
“As stated, we support proposed residential and transitional living facilities, but if those using these facilities have progressed through a system that is not fit for purpose, how will these new facilities help them?”
A Ministry of Legal Affairs spokeswoman said: “The Opposition is well aware that it is not DCFS that sends children to overseas facilities when local resources are unable to address the needs of certain children.
“It is performed in concert with the courts and other relevant stakeholders who have determined that this is the best course of action.
“Despite this, they continue to attack the hard-working men and women at DCFS who have found themselves caught in the political crossfire.”
She added: “A further portion of the Ministry of Legal Affairs budget has been allocated to the long underfunded psychoeducational programme that provides children with protection care and nurturance by licensed overseas therapeutic facilities for children who cannot be effectively treated in Bermuda or who had exhausted all local therapeutic/treatment services.
“Much work remains to be done, but the funding has been put in place to make life better and safeguards stronger for Bermuda's precious resource, our children.”