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DCFS releases 2018 letter of complaint against director

Alfred Maybury

The island’s child protection agency has complied with an order to release the letter of complaint that led to the suspension of its director more than five years ago.

The Department of Child and Family Services was told by Information Commissioner Gitanjali Gutierrez to disclose the August 2018 missive about Alfred Maybury, along with two notices served on him by his superiors after accusations of misconduct were made.

The notices were released in full, but most of the letter of complaint to Michael Weeks, who was then the social development minister, was blacked out. The department said it made the redactions “as per the order” from the ICO.

Mr Maybury, who was cleared of any wrongdoing after an internal inquiry and returned to his duties in January 2019, objected to the documents being made public after The Royal Gazette made a public access to information request.

Ms Gutierrez said in a decision issued in December that disclosure was “necessary to further the public interest” in the safeguarding of children.

Some of the six-page letter from lawyer Saul Dismont, of Marshall Diel & Myers, was reported on in 2018, though the document itself was never made public.

As well as listing 18 grievances against Mr Maybury and alleging misconduct by other DCFS staff, Mr Dismont highlighted the need for children in care involved in Family Court proceedings to have an independent advocate, known as a litigation guardian, and a lawyer.

He said most did not get that representation, despite a Supreme Court ruling finding “that the courts must appoint a children’s guardian in the majority of cases”, and he warned against any amendment to the Children Act which would reduce that right.

The few parts of the letter which were not redacted by the DCFS relate to that issue.

Mr Dismont wrote that claims about the mistreatment of children “came to light” because a child in care had the “rare benefit” of a litigation guardian and a lawyer.

He said Tiffanne Thomas, the litigation guardian, who instructed him, was able to “copy relevant material from records held by the director”.

Mr Dismont added: “One of the great purposes of the role of a litigation guardian is to have access to the director’s records in order to oversee the director, who is otherwise unmonitored, and report their findings to the court.”

Two staff members at the DCFS were disciplined after the allegations of abuse and neglect against them uncovered by Ms Thomas were substantiated.

Mr Dismont first called for minors involved in court proceedings to be given greater legal protection in 2016.

He represented several charities in civil proceedings, which led to a 2019 Court of Appeal ruling that there was a “clear and serious continuing breach” by ministers responsible for the DCFS to ensure the human rights of children were protected.

Statistics released by the DCFS in November 2018 showed that 48 youngsters sent overseas as part of the department’s psychoeducational programme since April 2014 had no legal representation at all.

In January this year, The Royal Gazettereported that 12 Bermudian children in care had been sent to overseas institutions since 2021, with only two receiving legal representation before the decision to send them abroad was made.

Tinée Furbert, the Minister of Youth, Social Development and Seniors, said her ministry had budgeted for legal counsel and litigation guardians for young people involved in Family Court proceedings.

She told a budget press conference on Monday that work was being done to strengthen that programme, including training for litigation guardians.

Ms Furbert said funding had been boosted “to make sure that it was more streamlined” and to ensure as many children as possible had access to the litigation guardian service when needed.

The DCFS has been allotted $19.68 million in the 2024-25 budget, a 5 per cent increase on last year’s figure.

The two notices issued to Mr Maybury set out the terms of his suspension, including him being on full pay and being banned from contacting DCFS staff during the investigation.

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Published February 29, 2024 at 7:58 am (Updated February 29, 2024 at 8:34 am)

DCFS releases 2018 letter of complaint against director

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