Group calls for justice for Kirsta

  • Work to be done: members of an Amnesty International club at the Li Po Chun United World College of Hong Kong, including Sierra Brangman, a Bermudian, pictured second left in the front row, called for “justice” for young people in care (Image captured from video, supplied)

A Bermudian teenager and her fellow Amnesty International club members demanded “justice” for a young woman who died at a US treatment centre after she was referred there by the island’s child protection agency.

Sierra Brangman, who grew up in foster care, claimed that children needed better support to cope with the challenges of being separated from their parents.

She said: “There’s so much work to be done, but I think a lot of it could be started by little things.

“For one, there needs to be an admission of the problems occurring because until the Government admits that it’s not doing something right, why would you be willing to change it?”

The call came as the pastor of Kirsta Simons, the teenager who died at a Utah facility where she was sent by the Department of Child and Family Services, asked the public not to use her death to attack the DCFS.

Ms Brangman, 19, is in her second year of study for an International Baccalaureate Diploma at the Li Po Chun United World College of Hong Kong.

She is the coleader of an Amnesty International club at the school and wanted to use her platform to raise awareness about matters affecting her home country.

The Berkeley Institute graduate was among a group of 11 young people who featured in a video that has been shared on her Facebook page and through other social media.

In it, she said: “The death of Kirsta Simons weighs not only on the Bermudian Government but the entire population if we do not demand justice.”

She added: “We want answers about the treatment of children under the Department [of] Child and Family Services and we will stand by until justice is served.”

The group chanted: “Justice for Kirsta.”

Ms Brangman said in the film: “It’s time that we come together as a community and protect the vulnerable youth under the government care.

“It’s time we come together as one voice to speak for those who cannot. It’s time for change.”

Remarks were also made in the video by three other young women who were club members — Therese Wiese, Rachel Cheung and Ania Cortazzo.

Ms Simons, who was understood to be aged 17 and not 16 as first reported, was at West Ridge Academy in West Jordan, Utah, when she died last November.

Sergeant J.C. Holt, of West Jordan Police, confirmed yesterday that her death was “officially ruled as a suicide and the case has been closed”.

Utah’s Department of Human Services confirmed yesterday that its investigation into the death of Ms Simons remained active.

Ms Brangman told The Royal Gazette: “I did not know her but I sympathise with what’s happened to her.”

She explained that the teenager’s name was included in the Amnesty International Club’s message, which also raised wider concerns about the care of other young people, because “it’s easier to be empathetic when there’s a name attached”.

Ms Brangman said: “I was in foster care, essentially my whole life, from five months to 18 years old.

“I have a great foster mom and, in that sense, I did get lucky because I know of many who have not been as fortunate.”

She added: “While, of course, I’ve had this pleasant experience, I’ve still experienced some of the inefficiencies and drawbacks of the system in the way that they handle things, the way that they do things, it’s not efficient.

“My biggest criticism, it doesn’t matter who you are, growing up as a foster child requires help.

“At the age of at least 7, I should have been receiving counselling because although the weight of it may not have fully hit yet, it’s inevitable that it’s going to happen at some time because it’s not your standard situation.

“As a child, you grow up around all these children who go home to mommy and daddy.”

Ms Brangman said that she spent a month at the government-run Brangman Home care facility, which is not the same as Bermuda’s foster care network.

She said: “It wasn’t good. It’s a house with people that are just there to work; in all honesty it’s prison.”

Ms Brangman felt that in her experience, some staff would allow “social privileges” to the young people they liked, but not others.

The teenager, of Pembroke, said: “One of the staff members once told me, essentially, that I thought I was too good and, like, I needed to be taken down. How can you tell someone that?

“What’s thinking you’re better? Having self-confidence? What does that even mean? It’s comments like that that aren’t healthy.”

Ms Brangman added: “Obviously it’s not feasible for every child to live in a foster house, but if you’re going to have a group home you should make sure it’s a good group home.

“These are lives we’re talking about. Every single one of these people is a life. I feel that that’s not being taken seriously enough.

“These are lives in their care; what is being done with these lives?

“They didn’t choose the cards they’ve been decked out, and so they shouldn’t have to pay the price of their parents’ consequences.”

She said: “I don’t understand how I live in such a developed society, one of the most expensive places in the world and we haven’t figured out how to get childcare right yet.”

The Amnesty International club members’ concerns came after The Royal Gazette ran its Who Cares? series about the DCFS psychoeducational programme, which has seen governments on both sides of the political divide spend more than $33 million over the past ten years to send Bermudian children to overseas institutions.

The Ministry of Legal Affairs, which includes the DCFS, did not respond to a request for comment.

In a statement earlier this week, the ministry said that Brangman Home was “a home, not a prison”.

It said: “The young people there attend school, work after school, and participate in extracurricular activities.”

The ministry added: “Privileges are earned.”