The former social development minister rejected a claim yesterday that he was fired from Cabinet for his handling of an inquiry into allegations that children in care were mistreated.
Sources claimed Michael Weeks was ousted because he insisted that Alfred Maybury, the director of the Department of Child and Family Services, should be suspended pending the outcome of an investigation.
But yesterday the ruling Progressive Labour Party issued a statement on behalf of Mr Weeks that denied the claim.
Mr Weeks said: “The reported comments and speculation surrounding me no longer being a minster of the Government are grossly inaccurate.
“The actions taken with respect to the Department of Child and Family Services were done with the full knowledge and support of my former Cabinet colleagues.
“Like them, I am glad that the investigation will continue and my hope is that the outcomes will enhance the work of the Department of Child and Family Services on behalf of Bermuda’s children.
“I will continue to support the agenda of the Government from the back benches as we work collectively to build the better and fairer Bermuda for all of Bermuda’s citizens, especially our children.”
The statement contradicts a source who told The Royal Gazette that they spoke, in person, to Mr Weeks on Tuesday morning about his sacking.
The source said that Mr Weeks told them that when he reported to Cabinet on how he had ordered the inquiry into the Department of Child and Family Services and insisted on the suspension of Mr Maybury, he did not get a favourable response from David Burt, the Premier.
The source added: “He said ‘that’s why I was removed as minister’. He then said ‘my permanent secretary Wayne Carey has submitted his resignation, effective this Friday’.”
The inquiry into claims that children were mistreated by Department of Child and Family Services staff and that Mr Maybury ignored their complaints was sparked by a letter from Saul Dismont, a lawyer at Marshall Diel & Myers.
The investigation was launched by the Ministry of Social Development and Sport, but the ministry was abolished in last week’s Cabinet reshuffle.
The Department of Child and Family Services is now the responsibility of the Ministry of Legal Affairs, led by Kathy Lynn Simmons, who is also the Attorney-General.
Ms Simmons told ZBM News on Tuesday that the inquiry continued, along with a review of the Department of Child and Family Services by the Department of Internal Audit.
Sheelagh Cooper, founder and former chairwoman of the Coalition for the Protection of Children, said last night that she hoped the removal of Mr Weeks and the transfer of responsibilities to the Attorney-General would not compromise the “critical and long overdue review of practices at the Department of Child and Family Services”.
Ms Cooper said: “In my former role as chair of the Coalition for the Protection of Children, we represented dozens of children over the years in an attempt to investigate what we saw as malpractice.
“These attempts were often met with hostility or a complete refusal to respond at all. This is also why for the past ten years we advocated for the use of a litigation guardian as a protection from arbitrary or questionable decision-making, as it related to the placement of children.”
She added: “While the vast majority of social workers employed by the department are caring, competent and professional, when children’s safety and emotional health are at stake, the management must be open to listening to families that have concerns and be committed to taking direct and meaningful action to address those concerned.
“This has too often not been the case in the past.”
Questions to the Premier, about Mr Weeks’s sacking were unanswered on Tuesday and The Royal Gazette reported that he had stonewalled queries.
His spokeswoman said later that, because of an oversight, Mr Burt had not received the questions.
Mr Burt said last night: “Determining the composition of Cabinet is never easy. I count Michael Weeks as a friend and valued parliamentary colleague, and as he indicated in a statement earlier today, the reported comments and speculation surrounding him no longer being a minister of the Government are grossly inaccurate.
“The investigation into the Department of Child and Family Services is clearly necessary. My hope is that the findings and any recommendations are fully embraced.
“This department is on the front line of addressing critical social issues and the people of Bermuda rightly demand that it is well managed and focused on the needs of the children and families it serves.”
Mr Burt added: “The ongoing investigation has the full support of the Cabinet and, under the leadership of the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, I am confident that the work will continue and upon completion the department will be better placed to deliver on its mandate in support of some of Bermuda’s most vulnerable citizens.”
Ms Simmons did not respond to a series of questions.
Mr Weeks, contacted by phone, said he was unable to speak but would answer questions if they were sent by e-mail.
The statement from the PLP was sent later.