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Social Services Worker Released After Night In Jail

By NICO SCAVELLA

Tribune Staff Reporter

nscavella@tribunemedia.net

A SENIOR officer at the Department of Social Services was released from custody yesterday after spending the night in jail for failing to honour a court order to produce two children the government agency took from their mother without a court order.

However, Ellerie Seymour, a senior welfare officer in the Child Protection Unit, is still facing contempt of court proceedings in the Supreme Court for violating Magistrate Kara Turnquest-Deveaux's order to have the 11-year-old girl and six-year-old boy produced by 8pm on Tuesday.

Magistrate Turnquest-Deveaux said the ordeal was an "embarrassment" on the DSS's part, asserting that the agency acted "improperly".

Meanwhile, Bahamas Public Services Union president Kimsley Ferguson, speaking with reporters while flanked by numerous social services workers after the hearing, said his membership is upset that one of their own was "dragged before the courts" for doing her job.

Mr Ferguson said the social services workers are of the opinion that the safety and well-being of children are their paramount concern, and that they must consequently have "some degree of protection in doing their job".

Mr Ferguson said the union will not rest until it gets an audience with the minister of social services on their concerns, and that if there is any reluctance to speak with the union on the minister's part, his members will have to "squeak so that we can be heard".

According to attorney Ramona Farquharson-Seymour, the two children were taken from their mother, her client, whose name has been withheld to protect the children's identity, sometime in July, after a call was placed into the Department of Social Services (DSS) alleging the 11-year-old girl was being abused.

Mrs Farquharson-Seymour said at that time, the DSS called her client and told her that she was to leave her children in a neutral place, which was designated as being the maternal grandmother's house. According to the attorney, the children were then instead placed under the care of the paternal grandmother.

Mrs Farquharson-Seymour said her client had no contact with her children since then, while her estranged husband did by virtue of his mother.

Mrs Farquharson-Seymour said her client visited the DSS on numerous occasions on the matter and was given certain directives. However, it was when the DSS indicated that it was seeking to implement supervised visits did the mother reach out to her for legal advice.

Mrs Farquharson-Seymour said upon being retained, she conducted a search for the protection order or the care order the DSS "ought to have received" from the court empowering it to remove the children; however she said that search was fruitless.

The mother ultimately filed an application to have her children returned to her, which led to the court writing a letter to the DSS inquiring about the matter. The DSS sent a report chronicling their version of the matter in response, signed by both Ms Seymour and another employee.

Both ladies testified in court on the matter, after which Magistrate Turnquest-Deveaux ultimately ordered to have the children produced no later than 8pm on Tuesday. The following day, however, it was discovered that the children were not returned as ordered. That led to the court sending for Ms Seymour, who, when brought before the court, gave no explanation for not obeying the order, according to Mrs Farquharson-Seymour.

As a result, she was detained until such time as the children were produced.

Yesterday, scores of DSS workers filled Magistrate Turnquest-Deveaux's courtroom, as well as the sitting area, some standing, just outside the room as they lent their support to the Attorney General's Office's bid to have Ms Seymour released from custody pending any Supreme Court hearing of the contempt of court issue.

Kayla Green-Smith, a senior attorney in the Office of the Attorney General, said both her legal team and the DSS were working up until 12am on Thursday to try and resolve the matter, and had enlisted the assistance of all of the officers at the Carmichael Road Police Station towards that end.

She also indicated that the children were sighted in the downtown area near the Supreme Court, and noted that the father's attorney gave an undertaking to the Office of the Attorney General to have the children produced before the court yesterday morning.

However, Mrs Farquharson-Seymour said the children, along with an "elderly woman" suggested to be the paternal grandmother, were sighted "walking about on Bank Lane" by one of her staff, who subsequently alerted the police in a bid to have them taken to the Magistrate's Court.

There was also mention that the father's attorney had sought to invoke the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court with respect to the matter around that same time, which Magistrate Turnquest-Deveaux said was "struck down" because the manner in which the father's attorney sought to do so was "rejected by the judge".

Nonetheless, Magistrate Turnquest-Deveaux dubbed that attempt by the father's attorney to approach the Supreme Court as a failed attempt to "circumvent" her October 9 order to have the children returned, sentiments Mrs Farquharson-Seymour later echoed when speaking to the press after the hearing.

A few moments later, the two children, wearing their school uniforms, were escorted into the court room with their father.

Ms Green-Smith subsequently indicated that the DSS would like to monitor the case weekly for another month based on certain allegations to which they were privy, Magistrate Turnquest-Deveaux subsequently stood the matter down and took the children into her chambers to speak with them.

When she returned to the bench, Magistrate Turnquest-Deveaux indicated that the 11-year-old was distraught about the whole ordeal, particularly because she missed a school event she was really looking forward to.

Nonetheless, having fielded the submissions from counsel, she ordered the children to be returned to their mother. A loud "Thank you, Jesus" could be heard emanating from the side of the court where the mother was sitting when the magistrate said those words.

She subsequently ruled that she would refer the matter to the Supreme Court for a determination of the contempt proceedings, and that Ms Seymour would be released until then.

However, the magistrate advised the DSS, which "started out improperly", to do what they need to do in a proper manner.

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