FREDERIKSTED — Following the tragic death of four-year-old Aaron Benjamin, Jr. in October 2019, Commissioner Causey-Gomez authorized the launch of an internal audit and investigation of the Department of Human Services (DHS) to determine how department practices and policies should be revisited to help prevent future tragedies involving children in the territory.
“The Department of Human Services’ recent audit of the U.S. Virgin Islands’ child welfare system revealed a need to implement immediate staffing changes and a need to expedite our recruitment efforts to enhance staffing levels across units; a need for additional forensic and social services training; a need for a more stringent level of internal accountability and supervision; a mandate for implementation of current national evidence-based and outcome-oriented best practices; and a need to increase additional public awareness of resources, education and training on tools available through DHS and other community partners for child and family wellness,” Human Services Commissioner Kimberley Causey-Gomez said. “To this end, DHS has begun to restructure its child protective services system including personnel changes coupled with efforts to provide additional training and supervision and accountability,” she said. “DHS staff have begun participating in local and national trainings with federal and non-federal national partners, to include peer-to-peer on-site knowledge exchange,” Commissioner Causey-Gomez said. “Technical assistance is underway to complete a review of the Virgin Islands statutory Children’s Policy, in an effort to identify areas in need of federal compliance as a vehicle to inform needed upgrades to the local practice model for child welfare.”
As a result of the audit, Commissioner Causey-Gomez announced that DHS is instituting internal staffing changes and intensive training.
“The Department of Human Services realizes that while child protective services systems work every day to prevent instances of child fatality, efforts are never 100 percent guaranteed,” Commissioner Causey-Gomez said. “Therefore, the territory will be joining the rest of the nation by establishing a Child Fatality Review Panel of multiagency experts to facilitate expeditious, transparent and ongoing assessment and investigation of any such future incidences to help aid in prevention. In the coming months, we will also be assertively engaging with key community partners to help educate and empower our community to play a role in protecting children.”
The Commissioner further shared that the audit revealed staff followed policies and procedures and did not uncover wanton negligence in the Aaron Benjamin Jr. case.
But as a result of changes brought about by the audit, disciplinary actions have been taken to address deficiencies by some staff in the execution of their duties. HIPAA regulations and protected personnel information prevent the department from sharing additional details. DHS has just begun an exhaustive strategic planning process that will further identify objectives that will guide, enhance and improve the overall functioning of the Department of Human Services.
“While sadly, no one individual and no one government agency can definitively prevent abuse and neglect from occurring, we can and must all know the tools and resources available to intervene if we suspect it,” she said. “If you see something, say something.”
If you hear, see or suspect abuse or neglect of a child, please call DHS Intake at (340) 772-7119 on St. Croix and (340) 774-0930 ext. 4264 on St. Thomas. Always call 911 in an emergency.