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  • The San Juan Daily Star

Lack of social services personnel blamed for failure to prevent child’s apparent suicide

Family Secretary Carmen Ana González Magaz

By John McPhaul

Family Secretary Carmen Ana González Magaz blamed lack of personnel for the failure to provide diligent attention to the absenteeism since last October of a 9-year-old girl who is believed to have taken her own life in Caguas on Tuesday.

“The Department of Education has its regulations and the Department of the Family has a protocol. Our protocol -- and recognizing that the scarcity of resources and support and personnel resources, and the poor response to constant recruitment, even as aggressive as we have been -- allows us to respond to dangerous situations, in this case, when the referral is made because of school absenteeism and not because of mistreatment,” González Magaz said in an interview with NotiUno.

“This case was to be assigned to a social worker,” she added.

The official could not offer a specific explanation for the absenteeism of the minor.

“The reality is that a referral was made to us. The referral alleges truancy at school. The referral does not allege abuse,” González Magaz said. “From this, the social worker from the Department of Education, other people who have been interviewing after we now have activated our protocols have interviewed those [other people responsible for child welfare] and, in fact, reporters were interviewing neighbors and they agreed that the mother is a good mother, that the minors did not show any signs of abuse and according to the social worker there were no signs of abuse when the girl returned to school and was in good physical condition, as well as the other minors.”

“When visiting the house, the police likewise said that everything was in order,” she added.

Asked whether a parent who does not send a minor to school is not committing abuse, González Magaz answered “as a health professional and in social terms we can conclude that a person who does not send minors to school intentionally was mistreating him or her, or there is negligence.”

The director of the Caguas Educational Region, Carol Rivera, told Radio Isla 1320 meanwhile that “it was very difficult, the mother was very reluctant to respond to school staff and the social worker when making the referral to the Family Department, which entails following up on the complaint, the status of the complaint.”

“We went to visit so that we could take action and continue following up on it,” she said. “The mother did not want to see us. There was no contact with the mother” when Rivera went to the girl’s residence in the housing complex.

“For us in the [Education] Department, institutional absenteeism is mistreatment,” she stressed.

“We must emphasize that if I as a school am issuing an alert that there is a child who is not coming to school, and it is not one day, two days, constant monitoring is being given, within what is the complaint, to visit the girl when she does not come to school; it is like an alert and we have to verify why this girl is not coming, what is happening in that home,” Rivera said, emphasizing that she never received communication from the Family Department. “And as a department, if there is a complaint, we do not have the answer that the Family Department visited, because in this case the Family Department did not visit the home and did not visit the school. If the Family Department cannot reach them, at least they call the school’s social worker.”

The minor was found without vital signs on Tuesday night at the Raúl Castellón residential complex in Caguas. No cause of death has been reported.

According to the authorities, a call reporting the incident was received through the 9-1-1 Emergency System.

It is important to seek help in cases of possible attempted suicide. Citizens can call the PAS Line at 1-800-981-0023 (1-888-672-7622 TDD) 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All calls are free and confidential.

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