Family guardian on trial for girl's death

30th October 2007, Comments 0 comments

30 October 2007, AMSTERDAM (dpa) - A criminal trial began Monday in the Netherlands against a social services professional who had acted as a family guardian, for her alleged involvement in the death of a young client.

30 October 2007

AMSTERDAM (dpa) - A criminal trial began Monday in the Netherlands against a social services professional who had acted as a family guardian, for her alleged involvement in the death of a young client.

In 2004, Savanna, 3, died following prolonged abuse, starvation and neglect while under the guardianship of a family guardian, an employee of Bureau Jeugdzorg, the Youth Care Bureau in the Dutch province North Holland.

Her mother later confessed to killing Savanna by putting a wash cloth in her mouth, presumably to stop the toddler crying. She then shoved her daughter under a bed.

Medical experts found Savannah most likely choked to death. During a post mortem investigation, they also found a variety of old and new injuries on the girl's body, indicating structural abuse as well as malnutrition.

Apart from the local Youth Care Bureau, a variety of social aid institutions and organisations had been involved in Savanna's family situation. Everyone was aware of the girl's dire situation.

At one point, Savanna's mother even requested in a fax the legally appointed family guardian remove her daughter from her home. But the guardian failed to do so and on 20 September 2004, Savanna was found dead.

In 2006, the court in The Hague tried and convicted the toddler's mother Sonja de Jong, her former boyfriend Mario Bijleveer, as well as another former boyfriend Reffles Mulders, for their alleged involvement in Savanna's death.

This week the court will determine to what extent the family guardian's failure to remove Savanna from her parental home, could have prevented her death.

The family guardian is the first social worker to be prosecuted in a criminal suit for failing to provide a client with a safe haven.

The social worker's lawyers argue it is "unfair" that the family guardian and not her superiors - the management of the Youth Care Bureau in North Holland - is standing trial.

They have also pointed out that apart from the Youth Care Bureau, several organisations had been involved in Savanna's family situation.

Speaking to reporters Monday, Cock Fuchs, interim director of the Youth Care Bureau in North Holland said: "This bureau did not provide adequate managerial support to the family guardian."

"The bureau had no team leader, no behavioural expert. The family guardian was forced to make all the decisions on her own. This should never have been the case."

An internal investigation into the Youth Care Bureau's policy found the local bureau, which is legally responsible for some 4,800 children, had made mistakes.

It also found the contemporary policy had not been adequately improved. Following the investigation, management stepped down and an interim manager was appointed.

The public prosecutor argues the family guardian, who coordinated social assistance provided by all organisations, bore the ultimate responsibility for Savanna's wellbeing.

"The family guardian was the only professional authorised to remove the child from her home," a spokesman for the public prosecutor said on Monday.

"Apart from that, the family guardian knew everything about this particular family. That is why she and not the Youth Care Bureau is charged for her responsibility in Savanna's death."

In 2006, Savanna's mother was sentenced to six years imprisonment. Her former boyfriend Bijleveer was sentenced to two years imprisonment. Both were placed in governmental mental health custody.

Mulders, who was also a former boyfriend and the mother's uncle as well as Savanna's babysitter, was sentenced to two years probation and 120 hours of work duty.

The court agreed with the prosecution that Mulders, who underwent psychiatric evaluation, could not be held entirely accountable for his deeds.

The trial is expected to continue this week.

[Copyright dpa 2007]

Subject: Dutch news

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