Cristina: no regrets for axing girls’ home head - girls allegedly handcuffed
Education Minister Dolores Cristina yesterday defended her decision to axe a former policewoman from heading a residential home for destitute girls.
In the wake of a ruling by the industrial tribunal, which found that the woman’s dismissal was unfair, Mrs Cristina yesterday said she acted to “defend vulnerable girls”.
On Wednesday, Mrs Cristina was ordered to pay Marisa Bartolo almost €4,000 in damages after she was unfairly dismissed from the post of programme coordinator at the Conservatorio Vincenzo Bugeja.
Ms Bartolo was employed in May 2009 at the Santa Venera home and asked to leave two years later on direct orders from Mrs Cristina, who was then Social Policy Minister.
Unfazed by the judgment, Mrs Cristina said she would appeal. “I have no regrets for taking that decision. I shouldered political, moral and personal responsibility when I protected vulnerable children and I don’t feel I have to resign on this case.”
Mrs Cristina explained that she had received serious allegations about Ms Bartolo’s treatment of the young girls living at the home, including the use of handcuffs to restrain them. The allegations came from other staff members and the girls themselves.
She personally got involved in the case soon after her appointment as Social Policy Minister. Ms Bartolo’s police background conditioned her behaviour and this was not what the children needed, Mrs Cristina added.
“We are speaking of children who need therapy, a lot of love and care. The manner in which Ms Bartolo treated them was definitely not going to help them in their development,” she said.
An investigation board set up to look into the allegations concluded that most of them were “substantially proven”, according to Mrs Cristina. The board also said Ms Bartolo’s position in the home was untenable.
Mrs Cristina said the board found that Ms Bartolo did not give the young residents the protection they needed. “She was violating their privacy and resorting to restraining measures, including the use of handcuffs, against all the philosophy of the programmes the young women were following,” she said.
The board wrote in its report that the use of handcuffs was “completely inappropriate” if the individual using them was a member of the therapeutic team.
In the light of this report and its recommendations, Mrs Cristina said she wrote to the chairman of Conservatorio Bugeja, the late Richard Manché, Ms Bartolo’s direct employer, to terminate her employment.
The industrial tribunal noted that Ms Bartolo was not given a reason why a disciplinary board, which was meant to have been convened to discuss the case, had never been set up.
Her post was eventually abolished but during proceedings the ministry did not give details why the experts had recommended such a move.
Ms Bartolo was awarded €3,900 in compensation but was not reinstated because the tribunal deemed it impractical.