Minister under pressure after welfare services blamed for boy’s death

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Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou is under pressure to resign after a damning report claimed social workers were “criminally negligent” in the case of a teenage boy who took his life when suffering years of domestic abuse.

Emilianidou has been put under the spotlight by opposition parties who are calling for her to assume her political responsibilities for a “broken” welfare system which failed to protect a child known to the services who suffering domestic abuse for at least six years.

She told Alpha TV on Friday that she is not going to resign over the fact that employees of her ministry did not do their duty after opposition parties asked her to do the honourable after such a tragedy.

The Labour Ministry came under fire after Commissioner for Human Rights Maria Stylianou-Lottides found that welfare services were found to be culpable of criminal negligence in handling the case of 15-year-old Stylianos Constantinou who was a victim of abuse.

Delivering her report to President Nicos Anastasiades, the Commissioner said there was “complete criminal negligence in applying the procedures, directives in place as officials had shown complete disregard for them”.

She noted that the tragic event could have been prevented if textbook procedures were followed.

Lottides added that this was a case in which no action was taken by officials from 2013 until 2019.

She made it clear that it was neither a matter of the department being understaffed nor can the tragic outcome be attributed to the lack of directives and guidelines.

According to the Commissioner, responsibilities for the child’s death lie with the Social Welfare Services and the Police, whose members, according to the Commissioner’s report, face criminal and disciplinary offences as they failed to carry out their duties.

Lottides sees the lion’s share of responsibilities lying with the Social Welfare Services, noting that they failed to assess the risk regarding both the physical and psychological violence taking place within the boy’s family.

She underlined that no action was taken when the child had attempted to end his life in the past, “because the social workers exhibited complete indifference and failed to assess the risk. As a result of their failure to assess the case, the child was not given any special support”.

Lottides also found that police had acted with negligence as they had more than 20 reports claiming the father had been abusing the child but did nothing. The father was even been found guilty of hitting the child in a court of law.

Social workers suspended

President Anastasiades expressed his remorse over the tragic loss of the teenager saying: “The government is determined to put an end to such phenomena of disobedience in applying the regulations or from neglect or indifference”.

Emilianidou, who’s responsible for social welfare, said that instructions have been given to suspend four social workers while the ministry is to conduct a disciplinary probe.

In earlier statements about the incident, a former director of the Social Welfare Office, Evantia Papasavva claimed nepotism from authorities saw them hiring psychologists or lawyers instead of social workers.

Opposition parties criticised the government and the political supervisor of the social services, Emilianidou, pointing out there was a complete systemic failure of the service.

Main opposition party AKEL wondered who will take political responsibility for the failure of the system to take action during the six years the case was with the social services.

DIKO’s spokesperson, Pavlos Mylonas, said the Labour Minister had a case to answer.

He pointed out that assuming political responsibility is crucial to cultivating a culture of forming proactive policies, so as not to mourn over more victims.

Meanwhile, social workers staged a one-hour strike on Thursday morning, claiming they are being used as scapegoats in the case.

Social workers said they have long campaigned that their office is understaffed while caseloads need to be reduced.

Social workers said they will continue their industrial action with a 24-hour strike on Monday to demand their colleagues are stopped being used as scapegoats and that more staff need to be hired to relieve staff of their heavy workload.