Staff at ‘unsafe’ residential centre repeatedly raised concerns over children’s welfare
Employees say HSE management did not respond to their complaints
Rath na nÓg high-support unit in Castleblayney, Co Monaghan.
Staff at a residential centre for troubled teens which is due to shut following a damning inspection report say they repeatedly and unsuccessfully raised concerns over the safety and welfare of children with senior HSE management.
In a report published this week, the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) found evidence of bullying, self-harming and assaults among young residents at Rath na nÓg high-support unit in Castleblayney, Co Monaghan.
The HSE announced plans to close the unit by the end of next month, along with other high-support facilities for troubled young people in care.
The Impact trade union, which represents some employees at the centre, said staff had often expressed opposition to a management decision to lock the facility at night.
Young residents were being locked in the building overnight, despite several incidents of fire-setting at the unit. This practice was in contravention of national policy, Hiqa inspectors said.
Impact said that after staff members failed to receive a “satisfactory response”, the union raised the issue with senior national managers.
In addition, Impact said staff had made their concerns known to a Hiqa inspector who visited the unit last December.
Impact official Ray Ryan said: “As caring professionals they repeatedly raised concerns, at national and local level, regarding safety, bullying, fire safety and assaultive behaviour of some of the young people in the unit.
“It is important to stress categorically that no staff were perpetrators of assaults or bullying,” he added.
The Hiqa report stated that staff had said they locked the facility on foot of a directive by senior managers, including the HSE’s national director of children’s services, Gordon Jeyes.
HSE management defended the decision to lock children into the facility saying it was a “safeguarding procedure used to restrict access to the campus by unauthorised external parties” and to prevent unauthorised absences from the unit at night-time.
“In these circumstances there is 24-hour live staff cover in place, with staff on duty at all hours to supervise all activities,” it added.
The practice of locking the facility has been supported by the Irish Association of Social Care Workers.
The group’s spokesman said the policy appeared to make sense given the risks the children faced. “If children are running away and open to serious risk, surely they are safer in a locked room where they are monitored by staff,” he said.
In the event of fire, he said, staff would have been available to manage the situation rather than have children free and subject to “bullying and physical abuse or worse”.
However, Jennifer Gargan, director of Epic – which represents children in care – said it was clear the high-support unit was not fulfilling its purpose. “It is not providing young people with a safe environment that enables them to develop positive outcomes. In fact, the contrary is evident and the report shows that some of the young people’s behaviour worsened,” she said.