Staff shortages at Oberstown resulted in young people staying in their rooms to facilitate breaks, inspection finds

The inspectors also found that governance and oversight of child protection concerns at Oberstown required improvement

Staff shortages at Oberstown Children Detention Campus in Lusk, Co Dublin resulted in young people having to stay in their bedrooms for a period to facilitate breaks, an inspection of the facility last July found.

The report on the facility by Hiqa published on Wednesday found that young people on-site generally receive “good quality, child-centred care”.

However, during the three-day inspection, it was found that at times there was an insufficient number of staff to meet the needs of the number of young people detained there.

At the time of inspection, there were 38 young people in the campus.


Inspectors saw the impact of staff shortages in a number of areas across the campus including, times when young people’s activities were cancelled and other occasions when they were unable to leave their units for the day.

Young people raised the issue that they could not always come out of their bedrooms when requested at the weekend. Inspectors reviewed a complaint made by a young person that their activity was cancelled due to staff shortages and this complaint was upheld.

In addition to directly impacting young people in the service staffing shortages had a significant impact on the safe operation of the service in general. Inspectors found that not all staff had completed mandatory children first training as required, as due to staff shortages this training had been cancelled on two occasions.

While overtime was offered to cover a shortfall in staffing, members of staff told inspectors that they felt “exhausted” and that it was difficult to take breaks.

“They said that the staff shortages impacted on young peoples’ daily programme as their plans had to change as a result,” Hiqa said.

Two young people told inspectors that low staffing levels impacted on their care, stating “we have missed activities because there is not enough staff” and “get us more staff, it is not nice when we are being asked to go to our room because there is not enough staff”. One parent told inspectors that their child said that they were stuck in their bedroom because of insufficient staffing levels.

Inspectors also reviewed an incident where a period of single separation could not be ended due to a shortage of staff on-site.

“Single separation” is only used after all other interventions have failed and is to be used for only the shortest period possible. It is used when a young person is likely to cause significant harm to themselves or others, or is likely to cause significant damage to property which would compromise security.

The report indicates that authorisations for single separation were not always “within the procedure time frames or recorded”.

The inspectors also found that governance and oversight of child protection concerns at Oberstown required improvement.

“The decision-making rationale for reporting concerns was not recorded and it was unclear why some concerns met the threshold to report to Tusla, while similar incidents did not require a referral. The category of referrals was not recorded.”

There were 58 child protection and welfare concerns or allegations made by young people in the centre in the previous year. Of these, 29 referred to professionals not employed within the service, and of these 15 had not been reported.

The service was found to have a clearly defined management structure. However, the quality of record keeping was “poor” and not all staff had up-to-date mandatory refresher training.

Meanwhile, the report found that most young people they spoke to were positive about their experience in Oberstown commenting they were “fed like a king” and “wake up and get fresh towels”. In terms of their daily plan, young people stated they were “getting to do different programme and activities”.

Young people were generally positive about their involvement in their placement plans. Almost all young people felt that staff listened to their views and that their opinions impacted decision-making.

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