13 children in State care sent outside jurisdiction


Specialist intervention required for severe behavioural problems, writes CARL O'BRIEN

AT LEAST 13 children in State care have been placed in facilities outside the jurisdiction because there was nowhere suitable for them in Ireland, latest figures show.

Typically, these young people had severe behavioural problems and required specialist intervention.

The practice of placing children in care abroad has been criticised by campaigners, who say these services should be available in Ireland.

But health authorities say children placed abroad represent a tiny proportion of more than 5,000 children in care, most of whom are in foster care.

Latest official figures indicate that five children were being cared for in facilities in Northern Ireland, three in the UK, and five in other countries including the US.

While there was no breakdown for the cost of these placements abroad, previous figures indicate that it is in the region of €250,000 per child.

The latest figures are contained in material submitted to the Office of the Minister for Children in January of this year by the Health Service Executive (HSE).

The HSE has pledged to develop services to ensure that no Irish child should need to be sent overseas for a general care placement.

In briefing documents prepared by the HSE, officials state that in very rare circumstances, officials are forced to look abroad to find specialised treatment programmes for children with difficult or challenging behaviour.

Some of the specialist facilities used by the HSE abroad include Boys Town in Omaha, Nebraska, US, which provides treatment for at-risk children, and Hassela Gotland in Sweden, which runs an island-based community rehabilitation programme.

“The HSE seeks to place children with severe challenging behaviour in specialist foster care and high support and special care units in this jurisdiction. In the majority of instances, this is achieved,” the documents state.

“However, where the HSE is seeking a specialist placement to cater for a rare behavioural diagnosis, it prioritises the need of the child over the location of the placement.”

Where children are placed abroad, they remain in the care of the State and have an allocated social worker who visits them occasionally. All units in which children are placed are subject to inspections.

In addition, the HSE supports visits by family members to their children abroad by paying for travel and accommodation costs.

HSE officials have been studying examples of specialised care abroad and are establishing new ways of providing support to young people at risk.

Groups such as the Irish Association for Young People in Care have expressed concern that sending at-risk children abroad could have a destabilising effect.

They say everything should be done to ensure children are re-integrated into their communities. In addition, they say earlier intervention would help prevent the need to send children abroad.