Gardaí called to help staff with children at residential centre

Workers needed Garda assistance 11 times and locked themselves in office twice

Centre records showed that gardaí were called on 11 occasions to support the management of behaviour. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Centre records showed that gardaí were called on 11 occasions to support the management of behaviour. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

Garda assistance was needed to manage children’s behaviour at a residential centre in the south of the country, according to a report from the health watchdog.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) said its inspectors viewed a letter from a senior member of An Garda Síochána “who expressed the view that children may be inappropriately placed in the centre”.

“However, and despite this intervention, the behaviours that were of concern were allowed to continue for a further three months before appropriate action was taken to address these,” it said.

The unnamed centre, which provides medium- to long-term residential care for up to four children, both boys and girls aged between 13 and 17 years on admission, failed eight out of 10 care standards during an unannounced inspection last June.

Centre records showed that gardaí were called on 11 occasions to support the management of behaviour. There were two occasions when staff locked themselves in the staff office and called gardaí “to deal with the children’s behaviour”.

Inspectors said risk management systems “were not effective” and despite individual risk assessments in place for children and group safety plans, “behaviour such as bullying, intimidation and absconsions from the centre continued in the centre”.

Inspectors found that protocols or procedures in place between the residential service and the social work department “were not sufficiently robust” to ensure that urgent concerns regarding the behaviours of children in the centre were “addressed jointly and in a timely manner”.

The report said a series of professional meetings were initiated in December 2016 to address the concerns in the centre and these continued on a regular basis for about four months.

“During this time and until the issues were resolved in late April 2017, children in the centre were continually exposed to bullying and intimidation, and a number of children felt unsafe during this time,” it said.

“There was no evidence that these protocols and procedures had been reviewed and made more robust since that time to ensure that situations such as the described above do not recur. Following the inspection, inspectors escalated the issues relating to how the behaviours of the children were managed to the national director of residential services and the relevant area manager.”

The inspection report noted one child complained on several occasions about being unsafe in the centre and about being the subject of intimidation.

“Another child was the victim of abuse and physical assault,” it said. While these issues were taken seriously by the managers and staff and the issues reviewed at a number of professionals’ meetings, “the process for resolving issues such as this was not effective or efficient with the result that children were left feeling unsafe and exposed to intimidatory behaviour for an excessively long time”.

‘Maintenance issues’

In terms of the building, inspectors found there were “a number of maintenance issues that needed to be addressed”.

These included two broken windows and the replacement of a curtain which had been pulled down in a games room. There was also evidence that some of the kitchen appliances were out of service on a regular basis.

While there was adequate heating and ventilation and the centre generally clean, “there was little natural light on the corridor running through the centre”.

Areas of improvement have been set out in an action plan by the provider, with many already complete.

Donal McCormack, National Service Director of children’s residential services at Tusla said Hiqa inspections were “an important measurement and oversight tool for us”.

“Children’s residential services aim to provide a physically, emotionally and psychologically safe space in which children and young people can heal, develop and move forward in their lives,” he said.