HSE children's unit condemned


The Health Service Executive (HSE) should cease using its main secure unit for troubled teenagers immediately due to concerns over the safety of children in care, according to social services inspectors.

In a report published today by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa), inspectors said Ballydowd special care unit in west Dublin was unsuitable, inadequate and unsafe. This follows a damning report in November of last year by the authority that strongly criticised care practices at the facility, which it said was “no longer fit for purpose”.

The HSE pledged to close the unit last year on foot of these findings. However, it has continued to admit children to the facility and is planning to keep it open at least until next year. Social work sources say authorities have nowhere else to place the children due to a chronic lack of special care places, which are used as a measure of last resort to detain troubled young people.

Today’s report by Hiqa re-states many of the concerns it raised last year and says the fabric of the building in Ballydowd has deteriorated further from the poor state identified last year.

“This represented an unsafe situation for the children placed in special care units,” the report states.

Inspectors also concluded that a second facility used by Ballydowd - known as the Solas special care unit in north Dublin - was also unsuitable for providing a good standard of special care.

Overall, inspectors said providing a secure environment appeared to have taken precedence over providing an adequate services for children in crisis. It also found that the need for containment had outweighed the quality of the service, its staff and the safety and quality of the buildings.

Among the inspectors' other findings were:

* There had been 76 instances of physical restraint involving 10 children since the last inspection a year ago.

* The quality of files and documents was poor. Information held on files was scant, and there were some loose documents on some files.

* There had been 36 unauthorised absences by eight children. Nineteen of these absences, ranging from one to 53 hours, related to one child.

* Inspectors found disused units open at the rear of Ballydowd that contained maintenance equipment, dangerous implements and other objects that posed a safety risk

Hiqa inspectors concluded: “Notwithstanding the demand for placements, inspectors were concerned that special care was currently being provided in two unsuitable, inadequate settings which do not meet required standards.”

It added: “The inspectorate requires that the HSE cease the use of both Ballydowd and Solas as a special care facility with immediate effect and not place children in either until the buildings and campus are brought up to standard and their safety is assured.”