Secure unit for teens should shut - watchdog


THE HEALTH Service Executive should cease using its main secure unit for troubled teenagers immediately due to concerns over the safety of children in care, social services inspectors say.

In a report published yesterday by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa), inspectors said Ballydowd in west Dublin was unsuitable, inadequate and unsafe. This follows a damning report in November of last year by the authority strongly criticising 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 understood to be planning to keep it open for at least 18 months.

Social work sources say authorities have nowhere else to place the children due to a chronic lack of special care places, used as a measure of last resort to detain troubled young people.

Yesterday’s report by Hiqa restated many of the concerns it raised last year, and said the fabric of the building in Ballydowd had deteriorated further.

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

Inspectors concluded that a second facility used by Ballydowd known as the Solas unit – at Crannóg Nua in north Dublin, on the grounds of St Ita’s psychiatric hospital – was also unsuitable for providing a good standard of special care.

It found standards of care regarding care planning and monitoring of care placements were either met or partly met.

In a statement yesterday, the HSE said Ballydowd would remain open as an “interim” measure due to a significant increase in referrals for special care services.

Aidan Waterstone, the HSE’s national lead for alternative care services, said it was treating the inspector’s report as a top priority issue. He said he was encouraged that Hiqa was, in the main, satisfied the children were being cared for properly.

“Our ultimate aim is to rectify any outstanding concerns and to provide the replacement beds for Ballydowd as quickly as possible.”

Refurbishment works at Ballydowd are ongoing, and the HSE hopes to have units brought up to required standards shortly. The unit at Crannóg Nua is due to close next month and will not be used as a special care facility again.

Minister for Children Barry Andrews insisted yesterday that funds were available to finance new facilities that will best suit the needs of vulnerable children.

“There is a growing demand for access to special care placements, and in response the HSE has put in place a national project team that will manage the introduction of 12 new special care beds into the care system,” Mr Andrews said.

Overall, Hiqa inspectors said providing a secure environment at Ballydowd appeared to have taken precedence over providing adequate services for children in crisis.

It found 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 that there had been 76 instances of physical restraint involving 10 children since the last inspection a year ago. Also, there had been 36 unauthorised absences by eight children. Nineteen of these, ranging from one to 53 hours, related to one child.

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.” They 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.”