Children’s residential care centres failing to ‘meet standards’

Ombudsman finds staff shortages leading to delays in care centre assessments

While Hiqa currently provides the inspection, registration and monitoring of the State’s residential care centres for children, Tulsa provides the same service within the non-statutory children’s centres. Photograph: Alan Betson

While Hiqa currently provides the inspection, registration and monitoring of the State’s residential care centres for children, Tulsa provides the same service within the non-statutory children’s centres. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The Ombudsman for Children has expressed concern that children in residential care centres may not be receiving the required care due to “inconsistencies and discrepancies” in a number of the voluntarily and privately run homes.

An investigation by the Ombudsman Niall Muldoon between January 2012 and August 2013 found significant gaps in the registration, inspection and monitoring of children’s residential centres across the State. The investigation has recommended that the inspection of the centres should transfer to the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) without delay.

Mr Muldoon told RTÉ’S Morning Ireland the Health Service Executive’s child and family service - now Tusla, the Child and Family Agency - had developed its own “separate policies and procedures” in the running of children’s care centres leading to inconsistencies.

He said the 10 monitoring standards for residential children’s homes, including management, staffing levels, children’s rights and environment, had not been met in a number of locations and that staff shortages had led to delays in centre assessments.

“Inspections are typically three years apart,” said Mr Muldoon. “The monitoring is meant to be the ongoing, consistent evaluation of the centre and assisting the centre to keep the standards high. We found there were times when those monitoring weren’t done a regular enough basis.”

The inspection of a centre is due to be carried out within six months of its registration. However, the Ombudsman found it often took up to 14 months for inspections to be carried out leaving children in a “vulnerable situation”.

There are approximately 100 private and voluntary children’s residential centres across the four HSE/Tulsa regions in Ireland catering for 341 children with an annual budget of €49 million.

Mr Muldoon said Tulsa, the Child and Family Agency, had told the Ombudsman’s office that no centres were closed as a result of a failure to meet standards but that some had closed because of financial situations.

He said the Ombudsman’s office has engaged with Tusla in creating a “solid action plan” to amalgamate all centre and government inspections under one national quality control mechanism.

The 2009 Ryan report recommended that all residential care centres for children be inspected by Hiqa as an independent agency.

While Hiqa currently provides the inspection, registration and monitoring of the State’s residential care centres for children, Tulsa provides the same service within the non-statutory children’s centres.

“We know why the Ryan report was set up; we wanted to make sure that children in our care have been looked after to the highest level of standard,” said Mr Muldoon, adding that he hoped negotiations with Hiqa would lead to “independence and proper standards being clearly implemented” in the inspection of care homes.

“You’re always trying to reunite families and make sure children get the best possible start in life so we would hope some would just be there for a short length of time, but there have been situations where many children would spend their formative years in a residential centre.

“Essentially the State becomes their parent and that’s why we need to ensure those homes, which is what they are for those children, are at the highest possible level.”