Concern as locked units used to ‘manage’ youth behaviour

Hiqa finds regular confinement for smoking, verbal abuse at Oberstown detention school

Inspectors have raised concern that young people in a State-run child detention school are being regularly confined to locked units to manage behaviour such as smoking, verbally abusing staff or refusing to take direction.

The concerns emerged in an inspection by the Health Information and Quality Authority of the Oberstown child detention campus in north Dublin, which provides education and accommodation for about 36 young people aged between 10 and 17 years.

Hiqa found two locked "protection" rooms in Trinity House School - which forms part of Oberstown - which were used to manage behaviour of young people on 67 occasions in the month prior to its inspection.

While school policy clearly stated the room should only be used where there was significant danger to the young person or others, it found the rooms were being used for reasons such a refusal to take staff direction.


“These rooms were locked by a heavy metal door and had no furniture, seating or windows. Consequently, there was no natural light,” the report stated.

“The rooms were fully tiled and lacked any comfort or feeling of warmth. Inspectors found that this cold and bleak environment was not suitable for children or young people for any purpose.”

An internal review of the practice recently indicated the protection rooms were typically used for 15-minute durations, according to the report.

However, Hiqa inspectors found in more than half of cases the duration of detention was not recorded.

As result, inspectors said they were unable to determine how long young people had been confined to these rooms.

Inspectors also expressed serious concern over the prolonged use of “single separation” for one young person in particular.

Single separation typically involves isolating a young person from others in a part of the unit as a measure of last resort.

Inspectors said this young person had been in single separation for a number of weeks as a result of major behavioural difficulties, including assaults on staff and damage to property.

While there had been case conferences with external professionals including social workers, probation officers, psychiatrists and psychologists, the young person’s behaviour did not improve.

“Inspectors were concerned that the young person’s behaviour was not being successfully addressed while his rights to freedom of movement within the service were impinged upon,” the report states.

Hiqa recommended the staff team and external professionals keep up their efforts to ensure this young person can be managed safely and that single separation ceases in line with best child-centred care and practices.

Overall, however, inspectors found the management and staff team provided a good standard of care and this was also the experience the young people who were interviewed by inspectors.

Young people said the staff teams were kind and interested in them and their future lives.

Inspectors found that while significant improvements needed to be made - such as addressing a high level of sick leave – the detention schools were managed well.

There was a good standard of healthcare and young people said they enjoyed attending school and being involved in extra-curricular activities such as playing football and going to the gym.

“This was a positive outcome as young people told inspectors that their attendance in education had significantly improved since they came to the detention school,” it said.

Areas that required improvement were: management, formal staff supervision, behaviour management, addressing the children’s offending behaviour and aspects of aftercare and the physical environment.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent