Insurers demand profiles of troubled children before providing cover
Rising insurance premiums leads to 20% jump in cost of residential care
Oberstown Children’s Detention Centre: It costs €6,557 to detain a child for a week in the State’s only child detention facility. Photograph: Iain White / Fennell Photography
Insurance companies have started demanding the case files of troubled children before agreeing to provide coverage for them in residential care.
The practice was recently introduced by insurance companies following a surge in violent assaults on staff in private residential centres by children.
The individual cost of housing children in private residential care has also increased dramatically this year, primarily because of rising insurance costs. Tusla now pays private operators €6,000 a week, or €312,000 a year, to house a single child in residential care, figures obtained by The Irish Times show.
This represents an almost 20 per cent increase in costs per child. Between 2013 and 2018 Tusla paid €5,000 a week per child, or €260,000 a year, as part of a five-year tender agreement with private operators.
The current cost for private residential care is almost five times the cost of private foster care and almost as much as the €6,557 it costs to detain a child for a week in Oberstown, the State’s only child detention facility.
There are about 220 children in private residential care placements, representing 61 per cent of all children in residential care. Based on this figure, the placements will cost Tusla just under €70 million this year.
Children with a history of violence are the primary reason for the cost increase, Tusla sources say, with insurance payouts in a small number of cases driving up premiums for all children in residential care.
Tusla staff recently told researchers from the Irish Penal Reform Trust that “some quite significant payouts for staff assaults” were one of the primary reasons for the increased insurance costs.
Researchers were also told “insurance companies are requesting to see the profile of children being accommodated before agreeing to provide insurance”.
Tusla confirmed the practice this week but said no identifying details were handed over to insurers. “On occasions the private provider may be required by the insurance company to provide an anonymous profile of the child being referred,” a spokeswoman said.
However, the agency declined to say if this practice had led to any children losing a placement due to an insurer’s refusal to provide coverage.
Assaults on staff in residential childcare facilities are common. A 2016 study found 100 per cent of staff in such facilities had experienced workplace violence and that the problem was getting worse.
Staff members, particularly those providing private residential childcare, considered such violence part of the job and felt employees should “put up and shut up”, the report stated.
During one period in 2017 gardaí were called to assist staff in one care centre on 11 different occasions, including on two occasions when staff had to lock themselves in an office to protect themselves from the children.
During this time some of the children there were also exposed to continual bullying and intimidation from other residents, a report from the Health Information and Quality Authority stated.