Staff recruitment problems delay the special care unit for disturbed children

 

The challenging nature of childcare work and the cost of living in Dublin, particularly prohibitive house prices, have caused major problems for the recruitment of adequate numbers of care workers for a new 24-bed special care unit for troubled children at Ballydowd, Lucan, the High Court has been told.

The problems in recruiting staff, and some delays in completion of the unit itself, meant just one of the three eight-bed units at Ballydowd would be operational by the end of August, with a second expected to be partly operational by October, Mr Justice Kelly was told yesterday. Full operation depended on getting the staff numbers required.

After advertising twice for 54 care workers, and with another advertising campaign beginning this weekend, the Eastern Regional Health Authority (ERHA) has recruited just 24 people for the Ballydowd unit and requires 30 more. In July 1998, having sharply criticised as a "scandal" the State's failure to provide safe and suitable accommodation for disturbed children, Mr Justice Kelly made innovative orders compelling the State to provide resources for and take all steps necessary to ensure the unit at Ballydowd and another 24-bed high support unit at Portrane were open and operational by 2000 and 2001 respectively.

Yesterday, having been told there was some "slippage" in meeting the target dates for Ballydowd, he heard evidence from Ms Brid Clarke, assistant chief executive of the South West Area Health Board, who is responsible for bringing into operation the Portrane and Ballydowd units, about progress in relation to Ballydowd.

It had been expected the Ballydowd unit would be built by March last but problems in getting subcontractors, industrial disputes and problems with materials had led to delays.

Ms Clarke outlined the efforts to recruit adequate staff. Despite advertising extensively across Ireland, North and South, and also in England, Scotland, Wales, Finland, Norway and Sweden, they had just 24 of the required 54 care workers.

Mr Justice Kelly said he could not criticise the ERHA for its attempts to comply with the deadline set for the operation of the Ballydowd unit.

He was satisfied no further order was required in the matter and he was satisfied the ERHA was doing all it could. However, the judge added, he wished to be informed if any major slippage occurred.