Child Fell from Roof of Detention Unit Before its Closure
Irish Independent, Tuesday January 26 2010, by Aine Kerr and Grainne Cunningham
A CHILD fell off the roof of the controversial Ballydowd detention centre in the weeks leading up to its closure, new documents reveal.
The revelation came in a letter from a solicitor who represented children detained in the Ballydowd Young People's Centre in Lucan, Dublin, which closed last November after being opened nine years previously at a cost of €13m.
The letter, obtained by the Irish Independent under the Freedom of Information Act, was faxed to Children's Minister Barry Andrews days before a damning Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) report brought about the closure. The report described the unit as "no longer an acceptable premises in which to detain children".
Solicitor Katherine Ghent, who represented a number of children detained there, sent the letter labelled "extremely urgent" on October 28 last year.
"As you have no doubt been informed, there was a fire in that institution over the weekend and one young person is in hospital having apparently fallen off the roof," Ms Ghent said.
It is understood that a mattress was set alight and, in a separate incident, the same young person had climbed on to the roof of the Ballydowd building, fallen off and broken a limb.
From September 2008 to August 2009, there were 186 instances of use of physical restraint. In the year since the 2008 inspection, there had been 31 unauthorised absences by those in authority at the centre.
Six care staff did not have training in 'Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children'.
On the same day Ms Ghent's letter was faxed to Mr Andrews, the HIQA report into the centre was published, prompting the closure of the facility seven days later on November 5.
And on the evening prior to the closure announcement, Mr Andrews met with Ms Ghent to discuss her concerns about the care unit.
In her letter, the solicitor complained that the results of the inspections carried out in late June and early August had still not been published.
"In order to best represent clients, it is critical that the undersigned can have faith there is openness and transparency within a system and a unit that practices the most exceptional form of detention for some of the State's most vulnerable children," Ms Ghent wrote.
"If there are problems within the unit, which recent events would appear to suggest, then this office should have been formally made aware of the nature of those difficulties."
Asked about the revelations yesterday, a HSE spokeswoman for the organisation was precluded under the Childcare Act from commenting on children in care.