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HSE to Close Child Detention Unit
Irish Times Thu, Nov 05, 2009 by Eanna O Caollai

The closure of a special detention care unit that cares for the needs of young people with serious emotional and behavioural problems shows that lessons of the Ryan report "have not been learned", Fine Gael has claimed.

The 24-bed special care detention unit at Ballydowd, Palmerstown, Co Dublin, will be closed following a report into standards at the unit by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA).

The unit, which currently houses 12 children, was opened nine years ago at a cost of €13 million.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) issued a statement this morning in which they announced that "a decision has been taken to close the Ballydowd facility." According to the HSE, the decision was "based on the general suitability of the building and facilities."

A special project team has been set-up to oversee the closure and to ensure that this is done with the least disruption to services, which will be transferred to other facilities. Talks are ongoing with all parties involved in the closure programme, the HSE said.

The move to close the unit follows a report by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) which criticised the environment at the centre as "no longer acceptable" for the detention of children. The report highlighted problems relating to management, staffing and the safety of children at Ballydowd.

Inspectors had "serious concerns" for the ongoing welfare of children due to "difficulties in the management of staffing and the physical environment". The physical environment had deteriorated to such a degree that it was "no longer an acceptable premises in which to detain children."

The inspectors recommended action "as a matter of urgency".

The report found "serious difficulties of trust" between management and staff which "impacted negatively" and presented itself "as a crisis of confidence and authority" at the centre.

It affected the "management of challenging and high risk behaviour, the rate of absconding and security, issues regarding recording and notifications of significant incidents, and a confidence in using the complaints procedures or raising concerns about care practices."

Hiqa inspectors found the unit was in disrepair in many areas, was not fit for purpose, and that managers and staff were "struggling to maintain any standard in its physical condition."

The report found that did not meet the required standard in several areas including management, staffing, unauthorised absences, location and design, general accomodation, maintenance and repair and security.

Ballydowd only partly met the required standard in areas of child protection, education, meals, social work and statutory care planning and review.

In response to the closure of the facility, Fine Gael spokesman on children Alan Shatter said it: "shows that lessons have not been learnt from the Ryan Report and the State’s litany of child protection failures, and children are still being exposed to unacceptable practices and conditions."

“The Minister for Children must explain how a purpose-built property which cost €13 million nine years ago is now being decommissioned and why steps weren’t taken to ensure it was properly managed," he said. "He must also explain the details of the arrangements being made for the children who were until now accommodated in Ballydowd.”

Special care units are secure residential facilities for young people aged between 12 and 17 who are detained under a High Court order for a short period of time for their own safety and welfare.

Impact trade union, which represents staff working in the unit,said that it had raised many of the issues uncovered in the Hiqa inspection report with the HSE since the centre’s opening in 2000.

“The special care unit in Ballydowd has had an ongoing problem with staff shortages. This situation became critical in 2003, and Impact was forced to engage in an industrial action on the issue of filling critical posts in the unit,” a union spokesman said.