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HSE to Put Children in Secure Unit It Promised to Close Down

Irish Times, 2 August 2010 by Carl O'Brien Chief Reporter

THE HEALTH Service Executive is planning to admit children into a secure unit for troubled children that it had pledged to close down following a damning report by social services inspectors.

In a special report last year, the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) strongly criticised care practices at Ballydowd in west Dublin and said the building was “no longer fit for purpose”.

On foot of this, the HSE pledged to close down the 12-bed unit and move the young people to a modern facility at Crannóg Nua, a special care unit in the grounds of St Ita’s psychiatric hospital in north Dublin.

However, the HSE has confirmed to The Irish Times that it is planning to place eight children in Ballydowd as a “short-term” measure. The children will be moved from Crannóg Nua to allow for building works at the north Dublin facility.

Social work sources say authorities have nowhere else to place the children due to a chronic lack of special care places, which are used as a measure of last resort to detain troubled young people. The move is understood to have been met with concern with inspectors from Hiqa.

A spokesman for the authority confirmed that it wrote to Minister for Children Barry Andrews last week to express its concern at the use of the facility. It is planning to publish an updated inspection report on the centre over the coming weeks.

Hiqa’s special report into the facility last year was prompted by concerns about care practices and the physical environment that were brought to its attention.

Its report, while not explicitly calling for the closure of Ballydowd, said it was no longer an acceptable premises in which to detain children. It detailed a series of areas where the facility failed to meet acceptable standards, including management, staffing, the promotion of good order, accommodation and security.

In a statement, the HSE said some minor enabling works needed to take place at the Ballydowd site to allow for the forthcoming transfer of children. This work is under way, it said.

“Within a matter of weeks the special care services in Dublin will be part of a redefined Crannóg Nua special care and high support service. At the end of the development of the Crannóg Nua site, the Ballydowd site will be phased out as a special care service,” the HSE added.

The HSE did not state how long the children will remain in Ballydowd, although internal documents suggest it could be for at least two or three months.

While health authorities began transferring children out of Ballydowd late last year, the facility never closed. At least one child has consistently been living in the unit over recent months, while another two are understood to have been admitted in recent weeks.

When Hiqa inspectors visited the unit last year, they expressed concern over high-risk events such as an outside visit when three children absconded. The unit was in disrepair in many areas and was generally not fit for purpose, the inspectors found.