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The Ballydowd Facility for Troubled Teens

From The Story Blog by Mark CoughlanSeptember 2, 2010

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In the 1994 the courts declared that disruptive children had a constitutional right to be cared for by the State to a suitable standard. By 1999 a High Court judge, Mr Justice Kelly, found that “culpable time-wasting” in the department of health and children had resulted in this care remaining unavailable. He said the problems of accommodating such children had daily become more acute.

At that point the department had plans to bring a 24 bed custom-built unit on stream by early 2000. It was to be the first in the history of the state. The health-board run facility located in Ballydowd, Lucan, opened in mid-2000 but with only at one-third of its 24 bed capacity, due to difficulties with sub-contractors and recruiting suitable staff.

12 months later and the problems remained. The health board began seeking staff from abroad to allow them to open the remaining empty beds.

Six months later; the facility was facing a ‘crisis’ after a spate of resignations.

The South-Western Area Health Board (SWAHB) has rejected claims by one former staff member that the unit, at Lucan, was on the verge of “collapse”. But a spokesman admitted that it faced an “extreme challenge” to operate as originally intended, adding: “Failure is not an option.”

[...] Plagued from the start by recruitment difficulties, it has never been able to deal with more than eight children at a time. The latest resignations, of as many as six childcare staff, mean the unit is relying on agency personnel to continue to operate even at the current level.

In early 2003 the situation hadn’t changed. Still just 8 individuals were being cared for when Ballydowd should have been catering for three times that number. Teenagers with pyschological issues causing them to become aggressive were being sent to Mountjoy prison as beds in Ballydowd remained unavailable due to staff shortages.

By early 2005 there were 14 young people housed there, some as young as 13 years old. Despite there being teens who were being referred to Ballydowd by the courts, the HSE was unable to provide suitable care and instead was attempting to place them elsewhere. This included seeking to place children in the care of their parents, many of whom had originally sought help from the State due to their child’s conditions…

The case of a 14-year-old boy who has tried to kill himself three times is to be brought to the High Court for a judicial review in an effort to compel the Health Service Executive (HSE) to provide him with therapeutic help.

A psychological and educational assessment of the boy took place in the centre, which recommended that he should go to Ballydowd special care unit, a secure therapeutic residential unit.

[...] Nicola Carr, a court officer with the Special Residential Services Board, told Judge Ní Chondúin yesterday that the Finglas Child and Adolescent Centre had recommended a residential therapeutic care unit.

However, she added that the HSE has not provided a placement and has not made an application for the boy to be admitted to the Ballydowd special care unit.

In February 2006 it emerged that management had failed to act on fire safety advice provided following an inspection by experts…

A recommendation to improve fire safety procedures at a special care unit in Dublin for troubled young people detained on foot of court orders had still not been acted on when the centre was inspected 11 months later, according to a new report.

[...] a recommendation was made that senior managers should consider adapting bedroom doors in the centre so they opened outward. Fire blankets in the corridors between bedrooms were also recommended. “Neither recommendation was implemented,” the inspectors said.

They were concerned because in the year before the inspection by personnel from the Irish Social Services Inspectorate (ISSI) a young person had set fire to clothing inside her bedroom and was able to barricade herself in because the door opened inwards.

Come November last year and a HIQA report was recommending that Ballydowd be shut down “as a matter of urgency”. There were “serious concerns” for the welfare and safety of children due to “difficulties in the management of staffing and the physical environment”. The building had deteriorated to such a degree that it was “no longer an acceptable premises in which to detain children.” The HSE said its would set up a special project team to oversee the closure of the facility.

At that point there were 12 children housed there.

In February of this year the director of Ballydowd turned a fire hose on one of the children after she refused to get out of bed. Despite a HSE investigation concluding that the treatment could not be categorised as abuse under their guidelines, the individual did face assault charges after officers from Lucan Garda station received a complaint.

On August 2 of this year, exactly one month ago, the HSE was still planning on placing children in Ballydowd, despite the prior damning HIQA report.

Two days ago a further HIQA report again insisted that Ballydowd be closed, this time “with immediate effect”. However, the HSE says it will remain operational for a further 18 months until they can find elsewhere to house the children currently occupying beds. This HIQA report stated explicitly that “notwithstanding the demand for placements, inspectors were concerned that special care was currently being provided in two unsuitable, inadequate settings which do not meet required standards”. The Lucan facility “represents an unsafe situation for the children placed in special care units”.

And that’s where we currently stand.

10 years of Ballydowd, right on the back of the Celtic Tiger. Apparently never up to full standards.

How a custom-built unit – constructed just ten years ago, at the time apparently the such building designed for the purpose in the State - could have deteriorated to such an extent that it is no longer fit for purpose, raises serious questions about the quality of the original work. I assume there was a tender process and a tender analysis completed. Is ten years a standard burn-out time for a building with this purpose?

One also wonders if Ballydowd has ever operated at full capacity, despite the consistent demand for treatment. I’ll see what I can find out in morning…