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Two in Five Children Revert to Bad Behaviour upon Release from Care

Irish Times, 2 October, 2010 by Jamie Smyth Social Affairs Correspondent

TWO IN five children remanded in special care placements immediately revert to risk-taking behaviour or their behaviour becomes worse upon their release from a secure unit, a study has found.

The study by the Children’s Acts Advisory Board – a body set up to advise Government – also found deficiencies in how children are placed in secure care and discharged from secure units.

The report found a shortage of high-support placements, which is the most common discharge option for children in special care.

Individuals concerned in 70 applications for special care placements were tracked from 2007 to 2009. The research included interviews with children, parents, carers and social workers who have experience of three special care units: Ballydowd, Gleann Álainn and Coovagh House. These secure units house children who show serious behavioural problems and have “at risk” behaviour.

Social workers felt 54 per cent of children in special care had a positive experience while it had a negative impact on 18 per cent of children. But 39 per cent of children discharged from special care immediately revert to their risk-taking behaviour, says the report.

Those children admitted to Gleann Álainn had a more positive experience than those admitted to Ballydowd or Coovagh House. One child said “Ballydowd was more like a jail”. Another said the “use of restraints was a particular issue” at Ballydowd. The Health Information and Quality Authority has recommended Ballydowd be shut down.

Three-quarters of the children at risk of homelessness who had an application to special care experienced homelessness after the application, the report said.

“This suggests the needs of children who are at acute risk of homelessness are not being addressed.”

The report recommends reconsidering the admission procedures for children at risk of homelessness, 16-17-year-olds (who tend to have poor outcomes) and Travellers (who have low levels of admission and poorer outcomes). It also recommends greater co-operation between special care units to help children get a proper follow-on placement.