Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

Troubled children's home to shut

Rath na nOg High Support Unit in Castleblaney, Co Monaghan, will close by November next year

A special home for troubled children is to be shut down after youngsters were found to be self-harming, bullied, assaulting staff and at risk from fire.

Rath na nOg high support unit in Castleblayney, Co Monaghan, which was opened for youngsters with emotional and behavioural problems and is currently home to two children, will close next month.

Watchdog the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) issued a damning report on childcare standards which told a story of hopeless attitudes among staff and the children.

"Inspectors were concerned that there was little expectation that the children and young people could change or their behaviour could improve, and this was also reflected in the interviews inspectors undertook with the social workers allocated to the children and young people in the unit," it said.

Hiqa said there were at least two recorded assaults on children in the centre.

A number of fires were set inside the centre by children in care and fire safety measures were inadequate even though four fires had been lit inside in the six months before inspection.

Youngsters were locked indoors but there was no automatic safety mechanism to spring doors open in the event of smoke or a fire.

While the unit was not designed for detention the children were kept behind lock and key from 9pm to 7.30am.

Hiqa found some instances of children and young people harming themselves or each other while some children admitted that they did not always feel safe.

It said that it found increased incidences of self harm that required admission to hospital, children being absent at risk, bullying others and threatening and assaulting staff.

Gardai were called regularly to help staff who felt it was not safe to physically restrain children due to the level of threatening behaviour.

Hiqa said the children being kept in the home felt the staff were not able to maintain order and that the youngsters were "in control".

Bullying was not addressed by the staff, the report said, and on some occasions it was considered systematic.

Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald said she had been very concerned about risks to children at the Castlebayney unit.

HSE national director Gordon Jeyes met HIQA on September 20 and announced the plan to end all operations at the centre.

"Poor standards must not, and will not, be accepted," she said.

Data provided by Rath na nOg showed 97 incidents when children left the unit without permission from January 2013, 84 of which were classified as absent at risk.

Children left the unit and went drinking to excess, engaged in sexual behaviour and took drugs and some reported being harmed.

Hiqa recorded 13 child protection concerns in the year before the inspection in July.

On one occasion staff decided not to report a protection allegation from one child against another to senior officials in the HSE.

Further allegations were then made against the youngster, which Hiqa said showed that an opportunity to safeguard other children had been missed.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) said it was taking the step to shut the centre as the watchdog's report was released.

The HSE said the closure is in line with a national policy to decommission high support units and increase the services capacity of special care services.

Rath na nOg opened in late 2002 to provide a high support service for 12-17-year-olds who have experienced or presented with difficulties in previous placements and have emotional and behavioural issues.

It found issues in relation to protecting girls and vulnerable males from abuse from other males within the unit.

Rath na nOg was designed as an open unit but Hiqa warned that, as doors had to be locked overnight, either the unit was not fit for purpose or the children should have been in a special detention unit.

Ms Fitzgerald has asked Mr Jeyes for a full report into the deficits found by Hiqa.

At the end of September there were 6,453 children in the care of the HSE.

Just 0.3% are regarded as having specialised needs and for their own welfare and protection are placed in a high support or special care unit.

The closure of Rath na nOg is happening as the HSE takes part in a n ational review of residential care including the reconfiguration of high support and special care units.

More secure places will be made available, increasing from 17 to 35.

"The current reforms are designed to ensure that children in care with complex needs or who present with challenging or high-risk behaviour can receive the appropriate care in the appropriate setting," the minister said.

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