Secure Children's Facility To Be Closed

The State's main secure unit for housing highly disruptive children and young people is to be closed as concerns emerge that the facility is "not fit for purpose".

The Special Care Unit in Ballydowd, west Dublin, cost €13 million to build nine years ago and has been used to detain up to 18 children and young people.

New of the closure comes after an independent report from the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) criticised many practices in the unit and said the facility was no longer acceptable for the detention of children.

One of the compounding circumstances was the recent building of apartments in the area that overlook the facility, compromising the children's privacy, according to the report.

The HSE says it is planning to transfer services to other facilities with the minimum of disruption because the building and facilities there are no longer suitable.

Fine Gael Children's Spokesperson, Alan Shatter criticised the closure of the unit, saying, "lessons had not been learned".

"The closure of the special care unit in Ballydowd 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," he said.

“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."

The report also considered the HSE's record in providing support services and foster care for children under the state's care saying it had found evidence of good practice.

However, it also highlighted what it called "serious deficits in standards" aimed at safeguarding vulnerable children, including lapses in vetting procedures for staff and foster carers working with children.

Dr Marion Witton, Chief Inspector of Social Services within the Health Information and Quality Authority, said: "Over two-thirds of relative foster carers (who are relatives of the children they are caring for) in the HSE region reviewed had not being comprehensively vetted by the HSE, as required under foster care regulations and standards. Such a practice is unsafe."

The Authority's Report also found that only 40% of relative foster carers in the HSE foster service reviewed were allocated a social worker, a finding which was of considerable concern as individuals providing care to children should be supported and monitored in accordance with the recognised standards.

The HSE responded this morning, welcoming the report saying it was pleased to note that HIQA referenced a number of positive developments based on 38 inspections of residential care and one foster care inspection.

The executive added that it is currently enhancing its management and corporate structures in Children and Families Services, including the appointment of a full time Assistant National Director for Children and Families Services.


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