INSPECTORS who visited a HSE-run high support unit for troubled children found a range of risky behaviour including the setting of fires and substance misuse by young people who ran away.
There was also bullying and physical threats toward other children and staff with gardai called to the unit on a number of occasions.
“The systems in place to protect children and keep them safe were not effective,” said the report of the unit in the Dublin north east region.
Staff at the unit – which can care for up to 10 young people at any given time - failed to stop many of them running away despite locking doors at 8pm at night.
The residential and high support unit cared for boys and girls aged 12 to 17 years who were “experiencing difficulty in their lives and neeed additional support,” said an inspection report.
The inspectors who visited the centre in October found that there were 134 reported unauthorised absences of children in the past 12 months.
“The level of absences was not reduced by the locking of the doors as children absconded at other times of the day. Current strategies in place had not reduced the overall rate of absconding from the unit,” said the report from the Health Information and Quality Authority.
Concern also emerged about the level of fires set by the children - ranging from minor to more serious episodes. Action plans were ineffective as the fire setting behaviour continued.
The children spoke to inspectors about a recent fire which had been set in one of the units and said that it had upset them.
There were incidents of threatening behaviour and assaults on other children and on staff, as well as episodes of children abusing substances when absent from the unit.
An Garda Síochána were on a number of occasions to provide assistance.
Children’s behaviour had deteriorated to a point at which staff did not feel safe to physically intervene due to the level of threatening behavior.
While inspectors found that it was appropriate to call gardai in these circumstances they were concerned that the service was unable to meet children’s needs in these circumstances.
While the the inspectors found there continued to be a good standard of care provided to children in many areas they warned that locking doors between 8pm and 8am was not in line with national policy although the HSE’s Director of Children and Family Services had given the go ahea.
“Additionally, inspectors found that children were confined to different areas of the unit when staff deemed this necessary to maintain the child’s safety or the safety of others.
“This meant that children experienced a second level of restriction further impacting on their rights, despite high levels of staffing including waking night staff and night staff in the administrative building. In effect, children were detained in the centre during this period of time and could only leave the centre in a planned way. “
Some of the children’s social workers interviewed by inspectors said they were unaware of this practice. This meant that children’s rights were restricted and their social workers who are in locus parentis were not informed.
The report also highlighted how a fire risk assessment did not take into account the fact that all external doors were locked from 8pm.
Neither did it consider the increased risk of fire due to the profile and behaviours of the children currently living in the unit.