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Thursday 18 September 2014

Security centre holding troubled teens for longer than recommended period

Shane Phelan Public Affairs Editor

Published 13/01/2014 | 02:30

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John Fox, director of Ballydowd Special Care Unit  Picture: GERRY MOONEY
John Fox, director of Ballydowd Special Care Unit Picture: GERRY MOONEY

A HIGH-SECURITY centre for troubled children has admitted young people are being detained there for longer than is recommended by the health service watchdog.

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Average placements at Ballydowd Special Care Unit in Dublin are now between six and nine months, according to the centre's management.

This far exceeds the three to six month period which is considered the norm by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA).

Ballydowd is one of three centres in Ireland where children aged between 12 and 17 with serious emotional and behavioural difficulties can be held against their will even if they have not committed a crime.

They can be sent there on foot of High Court orders if the Health Service Executive (HSE) believes they pose a risk to themselves or others. It currently costs around €10,000 a week to detain a single child at Ballydowd, such is the level of supervision involved.

John Fox, director of Ballydowd SCU, said many of the children it was dealing with now needed to be held for longer than HIQA suggests.

"We ultimately look at the needs of the young person and it (the placement) is as long as is necessary for that young person," he said.

Each case is examined by the High Court on a monthly basis and it must sanction continued detentions.

Problems finding suitable follow-on care have been cited as a reason some placements were being extended.

HIQA has raised concerns about the length of time some children were being held there, citing one case where a 14-year-old who had already been through six different foster homes was held for at least 15 months.

It also expressed concerns about a teenager who had to live separately from other children at the unit for seven months "ensuring safety for everyone".

LIBERTY

Mr Fox said it was "an extremely serious step to take someone's liberty away.

"We have to believe when we are doing it we have valid reasons and that it is going to be of some benefit to the young person," he said.

The state-of-the-art campus in Lucan, which can hold up to 10 children, was slated for closure following a critical HIQA report four years ago.

However, the new Child and Family Agency, which has taken over the running of the facility from the HSE, said it is now much improved after new management and services were installed.

Absconsions from care there are notably down, with 12 cases noted last year as opposed to 34 in 2012.

Irish Independent

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