Children sent abroad as our care system fails to cope
TWELVE deeply troubled children are being held at care facilities abroad, at an annual cost of €3.6m, because there is nowhere suitable for them in Ireland, the Irish Independent has learned.
A 13th child is expected to be sent to a secure facility abroad in the coming days.
Authorities are sending him to England after a court was told the care system in Ireland was unable to deal with the 16-year-old's complex problems.
The revelation comes as figures released by the Child and Family Agency show it costs the State significantly less to send problem children abroad than it does to provide services for them here.
The average cost of out-of-state care per child is €5,769 per week.
This compares with a cost of around €10,000 per week to detain a child at the Ballydowd special care unit in Dublin.
There are only 17 special care places in Ireland, 10 at Ballydowd with the remainder split between Gleann Alainn in Cork and Coovagh House in Limerick.
These are high security units where children with serious emotional and behavioural difficulties can be detained, subject to a court order, even if they have not committed a crime.
The new Child and Family Agency is planning to spend millions to double to 34 the places available by 2016.
The additional special care places are to be built at Gleann Alainn and at St Ita's Hospital in Portrane, Co Dublin.
However, the agency admits that even when this is done, there may still be a need to send some children abroad.
"The referral of children abroad for specialised therapeutic interventions is an established feature within our health and social care system and decisions in each case are made in the best interests of the individual," a spokeswoman said.
However, Jillian van Turnhout, a senator and children's rights campaigner, questioned this approach. "I am concerned that we are sending children to care facilities abroad due to a lack of specialised facilities here in Ireland," she said.
Ms van Turnhout said a better solution would be "investing in a homegrown solution that develops our domestic expertise and puts the best interests of the child at the centre of the process."
The latest case involves a Dublin teenager who has been diagnosed with a number of disorders.
He is being sent to the St Andrew's in Northampton, which has over 100 beds for children with challenging behaviour.
During a hearing at Dublin Children's Court, Judge John O'Connor said child welfare agencies here believed the teenager did not meet the criteria for being placed in a secure care facility in Ireland as they were not equipped to deal with his "complex needs".
The teenager, who has been diagnosed with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiance disorder and development co-ordination disorder, had appeared in the court on a series of theft charges and one for knife possession.
The Child and Family Agency is in the process of securing High Court orders in both Ireland and England so that the boy can be detained in Northampton.
As well as sending troubled children to Northampton, it has also used facilities such as Oakview Hospital in Kent; St Mary's in Scotland and Boystown in Nebraska.
Cases where children might be sent abroad include ones involving extreme aggression and violence, damaging sexually provocative and threatening behaviour, and complex mental health issues.