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Hostel worker fired over teen relationship

A STAFF member in a Dublin hostel was dismissed after having "an inappropriate relationship" with a teenage asylum-seeker in State care.

The boy was placed in the privately run hostel, The Staircase, in Dublin's city centre, by the Health Service Executive (HSE) after he arrived in Ireland as an "unaccompanied minor".

The relationship was reported by management to support workers in 2007 and an investigation was launched by the HSE, resulting in a recommendation that the staff member's contract be terminated.

The HSE said this weekend that the individual was not a "professional staff member" and gardai were not involved because while "inappropriate", the relationship was "not unlawful".

The incident is disclosed in internal health service reports on the privately run hostels catering for lone 16- and 17-year-old teenagers seeking asylum in this country.

The health service changed its policy of placing asylum-seeking children into unregistered hostels last year, following criticisms of the practice by the children's ombudsman, Emily Logan. The Staircase closed on December 31 after the last resident moved to adult accommodation.

The reports on the hostel repeatedly praised management and staff for their positive relationships with the boys and the running of the facility. The level of care provided by the HSE was frequently criticised, however.

Support staff-- called project workers -- assigned to the boys reported concerns with their mental health, particularly those whose asylum applications were rejected. In 2007, they reported that some boys had been experiencing "fits of depression for various reasons but mostly due to negative decisions from the asylum process".

A report in April 2008 reported that while the hostel was well-managed, the boys needed "more support rather than security guards". It called for childcare staff to be based in the hostel to "support them on a daily basis".

In February 2009, a reported noted that four boys had been "talking about the feeling of suicide and many of them are from Iraq". The reason, it stated, related to their asylum application.

A subsequent report repeated the call for full-time social workers to be assigned to the hostel. It said that many boys were "depressed" and some had "psychological issues" but were refusing medical assistance.

A spokesman for The Staircase said that in its final year the charity, Cross Care, provided social workers who stayed in the hostel 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which was of great benefit to the boys. He confirmed the "inappropriate relationship" in 2007 and said the staff member's contract was terminated following due process. He said that all hostel staff were vetted by gardai.

The HSE refused to reveal the cost of the hostel service this weekend on the grounds that the information was "commercially sensitive".

However, it confirmed to the Sunday Independent two years ago that a total of €4.9m was spent on "hostel services" in 2008.

As of February this year, 90 "unaccompanied minors" are currently in State care; none in hostels; 60 are in foster care; 24 are in children's homes; five have been reunited with families; and one is with a relative.

Ms Logan inspected The Staircase hostel in March 2009.

Her report said: "This hostel houses approximately 30 young men and is run by a private company. A hostel manager is usually present between 9am and 5pm. It was understood that after 5pm the only adults on duty until the following morning would be two security staff. This means that from 5pm until the following morning, no care staff were on the premises where 30 children under the age of 18 were residing."

Sunday Independent