Youth 'locked into a room for 83 hours 45 minutes' in detention centre - Hiqa
A detention centre for children has been slammed by the health watchdog for locking disruptive youths in a small room without natural light to manage behaviour.
Inspectors raised serious concerns after visiting the State-run Oberstown campus in Lusk, Co Dublin, where they found one youth had been put in a separation unit for more than 83 hours.
The service complied with just one out of the ten standards assessed, required improvement in six, and there were "significant risks" in three areas, according to the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa).
“Children were not always safe, as best practice was not always implemented in the areas of managing behaviour and medication management,” it said in a scathing report.
Inspections were carried out at Trinity House School, Oberstown Boys School and Oberstown Girls School in October and November 2014.
Hiqa found that all units used separation as a strategy in managing the behaviour of children.
“Protection rooms were used in Trinity house, where a child was locked in small room without natural light, while in other units children spent time in single separation in locked time out rooms, in their bedrooms or in activity rooms,” it reported.
“There were various reasons recorded for the use of single separation. These ranged from a child’s threats of suicide, being under the influence of drugs, concerns in relation to children having prohibited items and threatening behaviour.
“For example, one child was locked into a room for 83 hours 45 minutes, over a four day period, including sleeping hours.
“Another child spent a period of 23 hours and 30 minutes over a two day period in single separation, excluding sleeping time, as staff were concerned that the young person had prohibited items and would not give it to staff.
“Shorter periods of single separation were recorded such periods of 30 minutes when a child was smoking in school or 15 minutes when a child was not following staff’s direction.”
In the 12 months prior to the inspection, there were 758 occasions when children were on their own in their bedrooms, protection rooms or other rooms and this did not demonstrate that single separation was used as a last resort as per the policy.
Children told inspectors that they were in single separation due to “fighting” or “messing”, “waiting for more staff” or when “sent back from school”.
Staff members also said that children were in separation on occasions due to staffing levels.
“This was not acceptable practice and was an infringement of children’s rights,” it added.
Other areas of concern highlighted by Hiqa included:
:: 'Significant risks' were identified in in the areas of care of young people, health, and staffing and management.
:: Up to seven staff members needed to restrain a child in handcuffs due to the young person’s physical strength. The head of care told inspectors that the restraint was “all over the place” and a staff member was injured.
:: High levels of absenteeism, with 23 members of staff off in the previous year due to injuries sustained in work. Three staff members were on extended leave.
:: Six children had absconded or did not return on time during the previous 12 months
:: Access to an offending programme was limited to three children
:: Not all children had a care plan and the quality of plans varied.
:: Allegations of harm not being reported to Child and Family Agency
:: Concerns over the administration of medication
Hiqa said the staffing rota was an area of contention between staff and management, and was not meeting the needs of children on the campus.
“Mandatory training had not been provided to all staff,” it added.
“The Authority issued an immediate action plan in regard to the deficits in mandatory training such as fire training, child protection and safeguarding, manual handling, crisis prevention and intervention and medication management training.
Children's Minister Dr James Reilly said a comprehensive action plan which has been agreed between Hiqa and Oberstown management, which includes revising guidelines on the separation of children and medication management.
"The issues raised in the report are a matter of concern in terms of ensuring safe and secure custody for all children in detention and are being addressed by campus management, reporting to the Oberstown Board," said a spokesman for Dr Reilly.
"The Minister noted that there is a significant change programme being undertaken on the campus arising from the implementation of the Programme for Government commitment to end the detention of children in adult prison facilities.
"This includes commissioning of new buildings, a staff recruitment programme, new HR procedures, expanded nursing cover and enhanced offending behaviour programmes.
"The steps contained in the Action Plan will be implemented in parallel with this on-going reform."