Complaints increasing at young offenders centre, Hiqa finds

The number of complaints from young people detained at the Oberstown centre for young offenders has risen, with health watchdog Hiqa also raising concern over ongoing issues surrounding single separation.

The latest inspection of the Oberstown Children Detetention Campus raised a number of issues regarding the facility in north Dublin, including a “significant increase in complaints since the last inspection”.

The campus is currently undergoing a major redevelopment, but there have been problems this year such as the absconsion of a number of young people during the summer and a previous Hiqa inspection report which strongly criticised the use of single separation and restraint techniques on children — including a male resident being handcuffed to a radiator.

At the time of this latest unannounced inspection, conducted last June, there were 48 boys on campus, — 27 who were committed and 21 on remand.

Since the last inspection, staff and young people had moved into newly-constructed units and new staff had been recruited, with Hiqa noting that there had been improvements in a number of areas.

However, it said there were still deficits, such as issues with children absconding and also children’s needs not always being comprehensively assessed.

Inspectors also noted the rise in complaints. According to the report: “During the inspection in 2014, inspectors noted there had been six complaints by young people. There were 59 complaints in the six-month period prior to this inspection.

Inspectors found that of these 59 complaints, about 50% (30) were open and pending further investigation.

Due to the significant increase of the number of complaints, the designated liaison officer with responsibility for managing complaints was struggling to address them in a timely manner.

Despite the concerns raised over the use of single separation in the previous inspection report, according to Hiqa there were 1,420 incidences of single separation used between October and the end of May 2015 — a significant increase since the last inspection.

In May alone, there were 346 separations involving 58 young people. While the recording of incidents of single separation had improved, Hiqa said it was not consistently used in line with policy and procedure.

Sometimes young people were placed in single separation for using inappropriate language or smoking, the latter being the trigger for one young person being placed in their bedroom for four days.

In addition, there were six occasions when young people had absconded in the first half of the year, while six young people did not return from permitted absences from the campus such as an overnight visit to their family, and two young people escaped from staff outside of the campus. One young person had been absent for a total of 16 days.

Many staff told inspectors that morale was low and the overall rate of absenteeism was 7.1%, with some staff off work due to injury, including as a results of assaults.

Hiqa issued an action plan with management at Oberstown giving details of a range of measures that were put in place after the inspection to address the issues raised.

For the full report visit www.hiqa.ie

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