HSE and minister defend special care service for children at risk

THE HSE and the Minister for Children yesterday defended its special care service for vulnerable children after a report claimed there were deficiencies in the system.

The report, commissioned by the Children Acts Advisory Board, which has since been subsumed into the Office of the Minister for Children, tracked the fortunes of 70 applications for special care admission from 2007 to late 2009, and found that the risk factors at play in the lives of the children involved hadonly improved in half the cases.

It also recommended changes in how the service is managed, including boosting psychiatric and psychological supports and tackling issues such as youth homelessness.

Minister for Children Barry Andrews accepted that there were serious concerns raised in the report, including the high rate of Traveller entry into the system and the need to tackle youth homelessness.

“Of those children admitted to special care, social workers felt that special care had a positive effect for 54%, with it providing a place of safety for a further 21% of children. For 18% of children, there was a negative response. Some 71% of social workers felt that special care was either effective or reasonably effective. Given the complexity of the problems experienced by the children involved, these outcomes are not insignificant,” he said.

The minister said the HSE has been provided with €3 million and an additional 29.5 posts to fulfil the establishment of multi-disciplinary assessment services for children and young people at risk and the development of a multi-disciplinary team for children in care and detention.

He also said work was continuing on developing a new model of care services, adding: “A key component of the new model is the reconfiguration of existing single use special care or high support centres as mixed use facilities providing special care and high support with no more than four special care beds at any centre. Residential special care and high support services will be provided on the same campus.”

Responding yesterday, the HSE said the findings would inform ongoing planning and changes to services. The number of children who fall within the remit of special care is a relatively small representation of the number in care, and the children referred to and placed in special care are amongst the most vulnerable in the care system, where restriction of their liberty is necessary for a short period of time, usually months.

Jennifer Gargan, director of the Irish Association of Young People in Care (IAYPIC), said there was a need for more resources to be placed in early intervention and parental support schemes, but defended aspects of the care system, which she said was improving.

She said work was already under way on a “campus style” service with stepdown high support units and such is the level of trauma experienced by some in special care that it could never work for everyone.

“The fact is that this is a stabilisation process and sometimes that is all social workers are looking for,” she said.

IAYPIC, alongside the Health Information Quality Authority, will today launch a new report into how young people in the care system view HIQA’s inspection process.


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