HSE special care units are failing more than half of the troubled children who have been placed there, according to a report which raises serious questions about the HSE’s capacity to help vulnerable young people in care.
A study for the now defunct Children Acts Advisory Board for the first time tracked the fortunes of children referred to special care units and whether or not the placements succeeded in reducing the risk factors they faced.
It paints a grim picture of children engaged in criminal activity and homelessness from a young age and found in a significant percentage of cases that such behaviours had worsened or developed.
It questions whether the HSE’s other services are tackling the needs of those who go through the special care system.
Following 70 applications made in respect of 59 children in 2007, right through to November of last year, the report finds that:
* Only 46% of cases saw an improvement.
* More than 20% saw the situation worsen.
* 14% saw the same level of risk in 2009 as in 2007.
Among the findings are that males were more likely to be at risk of, or engaging in, criminal activity than females – 72% compared with 39%, while young women were more likely to have one or more of the three sexual behaviour risk features than young men – 83% versus 24%. Just 31% of males involved in the study had no involvement with the criminal justice system at the time of the application, compared to 59% of the females.
The report finds that fewer problem males were admitted to special care than females in 2007 because of previous court rulings, which say criminal matters must be resolved in a district court before a special care application can be made, effectively put many of the male children out of the loop.
One-third of children who were the subject of a special care order in 2007 were aged between 12 and 14 years, while 43% were just 15 years old and 24% were aged 16 or 17. The report states: “Younger children were more likely to be admitted to special care than older children and were also more likely to experience improvements in overall risk factors.
“33% of those aged 16-17 had risk factors that actually worsened. Given that 16- 17-year-olds also are least likely to be admitted to special care, this raises a question about whether the needs of 16-17-year-olds exhibiting behavioural difficulties are being effectively addressed, not just within special care but within the services provided by the HSE in general and its partner agencies.”
In addition, 12 of the children in the study experienced homelessness after the application was made, with the report stating: “This suggests that the needs of children who are at acute risk who have experienced homelessness are not being addressed properly.”
By November last year, the report says, of the 16 individuals at risk from youth homelessness at the point of application or who had acquired that risk factor in the intervening period, 56% had overall risk factors that worsened or were a new feature.
In addition, the report conveys the misgivings of social workers about the special care system, particularly the lack of psychiatric and psychological support in units such as Ballydowd in Dublin, Gleann Alainn, a facility for girls based in Co Cork, and Coovagh House in Limerick.
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