Locking children in rooms with no furniture or windows behind a heavy metal door as a punishment for misbehaving in a juvenile detention centre has been criticised by the health watchdog.
Inspectors from the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) found two single separation “protection rooms” at Trinity House School (THS) on the Oberstown Campus in Lusk, north Dublin, had been used 67 times in the space of a month to punish children for actions ranging from smoking to refusing to take staff direction to verbal abuse towards staff.
Hiqa said this was in breach of children’s rights and not in line with school policy “which clearly states that the room is only to be used when there is a significant danger to the young person or others or where there is significant damage to property”.
Inspectors said the rooms were “cold and bleak” and were “not suitable for children or young people”. THS houses juvenile offenders ranging in age from 10-17.
Some young people told inspectors they came out of the room feeling more upset and angry than when they went in.
One young person with major behavioural difficulties, including assaults on staff and damage to property, had been in single separation for a number of weeks.
The HSE said the use of protection rooms at THS is now under review with a report due in January.
Hiqa was also concerned that a programme to deal with offending behaviour — designed to get young offenders to face up to the consequences of their behaviour — was not being implemented due to staffing issues.
Inspectors said this should be “a major priority for the service”, but added that “this was not the case”.
Neither was there a routine mechanism in place to evaluate the effectiveness of such programmes, making it hard to measure if the school was succeeding in its aim to rehabilitate young people and reduce rates of re-offending behaviour.
Staff morale on the campus was low, particularly in THS, and was contributing to high levels of sick leave. Nine care staff had been on sick leave for more than a year and last June, a third of the care staff were on sick leave.
Hiqa said that a review of sick leave levels was needed and the HSE said this will be done as part of a review of rosters.
Hiqa also called for the urgent implementation of a review of security at the campus after three young people left the grounds without permission and were returned by gardaí a week later.
Epic, the charity for young people in care, said there were also positive findings in the report, such as good relationships between children and care staff, which the charity welcomed.
However, Epic director Jennifer Gargan said that a focus on rehabilitating young people through programmes dealing with offending behaviour was imperative.
A separate inspection of foster care services in the Longford/ Westmeath area found more than a quarter of children in foster care with non-relatives did not have a social worker.
There were also significant delays in completing some foster carer assessments — in one case an assessment took seven years to complete.
Ten children had been placed in foster care by private companies with whom the HSE had no service-level agreement. Inspectors said this meant a potential lack of clarity about the quality and nature of the service to be provided.
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