Children may have had no fresh air for over a week while being separated from others at Oberstown detention centre, inspectors have found.
Records at the centre for young offenders suggest at least two children who were on single separation had no fresh air or outdoor exercise for seven or eight days.
The lack of robust oversight and monitoring by managers of incidents in which children spent prolonged periods in single separation, prompted Health Information and Quality Authority inspectors to find major non-compliance with care standards at Oberstown.
Irish Penal Reform Trust acting executive director Fíona Ní Chinnéide said the revelations about children going days without access to fresh air were deeply concerning. She said use of single separation should be a measure of last resort and for the shortest time.
There were over 3,000 incidents of single separation last year, and eight different children were involved in the 148 cases across a four-month period for which Hiqa reviewed records.
The reasons for separating children were appropriate due to a high level of risk in the majority of cases, inspectors found.
Single separation can be used to manage violent or threatening behaviour, when a child has taken prohibited substances, damages property or is in conflict with their peers. In most cases, children were confined to their rooms, but a protection room was used in rare violent incidents, and periods of separation ranged from a few hours to over a week.
Poor records also made it unclear if the necessary approvals were given to extend periods of separation. The Hiqa report said the lack of children’s access to fresh air or outdoor exercise while in single separation, and the reasons for this, were also not clearly recorded.
“For example, in the case of one child, the first record of the child getting out for fresh air in the yard was on day eight after initial separation,” it said.
The first record of another child going to the yard for air or exercise was on their fifth day of separation. Access to the yard was not recorded until seven days after separation in another case.
Oberstown campus director Pat Bergin accepted the findings but said actions are being taken to address issues raised at a time of significant changes.
“There are procedures in place around recording things effectively, there were deficiencies in that,” he told RTÉ Radio’s News at One.
Despite many improvements, health and medical services were also in major non-compliance with Hiqa standards, largely due to past problems hiring nurses.
A fire caused extensive damage last year, when the centre was hit by riots and industrial action.
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