Unsafe practices at child centres: report

Inappropriate relationships between children, unauthorised adults in bedrooms, and staff without proper qualifications: These were just some of the child safeguarding breaches identified by inspections of residential centres last year.

At one home, management had been alerted to the possibility of “inappropriate relationships” between children but never informed the children’s social workers.

Families also repeatedly warned of their children’s “at-risk” behaviour but this was never addressed.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show at this particular centre, which was later closed, one social work team decided to send a child back to their family as they believed the young person was at “no greater risk at home with their family of origin as when placed in the centre”.

Details of the reports come days after it was revealed 46 children known to care services have died since the start of 2010, including 13 in the first four months of this year.

The 2011 reports on the country’s voluntary and private children’s homes reveal:

* In a mixed home, there was “evidence of a number of incidents where young people of different genders were in each other’s bedroom”;

* The inspection team found a “a lack of competently qualified and experienced staff to deliver the type of care necessary”. It also found that all the staff had not been through a formal interview process and the acting team leader did not have a social care qualification. Staff did not have training in Children First guidelines, first aid, or fire safety;

* In a facility in HSE South, one vulnerable girl was assaulted outside the home by a man. It later emerged there had been“inappropriate behaviour” between the teen and the man. However, staff never recorded this as a child protection breach and never told gardaí.

Several of the reports also found that vulnerable teenagers in care were subject to “a lot of instability and confusion” due to high turnovers of staff.

One report revealed how the residential home had three different managers in one year — a feature which “can create an inconsistent and unpredictable culture” for teenagers who need stability.

Some of the reports also discovered that staff did not have Garda vetting, the necessary foreign police clearance, and the required three references. When references were provided, often they had not been double-checked.

In at least three of the reports, “inspectors found evidence of gaps in staff knowledge and practice in areas including child development and attachment, as well as a lack of an ability to empathise with young people and their personal circumstances”.

A spokesman for the HSE said: “Following all inspections of children’s residential centres, findings and recommendations of inspection reports are followed up in full. The HSE ensures that, post-inspection, there is ongoing monitoring of the implementation of action plans as a result of findings and recommendations.”


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