The public health watchdog has expressed concern about significant safety risks identified during an inspection of an emergency hostel for homeless children in Cork.
Inspectors from the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) were informed that there was a high rate of unauthorised absence from the facility, with 610 such incidents recorded over the previous two years. A total of 87 absences were recorded as serious incidents, while gardaí were called to the centre on 95 occasions over the same period.
Hiqa officials claimed policies, procedures and practical measures to promote the safety of young people at the hostel were ineffective. However, they praised the vital and supportive service provided by a resilient staff to vulnerable young people.
The unnamed centre does not function as a mainstream children’s residential centre but as an emergency hostel for up to five young people at any one time.
The Hiqa inspection was carried out with the agreement of Tusla, the child and family agency.
Although such a facility is not governed by childcare legislation, its staff told Hiqa inspectors they aspired to adhere to the national standards for residential care.
Hiqa inspectors blamed the significant risk on a combination of factors, including the profile of the young people admitted and its admissions policy and lack of exclusion criteria. They also believed the hostel, which is located in a two-storey house adjacent to a busy road in a residential area, is unsuitable for its purpose.
Health officials noted many of the boys aged betwee 15 and 17 who stayed in the hostel had a history of challenging behaviour including substance misuse and engaging in crime.
In the months before the Hiqa inspection last June, there were several incidents of disturbance which had resulted in significant damage to property in the centre.
In the previous two years, 10 young people had been taken into custody on foot of court orders. The facility had recorded 92 admissions over the same period.
Hiqa said staff could not ensure the centre operated in a stable environment because its admissions policy was not to exclude any homeless young person, regardless of whether they had any history of substance abuse or criminal behaviour.
The hostel also had no risk management policy or risk register. Managers complained about the lack of clerical support which meant they had to undertake duties such as payroll and invoicing, meaning less time to supervise staff and oversee the care of young people.
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