‘A system with in-built unfairness for children’

A draft report compiled on behalf of the Department of Children and the HSE two years ago highlighted problems of staff vacancies and high absenteeism within Ireland’s secure care system and also recommended phasing out overseas placements.

Documents provided to the Irish Examiner under Freedom of Information show that in March 2012, the London-based Potential Organisation produced a 25-page draft report into high support and special care which listed problems with the current system and recommendations for tackling them.

It stated that “the route into the system is complex and there is little provision for those children identified as in need but for whom there is no place”, adding: “There is a considerable history of staffing and budget issues that are unresolved and place a financial and service burden on the units”.

It also said: “There is evidence that the costs per place are among the highest in Europe. There are no consistent outcome measures, evaluations or action research programmes to help develop and improve the regimes and their impact on young people.”

It also said the system was “an idiosyncratic service rather than a planned, managed range based on effectiveness” and that the “‘waiting list’ for high support and special care demonstrates system weakness”.

The waiting list has recently been raised by senator Jillan Van Turnhout and others, and the report said Ireland needed to develop “a demand model allowing for capacity headroom at any stage so out of state placements are not needed”.

In addition, it said the admissions criteria was “too inflexible” and the system had an “in-built unfairness for children with the same presenting issues who then access different, or no, services”.

Referring to the situation in February 2012, it said: “The staffing snapshot from the National Team suggests that circa 50% of current absences (30 of 63) are long-term sick, administrative leave. The destabilising consequences are very substantial numbers of acting staff and use of agency staff.”

Recent figures from the Child and Family Agency showed there were 45 posts across the country’s high support and special care centres, all covered by agency staff. Last August there were 16 care grade vacancies in Ballydowd alone.

According to the report: “The system cannot currently say if the right children are in high support and special care except for the fact of a court order. It is not clear that the profile of young people by age, gender and ethnicity in high support and special is a fair reflection of the national profile.”

As for the courts admission system, it said: “The current process is complex, grew over time, is not cost effective and fails to protect some children.”

One of the authors, Paul Clarke, said he was confident many of the recommendations were being acted on, but said out-of-state placements were “a serious concern”.

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