Children’s Ombudsman Niall Muldoon has recommended inspection of such centres be moved without delay to the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa). It already provides the inspection, registration and monitoring of State-run children’s residential centres.
May 2014 figures show around 100 private or voluntary children’s residential centres were catering for 341 children, at a cost of around €49m a year. These are ordinary houses where, usually, between two and six children are cared for by staff.
The Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO) examined inspection reports from 49 centres carried out by HSE child and family services in 2012 and up to August 2013 — before responsibility for the registration and inspection of these centres moved to Tusla in January 2014.
The OCO report says its investigation found a shortage of inspectors had led to delays in inspections, which were typically announced in advance, and there was no evidence of the visits happening at night or weekends. There was no standardised procedure across the country’s four regions, and no agreed policy on access to inspection reports.
The investigation also examined the more frequent, but less formal, process of monitoring centres for adherence to regulation and standards.
It found that there was no national protocol on the frequency of monitoring visits, which appeared to be viewed as a discretionary activity, and it said a lack of standardisation in relation to monitoring means accountability is difficult.
Tusla said it has increased inspection levels since being set up in 2014, leading to improved standards and compliance. It said chief executive Gordon Jeyes had indicated at a number of meetings that one national consistent service is preferable to an inspection system led by a number of bodies.
“Tusla welcomes the fact this view is shared by the Ombudsman for Children,” it said.
The agency’s director of quality assurance Brian Lee said it intends to publish inspection reports in September, and that where non-compliance with regulations are identified, actions to be taken by centres are prescribed and their implementation is closely monitored.
Mr Muldoon also recommends Tusla ensure enough trained inspectors are available until responsibility transfers to Hiqa, and that it regularly audits quality of monitoring reports.
“Given the importance of independent inspection and of ensuring that all children in the care of the State receive the same standard of care, it is important that the transfer of these functions to Hiqa is progressed without delay,” he said.
Empowering People in Care (EPIC), which works with children living in care, said there has been a shift towards privately run centres in recent years and it is inappropriate that the contracting agency is responsible for monitoring them.
“While there are fewer young people in residential care centres, these young people have greater needs and are more vulnerable. The reliance on staff with short-term contracts means less experienced, skilled staff working with young people in these centres,” said EPIC director Jennifer Gargan.