The inspection of the Ferryhouse children’s residential centre in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, uncovered serious concerns over how staff at the facility were addressing challenging behaviour among the children staying there; and found a significant risk had been identified under four headings, including ‘care of young people’.
The inspection report, published by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa), looked at the centre, which provided residential care for up to 15 boys aged 12 to 16 and which, at the time of the unannounced inspections in August and September, had nine young people staying there.
It is understood Minister for Children Katherine Zappone wrote to Tusla chief executive Fred McBride last week in relation to the centre, expressing concern at ineffective risk management systems and seeking information from Tusla about its long-term plans for the facility.
Inspectors found that “a number of children were engaged in a wide range of high-risk behaviours”, with 409 significant adverse events recorded over the previous year, including sexualised behaviour, missing from care, at risk behaviours, physical restraint, and alcohol and substance misuse.
While there had been 10 incidents of children being absent from the centre in a 12-month period up to a previous inspection in July 2015, the rate had spiralled, with 277 incidents of children being absent from the centre in the 12 months prior to this inspection.
According to the report: “There was an increase in highly inappropriate sexualised behaviours, alcohol and drug use, criminal activities, and incidents of violence. Some children were exposed to behaviours and situations that were higher risk than the situations they were removed from. One child was remanded to a children’s detention centre as a result of behaviours engaged in while at the centre.”
Children were not kept safe from the risk of significant harm and “records showed that staff did not intervene during some of these very serious incidents and observed from a distance while children engaged in at-risk behaviour”.
Staff were unable to remove phones from children and effectively supervise their use, meaning children could access unsuitable internet content. A total of 34 child protection referrals were made to social work departments and a review of files of two children in the centre found a number of concerns that had not been reported to the respective social work department.
Often when children absconded, they frequently went to a nearby river bank, sometimes under the influence of alcohol, with parents telling inspectors that they were very worried for their child’s safety during these incidents.
Jim Gibson, chief operations officer in Tusla, acknowledged the shortcomings at the centre and said: “In conjunction with Hiqa, we have created and begun to implement an action plan to address the deficits identified.”
This includes the instigation of monitoring visits and no further admissions to the service until Tusla and Hiqa are satisfied that care measures have reached the required standard.