Teen care units ordered to close over safety fears

Health watchdogs today ordered the closure of two special care units for disruptive teenagers over safety concerns.

Health watchdogs today ordered the closure of two special care units for disruptive teenagers over safety concerns.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) was warned to stop sending youngsters to Ballydowd and Solas in Palmerstown, Co Dublin, until they were overhauled.

Inspectors from the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) reported both premises were unsuitable, inadequate and unsafe for providing care to children.

“The inspectorate requires that the HSE cease the use of both Ballydowd and Solas as a special care facility with immediate effect and not place children in either until the buildings and campus are brought up to standard and their safety is assured,” the report added.

The HSE first proposed to close Ballydowd as far back as November last year after a damning report by HIQA criticised care practices at the unit, which was deemed no longer fit for purpose.

However inspectors who visited the facilities, which are on the same site, unannounced in July, found a teenage boy was admitted to Ballydowd as recently as June 30.

They stated the environment and physical condition of the accommodation and campus had since deteriorated.

Elsewhere three teenage girls remained in Solas, which opened as a temporary unit following a fire in Ballydowd last October.

“Overall, inspectors found this unit to be unsuitable for the purpose of providing a good standard of special care,” the report added.

The inspectors revealed:

- There were 76 instances of physical restraint involving 10 children and 51 of single separation involving nine children since November.

- There had been 36 unauthorised absences by eight children, 19 relating to one child and ranged from one to 53 hours.

- Staff went unsupervised and six did not have training in Children First: National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children.

- The quality of files and documents on children were poor.

- Disused units open at the rear on Ballydowd contained maintenance equipment, dangerous implements and other objects that posed a safety risk.

Charlie Flanagan, Fine Gael’s children spokesperson, said the HSE’s failure to adhere to previously made recommendations infringed on the constitutional rights of children.

“The consequences of unsuitable and inadequate care facilities for vulnerable children have been made painfully clear,” he said.

“The reality revealed in reports such as this latest report on Ballydowd - which discloses disturbing failures in care standards – should no longer be tolerated.”

In response the HSE revealed Ballydowd will remain open as an interim measure due to a significant increase in referrals for special care services in 2010.

Aidan Waterstone, National Lead for Alternative Care Services, said the HSE was treating HIQA’s findings as a top priority, adding a full refurbishment programme was under way in both facilities.

He said a new management arrangement is also in place to ensure a high quality of care for children and to address the issues identified by HIQA.

“In terms of the care of the children, which is central to everybody’s concerns, I was encouraged to see that HIQA was, in the main, satisfied that the children are being cared for properly,” added Mr Waterstone.

“Our ultimate aim is to rectify any outstanding concerns and to provide the replacement beds for Ballydowd as quickly as possible.”

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