Violence, a rooftop fire, rioting, and industrial unrest — Oberstown Children’s Detention Campus had a bad week. With relations between management and unions at a low ebb, director Pat Bergin says some staff are unhappy with the rate and nature of workplace change

DURING this week, I was asked a question about what I was trying to do at the Oberstown Children Detention Campus.

The question caused me to pause, a moment of reflection which was appropriate and necessary. Substantial public interest in the events of August 29 about Oberstown, the young people and staff were the first and predominant thoughts I had, but this was noise which distracted me from the answers to the question.

Since the commencement of the Children Act 2001, some young people who have been before the courts for criminal behaviour have been placed in the care of the directors of the then three different children detention schools.

The responsibilities of the director on behalf of the State in regard to each of those young is set out in legislation and includes the responsibility to provide appropriate care and education for each young person in detention.

This also includes meeting the health care needs of these young people who often demonstrate challenging and complex behaviour. The core reason for young people placed in the care of the director has to remain at the forefront of all our minds, ie, their offending behaviour as determined by the courts. The requirement to assist young people to understand their offending behaviour, the impact on the public and the victims of their behaviour has been set it out in the act also.

But during the period of time that the young person remains in detention, we must also consider the opportunity we have to prepare them for their return to their families, communities, and independent living. In some cases, they regretfully go on to adult prison.

Change is everywhere in Oberstown. The reconstituting of many different approaches to the care and control of young people at the Oberstown campus is underway. The different practices that prevailed in the three distinct schools — which evolved over 20 or more years — could not continue once they were integrated into one facility where a unified, common approach was essential.

There is, and was, many positive and appropriate interventions undertaken in the schools by staff which supported young people in their care. Through relationships and approaches developed by staff, young people received support and care and positive outcomes meeting individual needs. Some approaches and behaviours, revisited in a more enlightening time, are no longer appropriate. Accountability for “what we do”, “how we do it”, and “why we did it” is part of us all ensuring we are appropriate in the delivery of care, education, and health services to young people in our care.

Staff at Oberstown youth detention centre staged a four-hour work stoppage in May over conditions. Pic: Conor Healy
Staff at Oberstown youth detention centre staged a four-hour work stoppage in May over conditions. Pic: Conor Healy

Many of the changes experienced at Oberstown are challenging for all those involved at the campus. The physical change to the facility is astounding over the past 18 months as the new purpose-built facility with its modern school and accommodation becomes established. All of us are travelling to a different place of work now in contrast to two years ago with different car park arrangements, canteen facilities, residential unit, office space and security arrangements.

There are a lot of new faces on the campus as a result of the extensive recruitment recently undertaken, and yet some staff at Oberstown of many years are not known to each other. The level of change is very significant.

How we do things has also changed and this too has created stress and confusion in a challenge to our work practices. A new level of accountability means we now have to get approval for some of the things we used to do without asking previously. We are required to explain why we did certain things. For some of us at the campus, the job we applied for has evolved and feels different from that secured 20 or even two years ago. This has caused some staff to reflect on whether they can or wish to work in this changing setting. These are personal decisions and we are attempting to support and advise individual staff on their options through this process.

Reverting to the question, what am I, campus director, trying to do at the campus? Our objective is to provide an appropriate setting for young people to address their care, education and health care needs while focusing young people on their offending behaviour and preparing them for release back to their families and communities. My job is to develop an infrastructure at the campus, combining internal skill and knowledge with external expertise which ensures that the young people detained there receive the highest standard of safe and appropriate service within detention and are not ultimately sent to prison.

The staff at the campus are the most important resource available to achieve this ambitious goal. The focus is to provide supports and training to staff to consider how they can contribute to the evolving environment at the campus.

Meeting the needs of up to 50 young people with 250 staff should be possible even considering the complexities of the young people and the environment of detention. The level of external agency support to meet the objective of the campus is very welcome and the partnership approach has made a significant difference.

The events of August 29, or other incidents prior to this, are real challenges for everyone at the campus. We need to manage these and ensure such incidents do not continue to occur and focus our energies on working together to achieve the objective of the campus in the interests of young people, staff and the public we serve.

Violence, a rooftop fire, rioting, and industrial unrest — Oberstown Children’s Detention Campus had a bad week. With relations between management and unions at a low ebb, director Pat Bergin says some staff are unhappy with the rate and nature of workplace change

More on this topic

16 young offenders in Oberstown to be trained to become baristas each year

Update: Oberstown board defend decision not to publish report

Improvements at youth detention facility welcomed but ‘more effort needed’

Oberstown youth detention facility making ‘clear progress’


Lifestyle

Review: Lauryn Hill proves she still has that thing

Darina Allen: A celebration of Irish produce

Gone to pot: Leading psychiatrist on the cannabis debate

Why London is the perfect hunting ground for antique lovers this month

More From The Irish Examiner