Poor Standards in Children’s Residential Care Homes
Residential care centres are generally for children between the ages of 11 and 17. The purpose of these centres is to provide secure residential facilities for children in care, who have been detained under High Court Order for short term periods of stabilization when their behaviour poses a real and substantial risk of harm to their life, health, safety, development or welfare.
(The National Standards for Children’s Residential Centres and National Standards for Foster care – Department of Health and Children)
The Ombudsman for Children, Mr Niall Muldoon, has expressed concern that children in residential care centres are not receiving the required care due to ‘inconsistencies and discrepancies’ in a number of voluntary and privately run homes.
Currently, only 29% of residential care homes are run by HIQA, while the remainder are privately run, for profit homes under the HSE based Children and Family Agency which was rebranded as Tusla in early 2014.
The Ombudsman conducted an investigation running from January 2012 until August 2013 which found that there were significant gaps in registration, monitoring and inspection of residential care centres across the state. His report recommends that the inspection of centres should transfer to HIQA without delay.
Tusla have developed their own separate policies and procedures which ultimately has led to major inconsistencies in areas such as management, staffing levels, children’s rights and the environment. They claim that delay in assessments is due to staffing shortages. Monitoring is meant to be an ongoing consistent evaluation of centres, assisting the centres to keep standards high.
However, monitoring was not being completed on a regular basis, and was almost seen as a discretionary activity. Monitoring needs to be particularly regular and consistent and inspections are generally held 3 years apart. In essence, delay in inspections leaves children in a vulnerable position.
Mr Muldoon states:
“Essentially the state becomes the parent and that’s why we need to ensure those homes, which is what they are for those children, are at the highest possible level.”
Centres are in breach of statutory regulations, meaning that children are receiving an inadequate service. There are centres throughout the state that simply should not have remained open and didn’t have action plans to meet standards that had been set by the Ryan Commission (a 2009 commission to enquire into child abuse).
Tusla are now implementing standardised training and an action plan to have one national quality control policy for all the centre governance. There are also plans to publish all reports in an effort to increase transparency. Currently there are also negotiations for HIQA to take over the role.
The investigation into these widespread inconsistencies coming to light, comes at the same time as whistleblower reports from inside these residential centres have emerged. A litany of complaints about staff ‘turning a blind eye’ to substance abuse, as removal of a child could lead to a reduction in funding. Other major issues include, changes of weekly reports and court reports, refusal to pay overtime, bank holiday pay and maternity benefits to staff, and not being able to contact managers out of office hours in times of crisis, not to mention allegations of physical and sexual abuse.
The move to have HIQA take over the governance of these centres nationwide is being pushed forward imminently.