Children living in special care unit in Limerick felt like they were in ‘youth prison’

Jess Casey

Reporter:

Jess Casey

Coovagh House, a special care unit in Limerick operated by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency

Coovagh House, a special care unit in Limerick operated by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency

CHILDREN living in a special care unit in Limerick felt like “they were living in a youth prison” and “that it was hard being locked in their room at 9pm”, a HIQA inspection has found.

Coovagh House, operated by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, is home to up to four children between the age of 11 and 17 years. The special care unit was inspected by the watchdog in August of this year. 

HIQA’s inspection found that children’s basic needs were met and they were kept safe while living in the care unit. 

However, it also found that the best outcome for children could not be achieved due to “a lack of timely onward placements, restrictive living environments, institutional care practices and a lack of suitable opportunities to develop life skills.” Two of the three children living in the unit at the time spoke to inspectors while they visited the centre. 

“Some of the comments these children made were that it was stressful to live in the special care unit as it was very hard to stick with the rules,” the report states. 

“They said it was hard being locked in their room at 9pm and it felt like they were living in a youth prison.” 

Children also told inspectors that rules in the unit were not applied in the same way each day, which they found unfair. “For example, they said that some staff allowed them to use knives to prepare a meal on a particular day and on the next day they were not allowed which caused them to be confused and frustrated.” 

“They said that sometimes they felt listened to and respected and other times, they did not.” 

Children also told inspectors that they liked staff and got on really well with their key workers. 

“One child said that the person in charge sat and talked with them about how things were going. Children liked going to the psychologist and said that they felt like they could talk about things on their mind.” 

According to Tusla, staff at the centre will continue to receive training on the attachment, trauma and alternative models of engaging with children.

A restrictive practice working group has been established to review all care practices.