06 Oct 2022

Damning report reveals child protection and welfare concerns at special care unit in Limerick

The teenager, who turned 18 last summer, was brought before Limerick District Court accused of assaulting a number of employees at Coovagh House

In inspection took place at Coovagh House in June

A DAMNING report has revealed that a children's special care unit in Limerick was non compliant with several regulations put in place to protect staff and children. 

Coovagh House, which is located at Mulgrave Street in the city, provides young person-centred care to young people who are detained under the terms of a High Court Special Care Order.

An unannounced HIQA inspection on June 10,2022 revealed the centre was not operating in line with its statement of purpose which described the service’s aim as being "to provide a safe and secure therapeutic environment for up to four children".

The inspection involved speaking with children and visitors, talking to staff and management, observation of practice and daily life and the review of documents.

The report, published this Wednesday, states the centre was found to be non-compliant with various regulations including: statement of purpose, governance and management, notification of incidents, positive behavioural support, protection, accommodation, risk management and fire precautions.

There were acknowledged challenges in the service during the previous six months in relation to staff recruitment and retention, an escalation in incidents of aggression and violence in the unit. The physical and structural decline of the building was also noted.

According to the report, the experiences of children were mixed due to recent challenges in the unit regarding an increase in incidents of high risk behaviours by some children and the inability of the provider to sustain and maintain an adequate standard of accommodation.

Inspectors saw and heard from children and staff that the internal physical environment of the unit was not always safe and secure and, as a result, the safety and welfare of children could not always be protected and promoted.

However, all four children who spoke to inspectors during the onsite visit described feeling safe. They added that they felt well cared for in the unitand outside while in the company of staff during activities.

Two children said that they benefitted from their programme of care and two children said they were not satisfied overall with their programme of care. Positively, some children told inspectors that the support they received was working well for them.

Additionally, inspectors found there were child protection and welfare concerns arising from incidents and complaints and allegations made by children, which were not subject to mandatory reporting.

While staff responded to incidents to ensure the immediate safety of children, failure to follow national guidance for the protection and welfare of children meant allegations of harm against children had not always been appropriately investigated.

The report states the accommodation at Coovagh House and the premises was in poor condition overall and had deteriorated since the last HIQA inspection in June 2021.

On a walk around of the premises, inspectors saw damage throughout the building resulting from an escalation in incidents involving damage to property, coupled with a general decline in the quality of the building over time.

There was evidence of ongoing maintenance work across the premises but certain structures - such as doors, locks, windows and viewing panels -  had deteriorated in their condition and function and needed replacing.

All four children provided negative accounts to inspectors about the impact that these conditions on their lived experience

The reports shared that oversight and auditing processes in relation to the management of incidents, complaints and allegations concerning children in the unit were not effective. 

The person in charge failed to notify HIQA of several serious incidents in the special care unit relating to the allegations of abuse made by children or serious injuries sustained by children. 

Reacting to the report and its contents. Donal McCormack, National Service Director, Children’s Residential Services at Tusla said the unit caters for young people with risk-taking behaviours including violence and aggression, which poses a real and substantial risk of harm to their life, health, safety, development, or welfare.

"Unfortunately, due to a range of issues and challenges, primarily an escalation in incidents connected to individual young people prior to inspection, the level of compliance with HIQA’s standards fell short of the standards normally achieved in this centre. We engaged with HIQA and submitted an action plan outlining how higher levels of compliance will be achieved, while keeping young people safe."

Actions that have been taken since the inspection include: additional training for staff, a review of all incidents of a child protection or welfare concern, all young people in the service have an up-to-date individual crisis management plan and physical deficits in the building are being addressed through a schedule of works, including urgent items which have been rectified. 

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