25th February 2015
IPRT welcomes the publication by HIQA (23rd February 2015) of its report on two inspections of the Oberstown children detention school campus, which took place 28-30 October and 4 November 2014. The inspections report was published alongside an Action Plan, which includes details on actions already taken to address issues of concern.
Of a total of 10 standards, HIQA found that the children detention schools met just one in full: education. Six standards were found to require improvement; and the failure to meet three standards was found by HIQA to present "significant risk". These were in the areas of: single separation, the management of medication, and staffing and training issues.
The staff at Oberstown work with young people who can be very troubled, and who can present extremely challenging behaviour. However, the use of single separation for 83 hours over 4 days, as HIQA found in one case, is not acceptable. The isolation of any child or young person from their peers can be damaging in itself, and the standards are clear that it must only be used sparingly and for the minimum appropriate period of time. IPRT is particularly concerned at reports that single separation was used due to staff shortages. Concerns around insufficient staffing, staff training and high levels of staff absenteeism are also detailed in the inspection report.
Detention as a last resort
Under the Children Act 2001, the detention of children must be a sanction of last resort. Therefore, the under-18s detained at Oberstown (and in the adult prison system) should by definition - and legislation - be those who have committed the most serious crimes, and who present the most challenging behaviour. All staff should receive sufficient training in current best practice to manage these behaviours in a safe way.
However, of 96 children detained during 2014, only 27% received a detention order on conviction (see Children's Rights Alliance Report Card 2015). This suggests that detention is not being used as a last resort. The Office of the Ombudsman for Children has also previously expressed concern that child detention is being used for welfare purposes. IPRT believes this must be addressed, through, for example the provision of bail supports; resources in the detention schools system should instead be focused on addressing the needs and challenges of the small number of under-18s for whom detention is the only appropriate response.
Implication for children in prison
IPRT is particularly concerned at the potential impact of staffing issues on delaying the opening of the new National Children Detention Facility, the construction of which was completed in November 2014. There were 38 new staff hired and trained during 2014 to facilitate the opening of the new facility, which has not happened yet. In the meantime, children continue to be held in the adult prison system: 2 boys detained on remand in St Patrick’s Institution today, and 12 in Wheatfield Place of Detention (25th February 2015).
Value of monitoring
The publication of this report from HIQA underlines the crucial importance of monitoring and inspection of the detention schools. It is important to acknowledge that actions have already been taken and are being taken to address the issues, with short timescales for implementation. This is welcome. However, more frequent inspections and regular publication of reports is needed to allow us to monitor progress, and ensure that the children detention schools are meeting their objectives.