Limerick unit failed to properly report child abuse claims

AN inspection of a Limerick care unit where children are placed under court order has concluded that allegations of child abuse were not correctly reported and the centre did not comply with several regulations.

Inspectors from the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) found that the “monitoring processes did not alert managers or the provider to under-reporting of child protection and welfare concerns in line with the requirements of Children’s First Act.

“The provider had also failed to notify the Chief Inspector of several serious incidents in the special care unit relating to allegations of abuse made by children or serious injuries sustained by children.”

The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) published a report on Wednesday into conditions at Coovagh House Special Care Unit on Mulgrave Street.

The unit is a residential facility for children aged 11 to 17 years. Children are placed there by the courts when their behaviour poses a risk of harm to their life, health, safety, development or welfare, and the placement is needed for the child’s care and protection.

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HIQA said their unannounced inspection, carried out in June 2022, took place after the Chief Inspector was told that two of the children detained in the unit were to be moved to an alternative, non-registered Tusla centre to allow for building work.

The report said that “overall, the centre was non-compliant with all of the regulations assessed”.

“While there were governance systems and structures in place to support the delivery of service to children, significant shortfalls were identified in the effective management and oversight of the centre.”

The report said that it is acknowledged that there were challenges in the previous six months in recruiting and keeping staff, an escalation in incidents of children’s challenging behaviour, and physical decline of the building.

“Inspectors found that sufficient staffing resources were not always in place for the effective delivery of the childrens’ programme of special care.

“Inspectors found that the physical environment could not provide safe living spaces for all four children. This posed significant risk to children’s safety and protection and while two of the four children were living off site at the time of the inspection, their substantive placement in the unit was maintained. However, inspectors were assured that this reduction in the capacity of the centre enabled the provider to provide safe care for the remaining two children.”

Oversight and auditing processes in relation to the management of incidents, complaints, and allegations concerning children in the unit were found to be ineffective.

“While this risk was known to the provider and some actions had been taken to mitigate against any immediate risk to the safety of children and staff, the centre’s risk management processes were ineffective at addressing risks at an earlier stage,” the report stated.