To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her views on the growing number of assaults on staff members at Oberstown House, County Dublin, since the age of limit of residents has been raised to 18 years; if there has been any review of the safety of the facility since these changes have been made; if there are plans to increase support staff as a result of these changes; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
Reply from Minister Frances Fitzgerald T.D.
Any forms of assault which may take place in a children detention setting, either by children against other children or by children against staff, is of course totally unacceptable from any point of view. I am advised that all possible means are employed in the children detention setting of the Oberstown campus, Lusk, Co Dublin to create and maintain stable relationships based on the child care model of detention.
The Programme for Government has a strong commitment to end the practice of sending children to St Patrick’s Institution and this is the central principle of current policy in the area of juvenile detention facilities. On 2 April 2012, I announced an investment package of approximately €50 million over three years in capital funding to undertake the National Children Detention Facility (NCDF) project at the Oberstown children detention campus in Lusk, Co Dublin. This will include six new detention units and associated education and training facilities. My aim is that by mid 2014, the new facilities to be built in Oberstown will enable the assignment of responsibility for all children up to the age of 18 years remanded in custody by the courts or sentenced to a period of detention to the Oberstown campus.
As a first step and an interim measure in advance of the development of the new facilities under the NCDF project, I also introduced with effect from 1 May 2012 a legal provision for the detention of newly remanded or sentenced 16 year old boys to the Children Detention Schools in Oberstown. This involved an increase in the maximum age threshold on admission for boys to the Oberstown campus from all boys less than 16 years of age to all boys less than 17 years of age. The maximum age threshold for girls detained on the Oberstown campus has been set at less than 18 years of age since 2007.
I acknowledge that the implementation of the change in age categories for boys admitted to the Oberstown campus presented a new dimension to be taken into account by staff working in this challenging area. However, it was done based on the vision and objective for a child care model of detention for all children under the age of 18 years as set out in the Children Act, 2001. I very much welcome the ongoing cooperation and expert commitment of the care staff in Oberstown with the implementation of this change.
Since August 2010, a “Notifiable Incidents Policy” has been in place by agreement between the Oberstown Board of Management and the Irish Youth Justice Service, which is based in my Department. Under this policy, all types of incidents involving children in detention, including assaults, are recorded under a prescribed system of reporting and review between staff, line management in each children detention school, the Oberstown Board of Management and the Irish Youth Justice Service.
I emphasise my view that all forms of assaults by children in detention are unacceptable. However, I am also advised that age is one of a number of criteria that have to be taken into account in assessing the level of management risk with each child in detention – there are a range of other factors based on the individual profile of each child such as medical and mental health background, availability of family supports, levels of educational attainment and history of criminal offending. All of these factors are recorded on admission of each child to the Oberstown campus and are factored into an individualised management plan in each case.
Safety for staff is a key objective in the management of the children detention schools. All issues relating to the management of each facility, including any that may affect staff safety, are kept under review on an ongoing basis by the Oberstown Board of Management and the Irish Youth Justice Service. In addition, I am advised that the maximum number of children that may be detained in each physical unit of each children detention school is kept at a level that reflects the physical structure of each building and ensures safe and secure custody for all children, as well as the highest possible level of staff safety.
A range of supports are in place to assist staff in discharging their important role in the care of children in a detention setting. There is an ongoing programme of staff training in a specialised and externally accredited child custody management system for dealing with unruly behaviour. Where any assault incidents take place, there are ongoing supports available for staff in the form of management guidance, assistance with medical expenses, an assault and injury leave scheme, counselling services and structured follow up with staff to assist their return to employment.