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Documents reveal significant concerns about the placement of children in care

Vulnerable children in state care living in overcrowded shelters were found to have scabies and sleep in rooms with bed bugs, internal documents show.

In one case, social workers feared that placing a child in an unregulated emergency shelter could lead to the young person harming themselves and even taking their own life.

Tusla, the children and family agency, places 170 children in accommodation known as Special Emergency Arrangements (SEAs), run by nursing staff from private companies.

The Irish Times has discovered a major leak of documents, including internal Tusla emails, briefings, audit reports and confidential case notes from social workers, which reveal serious concerns about the use of the emergency accommodation.

Confidential notes about a girl in the agency’s care clearly expressed social workers’ concerns about sending her to a special emergency facility. The unregulated placement provided “no therapeutic support” and amounted only to “containment of a child,” the notes say.

“This is an agreement that is considered to potentially involve greater risk [the young person]as there are grave fears that she may harm, injure or even kill herself and an agreement such as this could only worsen her behavior,” it said.

Most young people share bedrooms – some rooms have double beds. This created a risk of peer-on-peer abuse, where one young person could mistreat another

Due to a shortage of nursing staff and group nursing homes operated directly by the agency or voluntary or private providers, Tusla has become increasingly reliant on emergency care.

Figures show there were 85 children in Tusla’s care in emergency accommodation at the start of last year, but the number has now more than doubled to around 180. Of these, around two thirds are minor asylum seekers who are known to have entered the country without a guardian as unaccompanied minors.

According to internal emails, concerns were raised in Tusla about the standard of accommodation for this cohort.

John Maguire, Tusla’s acting head of practice assurance, said inspections of the shelter had uncovered a number of “systemic issues” which posed potential risks.

In an email dated August 28, 2023 to senior officials, Mr Maguire said there had been “immediate security concerns” that had escalated within Tusla.

The correspondence stated that many young people would have to share bedrooms due to the number of young people being housed together in accommodation. “Most young people share bedrooms – some rooms have double beds,” it said. This created a risk of “peer-on-peer abuse”, where one young person could mistreat another.

In regulated group care homes, children must have their own bedroom. A July 2023 document setting standards for emergency arrangements states that children “should have their own bedroom.”

However, a Tusla spokeswoman said: “There may be circumstances where young people in emergency accommodation can share a bedroom” but would have individual beds.

Mr Maguire’s internal correspondence said “high occupancy rates” in the accommodation posed a risk to public health. There have been cases of children suffering from scabies and living in rooms with bed bugs, it was said.

Inspections found that private accommodation providers had no plans in place to deal with young people going missing in care. “This is significant for this cohort of young people due to the potential for human trafficking,” it said.

Mr Maguire said all unaccompanied minors in Tusla’s care needed to be visited by a social worker as a “priority”. The agency also needs to review the number of children placed in shelters, he wrote.

According to an internal briefing dated October 10, 2023, a fifth of children in SEAs who were not unaccompanied minors were placed in emergency shelters after a previous placement in a regulated group care home failed.

The vast majority of young people had been in emergency accommodation for more than six months. In one case, a child with “very specific needs” had been on placement for more than two years, the briefing said. An analysis of 65 cases involving children in SEAs found that about one in 10 were under 12 years old.

Last year Tusla spent more than €70 million accommodating children in emergency accommodation, including €58 million paid to 10 companies that run the facilities or provide staff.

In recent weeks, the Irish Times reported that Ideal Care Services, one of the largest providers of unregulated accommodation to date, was found to have “invented” pre-employment checks.

Emails show that a social worker internally raised concerns about another company, Clarion Healthcare, a major provider of emergency housing.

In a November 2022 email, a Tusla social worker shared information he had received from a young person in company-run accommodation. The social worker said they saw videos of the teen and a friend smoking “joints.” They had claimed: “Clarion staff were fully aware of this as they entered the room and did nothing to prevent it,” the social worker wrote.

According to figures, the company, which was founded in the second half of 2022, received €3.9 million from Tusla last year. Adeniyi Ademola (36) from Navan, Co Meath, is the managing director and owner of Clarion.

In further emails to the company in September 2022, Tusla criticized the fact that staff had failed to respond to “obvious health and safety risks” at a property.

The correspondence reveals that Mr Ademola canceled a placement conducted by the company in response to a “recent incident”. The company is committed to “providing high-quality accommodation and staffing” to the young people it serves, he wrote.

Clarion, which houses seven young people in special emergency accommodation, did not respond to questions about the company’s criticism.

A further complaint was received about another major emergency provision provider, Reign Healthcare, a company run by Tariro Taruvinga (42), Portarlington, Co Laois.

At the end of 2022, a care organization made a complaint to Tusla about the emergency accommodation the company operated. It said a home housing two girls was “unusable” and appeared to be inadequately staffed because carers had “poor English and communication skills”.

The girls living in the accommodation said they “hate” the accommodation, it said. “We really have concerns [young people] “We have come into the care of this service and believe that a thorough investigation is necessary,” the complaint states.

Reign Healthcare received €5.4 million from Tusla last year, making it the fifth largest emergency accommodation provider. It houses two children on behalf of Tusla. The company did not respond to requests for comment.

When concerns are identified, including young people’s behavior, staff and quality of care, the agency takes immediate and rapid action to address them

Tusla

An audit of another company operating emergency shelters, MCMA, criticized a “poor record of child protection matters” that needed to be addressed “urgently.”

Tusla inspectors said children living in the accommodation responded “very positively” to the care they received. However, the accommodation was far from the communities in which the young people lived.

This meant they had to commute to school for “between two and five hours” each day, which was “exhausting” for the young people and the staff involved in driving. The company, which operates 11 SEAs, did not respond to questions about the audit report.

In a statement, Tusla said monitoring shelters was a priority “at all levels” and that it was committed to reducing the number of children included in the arrangements. “Efforts are being made to move young people from special emergency facilities to regulated facilities as quickly as possible once alternative placement options become available,” it said.

Tusla said in a few “complex” cases children could spend a “prolonged period” in emergency accommodation “where it is in their best interests”.

The agency said that while it cannot comment on individual cases, it takes all complaints and concerns very seriously. “When concerns are identified, including young people’s behavior, staff and quality of care, the agency takes immediate and rapid action to address them,” it said.

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