Press Release

Launch of overview report on Health Board Children’s Residential Centres

The Social Services Inspectorate today (10 October 1999) launched its report of findings relating to inspection of children’s residential centres run by the health boards. The report is based on the first 12 inspections that were carried out across the 10 health board areas. The inspections covered a range of types of residential centres including a special care unit, high support unit, hostel for homeless children as well as several children’s residential centres for children in the care of the boards.

The inspectors found that, overall, health board managers welcomed the inspection process. It had helped them focus on issues of quality and client participation. There was variation in the practice of the different centres with some providing a very good standard of service. While most centres had begun to address the standards issued by the Department of Health and Children at the end of 1999 it was clear than many have still some way to go.

Many of the staff were found to be committed and caring workers who had earned the respect of the children but the inspectors found that there was high levels of staff turnover in some centres that did little to ensure children in those centres were provided with the continuity of care they needed. Too many staff were employed on temporary contracts and in some centres there were few staff with the relevant qualifications for child care work. As residential work with young people can be demanding and at times stressful staff need better support and supervision than they are being afforded at the present time.

While the inspectors found that the children were well cared for in most centres there was insufficient attention given to care planning by social workers who refer the children to the centres. In most cases a useful placement plan is drawn up by the residential staff to guide their work but this needs to be set within the context of an overall care plan, when the placement commences. Without more attention being given to care planning inspectors are concerned that children may remain in residential care longer than is necessary.

The inspectorate has identified the importance of involving parents and children in the development of plans which affect the children’s lives. While most centres involve parents and the young people in planning and review meetings the inspectors consider more could have been done in many of the centres to ensure that their views were given greater attention.

The inspectors have also identified the need for closer monitoring by external managers so that the boards are fully informed of the extent to which residential care is being provided within the requirements of the Regulations. Inspections by the national inspectorate will help to provide health boards with an independent perspective on their services but and boards cannot rely on inspection alone to keep them informed of the quality of service being provided. Designated officials need to be appointed by boards for this purpose to ensure that early action is taken to address any deficiencies that may occur in service delivery before poor practice becomes established.

The Acting Director, Victor McElfatrick, said “The findings from the early inspections have been quite encouraging but there is no room for complacency. I hope health boards will now address fully the standards issued by the Department. In doing so, I am confident that there will be a progressive improvement of the quality of services provided to children in residential care. The standard of work in community based residential centres will ultimately impact on the numbers of children requiring high support and special care units. Resources directed at the improvement of care provided in community based residential centres must inevitably be better for children and families and ultimately achieve greater value for money.”