Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 28 January 2016
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children
Oberstown Children Detention Campus: Chairperson Designate
The next item is our discussion with the chairperson designate of the Oberstown children detention campus. As part of our scrutiny role, the committee meets key public appointees in the fields of health and children. This gives us an important opportunity to engage with them in a public forum. In the past five years, we have met several chairpersons. In the past year, we had numerous successful such meetings.
As members pointed out last week, it is important that we continue to attract and support persons of the highest calibre and with a broad range of skills and experience to chair our public boards. Today we are joined by Professor Ursula Kilkelly, chairperson designate of the Oberstown children detention campus. I am delighted that she can be with us. I welcome her to the meeting and thank her for attending.
It is important that this project be a success. As Professor Kilkelly will be aware, our committee has visited Oberstown and monitored the ongoing issues there as well as the establishment of the campus. Last summer, we paid an important and a worthwhile visit to the campus where we received a briefing. Subsequently, we met staff.
Professor Kilkelly has been a board member of Oberstown since 2012 and was appointed its interim chairperson in 2015 following the retirement of Mr. Joe Horan, who I would like to thank for his courtesy and professionalism in his dealings with this committee. Personally, and as part of a collective, he was an affable, a welcoming and an engaging individual who did a wonderful job on the board.
I thank him for his contribution. I draw the attention of Professor Kilkelly to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I ask Professor Kilkelly to make her opening remarks.
Professor Ursula Kilkelly:
I wish the members a good morning. I am very pleased to be here to present my credentials to the Oireachtas in respect of my appointment to chair the board of management of Obsertown children detention campus. Obsertown is the national detention facility for children and is based in north county Dublin. Currently, it accommodates 48 young people in six eight-bed units. It has been through a very process of significant change in the last number of years, a huge part of which has been the amalgamation of three schools - Trinity House, Obserstown Boys' school and Obsertown Girls' school - and a substantial new building which has been part of that whole process.
As a professor at the School of Law in UCC, I have spent more than 20 years researching children's rights and youth justice. I am a multiple-published author and have undertaken research projects at national and international levels, with a range of bodies in a range of contexts. I have sought throughout my work to advocate for improved treatment of children in the justice system and the protection of their rights. I teach juvenile justice on the LLM programme and have done for more than 15 years. In January, I was appointed co-editor with Professor Lesley McAra of Edinburgh University School of Law of Youth Justice, an international journal. This experience and expertise gives me important knowledge of both theoretical and practical concerns related to the detention of children. My current roles as dean of the School of Law and head of the College of Business and Law at UCC mean that my experience of good management and governance can also be brought to bear on the role of chairperson of Oberstown.
Ireland's international obligations, notably those in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, make clear that detention must be a measure of last resort. It is significant that our legislation, the Children Acts 2001 to 2015, contains this principle too. The principle of detention as a last resort reflects the fact that children do not belong in detention but it also responds to the reality that for some children, sadly, a range of circumstances often beyond their control bring them to this point. Oberstown has responsibility for young people referred by the criminal courts either on remand or following sentence. As such, it is a penal institution, albeit one that seeks to implement an ethos focused on the care, health and education of the young people placed there. Where detention is unavoidable, international standards require that every effort must be made to make detention count for children, to address their educational disadvantage, improve their health and well-being and repair the damage to their relationships with family and community. Systems, policies and procedures must be in place to ensure that detention is a safe place for young people and that independent and rigorous monitoring, supervision and complaints mechanisms operate to protect the rights of children in detention and to hold the detention system accountable on behalf of society for the care of children there. It is my ambition that these international standards will have real meaning for every young person detained in Oberstown and that the campus will, in time, become an international centre of excellence from a children's rights perspective.
I have been on the board of Oberstown Children Detention School for almost four years, having taken over as interim chair last year when my predecessor, Joe Horan, stepped down. I pay sincere and warm tribute to Joe for the extraordinary leadership he provided during a very difficult time in Oberstown's development. I also thank all of my fellow board members, some of whom are stepping down after a decade of service, for the depth of their contribution. It is undeniable that Oberstown has challenges. The young people there have been failed multiple times before they reach our doors and the fact that their placement is a last resort means that they have both been challenged and challenged others along the way. In response, we have to do everything possible to ensure that while they are with us, young people enjoy a right to safety, health care and education, are supported to accept responsibility for their behaviour, are heard and are respected. We want young people to leave us better equipped to lead meaningful, constructive lives into the future.
Now that the major work associated with the capital project is complete and the process of amalgamating the schools is entering its final phase, we need to shift the emphasis to the business of making Oberstown the best place it can be. As incoming chair, I have the following priorities. The first relates to staffing. Oberstown needs to have resources at its disposal to ensure that suitable qualified and experienced staff are available to provide excellent care to the young people detained there. There are currently 242 staff employed on campus who have played and extraordinary role through their commitment and hard work, especially during a difficult time of change as we moved to a single campus model. However, we need more staff to ensure that young people have excellent care in Oberstown. In this regard, a recruitment process is under way. We also need more staff to ensure that the three additional units on the Obsertown campus can open. That will enable the final aspect of the transfer of 17 year olds from the prison system to be complete. As somebody who has been highly critical of the failure to end the detention of children in adult prison, I am pleased to see this finally becoming a national priority. At Oberstown, we are playing our part there. We are investing significantly in the management of Obsertown, which is a national detention facility on which very significant demands are placed. We are recruiting unit managers and a new head of operations at deputy director level. A monumental shift has been a significant investment in human resources, IT infrastructure and bringing in health and safety expertise. Staffing is crucial and the professionalisation of the campus through its management structures is also really important.
The second thing we have to do is ensure that our model of care, defined by care, education, health care, work on offending behaviour and preparation for discharge, is available to every child in Oberstown. A key part of this is training and ensuring that all staff are systematically and routinely trained on all aspects of care and the management and organisation of services in Oberstown. A single state-of-the-art school is now up and running on campus providing excellent education to all of the children. That needs to be a flexible service to reflect the particular circumstances of children.
Health care is also a key priority in terms of ensuring that general health needs are addressed but also to provide the particular supports people need around mental health difficulties and addiction issues. We are particularly pleased to see the assessment consultation therapy service, ACTS, working very well on campus. While it is problematic that psychiatry is not part of that service, we have taken active measures to ensure that a psychiatric service will be in place at Oberstown in the very near future. This will be a very significant development for Obsertown and one we look forward to seeing come to fruition.
No matter how excellent the care of children at Oberstown, it will not prevent the harm the justice system does to them. Oberstown is just one part, or cog in the wheel of, the criminal justice system and we need our youth justice partners to play their part too. We must all work to intervene early to meet children's needs and to divert them away from the criminal justice system and detention. It is particularly acute for us in relation to the detention of children on remand, which has increased over the last year or so to a rate of 50%, which is an unsustainable level. It creates huge challenges for the operation of the facility. We need actively to explore ways to respond to the high numbers detained on remand and cannot do that alone. We will be looking to do it with our partners and are committed to making that our priority. It is also true that when diversion is working well and the system is functioning effectively, the number of children in detention should fall. Strange as it might seem, we are keen to see smaller numbers of young people being sent to Oberstown, even if those sent there will, inevitably be older, more serious offenders. Investment in a bigger, modern detention facility must lead to improved quality of care and outcomes for young people, not to an increase in the numbers of children in detention. That is what is demanded by our commitment to the principle of detention as a last resort.
My final point relates to the need for Oberstown to have robust governance and management structures. The board needs strong, independent and professional people who can hold the management to account and to ensure that the best policies and procedures are in place across all areas of the campus.
That will enable staff to do their job of caring for young people but also ensure that we have visibility over the operation of those policies and procedures at board level.
The board at Oberstown is a unique entity. It has a mix of voices and perspectives and works very well in what is a very interesting model. During my time on the board, I have felt the absence of two voices, first, the voices of young people and, second, the voices of their families. Once the board is established, I will be taking steps to put in place appropriate structures so that we can remedy those issues.
Looking forward to the new board, as the members will be aware, there are seven statutory positions that are in the process of being filled from Tusla, the Department of Education and Skills and so on, and a further five members will be appointed through the Public Appointments Service, PAS, system. The closing date for expressions of interest is tomorrow. An independent panel convened by the PAS, in which I am involved, will meet then to propose the names to go forward from that process. We are very much looking forward to a new era in the governance and management of Oberstown that will start in the next month or so.
As a public servant, I do not receive board fees. None of the previous board members did, and I have the same expectation of the new board members. I will be taking considerable steps to ensure that the new board membership is oriented to the objectives and goals of Oberstown but also to develop the capacity of the board to provide the highest possible standards of professional governance and oversight to the institution.
Oberstown is a national facility and everybody here, and those in the civil society sector and statutory bodies and organisations, are looking to us to hold the facility to account for the care of young people. I look forward to working with everybody, including the staff of Oberstown, to achieve the goals I have set out today and to make Oberstown a rights based centre of excellence for the care of children in detention. I am very happy to be here and I look forward to the members' questions.
I thank Professor Kilkelly for a thorough and excellent presentation. I apologise on behalf of Deputies Troy and McLellan who cannot be here as they are in the Dáil for Question Time. Unfortunately, there is a clash in that regard.
I wish Professor Kilkelly well. It is always nice when somebody appears before the committee and one only has to casually peruse his or her curriculum vitae to realise the appointment is based on merit, expertise and ability. It is important to acknowledge that. We should move to a point where people being appointed to important positions in public administration have competency and expertise in those areas or at least are there for all the right reasons. That is very evident in the context of Professor Kilkelly's CV but also in her presentation.
Professor Kilkelly spoke about a rights based detention centre. In a way that creates its own challenges in the sense that many of the children in Oberstown are there because there has been a failure by their parents, guardians, society or the State and, therefore, there has been a trampling of their basic rights already.
We must move to a point where we talk about detention as not just a place where the children go to be detained but where some effort is made for rehabilitation and redress because these are mainly children who have been damaged for some other reasons and it is not always because of themselves. We must try to move to a situation where the full emphasis of these particular detention units is not only on detention but that there is a suite of measures and independent pathways in place because I assume every child who goes through Oberstown has individual needs and that it is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Does Oberstown have the capacity, working with other statutory and State agencies and organisations, to individualise care pathways for children who are in need?
On the other key area, Professor Kilkelly spoke about detention of children in adult prisons. We also have the other issue of detention of children in adult psychiatric wards. I assume there is often a crossover between children attending in Oberstown and perhaps being referred to psychiatric services elsewhere from time to time and then being detained in adult wards. When does Professor Kilkelly envisage that we will have a situation where all children will be detained or cared for in suitable environments? I am aware there is a construction phase in Oberstown and that it is advertising for staff but when does Professor Kilkelly believe that will come to an end as it is a basic infringement on their rights but is also in breach of various United Nations recommendations? Oberstown is embarking on a recruitment process but is that process slow because the expertise is not available or the finances are not available or is it a combination of both?
I wish Professor Kilkelly and the incoming board well. I thank her for her work in many fields. We have read her many publications over the years. It is important that when people with the expertise appear before us we should acknowledge that because if they were appearing before us without it, we would be very critical of it. My best wishes to Professor Kilkelly.
I join the Chairman in welcoming Professor Kilkelly and take the opportunity to wish her every success in her new responsibilities. I note from her goals referencing the cohort of those young people who find themselves, for whatever period of time, under the shelter of Oberstown that they will enjoy their right to be safe, to enjoy health care and educational rights, to be supported to accept responsibility for their behaviour and to be heard and respected. I absolutely agree. That is hugely important and the regime in place must seek to achieve all those important and worthwhile goals at all times.
As this is probably the last meeting of this committee in advance of the Dáil term coming to a close, I can say to Professor Kilkelly that this committee, across all political opinion, has had a strong interest in the issue of youth detention and in focusing on Oberstown which, as the Chairman indicated, we have visited and we continue to maintain a considerable interest in the affairs at Oberstown, in oversight and in the regime in place.
With regard to better equipping of young people, it is not only in terms of their time in Oberstown, with which I concur. Better equipping them to lead meaningful, constructive lives into the future is not just of equal importance but is arguably of even greater importance. We must try to address the issue of recidivism in regard to these young people aged up 17. I am not expecting a detailed answer but in terms of post-release care paths and supports, what State agency service would take an interest in the released young person at whatever age in their lives? We would recognise that post-release, the care supports are essential.
Professor Kilkelly spoke in terms of better care for the young people, and we have reflected that, and care for staff. That is an area of great concern because with the transfer of the greater number, if not all at this point, from St. Patrick's Institution - I believe we are still waiting for the Wheatfield cohort to be transferred - it has come to our attention that the numbers of staff are not adequate to cater to the growing demand and that there is some question regarding the level of training and preparation in dealing with that older age group of under 18s. Heretofore, they would not have been in the 17 year old age group.
These are young adults at this point in their lives. They are physically stronger, are mentally more assertive and all the other aspects to their make-up and character have developed considerably. The consequence is reflected in the parliamentary reply I received last week indicating there were 102 incidents of notifiable assault in Oberstown between 1 December 2014 and 30 November 2015. This resulted in 65 individual employees being absent from their service for periods of time. If one considers that 242 staff members are employed, or 219 whole-time equivalents, this means considerably more than one quarter of the entire staff complement has been missing in whatever number or combination to a totality of 3,005 working days over that time. This is a colossal figure by any standard and must result in a serious and perhaps even a fearful situation for some, whereby the necessary supports are not in place for staff where a serious incident might present.
In the course of the visit by the joint committee, some concerns were expressed by staff members regarding the alarm system for signalling that something was wrong and the time it takes for others to come to be of assistance and to help. While the focus always must be on the children, the staffing situation is of huge importance and I welcome Professor Kilkelly's indication that a significant recruitment process is under way. However, can she inform members as to how soon she expects to see the appointment of the 45 new residential care workers? Have any of them taken up their positions? Professor Kilkelly has acknowledged that additional staffing is central to the quality of the care and is essential to the opening of the additional units. Can she tell members the current position regarding the coming on stream of the additional units? Have the physical works concluded? On the training issues, I note there were difficulties and the proposition in respect of engaging with existing staff did not work well because of the timing. While Professor Kilkelly will be familiar with all this, I would be grateful if she could offer members additional information on these matters. May I conclude by sincerely wishing Professor Kilkelly well? It is not a new role but is a continuing role for her as she has been in this position for some time. I hope that whoever will make up the membership of this committee on health and children in the new Dáil will continue the important and relevant interest this committee has shown in Oberstown in recent years.
I also wish to echo the welcome extended to Professor Kilkelly. It is heartening to see someone with such a focus on children's rights as chair of Oberstown because this also is an opportunity for a new start in respect of policies, procedures and how matters are dealt with. It is an opportunity to draw from best practice and to draw up and perhaps be the leading lights in what is best practice when considering detention, which all are agreed is the last resort.
As legislators, members certainly are concerned about the overuse of remand and it would be really useful, were they to know what were the daily occupancy and capacity figures. For example, I now can look up the system to see how many 17-year-olds are in Wheatfield but I have no idea and cannot track the nature and type of charges for which children are being remanded and for which they are committed. It would be really useful for members to gain an understanding in this regard because they then would understand some of the issues with which they must deal. Professor Kilkelly herself raised an issue regarding potentially older children coming into Oberstown. They potentially are physically bigger, exhibit more challenging behaviour and the charges against them may be more serious. This could change the dynamic in respect of staff and of other younger residents and whether they are perceived to be buying into or complying with the system. How can members help in respect of those dynamics? I also have a concern about which there is no easy answer. The capacity for girls is six and the likelihood is one could have one girl there who effectively is in isolation. What is done to mitigate this scenario? I also have a concern regarding the visit by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, following which its report in November raised concerns about the excessive use of force and handcuffs, the use of lock-up due to insufficient staffing levels, insufficient access to natural light and austerity of the rooms, staff numbers and ratios, as well as the need to photograph, record and report. I would be interested to learn what has been done since, because the committee only made that report last November. While I obviously could raise many matters, the final issue I wish to raise is on the assessment, consultation and therapy service, ACTS, assessing each child. First, does each child get such an assessment? Second, when children get such an assessment, do they have access to services? I note Professor Kilkelly has raised the issue for members about psychiatry. This is a matter of huge concern for me and undoubtedly for other committee members. Are there other services of which members must be mindful in this regard?
As a final point, I assume the board is in the process of drawing up guidance and policy with regard to the potential for escalating behaviour or difficulties that may be encountered as Professor Kilkelly has outlined. Is there a role for the Oireachtas or the joint committee in respect of awareness? At present, members only hear about Oberstown when there is a problem such as when a young person has escaped but they do not hear about some of the challenges. Could they have an input into this process to ascertain how they could inform and educate themselves and support what is happening? As Deputy Kelleher has outlined, these are the exceptional cases and this is about where both society and so many people in a child's life have failed that child. Is Professor Kilkelly in the process of developing guidance to have such transparency and understanding of what is actually happening, rather than the perception of what may have happened in the past and how therefore that practice is being carried through? I wish Professor Kilkelly every success.
Professor Ursula Kilkelly:
I thank the joint committee. Members have raised a range of issues and I will try to group them together if that is acceptable. On the question of the pathway through care, it is part of the new positioning of Oberstown that the focus is being reasserted onto the individualised care of young people. All young people have an individualised care plan that has been defined recently by a process we are undertaking to map all of that in the facility and then to roll it out through training. This is the model I have mentioned in respect of care, education, health, work on offending behaviour and return home, the CEHOP model. This will inform the development of care plans, that is, both the assessment of individuals as they come in and the rolling out of an individualised care plan, which then will guide the treatment and the care programme the young person will follow while he or she is in the facility.
The Deputy is right to state this is all important in itself but actually it really is all about the effectiveness or the efficacy of what happens in Oberstown for the young person. The participation and involvement of the young people in that process is really important. We must continue to work on that but it also is important in itself that there is proper education and health care in place, in addition to it being something that addresses the likelihood of them re-offending on their return to the community. I will revert to the issue of the return to the community shortly.
The psychiatric dimension in this regard is of critical importance. In Oberstown, we have young people with highly acute needs in that area that we frankly have struggled to address. ACTS is working well and is assessing individually each child, is putting in place and feeding into that individualised care plan and is providing the services and support services needs.
However, the absence of psychiatry from that intervention in the way that we would like it to be delivered is an issue we have been working very hard to address but we are confident we will have that in place soon. This will be a huge step forward in terms of the quality and effectiveness of the care required to meet the acute need of young people in this area. It is important to reflect that the development of a pathway through to care plan is delivered by staff who, as noted, labour under significant burdens in terms of time and resources, but also of training. There is a huge gap in terms of how all of this is delivered with staff, which we are also working actively to address.
On staffing and recruitment, we have a rolling recruitment process in place that has been intensifying and is increasingly becoming more successful. It is a significant challenge for us to attract staff to Oberstown, for a variety of reasons, including that the work is very challenging. It takes a particular person to want to work in a facility that is that challenging. This is the same the world over. We have been working hard to communicate that Oberstown has significant ambition in terms of the quality of care it provides. Making it the type of workplace we want it to be, and professionalising that, is a huge challenge.
In regard to residential social care workers, following the most recent recruitment process 12 people have been panelled, which effectively means that 12 offers are being made. We do not know if the 12 individuals will accept those offers and so on. In that regard, there are issues around salary scale and so on in respect of which we are in communication with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. There are also a further 100 applications in process. We are satisfied that we are doing everything we can. In regard to whether we will get the staff we need in the short time, the answer is that is unlikely. We are undertaking the recruitment with an eye on the need to supplement and support existing staffing levels and on the 45 staff that we technically need to open the three additional units. As stated earlier, we require 15 additional staff per unit. If we do not get the 45 staff - we will not, I believe - the additional three units will not open. Recruitment is a huge challenge for us and a huge priority in which we have invested heavily and we will continue to prioritise it. I will come back later to the issue of training, which is a significant issue, as highlighted by Deputy Ó Caoláin. Recruitment is under way.
The issue of return to the community post-release has traditionally been a neglected part of Oberstown's work for various reasons, including a previously held view that it was not our concern. That is no longer the case. We now see it as integral to the effectiveness of the institution that young people leave and do not return. The point I made about Oberstown not existing in isolation is really important. It is part of the criminal justice community and the community at large. We are currently working with the Probation Service, which takes the lead in respect of post-release support and supervision. We have also engaged with the Youth Advocacy Service and Le Chéile mentoring to try to put in place soft supports that will accompany young people out into the community. The focus of a care plan, in part, is on return to the community and the soft supports required to accompany the young person back into the community. What makes detention problematic is that the process of return is not properly supported. As such, we are conscious of the need to address this issue and are working with our partners on it but it is a challenge in terms of resources and so on.
I have already addressed the point about resourcing. Resources for staffing is not an issue. However, the salary scale issue is one on which we need flexibility if we are to attract the best staff. We need people with experience and we need to make Oberstown as attractive a place as possible for them to work.
Professor Ursula Kilkelly:
We are awaiting a response on that. The pragmatic reality of Government priorities must bear fruit in this context. This is what it means to support the type of objectives we are setting out. This is the type of flexibility that we know we need because we have both failed to recruit people because of this issue and are at risk of losing existing staff who are not satisfied. It is crucial that the flexibility is provided to Oberstown to enable us to attract the best staff to the facility. This is a key issue for us.
In regard to the environment, there are a number of issues that arise. We must be realistic about the issue of detention in a facility like Oberstown. As I mentioned, if the youth justice system is operating effectively in terms of the level of diversion we have, we will only ever have in detention those who are most challenging. We have to accept that. This is a measure of the success of the system, in my view, although, I accept, this creates a very challenging environment for staff. In regard to whether we will ever be able to say that the facility is a 100% guaranteed safe environment, I would hope so but I think that is unrealistic. We must ensure that the required staff numbers for the facility are there at all times, which issue I have already addressed, and that those staff are the best trained and supported staff we can have. We have invested significantly in a human resources function on campus, which is working hard to put in place all of the modern infrastructure that will support staff, including proper provision in respect of follow-up and debrief when events happen such that staff are supported within the facility rather than assigned to supports that might be available off-site. It is important that address of all of these issues is within Oberstown as part of the fabric of what we do such that people are not left to cope with these issues off-site while on leave. Another crucial part of this is supporting staff back into work and the creation of a flexible environment to enable staff to return at a pace and in a manner that is suitable for them and meets their needs.
We accept that the levels of absenteeism for reasons relating to injury and so on are too high. We are, again, actively working to ensure that incidents are minimised and that the responses to them protects staff members' interests. In this regard, training is crucial. How staff respond to incidents and the extent to which they work together forms a huge part of the creation of the single campus. We have had three independent entities in Oberstown for decades. Bringing staff together so that they get to know each other and are able to work together in an environment like this is really important. This, again, forms part of our work schedule. Oberstown will always be a challenging environment. All we can do is commit to having the most effective procedures and policies in place to ensure that incidents do not happen and that when they do the response is effective, including in respect of the individual needs of staff. As I said, training is crucial in this regard. We must continue to learn when incidents happen, such that if we cannot manage to eliminate them we know how to respond differently.
On Senator van Turnhout's questions, I can provide the Senator with some information on the remand figures, although I accept the Senator's question is more about ongoing communication. In terms of the facility, we currently have 20 boys on remand, 27 boys serving a sentence and one girl serving a sentence. As the Senator will be aware there are currently 13 17 year olds in Wheatfield Prison. The capacity of the Oberstown facility, operationally, is currently 54, including 48 places for boys in eight-bed units and six places for girls. On the Senator's point regarding girls, I agree that it is problematic that there is only one person in an entire unit but this is not unique to Oberstown. We do everything we can through socialisation and so on to ensure as normal an environment as possible for the individual concerned. This is not something we can control. We simply have to work on that environment being as sociable as possible and on ensuring staff relationships with the young person are good.
It is important to address the issue of more serious offenders and the idea that bigger, more physically strong young people are creating new challenges for us. We have had 17 year olds, and 16 year olds who turn 17, in Oberstown for some time and the challenges for the facility are provided by two things. One is the rolling rate of remands, as that kind of activity in and out of a facility like ours is very disruptive. The fact that there are pre-amalgamation orders means we do not have control and cannot manage the population or where they are allocated within the facility. When the three entities are amalgamated into one we will be able to designate units as remand units only and that will help us to create a more stable environment, both for those young people and those who are serving sentences and who crave the kind of stability they do not have at the moment as remanded young people are in and out of the room next door.
The other challenge is not the more physically strong 17 year olds but the emotionally challenged and immature members of the younger cohort and those with emotive behavioural issues, which stresses the importance of the psychiatric service. Not being able to provide that group of young people with dedicated psychiatric services creates a lot of the disruption.
On the question of ages, the figures from a couple of days ago show we had one 13 year old, two 14 year olds, six aged 15, 21 aged 16 and 17 aged 17. The numbers for 16 and 17 year olds are as they should be within our system and a very significant part of our challenge is making sure the small number of younger people have the services that meet their needs. As Deputies will imagine, a 13 or 14 year old in detention has very significant challenges and that is where we need to focus. The age is less relevant to us and we do not separate them according to age. It is a slightly arbitrary issue.
The report of the CPT to which we are actively working to respond, as we keep these matters on our agenda all the time, was published in November although it was from previous years. I am not saying all the issues have been addressed but they visited at a time of very significant disruption and change for us. We have adopted new policies around handcuff use and we are actively working to address the issue of solitary or single separation and isolation. This is about having an explicitly clear policy that it is a measure of last resort and, under our policy, relates only to young people who pose a serious risk to themselves, to others or to property. We look to ensure that staff are informed and properly trained to administer the policy on that basis and that the systems are in place to properly record the use of single separation in line with the policy. For example, if a young person is admitted and is believed to be under the influence of drugs or to have drugs on their person, we will need to monitor them for a certain time to make sure they are safe and that may be recorded as single separation. In fact, it is part of the admissions process. We work with staff and with our IT systems to make sure we have the right information to help us understand the nature and scale of this problem. We are also part of the work commissioned by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly, around the use of single separation and this interaction across the care services and the residential estate is very valuable because it is clear the definitions vary and we are not all being consistent about what we mean.
The final point was on the role of the Oireachtas. The most important thing for us is to be held to account and we are happy to come in here any time to address the Oireachtas and the public generally on what we are doing. We have realised that there has been a gap in communication from the campus and the campus manager, Mr. Pat Bergin, who is doing a superb job in very difficult circumstances during the change process, has endeavoured to improve the level of communication. Part of that involves communication back to staff, on which management has to continue to work. It is a very large organisation so improving communication internally is very important, as is communicating externally. The importance of political and public pressure is evidence that we can effect change in this area, both in terms of eliminating the use of adult prisons for young people and in ensuring the best possible supports and services are provided to those who are detained. Oberstown is evidence of the kind of public scrutiny that is warranted in this area and that is where the Oireachtas plays its role best. I hope I have answered all the questions.
Absolutely, and I am very satisfied with the answers. One thing I did not raise was more of a comment on the issue of board fees. Professor Kilkelly said she was not taking board fees. For me, if this was a business or corporate issue there would be board fees and we would all accept that. We need to attract people to the board and if that means we get people who are independent, will make the time available to come and have the commitment to the service there should be no hesitation in doing this. In the children's area we feel we have to stand back and I just want to note this. It is very difficult when we put people in certain positions and we would not have the same expectation when dealing with adult issues. I know the closing date for the board is tomorrow and I am not applying or anything but we should be attracting the best people and the fees should be commensurate with the service they are giving to the State.
On foot of listening to Professor Kilkelly's presentation we might make a representation to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, that bastion of flexibility, to ask it to consider looking at the issues that were raised. I suggest we do this on foot of what we heard as opposed to a request being made by the chairperson designate.
I was going to make that point in conclusion. I thank Professor Kilkelly for her most informative and excellent presentation. It is fitting that she will be our last witness for this committee. The quality of her presentation this morning has struck us all. If it is agreed by the committee, we will write to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform about the professor's remarks on flexibility in the appointment of staff. Is that agreed? Agreed.
We will write to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly, to inform him of our deliberations this morning and to forward to him a copy of the transcript, which will also include the remarks on the staffing issue. During our visits to Oberstown, the committee was very impressed by the commitment of staff and I thank all the staff, the chief executive, Mr. Pat Bergin and the now chairperson, Professor Kilkelly, for the work they are doing. I wish them every success. The professor is right that we need to communicate more, from her end to ours and vice versa. I thank her for being here this morning.
As the committee has not scheduled any meeting for next week it is opportune for me to pay tribute to Deputy Neville, Senator van Turnhout and Deputy McLellan, who will certainly not be joining us in the next Oireachtas, whatever about the rest of us. I thank them for their courtesy, dedication and commitment to the committee and wish them well in whatever endeavours they undertake. To the committee members seeking re-election to the Seanad and Dáil, I wish them every success and thank them sincerely for their courtesy to me, their professionalism and their thorough work ethic and commitment to this committee. Finally, I thank the men and women of the committee secretariat who have been tremendous to us here and the men and women of, as Deputy Kelleher called it, the "dark room" for their tremendous work. They have had to endure mobile phones going off while listening to all of us but they have made our job here so much easier. I wish everybody every success.