Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 5 October 2016
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs
Operations of Oberstown Children Detention Centre
I welcome Mr. Pat Bergin, director, Oberstown Children Detention Centre, and Professor Ursula Kilkelly, chair of the board of management representatives, Oberstown Children Detention Centre.
I remind members to ensure their mobile telephones are switched off or switched to flight mode as they can interfere with the sound system, making it difficult for parliamentary reporters to report the meeting and adversely affecting television coverage and web-streaming.
I advise witnesses that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. 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 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. They are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him or her 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 by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
Any submissions or opening statements made to the committee will be published on its website after the meeting. I invite Mr. Pat Bergin to make his opening statement.
Mr. Pat Bergin:
I was appointed by the board of management as the director of Oberstown Children Detention Campus in June 2016. Prior to that, I had operated as campus manager since December 2013. Due to legislation enacted in June 2016, the campus, as it currently exists, has only come into effect. Prior to that, there were three detention schools on the Oberstown site, Oberstown Boys, Oberstown Girls and Trinity House, which were run as three separate entities. They had different structures, focus on young people and policies. A significant change process has been under way since 2011 which has culminated in the development of the Oberstown detention school which is one entity.
In January 2014, I met two members of staff on the campus who had known each other before. One had worked in one school; the other in another school. For 12 years, they came in and went out the front gate to work but did not know each other. This gives the context of the challenges experienced in Oberstown over the past several years. Today, those two individuals have different roles but work side by side, part and parcel of the integrated schools.
In December 2013, the number of staff employed on the campus was 198; now 261 are employed. A €56 million project has seen the development of an entire new facility. The idea was to expand the number of young people on the campus. Originally, there were 24 young people in Oberstown and 16 in Trinity House when I arrived. The new campus has a 90-bed capacity. However, the ability to provide 90 places for young people depends on the number of staff available, as well as routine and structure. The campus now has a licence for 48 boys and six girls, compared to 40 in March 2015. We have taken 17 year olds on remand. Over the past several years, there has been a focus on ensuring young people did not go to prison. In 2012, the focus was to first remove 16 year olds from St. Patrick's Institution. This has been achieved. There were challenges in taking in this cohort on the campus but they are part and parcel of the group we now cater for in Oberstown. The next phase was to take the 17 to 18 year old cohort which was divided into two strategies. The first was to take the young people on remand which was completed last year.
We are still in the process of finalising taking young people on committal. That completes the agenda for removing young people from adult prison. That is important. That was the focus of my task when I took on the role some years ago, to address the merger and expansion, to modernise the campus and bring it in line with best practice from a care perspective. There have been multiple challenges. We have met many of those and have much more to do. We have industrial relations challenges and challenges in respect of integration policies. These are all part and parcel of a change process that is under way.
We have implemented an ethos on care, education, health and well-being, offending behaviour and planning for discharge of young people, CEHOP. Part of our challenge was to bring together the ethos of different schools. There was a perception at Trinity House that it dealt with high-risk young people from a secure perspective. Oberstown Boys was seen as a relationship model where there was not a high fence and children absconded and left the buildings more regularly and there was Oberstown Girls. We have had to bring together those three schools, with three focuses and three different teams to create a common approach. That has its own challenges with people hanging on to the way they used to do business. We are moving on that, we have a framework, we are doing training with staff but the key challenge is to balance the issue of how to care for young people in a detention facility while ensuring they stay within the facility and receive the appropriate level of care. These are the ongoing challenges on the campus. I will hold it there and I am happy to take any questions people may have.
I thank Mr. Bergin for coming here today and addressing us. From talking to staff members working at Oberstown it appears to me that morale among them is very low and this is rooted in staff discontent with Mr. Bergin's leadership style. Is Mr. Bergin aware of these concerns about his management style and those of other senior managers? I have spoken to staff who have little faith in Mr. Bergin's leadership of Oberstown and the concerns they have expressed to me include a breakdown of trust between senior management and staff, a complete absence of communication with staff and a dictatorial style of management which does not seek to engage staff, particularly on the part of Mr. Bergin, and a general lack of respect for staff. I have been informed that up to 100 staff members, including union and non-union members and all staff grades, including middle managers, held a meeting in Balbriggan last Wednesday evening. At this meeting a motion that staff had no confidence in Mr. Bergin was passed by an overwhelming majority of attendees. Is Mr. Bergin aware of this meeting and its outcome, and what is his reaction to that?
I thank Mr. Bergin and Professor Kilkelly for coming in here this morning. It was my request that they attend this meeting. The background to that request is that I am not long in this position but since taking on the role of spokesperson for children and youth affairs for the Fianna Fáil Party I have been inundated, week in and week out with commentary on Oberstown. This repeats commentary received by my predecessor, Deputy Troy, the previous year. I can totally understand that it takes time to bed down a situation and to bring together the three different houses Mr. Bergin talks about but all the while I assume we would have been learning through the whole process.
This summer, however, seems to have been particularly bad, maybe only because I am new to this. Children have got onto a roof, there have been fires and rooms closed down repeatedly. There are nine units but four are now closed. We talk about capacity and the ability to care and to protect staff, children and management. I am trying to understand the environment, which is supposed to involve rehabilitation and that is why these children are in that unit. That is the style and model for that unit but to my untrained eye there is no sense that the management, staff and children are working in a safe, comfortable and rehabilitative environment. That is not good practice.
The fundamental key to help the children in the rehabilitation programme is education. How many hours do they attend daily in education? I am concerned about there being one girl on the campus. I have concerns about the risk factors for staff and children and what we are doing to prevent a serious accident occurring. I thought it could not get any worse, when I heard a room had been closed down, then I heard they were on the roof, that there was a fire, the kitchen was taken over and there was scalding water, cups were broken and that some of the children are more in control than the staff. That raises serious questions. I have been raising the question of Oberstown since last June. I do not like making media headlines out of something that I am not totally involved in but I am posing those questions out of genuine concern for the children and the staff who are trying to deliver a programme. I would appreciate anything Mr. Bergin can tell me on that. I will probably will raise more questions later.
I thank the witnesses for coming in. The first two questioners have got to the root of some of the difficult issues facing everybody involved in Oberstown. Mr. Bergin told us the staff numbers have increased, that three schools came together. I presume there were different operational cultures in the three schools. Could Mr. Bergin give us some insight into the difficulties surrounding that and whether there were different practices that had to be re-learned or changed? The maximum number in the legislation is 48 boys and six girls. Mr. Bergin has told us that is the current number or maybe I am wrong. Can Mr. Bergin clarify that? Deputy Rabbitte said there is one girl. At the time of the incident there were 41 present. That looks like a good staff-to-young-person ratio.
The one where the young people went up on the roof. Mr. Bergin gave us a lot of documentation on the protocols and what to do about separation, which was very useful and we all had an opportunity to read it because we got it in advance. It is obviously very difficult for everybody, staff, management and young people, to make this system work but the literature shows that the best way to do that is through what is called routine relationship building. The impression we are getting is that there may not be good relationships. Can Mr. Bergin give us a better understanding of the challenges? We have all heard some of the staff perspectives and they feel that they are not protected.
They feel they are subject to a lot of very challenging behaviour yet if one reads the protocols, it looks like there are good protocols in place. I would like to know a little more about whether they are working or whether they look good on paper but in practice are not working.
I was also going to ask about education. Education can make the difference between a young person having a positive future or not. Deputy Rabbitte has already asked about it. I know from reading that there are a significant number of hours per day available in terms of education but do the young people actually attend?
I have one more practical question on the 17 year olds. Are all the 17 years olds in Oberstown now or are some of them still somewhere else? Will Mr. Bergin clarify that?
I thank the Deputy. There are many questions there from the first three members of the committee. Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee had to leave because she is also on the Committee on Justice and Equality and has gone next door for a few minutes but Mr. Bergin can answer the questions and she can catch up. Will Mr. Bergin answer the other two members first and if the Senator is not here Mr. Bergin can answer her questions and she can read his response in the Official Report.
Mr. Pat Bergin:
There is a lot in that so I will work through a few bits and pieces. I will address some of the common questions on education. The school on the campus has in excess of 26 teachers. Those 26 teachers are employed by the Education and Training Board, ETB, which comes under the Department of Education and Skills. The school on the campus is its own entity and has its own structure. The school on the campus, which is no different from the residential side of the house, had to undergo a merger on the campus last September. Previously there were two schools - Oberstown Boys School and Trinity House School. There were two teaching teams coming together under one new structure. In September 2015, that new school was formed and a principal was appointed who had been on site previously. He brought together all the teachers in a new building on the campus. Some of the teachers there operate in the primary school structure and some in the secondary school. However, the school year is a primary school year and not secondary. Class hours are based on primary school. The class year is based on primary school so it runs later into the year. The school structure is that in a classroom there is one teacher per three children. That is the standard and how the classroom is designed.
I will return to the education question but from a physical perspective, it is the most modern school I have ever come across. It has everything for teaching children. It has electronic boards, academic classrooms, training, computers, maintenance and woodwork - anything one could think of is available and provided to young people. The facilities and structures are there and it has been well-resourced. The issue is providing education to up to 48 young people in that facility. There is a routine for moving children to and back from school. School kicks off at 9.45 a.m. and finishes at 3.20 p.m. There are 48 young people to be moved in and out of school twice a day. It is structured so that 48 young people are not wandering around the campus at the same time. They are moved in groups of three and four. It takes 15 minutes in the morning to move all young people to school and it takes 15 minutes in the evening to move them all back out of school. When they are in school, they are in their own classrooms. It is a standard primary school day. There are times in the morning when it is slower to move them in. One cannot have 48 young people wandering around the campus. It is a practical issue and it is done from a security perspective. The only time young people do not attend school is if there is a problem with them in school. If there is a problem with their behaviour in school, they manage it in school. However, if they need to step out of school, they are sent back to the units. If someone is not managing in the unit, for example, if we have a new admission, a young person who is on drugs or there is a serious concern about their behaviour, they may not attend school The majority of young people go to school on a daily basis, whether they are 15, 16 or 17. The young people love to go to school. They want to go to school. There is a perception that they are not getting enough of school and they would like to be there more. What we have done from a campus perspective is employ nine people to come in in the evening between 4 o'clock and 7 o'clock to provide further classes in music, reading, drama and sports. We have an extra nine staff coming in and from 4 o'clock to 7 o'clock in the evening there are further classes available for young people. It is done in a structured way within campus resources.
I gave some examples on the schooling and the results that were achieved in the junior certificate, which is a standard output - 20 young people achieved their junior certificate and different exams. This needs to be understood in the context of the fact that of the 48 young people on licence in the campus, 20 of them are on committals. All the others are on remand and come and go so they will not be in a position to sit the exams. Almost 100% of young people who are in a position to sit exams are sitting exams, gaining a level of academic achievement and moving on. For those on remand, there is a whole other process of accredited modules that they can carry out of the school. If they are in the school for three, four or five weeks, the school focuses on a different approach to education. That helps them when they move on. From an education perspective, we constantly review the attendance of children in school to make sure it is at a maximum. We are well on our way to having that achieved. From the education perspective, I am very happy with where we got to.
I will address the point about relationships and the ethos of the campus. After my arrival, I wandered the schools for a couple of months to see what was going on. I will give an example of some of the challenges we had which we have had to try to overcome. If I was a young person in one of the schools and I was on mobilities, which means I was allowed to leave the campus with staff or on my own and could go out for the weekend and go home, if I came back to the unit and had to go to court for an appearance a week later I would be handcuffed, put into a car with three staff and taken to court. That does not make sense to me. I give permission for a young person who is managing well to go home for a weekend, to get on the bus themselves, come back themselves and manage well at home but because of a need to attend court to address previous issues, they are handcuffed and taken to court. That was a cultural practice. If a child was in another school, they might not be handcuffed but thrown into the back of a car with one staff member and taken off to court. There are real challenges around how the cultural practices of the school evolved over a period of time. It is an ongoing concern. I do not want to give the impression I am coming down on staff on this issue. This is reality. It is how the schools had evolved up to a particular point in time.
The issue of ethos was referenced. The outside world perceived that Trinity House dealt with the more difficult young people. On that basis, the routine and regime within Trinity House was based around security. When one came in, it was a lot stricter. The buildings were designed in such a way that a child did not come out of the buildings. If they did they were in handcuffs. All the services were built around the school whereas in Oberstown the units were scattered around the grounds and there was not the same level of security. The control that staff had on young people was based around relationships. If I work with young people in a way that is based around relationships, I might get into conflict with a staff member who works with young people in a way that is based around processes, security and control because we both come from different perspectives.
Young people have asked to be placed in different schools. If they were in court, they would tell the judge they wanted to go to Oberstown Boys School or Trinity House because they had a knowledge and understanding of the routine. They were picking what suited them best. That continued up to 1 June 2016. For the length of time I have been there, I have not been in a position to determine what children go to what school because the legislation provided that the courts decided what child would go to what school if there was a bed available. Those schools have been gone since 1 June so now the director decides what unit anybody coming onto the campus goes to.
There is no such thing as Trinity House or Oberstown Boys School any more. We have ten units. Underneath the surface, I am concerned that there are still practices within certain units that relate to certain schools. It is natural for staff to hang on to how they formerly did business. This also applies to young people. Some have been there for a year or for two years and they have perceptions of the Trinity House rules being in force. I received a letter from a young person recently asking to be able to write to his friends in prison. He was able to map out for me that there was one rule for Oberstown House and another for Trinity House. He asked me what rule applied to him because the staff were giving him mixed messages. The rule in one school was that one could not write to someone in prison because it was seen as encouraging young people to communicate with others involved in a criminal life. That has moved on but it is still embedded in some of the practices of staff. This might give an indication of some of the challenges that exist.
People spoke about strategy but the culture is embedded and if we do not get buy-in from staff on how we do our business, we will find it more difficult. A pro-social focus on relationships was mentioned. Looking at how things happened on the overall campus, I was concerned with the question of whether we were concerned with care or control. How do we determine the relationship model we need to have with young people? We did some research and got some external people in to help. The challenge was in the fact that young people previously got two-year sentences. The chances are that they would have worked with a group of people and staff who would get to know them, have relationships with them, take them off campus for golf or shopping or home to meet their parents, build up a relationship and then, after two years, move on. They are not the young people who come to us now. With changes in legislation and the focus on keeping young people out of detention facilities, sentences are shorter, typically of three, six or nine months. Accordingly, the focus of staff has to change and they have to see how they can get to know a young person who is on remand for two or three weeks and on committal for another three or four months. They cannot focus on dealing with them for two years and getting them an apprenticeship when they leave. Their focus must be on how they can get them to see a doctor on the basis that they have core medical health issues that need to be addressed. They need to think how they can get them to school and other basic stuff that will help them when they leave in three or four months' time. Some staff have managed the change really well but others find it more difficult.
I will try to walk committee members through the way a young person comes on to the campus. We do not decide who comes onto the campus - the courts decide. We get a phone call to say a remand order has been made for, say, Pat Bergin and that he is on his way. We do not know who Pat Bergin is, however. We start the process of gathering information from social services, probation services and family. The young person will normally be on campus before we get the information. We are at a loss before we start trying to understand him or her. When the young person comes into the campus, he or she is searched and must give urine samples. He or she is put into a room and monitored and then he or she is allowed to mix with the rest of the campus. We are a detention facility, not a residential unit, and that raises its own challenges. If that has to be the experience of children at the outset, I want to soften it. We still have to search them and test them for drugs and we still need to have information but it does not have to be done in a protection room with very little light. We are trying to change the culture so that we do business in a different way. In this way, the care element comes out from the beginning and it is less like a detention facility.
Staff are fearful at the moment. Events of 29 August have had a serious impact on us all at the campus. It was a long 12 hours but the fire was not the issue. The media spoke about the fire and the people on the roof but the young people were on another roof in the building and there was no risk to them. They set a fire and moved elsewhere. The issue was the lack of control the young people demonstrated and that is what has scared staff. Many factors contributed to that and there is a Garda investigation into the events of that night, including into the damage caused and the fire. The question for me concerns what contributed to the events of 29 August. There was a range of factors, including industrial action, minimum staff and disquiet over a number of issues. Young people were aware that there was industrial action so they were empowered and knew that, outside the door, there were only two staff instead of the three or four who should have been there. Anxiety over how people were going to manage was a real concern for staff. There were questions of who was going to be on that morning and how they would be deployed. It was a difficult period and what happened on the day escalated to a point that we needed assistance. The fire services were called in, as were gardaí, to try to regain control. The fire happened at 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. but events had been ongoing since noon and that was the core concern. The issue is the fear and anxiety staff have had over how they can lose control and we are trying to address that.
I was asked about how control was lost in this way. In any unit there are a maximum of eight young people and 15 staff assigned to it. From 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. those 15 staff are on a rota to provide direct care to young people. They can be on at 3 a.m., 4 p.m., 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. - it all depends on the roster. When there are 15 staff per unit, 12 will be available and three may be on leave. In all units we have 125 staff and the challenge is that the level of sick leave always has been quite high. Last November we had sick leave of 17% and this was a routine figure over the years. We have reduced it to 10% by managing people's return. There were people on our books who were never going to come back so we needed to backfill posts. When I started in December 2013, there were 24 staff not on campus who were either out sick or absent for some other reason. That is why a unit that was supposed to be in use at that stage was not opened. We ascertained whether the staff who were absent were coming back and started a recruitment process. Members will see from the figures that an enormous amount of recruitment has been made, with numbers going from 198 to 261. Some of it was to backfill posts for people who had left or retired. The capacity to increase staff is based on a very small pool of social care workers who exist in the outside world. There is a challenge for any residential centre - not just Oberstown - in getting staff as there is a small pool. The negative publicity around Oberstown does not help and people have signed up for us only to pull back. If we do not have sufficient staff we cannot provide the service we need to provide.
I am sorry to interrupt but I have to keep the meeting moving, though I appreciate Mr. Bergin may not have given all his answers. I will get back to the members who asked questions but I want to move on to those who have yet to speak.
As Chair, I feel we need to get deeper and I ask the members to assist me by asking as specific questions as possible. I will come back to the other two Deputies.
Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an tUasal Bergin agus an tOllamh Kilkelly as teacht isteach. The general commentary has been dealt with so I will proceed directly to specific questions. My first question is referred to in the director's own notes and briefing document. It states that 86% of residents are on remand. Is this too high and are there other facilities which might be more suitable? How long are people staying there on remand generally?
A number of comments have been made on the confidence and morale of staff. Certainly from speaking to staff, I am aware that a particular issue for many of them seems to be training and a feeling that there is no adequate training or provision for it. In that context, I note from the director's briefing note that night supervision officers do not require academic qualifications. Given that they are likely to be dealing with very difficult and challenging circumstances and incidents, is that appropriate? In addition, the management of actual or potential aggression, MAPA, course appears to be just a one-day course. Can that be clarified? I imagine that is not accurate.
I note the Estimates briefing which we will be dealing with in the next session sets out a fair deal of commentary on staffing. The witnesses were speaking about the difficulty of building a relationship with children from the point of view that they are in there for longer periods. There seems to be a very considerable reliance, however, on agency staff. Obviously, that is a difficulty in terms of the ability of staff to build rapports and trust and relationships. What is the ratio of full-time to agency staff?
On the number of incidents, approximately 88 were recorded in the past nine months. That amounts to approximately one incident every three days for that period. Given the number of children involved and some of the challenging behaviours that might present themselves in a facility such as this, the number of incidents seems lower than I might have imagined in some respects. What qualifies as an incident? What is reported as an incident? Is everything recorded? Does management ever direct staff not to contact the Garda Síochána in the case of an incident, regardless of seriousness? Are all calls to the Garda required to be authorised by management? Does management ever turn gardaí away after they have been summoned to the facility by a phone call in any circumstance? Would management ever overrule a risk assessment made by a staff member and in what circumstances might it do so? How would that proceed?
Have staff ever been warned about taking too many sick days? Are there penalties involved and, if so, what are they? Have staff ever been threatened with half pay in the event of taking too many sick days?
I thank the witnesses for coming along. I was thinking about staff, the culture and staff cohesion. Coming from a background working in acute psychiatry, I note that challenging behaviour is always a difficult one. Oberstown has it every day. The integration of the three units has posed some staff difficulties. Integration of the staff must be at the core of the culture Oberstown is trying to enhance. What qualifications do social care workers need to have and what is the staff structure within each unit in terms of manager and deputy? I need to know how that works. Is there any regulatory body to whom staff are accountable? There is no regulatory body for social care workers as far as I know. Perhaps that is a piece that is missing. A further update on those questions would be great.
I apologise for missing the presentation. I am a member of the Committee on the Future of Healthcare which is meeting at the same time. It is impossible to bi-locate and I am afraid I will have to be in and out. I read the submissions. Reference was made to the medical assessment of residents when they come to the centre. I presume that includes mental health assessment. Are there any new developments in that regard? Obviously, that is the key where there are addictions, violent behaviour and all of that. Leading into that, a particular interest of mine is restorative justice. I realise that is not solely within the centre's remit to promote something like that, but I have huge belief in a restorative justice approach. Is it something the centre has sought or which is happening already? It would be very helpful.
From the presentation today, I remain very concerned about the issues and somewhat ill at ease. I have not really got any assurances from Mr. Bergin. I do not speak for the whole committee, but I feel that I have not been any more reassured from Mr. Bergin's presentation thus far about the security of the people detained at Oberstown. I would like to hear a bit more about that. I ask Mr. Bergin to address that and Professor Kilkelly to address the issue as chair of the board.
I am hearing a lot about the challenges Oberstown is dealing with. While I do not have a difficulty with Mr. Bergin identifying them, these are challenges which are posed to numerous organisations every day of the week. The amalgamation of schools, hospitals and city and county councils takes place for example. Notwithstanding the individual challenges within Oberstown, cultures within staff cohorts do not represent a unique challenge and, in my humble opinion, should not lead to the kind of difficulties being experienced. I would prefer to hear Mr. Bergin address that. Significant and substantial charges were made about Mr. Bergin's own leadership by one of the members of the committee and I ask Mr. Bergin to address those directly as well as directly addressing the very specific questions Deputy Ó Laoghaire, Senator Devine and Deputy Madigan have asked. We will come back to the other two members if there is anything there.
Mr. Pat Bergin:
I will go through things quickly. Last Wednesday, I was aware that there was a meeting but am not aware of any ballot or vote of no confidence in me. There has been no communication to me on that matter. I am not aware of that. On my leadership style, there are opinions that there are problems with it. From my perspective, I am inclusive and engaging. An agenda has been set out for moving things forward and that is the approach and focus I have in moving on the required agenda. From a consultation perspective, we now have a management structure in place and constantly engage staff through the union structure and direct contact with staff in the units. As such, I am not aware of the points that were raised about my personal management style. That has never been raised with me. It is the first time I have heard of it.
Mr. Pat Bergin:
To clarify the Garda question, if someone wants to contact the Garda to make a complaint, staff have a right to do so. Staff do not have a right to ring gardaí and ask them to come onto campus. That has been clearly stated. Bringing gardaí onto campus is a matter for the director or a designate who may request the support or intervention of gardaí in the operation of the campus. If a member of staff wants to contact the Garda about a complaint or an issue, he or she has a right to do so. I have no difficulty with that.
Mr. Pat Bergin:
It is even in a crisis or very serious situations because there is a management structure for calling gardaí or making the Garda aware of an issue. If that is the case, there are individuals who will determine what they deem to be a crisis and who will engage constantly with the Garda. We have management on site all the time if an issue arises. The Garda is not going to come in and do our jobs for us. It is not responsible for the day-to-day operations of the campus. That is very clear. We have ongoing discussions and engagement with the Garda around this. If an offence has been committed, it is for the Garda to investigate and process, but it is not for it to come in very quickly. Historically, if issues arose where a young person would not go to bed and was causing a problem on the campus, local gardaí were contacted and came down. They stood behind the staff and the young fellow went to bed. That cannot be the practice on the campus.
It cannot happen.
We are very clear that it is a requirement for the Garda to come onto the campus to provide assistance. In the event of something happening similar to what happened on 29 August, that call will be made, but it is made at a very senior level based on the level of risk that exists. In terms of the day-to-day operations, the staff, namely, the managers of the units need to manage the crisis. They need to draw on all the resources across the campus to support that, but the Garda is not one of those supports.
Regarding risks, a risk assessment is undertaken and that is determined on the basis of people considering what factors are in place. If somebody is not considering all the factors, of course a risk assessment will be overridden. If somebody has not considered all the factors that need to be considered, a unit manager or whoever will input into that and identify that the person had not considered particular elements. To give an example regarding risks, if it is required for a person to go to court and if three staff have been deemed necessary to bring that person to court, a member of management may look at that requirement and, having noted that the young person has gone home, might ask what the issue is and why three staff are required to bring that young person to court and might say that two should be sufficient. However, the risk assessments that was undertaken by the staff might determine that three are required. Risk assessments are only a tool to determine what actions need to be taken and if all factors have not been considered, managers will input into that process.
Regarding restorative justice, we have requested this and have been processing the campus as having a restorative practice. We have done some training with staff and have been doing some work with young people to have restorative practice as part and parcel of the culture on the campus. With respect to assessment from a mental health perspective, we have psychiatry on site. The HSE provides us with a psychiatrist, Professor Harry Kennedy, every Wednesday and he is available as required. All children coming onto the campus undertake a MAYSI assessment, which is a mental health assessment, and that is done on a weekly basis through a multidisciplinary approach.
On the question on the structure, each unit has 15 staff and one manager. We have agreement with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on our team leader process within that. We are in discussions with the union about introducing that. There was a co-ordinator post in the unit and it was voluntary, but that was withdrawn by the unions. However, we have approval now to put in place a structure to support the managers and the staff from within their 15 staff and one manager. Each unit operates on its own and they provide cross-cover depending on what is happening on a day-to-day basis.
Regarding assurances with respect to the challenges-----
Mr. Pat Bergin:
Remand is a core issue; it is a big issue for us. The number of young people on remand is substantial. The figures I would like to put out are that of all the young people who came through the campus for the first nine months, 19 were placed on committal orders. The remainder of the young people who came in were on remand-turnover, and they create substantial challenges for us because they do not buy into the campus because they are on remand. They hope to be gone from the campus next week or the week after, so they do not engage in the same way. From our perspective, we would ask why young people are remanded. A decision has been made by the courts that we are to hold young people for a period of time until a decision is made as to whether they are guilty or not guilty. Regarding the figure of 86%, some of those young people may be found guilty and other sanctions may be put in place for them but they have been on remand with us for a length of time, so the experience of detention is not something that we would consider all of them would require. There is a challenge with the system putting young people on remand with us for a period of time, and they could be long-term remands. A remand could be for one week but it could be for five or six months, and that is a major challenge for us. A bail supervision scheme is coming into operation in two to three weeks' time on the campus, which will allow young people who are on remand to get bail, possibly depending on the assessment, but the key problem is that those young people must be on remand to access the scheme. However, the overall approach to young people being placed on remand in the campus is a worryingly increasing trend.
Mr. Pat Bergin:
Absolutely. There is a sick leave scheme in place. People have to adhere to the sick leave scheme. There is a public service sick leave scheme. If people are abusing that sick leave scheme, there is a possibility they will be withdrawn from that scheme. That is part and parcel of the practice in the public sector. If a staff member is continuously going on sick leave and not following the rules, which include returning sick certificates and reporting to their managers, the sick leave scheme could be withdrawn from them. There is an engagement process through our human resources, HR, department with each individual staff member.
I understand the position regarding making children go to bed or whatever, but, regardless of the serious incident that happened, if a serious assault was taking place it is extraordinary that it would require management sign-off. That is almost excessive and it is difficult for staff to deal with that.
Mr. Pat Bergin:
Things have settled over the past number of weeks. We have gone through a very difficult scenario in the past five or six weeks, particularly following on from the fire. Regarding the young people, it needs to be put in context. What happened on the 29th involved eight young people. There were another 31 young people on campus and they are well cared for, there was no issue with them, they did not get involved and did not want to be involved. Their routines, their place in terms of planning and their education continues as normal and has continued as normal. The challenge has been around a handful, a very particular number of young people, in terms of how they have been demonstrating and managing their behaviour. There was a follow-on difficulty for staff because of the impact of those young people's behaviour on the campus and towards the staff. It is important to put this in context. We still have young people who are mobile - who go home for weekends and young people who are out and about going to school every day. From a safety and security perspective, the five units, which are the new units down at the bottom of the campus, operate day by day and do their business that needs to be done. People need to recognise that the young people we have on the campus are young people who have not managed in other scenarios. They have been out in their communities, have been involved in the Garda diversion programmes and have committed offences, or are before the courts regarding offences. These are young people who will demonstrate and display challenging behaviour. That is the nature of the detention facility. This is not a facility where particular children are put together because of specific needs. We have not agreed that these children come to us; they are sent us by the court because of complex behaviours. That is important to understand in that we then need to manage within that environment.
On my capacity to place children in different units so as to be able to separate them, I have young people on remand and young people on committal back being mixed together and that creates a significant problem. In three weeks' time I hope to be able to separate those on remand from committals on the basis of the units that become available. That is how I assure that young people on remand are dealt with in a particular way and young people on committal are dealt with in another way. That other way is that they have an open type of unit where they are more free and they engage in their process, whereas with the young people on remand, we are focused on how we manage them on a day-by-day basis.
There is a significant number of resources including support for staff. We have a system in place on campus in regard to stress. With respect to young people, we have the ACTS team from Tusla on site, a medical health service on site, a general practitioner on site three days a week and a dentist on site. We have an immense amount of resources and structures that help us provide for the day-to-day care of young people. Our challenge - regardless of whether people want to accept this - is there is a real complexity around the change process that has been undertaken in Oberstown because of the historical way that business has been done.
For a long time the outside world did not come onto the campus. We have taken down the fences and have said that the outside world needs to come in, that it needs to help us. In doing that we are exposing what is going on in the campus. However, I would prefer people to know what is going on in the campus and that we do it right rather than having a fence around the place and keeping the world out. It is my approach and my management style, that if we need help we will bring people in to help us to provide the appropriate level of care for young people. That is the determination and the focus I have with regard to the care of young people.
The HIQA report which was done this time last year identified two areas of significant risk. One was standard six, staffing management, and one was standard nine, premises, safety and security. I would like to know what aspects have been addressed since that recent HIQA report. I have one final question. Does the witness believe there is capacity at Oberstown for a further intake of older residents?
I want to get some clarification with regard to staffing because the responses received by the committee from the Department suggest that there are a number of positions which are unfilled. It says there are 45 vacancies at residential and social care worker grade and two vacancies at unit management grade. The witness said, I believe, that the maximum agency staff was seven. Are there significant staff shortages in Oberstown?
Mr. Bergin said he has not had any communication of a vote of no confidence among staff. If he does receive such communication, how does he or the board intend to respond to it? How does he intend to engage the staff henceforth?
I apologise for being late. I sent my apologies that I would be delayed to the committee this morning. There are so many questions I would like to ask but they have probably already been answered. I believe that members of the committee will make a trip to the centre at some stage.
Mr. Pat Bergin:
With regard to the two points raised about the HIQA report. One was about management and staffing. It looked at the role of middle managers from the perspective of the supervision that needs to be provided to the staff. They have been trained in supervision and there is a process being rolled out to ensure unit managers provide appropriate supervision to their care staff.
Mr. Pat Bergin:
Yes, the 17 year olds. There will be capacity. We need the appropriate number of staff, and this relates to the previous question on staffing, buildings and industrial relations issues. We actually have 17 year olds on this campus who, if the legislation changed, would be on committal. We already have them there on remand and that is the point. From a capacity perspective, and this links in to the question around staffing, the shortfall of 45 staff is for the extra units to open. We are running six and seven units at the moment and we have the appropriate number of staff for that. For three more units to open, an additional 15 staff are required per unit. Three units multiplied by 15 staff makes for the required 45 staff members for the campus to run at full capacity.
With regard to social care workers' registration, social care workers are part of the new registration model. Social care will be one of the disciplines which next year will require social care to be a registered profession. On that basis, for their accreditation the social care workers will have to do whole performance training and it will be part and parcel of our recruitments. Social care workers require relevant qualifications in Oberstown as standard for our recruitments. For them to achieve the registration threshold, the ongoing training will be necessary to make sure they keep up with their registration. That will be next year.
Professor Ursula Kilkelly:
I was appointed as chairman of the Oberstown board on 1 June, having been interim chairman over the previous few months and having served on the board of management for four years. I have seen two things at first hand. One is the extraordinary challenge which we have heard about this morning. As somebody who has spent 20 years in this field I can testify to that challenge, across and around the world, in how we manage these kinds of facilities and the kind of work that has to go into them. The second thing I have witnessed is an extraordinary ability to reflect, adapt, change and respond positively. We must acknowledge the extraordinary work that is ongoing in Oberstown, from staff and from management, to ensure this is the best possible opportunity that young people sentenced to remand can receive. A minor illustration of this relates to such things as agency staff. Critical decisions have to be made around staffing the units properly where that staffing does not exist. We have to take those kinds of difficult decisions when the time comes, and it is not what anybody would like, but we have to balance those issues as we go through.
I wish to reflect on the uniqueness of the board of management of Oberstown. We have a very unique entity and form of governance that very firmly holds management to account but also supports the delivery of the objectives that Oberstown seeks to achieve on behalf of the State in the development and implementation of law and policy. That is our core mission. We have all the major stakeholders on our board. I am chairman and we have local representatives, two nominees from staff and representation from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the Department of Education and Skills and from Tusla. In addition there are five members who are appointed through the public appointments system, bringing together very important expertise in governance, human resources, child law and finance. We now have, for the first time, a unique but well-equipped board to deliver on the mission of Oberstown in holding management to account and ensuring everything is done to make this organisation a success. The unique nature of the entity should also provide reassurance in the level of oversight and the level of investment by individual board members.
We have not touched at all on the industrial relations processes. This relates to the points that were made about the concerns of staff, the extent to which they are raised at board level, and the extent of engagement in the Workplace Relations Commission and other separate processes to hear the concerns of staff, address them directly and work with staff in acknowledging those concerns and, critically, how we respond while upholding the ethos that Oberstown represents. It is much the easier and cheaper, as we all know, to imprison young people, but it is a failure on the part of the State. What we are trying to do is much more ambitious. We must leave no stone unturned in how we do that. Having worked very closely with the management and staff and having been on the board the number of years I have been there, particularly as chairman, I am very confident that every opportunity is taken to do the right thing in the context of staff and in the context of providing the best possible service for young people with the best support we can provide.
Extraordinary strides have been made in the level of service that is provided in bringing the education and the vital health pieces together.
I am keen to make one comment in reflecting on recent months and the extent of the changes we have heard about. It is clear that there are different views about the way Oberstown should be run, whether certain particular practices should continue, what policies should prevail and so on. It will simplify matters. It comes down to different emphases, whether on a security focus, a care focus or a welfare focus, and it is not a question of one or the other. We have to provide care within a secure ethos and that is very challenging. If we can do that, it will be a significant statement for Ireland. My commitment is to do it. In the international context, everyone recognises this as a challenge, an ambitious but laudable one.
I wish to reflect on the different views. Having listened to staff directly, the unions - through the Workplace Relations Commission process - and the board, I came to the opinion that we needed a process which would provide an outside view of Oberstown. The idea is that this view from outside would help us to empower staff, listen to the experiences of staff and the young people and to review and reflect on what we are doing. In addition this perspective could provide expert input into our continued development. That is the basis of the review that has been commissioned and which will be undertaken in the coming months. It will be very much an inclusive supportive process for staff as well as one focused on the young people and their experiences. The perspective of outsiders looking in, people with expertise in this area, should provide further assurance that we are doing everything we can to make this a success.
A point was made about what people see when they come to Oberstown. I have been in and out of the facility many times. In my experience, there are not two sides to this. It is what it is. Every access will be granted. It is in no one's interests that we should in any way attempt to put forward only some kind of best view of it. There is only one view and it is what will be on offer to the committee. I am keen to welcome members to the campus to see the facility for themselves, to engage with staff and young people and to continue to ask questions. I thank members for their continued support for Oberstown as a piece of work in the interests of the young people who are there.
It is on cost. Given the number of units closed down and everything else, what is it costing to do the units under discussion? Is it delaying the entire process? It cost a great deal to get Oberstown to the position it occupies today. What has been impact of what happened in the past three months on the four units?
I do not believe I received an answer to my question. It is not that I want to make any personal statement as regards confidence in the witnesses because challenges clearly exist. However, I am keen to ascertain how management would respond if they were to receive such a communication.
Mr. Pat Bergin:
The first question was on cost. The Office of Public Works is managing the unit that was destroyed, unit 3, and looking at whether it can be rebuilt or renovated. I do not have a cost for it. It has not been costed. In the case of the other two units, the doors and windows were damaged. Again, I do not have a cost at present. The OPW is looking after that.
Mr. Pat Bergin:
I have been engaged in the Workplace Relations Commission process with the staff on an ongoing basis. I met the unions yesterday. Issues have never been raised about my management style. I would like to hear what the issues are and about the challenges people are experiencing. There will be a difference around my style in contrast to the direction and the decision on the direction in which the campus is going. This echoes something Professor Kilkelly referenced. There are different directions to be taken and different decisions to be made. The question is whether people are unhappy with the decisions that I am making or with the style. No one has ever raised anything with me about the style. When that is raised, I would like to see the context and where we go from there.
I am going to have to bring this part of the meeting to a close. On behalf of the committee, I sincerely thank our guests for taking the time to come here this morning. It was a robust and challenging session but that is simply a sign of the regard we have for and the importance we attach to the work they are doing. We are keen to support this work and to challenge it at every opportunity in order to ensure that everything that can be done is being done. I thank our guests for their co-operation. This is a beginning, not an end. We will see them again, I hope, on 26 October, subject to the committee's approval and their availability. We will continue from there and I hope to see them before the committee again. Finally, I hope that we have more positive and brighter days ahead.