Imagine a child with no parents other than a corporate body, living in a home where vandalism and arson has taken place and where the other children have been physically aggressive.
With an all-time high number of children being ‘looked after’ by the Western Trust, the Sentinel today looks at life for children in care in the North West.
Inspection reports from a children’s home in Limavady reveal a wide range of the issues those children - whom the charity Barnardo’s point out are unlikely to have had a “happy childhood” - must face.
The reports, the most recent available, highlight how the staff at the home work hard amid complaints of bullying, physically challenging and aggressive behaviour, vandalism including the setting of fires, educational issues and problems with staffing levels. A spokesperson for the Western Health and Social Care Trust said that the “issues raised... are not unique to this or any children’s home.”
Children have locked themselves in their bedrooms, posing staff with the difficult question of whether to request assistance from the PSNI to force their way into the room or not.
The inspection reports reveal a world where a small team of staff work to do everything they can for the children despite the ‘range of complex needs and challenging presentations’ and where life at the home has ‘settled down’ after a difficult period discovered in November last year.
There are currently over 500 children ‘looked after’ by the Western Trust, according to the most up-to-date figures available. The current number of children whose ‘corporate parents’ are the Western Trust is at an all-time high - a fact that can be attributed, at least in part, to family breakdown, illness and concerns for child welfare, according to the Trust’s Executive Director of Social Work.
A recent survey by the charity Action for Children found that children in Northern Ireland are ‘feeling crushed’ under the pressure of adult problems.
Two inquiries have been ongoing since September after it was revealed that police had identified a group of 22 young people in Northern Ireland - the majority of whom are in the care system - who may have been sexually abused.
The Sentinel recently requested inspection reports relating to a children’s care home in Limavady from the RQIA - the body tasked with ensuring standards are maintained across a range of care services in Northern Ireland.
Of the two most recent reports, one dating from November 2012 revealed a range of issues at the home. The most recent inspection report available, dating from March 2013 showed that progress had since been made since the November Inspection.
Asked whether the issues raised in the reports were unique to the care home in Limavady, or common to children’s homes across Northern Ireland, a spokesperson for the Western Trust said: “The Trust’s current view would be that the issues raised are not unique to this or any children’s home. Issues that can occur depend very much on the assessed needs and behaviour of those individuals who are present in a care home at a single point and time.”
The spokesperson continued: “The Trust would consider that all its care homes deliver a high standard of care. The Trust is pleased that RQIA notes progress has been made in implementing their recommendations. The Trust take forward any recommendations which are made by RQIA as part of their Inspection Reports and will continue to do so.”
Also at the small Limavady home, ‘notifiable events’ have been reported at an approximate rate of once every ten or eleven days, according to figures supplied by the RQIA. There were 34 ‘notifiable incidents’ in the period from November 2012 to October this year.
A ‘notifiable incident’ can include anything from the death of a child, reports of abuse, the calling of police or an outbreak of illness at the home.
Charitable organisation Barnardo’s said that children living in homes may be contending with a range of complex issues.
Stephen Knox, Assistant Director Barnardo’s NI said: “Most children in children’s homes are not there because they have had a happy childhood. Many children come from families where there have been issues of emotional, physical or sexual abuse or neglect and these children often have emotional, psychological or behavioural problems which they are struggling to deal with on a day-to-day basis and which can result in the range of behaviours outlined in the inspection reports.”
He continued: “Barnardo’s believes keeping a child with its family is vitally important and that increasing family support to realize this is, in most cases, the best solution, however, in some circumstances we acknowledge it can be best for the child to live in alternative accommodation and in those situations the care the child receives should be of the very highest quality.”