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Children in Cork residential care centre pepper-sprayed during call out by gardaí, report finds

Children's rights groups have expressed concern over the finding in an inspection report that children in a residential special care centre were pepper-sprayed and handcuffed when gardai responded to staff calls for assistance.

EPIC (Empowering People In Care) said it was seriously concerned at the findings by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) in an announced inspection of the Gleann Alainn Special Care Unit in Cork.

Tusla announced on Wednesday that the unit - home to two girls at the time of the inspection - would cease operating as a special care facility by the end of the year and would change to being an open residential centre.

EPIC said special care units can be challenging environments for both the children placed in these units and the staff and that the young people placed there by High Court order are often extremely traumatised and require significant levels of support.

The CEO of EPIC, Terry Dignan, said: “Successive HIQA reports point to an ongoing issue in properly resourcing our special care units. It’s imperative that we don’t continue to fail often very vulnerable children by providing inadequate levels of care and support.

"EPIC has very serious concerns that the use handcuffs and pepper spray would be seen as an appropriate response to managing the behaviour of a child at any time, but particularly in light of the failings to provide sufficient levels of training to the staff responsible for caring for these children, as highlighted in the HIQA report.

Children placed in the care of the state should not be criminalised because of the failings of the state.

EPIC said that as a minimum standard, all staff working in these units must have access to appropriate training, including refresher training. But it said the report issued by HIQA found that a significant number of staff did not have training in key areas or an adequate understanding of the requirements of the regulations.

It also queried whether the large number of significant events, including “incidents of violence and aggression” in the unit would have occurred if sufficient numbers of appropriately trained staff, with the optimum mix of skills, had been present on the unit at all times.

Tanya Ward, the chief executive of the Children's Rights Alliance, also expressed alarm at the findings of the HIQA report. She tweeted that it was "of serious concern" and asked: "Was this proportionate? Have the Gardaí been trained on alternatives?"