Inside Oberstown Children Detention Campus: ‘Working one-on-one, you can make a difference in a child's life’

The facility is Ireland’s only children detention campus.

Journal Media Studio / YouTube

JUST OFF THE M1 and not far from a local GAA club in Lusk lies Oberstown Children Detention Campus. It’s Ireland’s only children detention campus and houses any under-18s who have been remanded in custody or sentenced by the courts.

Though the population can fluctuate depending on things like arrests, court dates and release times, on the day of filming there were 42 young men and 2 young women detained at Oberstown. Generally, there may be around 50 young people who live here.

Depending on their length of their detention, it’s the place where they’ll do their Junior Certificate, play football, do artwork and could spend a significant portion of their teens. For many, it can be the first period of stability they may experience in their young lives.

For Neil Clarke and Lorraine Hogan – it’s work. While others may trudge into office jobs, these are just two of the 270 staff who work at Oberstown, responsible for the care of up to 50 of “the most challenging children in Ireland”. 

They help to run a 24/7 service designed to provide care, education, healthcare, work on offending behaviour and preparation for leaving, or CEHOP, for the young people detained there. And the effort of doing this hasn’t been without its challenges.

Because of the challenging nature of the work here, Oberstown endeavours to support its staff with a peer support system. More than 30 members of the team have training in Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) in order to support colleagues after a critical incident. 

Nearly all peer support workers at Oberstown have also been trained in mental health first aid for colleagues. It’s the second organisation in Ireland to train workers in suicide prevention and self-harm mitigation.

It’s important work, as Hogan shares: “Working closely with the young people, one-on-one, you can actually make a difference in a child’s life.” She says it can be very rewarding to see these young people move on and make changes in their lives for the better.

Clarke, who is responsible for a residential unit of eight young people, was able to bring one of his own passions to his job at Oberstown. Each residential block has a sports area which they use in the afternoons:

I’ve been very much involved in my own life with football. I would have trained juvenile teams so I always felt I was able to relate to young people.  

Though the work can be challenging, Clarke says that empathy and compassion are key for anyone who works inside the facility. But how do you know you’ve done a good job?

Once you can observe that and see that the young people are happy in themselves and happy with the care they’re given, I think that’s how you can say we’ve done a good job here.  

As Campus Director Pat Bergin explains, the thought of getting a person ready for a release is never far from staff’s minds: “The core element right through a young person’s placement here is we have to prepare them for returning back to their families and back to their communities.”

Bergin says that some of the support that staff give young people can include help managing their relationships with their families. They may help them with how to tackle a call from a parent who may be unable to visit that week, for example.

The impact of what the staff at Oberstown filters throughout the organisation, says Bergin: “Seeing the difficulty that somebody might have when they come in initially and then the significant improvements that they’ve encountered, it makes a mark.”

Would you like to work on the front line with young people and help make a difference in their lives? Oberstown Children Detention Campus is currently hiring residential social care workers. Find out more about working at Oberstown here.

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