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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 4°C

Six Irish children sent to psychiatric units abroad in last two years

Three children were last year placed at a facility in northern England that was the subject of a recent, highly-critical documentary concerning the standard of care delivered there.

St Andrew's, Northampton Channel 4 / Dispatches St Andrew's, Northampton Channel 4 / Dispatches / Dispatches

CHILD AND FAMILY agency Tusla has placed six children into psychiatric care in secure facilities abroad in the past two years.

Three of those children were placed in a facility at St Andrew’s in Northampton, northern England, last year.

St Andrew’s, one of Britain’s largest psychiatric hospitals, was the subject of a recent Channel 4 Dispatches documentary, Under Lock and Key, which suggested that serious concerns exist for relatives as to how residents there are being treated.

That documentary found that a significant number of residents at the hospital are living with autism and had specific needs which were not being met.

Regarding the placing of children by Tusla in institutions abroad, no such collated records for these kind of placements exist for 2014 so no comparison can be made for that year.

Prior to 2014, records on such out-of-state placements are held by the HSE, according to Tusla.

“There are a small number of children who require specialised care as a result of their life experiences. On rare occasions the level of specialised intervention required is not available in Ireland,” a spokesperson for Tusla told

In such cases, a child or young person may be placed in out-of-State care at a facility abroad which offers a broader range of treatment options, support and/or interventions than those provided in Irish facilities.

The spokesperson confirmed that in 2016 three children were placed at St Andrew’s, and that “overall since the start of 2015, six children have been placed in secure mental health facilities abroad.”

When asked how many children were placed abroad prior to 2015 the response was “national collection of this data only began in late 2014 and so we don’t have directly comparable figures” for previous years.

90386618_90386618 Sam Boal / Tusla headquarters, at the Brunel Building in Dublin's South Quarter Sam Boal / /

High Court order

Such placements generally result from a High Court order, the thinking being that Irish facilities can not give the children in question the level of care that they require.

In making such placements the High Court, according to Tusla, requires a clinical recommendation by a HSE / child and adolescent mental health services psychiatrist and will stipulate that arrangements are in place to ensure ongoing clinical oversight by a psychiatrist from the relevant mental health service in Ireland.

While three of the six children sent abroad have been confirmed as living at St Andrew’s in 2016, Tusla did not respond to a request for information as to whereabouts the other three children were placed.

The broadcasting of the Dispatches investigation has led to strong criticism of the facility at St Andrew’s regarding the treatment of children in its care.

In the Channel 4 documentary, one girl focused upon, 19-year-old Fauzia Yasmin Hussain, was revealed to have lived much of the 22-month period she spent at St Andrew’s segregated from the rest of the population.

Another young boy living with autism, Matthew Garnett, was placed in isolation 11 times in five months.

Four other patients were discovered to have died in the space of seven months after being prescribed a drug called Clozapine.

A September 2016 Care Quality Commission report meanwhile suggested the standard of care at the hospital “requires improvement”, and reported that the use of a technique known as prone restraint (face-down restraint) had been used 600 times at the facility between September 2015 and February 2016 alone.

In the Dispatches documentary, St Andrew’s vigorously defended itself regarding the standard of care given, with the issue of prone restraint for example dismissed as being used as a last resort only.

Tusla, for its part, has described St Andrew’s as being “highly regulated”.

“Children with difficult life experiences and mental health difficulties require the highest possible standard of multi-agency, tailored care and support to ensure their specific needs are met. Tusla and the HSE are committed to working together to ensure this,” the spokesperson said.

Whilst Tusla is satisfied with the care provided to the young people currently placed at the facility, we will be meeting with St Andrew’s Healthcare and seeking further assurances in relation to the current practices at the facility.

Read: Woman with intellectual disabilties left in foster home for two years after claims of sexual abuse

Read: Litany of errors by child services saw woman’s claims of serious sexual abuse ‘lost’ for over three years

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