The Department of Social Care has been contacted by several media organisations on the Island which have stated they have been contacted by the trade union Unite to voice concerns about changes in the Island’s secure unit for children in Douglas. The secure unit is operated by St Christophers, a private charitable organisation with over 140 years of experience of providing care for vulnerable children and young people. The Department understands the concerns relate to changes in the use of the secure unit, although the Department has not been contacted directly by Unite or any other party on this matter.
The Minister for Social Care Hon Chris Robertshaw MHK said:
'I am pleased to confirm that the secure unit for children remains a key part of our range of care services for vulnerable young people. My Department has been working hard to ensure we deliver effective services to vulnerable people and also maximise value for the taxpayer. As part of this work, we have been working with St Christophers to review all options to do so – we are leaving no stone unturned. Indeed, our analysis to date has included reviewing whether the unit should be closed and facilities in the UK utilised as there have been times in recent years when the unit had one resident or even none at all. We have concluded that the Island needs to retain the secure unit so that we can meet the needs of the small number of vulnerable young who periodically need to be held in secure accommodation for both their own safety and that of others. We have also concluded that there are changes to how we utilise the building that we can make which will both more effectively meet the specific needs of the different young people concerned, particularly those with more complex difficulties. As a result, we have made important improvements, for example 17-year-olds are now accommodated in the secure unit and no longer held with adults in the IOM Prison; this was an important change to meet the Island’s international human rights obligations. At the same time, we have already reduced the annual cost from £1.4m to £1m and are in the process of implementing further improvements which will reduce it further to £0.7m. Further improvements are being developed. I believe practical improvements of this kind are exactly what the public expects Government to be doing. I and my Department are working on many others across the full range of services we provide. I recognise that some of the changes are unsettling for the staff of my Department and the care providers we work with – even when we are only reviewing possible changes. I am committed to working with my staff as part of this process. I understand St Christophers have been engaging with their staff in regard to the specific changes planned in the secure unit. If St Christophers staff or their representatives have specific concerns, I recommend that the best way forward for them is to engage with the management of St Christophers.'
The secure unit currently has 4 bedrooms. Under the revised proposals, the Department will purchase 2 bedrooms which will be available 365 days a year and the remaining 2 for 90 days per year. This exceeds current and historical needs hence is sufficient. In addition, the Department will ‘spot purchase’ additional bed nights if needs require us to do so. In this manner the Department is securing best value for money while retaining operational flexibility, so there is no degradation of service. Indeed, the changes will enable the Department and St Christophers to more closely meet the needs of the young people concerned, particularly those with more complex difficulties.
In addition, the facility will also be a base for new initiatives such as community intervention and educational support with a view to reducing the need for young people to be locked up in the first place. These initiatives will provide wider integrated services to a greater number of young people and further enhance the Departments drive for safe, effective and efficient children’s services.