There were 86 admissions of children to adult psychiatric units in 2017, a jump of 28% on the previous year.
Official figures, published by the Health Research Board, show that the number of cases rose from 67 admissions in 2016.
The Activities of Irish Psychiatric Units and Hospitals 2017 report found that almost a fifth (19%) of all 441 psychiatric admissions for U18s were to adult units and hospitals.
Almost two-thirds of admissions involved children aged 17, nearly three out of 10 were aged 16 and 6% were aged 15 or younger.
The report said that 51% of admissions to adult units were female, a jump of 46% on 2016.
“The significant increase in the use of adult wards for children in crisis reflects experience on the ground and comes as no surprise,” said child law solicitor Gareth Noble.
He said that many of these children also leave adult wards without an adequate discharge plan and appropriate community supports.
Mr Noble said the figures come on top of the recent closure of the Linn Day day service for children with mental health difficulties.
The closure of the unit in Cherry Orchard, in Ballyfermot, west Dublin, was linked to staffing shortages, but the HSE has reportedly indicated it would reopen in September or October.
Mr Noble said: “This constitutes a total abdication of duty on the part of the State in respect of protecting the rights of very vulnerable children and their families.
“An urgent action plan is required to address these issues as a matter of absolute priority.”
Tanya Ward, chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance said: “Children have a right not be placed in adult inpatient units. That is why we need to better understand these increased figures and the contributing factors behind them.
“We know already that there are issues with designated centres closing, long waiting lists and recruitment issues but more is needed to ensure that no child is ever be placed in an inpatient unit.”
The HRB report said that the 441 admissions involved children in 2017, compared to 506 admissions in 2016.
It said that 17% were aged 15 years, 11% were aged 14 and 8% were aged 13 or younger.
Three out of 10 admissions were for depressive disorders. In addition, 14% of admissions had a diagnosis of eating disorders, 12% had a diagnosis of schizophrenia and 11% had a diagnosis of neuroses.
Of the eating disorder admissions, almost nine in 10 were female.
In a review of the last 10 years, the report reveals that while there has been a 19% reduction in all admissions (adults and children), from 20,752 in 2008 to 16,743 in 2017, the number of admissions for under 18s increased slightly, from 406 to 441.
It said divorced persons had the highest rate of all and first admissions.
It said 13% of all admissions were involuntary.
A HSE spokeswoman said: “The HSE acknowledges that in 2017 there was a slight increase in admissions of under 18s to adult units and hospitals.
“This can happen for a number of reasons; a shortage of personnel to staff available beds in CAMHS [Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services] services nationwide, geographic location to the patient, family preference or a clinical decision.
“The HSE notes that overall admissions for under 18s in 2017 was down from the previous year.”
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