The Northern Area Health Board (NAHB) sent three interviewers to Canada for five days in May 2002 at a cost of €3,000 and is planning to do further interviews there this May.
Co-ordinator of the Irish Association of Social Care Workers John Byrne said it was pointless holding overseas recruitment drives when suitably qualified Irish graduates were available.
"It seems to me that basically the health board is sending the lads on holiday to Canada. Either that, or they don't see the value of the Irish qualifications and, if that is the case, they need to talk to us about building a partnership approach with the colleges."
Mr Byrne, who lectures in social care in both Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) and St Patrick's College in Carlow, said neither the Department of Health nor the health boards had approached either college to canvass for students.
"We have 150 students graduating with a National Diploma in Applied Social Studies in Social Care from WIT in May, ... and 60 graduating from St Patrick's. That's in excess of 200 students that meet the requirements .... [Overseas recruitment is] an awful waste of money."
The Canadian advertisement, placed with TTM recruitment agency in Ennis, Co Clare, specifies a minimum of one year's experience in residential childcare 'or related activities' is essential along with a third level diploma. Mr Byrne said all Irish diploma graduates had one year's practice placement, and many had much greater experience.
A NAHB spokesperson said the board "enjoys good working relationships with many Irish educational colleges and is very receptive to further developing and strengthening these relationships and in building new alliances with additional educational institutions".
Crannóg Nua, the special care unit the NAHB is seeking to staff, has seven Canadian care staff out of a complement of 35.
Just seven children are placed in the 24-bed facility. Following an inspection of the unit last September, a report by the Irish Social Services Inspectorate found Crannóg Nua was 'not operating effectively' and highlighted difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff, preventing it operating at full capacity.
Between May 2001 and June 2003, 13 recruitment drives were held for residential care staff, including drives in Britain, Canada and mainland Europe.