The situation, similar to problems found in a now-closed unit last year, was revealed by independent watchdog the Health Information Quality Authority (Hiqa).
A report by the group’s inspection team has highlighted the difficulties at the Crannóg Nua high-support unit in North Dublin, which caters for teens with complex and at times violent issues.
Inspectors found that, despite the fact the unit is staffed by 49 people and catered for four teens aged 13 to 17, those receiving help were regularly locked into the unit from 8pm to 8am.
The Hiqa team noted that, in many cases, this was because the behaviour of the teens meant staff were at times concerned about their own safety, as well as that of other residents.
This included the fact the facility recorded 682 “significant events” in the 12 months before the inspection, including 37 assaults on staff; and teens regularly going missing or displaying threatening behaviour.
However, Hiqa stressed that the practice of locking the inhabitants of the “open residential setting” into the facility breached a series of children’s rights laws, and put the teens at potentially serious risk in the event of a fire or other incident taking place.
In addition, it said at least two of the teens involved should be placed in a different care service due to their complex needs — a situation which is impacting on both their and other service users’ needs.
Within the unit, bullying and physical threats among those receiving care were reported; as was fire-setting at least once in the unit; and substance abuse when some teens went missing from the unit.
The inspection team raised further concerns over the use of physical intervention and restraints, and how this information was recorded in files.
While acknowledging the difficult nature of the issues surrounding the teens’ conditions, Hiqa said that the problems “demonstrated the systems in place to protect children and keep them safe were not effective”.
When similar concerns were reported at the Rath na nÓg centre in Castleblayney, Co Monaghan, late last year, the HSE decided to close the centre with immediate effect.
This was partially due to the fact that two children with complex needs who had committed no offence were regularly locked into the unit for 12 hours a day; had started four fires in six months; and had been involved in assaults at the facility.
However, responding to the latest situation, Gordon Jeyes, head of the HSE’s Child and Family Agency, said that despite the problems highlighted by Hiqa, the service believes Crannóg Nua is well-run and has “meticulous” record-keeping.
Mr Jeyes said the lack of secure units for teens facing serious difficulties, such as those at the facility, will be addressed by plans to double the number of places available within two years.
He noted that staff are facing complex situations involving teens who are “challenging” and often pose a danger to themselves and others.
Mr Jeyes insisted that, despite the serious concerns raised by the latest Hiqa report on sub-standard teen care, progress is being made.