Capacity at the country's main special care facility for children remains capped because of recruitment difficulties, according to a new report by the health watchdog Hiqa.
Its inspection report of the Ballydowd facility in Dublin found a huge number of improvements since a previous inspection had raised concerns about aspects of the service it provided to children placed in the facility by court order for their own protection.
The Health Information and Quality Authority found Ballydowd, home to four children at the time, was fully or substantially compliant with standards and that the level of service had improved since a previous inspection last June, but that staffing was still an issue.
"At the time of this inspection the service continued to experience challenges in relation to the recruitment and retention of staff despite engaging in a rolling recruitment campaign," it said.
"The Statement of Purpose set out the required level of staff (72, including social care leaders and social care staff) to provide a service for 10 children.
"Six staff had either resigned or retired in Quarter 3, 2020 and one staff transferred out of the service. Nine new social care staff were recruited during that time."
The centre was registered to provide placements for a maximum of 10 children but following the previous inspection, the registered provider took a decision to cap bed numbers in the centre at six and the conditions of registration of the centre were varied last August to ensure that the maximum number of children to be accommodated in the centre was six.
The latest inspection also found a better response to security issues, although it noted that "there was a further breach of security on the week prior to the inspection, leading to an unauthorised professional gaining access to one of the units.
"On this occasion, prompt action was taken by a manager on the unit to ensure that the professional did not meet any of the children and that they left the centre immediately."
An inspection of another special care centre, Crannog Nua, also in Dublin, found it too was offering a good service to the small number of children placed there by court order, with sufficient staff in place, although one of the six residents told inspectors they were ‘still waiting on a placement' and the report added: "Although child in care reviews happened, children stated that ‘they could not trust them’, as they had remained in special care longer than planned."
Tusla welcomed the reports and regarding Ballydowd said: "Continued improvement is ongoing, including further staff training on the new policies and procedures, significant events, and safeguarding."
Donal McCormack, National Service Director, Residential Childcare Services, Tusla said: "As well as the improvements noted in this report, we are pleased that young people in these centres have had a positive experience of their care, despite the additional challenges posed by Covid-19.”