CHILDREN with severe behavioural and emotional difficulties were locked overnight in a potential fire trap home run by the HSE.
The scale of the crisis at the Rath na nOg high-support unit in Castleblaney in Co Monaghan was so serious that it is now to be closed down.
Inspectors who visited the unit, which was caring for 10 very disturbed children in July and August, invoked a rarely used immediate action plan because of the risk of major harm to the residents.
Staff were not able to manage the young people's behaviour, which included setting fires, bullying, self-harming, assaults and absences when they abused drink and drugs, the report from the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) revealed.
* All external doors were locked from 9pm, even though the fire system did not allow the doors to be opened automatically in the event of smoke or fire. Four fires were lit at the centre in the six months before inspection.
* Gardai had to be regularly called to help staff because of the young people's threatening behaviour.
* In spite of external doors being locked at night, the young people continued to run away and engage in risky drink and drug abuse, as well as sexualised behaviour.
* Cases of self-harm increased.
The report said staff claimed that the decision to lock the external doors at night in the unit – which is open and not a place of detention – came from the national director of children and family services Gordon Jeyes, but inspectors found no written proof.
The unit, which is one of only nine centres for very disturbed children, is to close at the end of next month, the HSE has announced. A spokeswoman said this was in line with the national policy to "decommission high-support units" and increase special care units which secure facilities.
A spokeswoman for the HSE said the practice of locking the front door at night was replicated in other high-support units to restrict access by unauthorised external parties, to safeguard vulnerable young people and to prevent unauthorised absences.
Children Minister's Frances Fitzgerald said it was planned to expand places in special-care units from 17 to 35.
However, Jennifer Gargan, director of EPIC, the support organisation for children in care, said: "We call on the HSE, as a matter of urgency, to develop a strategy in relation to future plans for high-support and secure care."