Inspectors have expressed concern that troubled teenagers with a history of starting fires are in danger at a state-run unit because they are locked in to stop them running away.
However, the head of the new Child and Family Support Agency Gordon Jeyes has rejected the criticism -- insisting that locking doors at night was what any normal and reasonable parent would do for children in their care.
Inspectors from HIQA (the Health Information and Quality Agency) who made an unannounced visit to Crannog Nua in Portrane north Dublin last October found that external doors and the main entrance were routinely locked from 8pm to 8am.
But the teenage boys and girls -- who have complex emotional problems -- are at risk of being trapped, as the unit's doors are not automatically released in the event of a fire.
Mr Jeyes, who previously oversaw child protection with the HSE, said the four children being cared for in the unit at the time would have been able to escape in the event of fire because three staff -- who remain awake all night -- were on duty with keys.
"The vast majority of us lock our doors at night.
"It's also the case that if any of our children were evincing vulnerable behaviour and at risk from alcohol or drugs we would pull their boundaries in."
The situation is now being reviewed by management, who have sought advice from a national fire officer.
However, the HIQA inspectors also said locking the doors was wrong because the children were in care due to their emotional needs and not to as a result of any criminal behaviour.
Locking the doors also failed to stop the young people from absconding without permission at other times of the day.
There were 134 reported unauthorised absences in the past 12 months.
And gardai were called on a number of occasions when staff did not feel safe to physically intervene.
While inspectors found that it was appropriate to call gardai in these circumstances they were concerned that the service was unable to meet children's needs in these circumstances.
Although inspectors found a good standard of care provided to children in many areas from the long-standing experienced team, "not all staff were appropriately qualified".
Appropriate training was not provided to staff and managers to ensure the development of quality risk assessments which would, for instance, allow them to analyse the root causes of children absconding.
One child told inspectors that the sanctions imposed for absconding were minimal and did not change their behaviour.