Boy put in room alone for four days for lighting cigarette in Oberstown
The use of so-called 'single separation' is putting young people in the Oberstown detention centre at serious risk, it was claimed.
Single separation is where a young person is confined to a locked room - or is forcibly separated from their peers.
One boy was put alone in his room for four days because he lit a cigarette in the centre's lounge and failed to follow a direction from staff, the health watchdog found.
HIQA says there has been a significant increase in the use of the practice since last year. And following a new investigation it warns this practice is not always used as a last resort.
Inspectors carried out an unannounced follow-up inspection at Oberstown in June.
A number of work practices were investigated, but the biggest concern is the use of single separation.
Young people were placed in isolation 1,420 times in the seven months to May of this year. The figure for May was 346.
HIQA says an improvement in the reporting of incidents may account for some of the increase. But it found young people routinely found themselves in single separation for verbally threatening staff, using bad language, or smoking.
However, this punishment should only be used as a last resort in response to physical violence, attempts at self-harming, or significant damage to property.
The HIQA findings also expressed concern about young people absconding, as well as issues relating to fire safety, and staff absenteeism.
Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children's Rights Alliance, said depriving a young person of social contact should always be a measure of "last resort".
"Single separation is supposed to be used as a measure of last resort to deal with young people who are a risk to themselves and to others. It should never be used as a form of punishment or discipline," she said.
She called on Children's Minister James Reilly to ensure HIQA's report is acted on as part of a review in to the use of single separation.