Special care units provide secure care intervention for a small group of non-offending children in need of special care or protection on foot of a court order of detention. The placing of a child in a special care unit should only be considered as a last resort and for as short a period of time as possible when other forms of residential or community care are deemed to be unsuitable.
There are three designated special care units with a total capacity of 30 special care places. These are the Ballydowd special care unit in the eastern region operated by the South Western Area Health Board which provides a national service caring for boys and girls; the Gleann Alainn special care unit in the Southern Health Board area which caters for girls only and Coovagh House special care unit in the Mid-Western Health Board area which opened recently on a phased basis and caters for boys only. The Coovagh House and Gleann Alainn units provide a regional service for the Southern, South Eastern and Mid-Western Health Boards.
I have been informed by the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the health boards concerned that there are currently eight children in Ballydowd special care unit, one child in Coovagh House special care unit and four children in Gleann Alainn special care unit.
I have also been informed by the Eastern Regional Health Authority that in addition to the eight children currently placed in Ballydowd special care unit, places have been offered to three other children considered to be in need of special care or protection. There is no waiting list for places in Ballydowd special care unit at present. The Mid-Western Health Board has informed me that an application was received recently from the Southern Health Board for the placement of a child in Coovagh House special care unit and this will be considered at the next admission's meeting for the unit. In relation to Gleann Alainn special care unit the Southern Health Board has indicated that there is one girl due to be placed there by the end of January and an application for the placement of another girl is currently being processed.
Occasionally a health board may, because of the particular circumstances of the case and the individual needs of the child, provide an individual special care arrangement and the Western Health Board has informed me that it has one such arrangement in place at present.
The Deputy will be aware that approximately €185 million in additional revenue funding has been invested in the development of child welfare services since 1997. Part of this investment has allowed for significant progress to be made in putting in place services to cater for non-offending children with behavioural problems to obviate the need for special care placement and to facilitate children detained in special care units being stepped down to open residential and community based services as quickly as possible. These include the development of over 80 residential high support places and the putting in place of a number of intensive community based services such as the youth advocacy pilot programmes in the Northern Area Health Board and the Western Health Board and the provision of intensive community services to various health boards by the extern organisation.