HIQA publishes new National Standards for Special Care Units for Children

Date of publication:

The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) has today published new National Standards for Special Care Units. These standards have been developed to ensure that children living away from home are provided with safe, high quality intervention services.

Marie Kehoe-O’Sullivan, HIQA’s Director of Safety and Quality Improvement, commented: “Children are only placed in special care units when such a placement is considered necessary for their care and welfare. These are vulnerable children and these units have an important role to play in promoting and safeguarding the rights of the children in their care.”

“The overall aim of these care units is to provide focused care in a highly supportive environment, stabilising behaviour so that children are enabled to return to non-secure care within a short period of time. Each centre should promote a child-centred approach to service provision that meets the need of each child, while listening to their voice and promoting their rights.” Ms Kehoe-O’Sullivan added.

These Standards aim to promote progressive improvements in quality and safety of care at these units. When the relevant changes to the law are made, all special care units – run by the Child and Family Agency (Tusla), or run by a private organisation or a voluntary body – will have to be registered with HIQA.

These new Standards which will be supported by regulations provide a framework for providers of special care services for the ongoing development of child-centred, high quality, safe and effective residential services for children.

The Standards have been developed following a period of public consultation and have been approved by the Board of the Authority, Dr Leo Varadkar TD, Minister for Health, and Dr James Reilly TD, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. The new Standards supersede the previous National Standards for Special Care Units (2001) developed by the Department of Health and Children.


Further Information: 

For further information please contact: Marty Whelan, Head of Communications and Stakeholder Engagement 01 8147480 / 086 2447623 mwhelan@hiqa.ie

Notes to the Editor:

  • Special care units are secure, residential facilities for children in care aged between 11 and 17 years. The children are detained under a High Court care order for a short-term period of stabilisation when their behaviour poses a real and substantial risk of harm to their life, health, safety, development or welfare. They are also kept in a special care unit where placement in such a unit is considered necessary for their care and protection.
  • Special care provides for a short-term, stabilising intervention that prioritises safe care in a secure, therapeutic environment. It aims to enable the child to return to a less secure placement as soon as possible, based on the needs of that child.
  • Children in special care units are not there because they have committed a criminal offence. The special care unit detains children for their own care and protection through the provision of a controlled and safe environment.
  • Regulation of special care units involves using National Standards and different types of legal obligations to decide whether services are providing safe and effective care for the children who live there. This is done through keeping a register (or list) of centres and monitoring and inspecting them on a regular basis to check that they are meeting the Standards and their legal obligations.