What is a Special Care Unit for young people in care?

Learn more about what a Special Care Unit is in Ireland

Written by Children's Rights Alliance


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This factsheet is an extract from the publication Know Your Rights: The Rights of Children and Young People published by the Children’s Rights Alliance. It is reproduced here with their kind permission. Know Your Rights is a public information project designed to inform everyone, in plain language, of the rights and entitlements children have in Ireland and where to go when they are not respected.

The behaviour of some children and young people can place their welfare, health, safety or development in danger. In these rare situations, a social worker may ask the court for a child or young person to be detained for their own welfare or protection in a Special Care Unit in Ireland or abroad.

What is a Special Care Unit?

A Special Care Unit is secure accommodation with locked doors and windows where the High Court places children or young people aged 11 to 17 years when they are considered a risk to their own health or safety. Compared with other care settings, Special Care Units have more staff. They also have educational, therapeutic and specialised supports to help the child or young person overcome behavioural difficulties or other problems. The aim is to provide intense, short-term care to help the young person become more stable so they can return to regular care as soon as possible.

What supports are available to me in Special Care?

EPIC provides independent advocacy support for children:

  • being taken into care
  • in care
  • going through care proceedings

They can help support a young person to have a say on what they want. For more information, see EPIC’s website. EPIC provides a visiting advocacy service to Special Care Units in Ireland.

If you would like more information on your rights, you can also contact the Children’s Rights Alliance.

What are my rights if I am placed in a Special Care Unit?

Only a High Court judge can order that you be placed in a Special Care Unit. Your social worker and possibly a Guardian ad Litem will give the judge your views and their professional assessment of your best interests, but you are not entitled to a solicitor. A Guardian ad Litem is a person appointed to you to make sure that the judge hears your views and advises the judge on what is best for you. A placement can be for three to six months. After this time, the court must review the placement. The court itself can decide to change the order placing you in a Special Care Unit or Tusla can ask it to do so.

Read more about how EPIC supports young people in care.

Need more information?

We are here to answer your questions and talk through your options. Our online chat service is for 16 to 25 year olds and is available Monday to Friday, 4pm to 8pm. Chat to us now about your situation.

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