Children who have been removed from their homes for safety reasons are ending up on paediatric hospital wards because there is no alternative place of refuge for them, according to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation.
At its conference in Trim, delegate Jarlath from Ballinasloe said that in the last six months, three children had been admitted to the paediatric ward in his hospital without any medical condition - other than that they needed to be in a place of safety while waiting for Tusla to take over their case.
He said that was not an appropriate place either for such a child, for other ill children on the ward, or for staff dealing with the situation.
He said it was heartbreaking and beggared belief that a child would have to be brought to a hospital to keep them safe.
He said children who needed placement often came with other issues, and it added to the workload and stress of staff.
He acknowledged that children removed under a so-called Section 12 order were being removed from a dangerous situation - but queried why Tusla did not have immediate places of safety available for such children.
He said it could also be unnerving for ill children on the ward to be surrounded with police and security looking after the child who had been removed from the dangerous situation.
He called for better planning to ensure gardaí would not have to bring a child to the acute ward of a hospital.
Delegates unanimously approved a motion calling for the INMO to highlight this frequent occurrence to the Health Service Executive and the negative impact it has on a child requiring a place of safety - as well as on the provision of care to other ill children on the ward.
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In a statement, Tusla conceded that there are occasions when a child or young person may be placed in a hospital as a place of safety, while a placement is being sourced.
Tusla said it is aware that this is not ideal and is continuously working towards alternative options.
It said the primary focus in these crisis situations is to make the child or young person as safe as possible and to source a placement that is suitable to cater for their needs.
Tusla said that in emergency and crisis situations, An Garda Síochána has the power under Section 12 of the Child Care Act 1991 to remove a child urgently from a situation for his or her safety and welfare.
It stated that where Tusla is contacted in relation to Section 12s, the agency takes immediate action to find an appropriate placement for the child or young person - usually within a number of hours.
It said these placements can be as a result of various issues including alcohol misuse, or substance misuse.