Turning our back on young people leaving the care system is doing nothing to break the cycle of abuse and neglect, writes frontline social care worker Adrian McKenna, originally published on http://www.campaignforchildren.ie
As a professional working in the care sector, I have accepted responsibility for the care and protection of the children I have been assigned to.
Can I say I believe that the needs of those children have always been placed above the needs of the care sector and the State? Unfortunately, I can’t.
I have seen children’s rights being measured against the needs of the accountant.
I have seen children moved from familiar care settings they had adjusted to because a bed had become available in a cheaper setting.
I have seen children in care forced to make their own way to hospital because there was no one available to bring them.
I have seen children going to school without breakfast.
I have seen teenagers who are expected to survive on €19.00 a week.
These things happen because gaps exist in our child protection system, gaps that are allowing children in need to fall through the cracks.
As a social care worker, I am tasked with making sure the voice of the child is heard in the decisions that affect their lives, until this right is finally enshrined in law.
But my task is made difficult, by overloading of case files, a lack of resources and the fact that my work is not supported by laws that protect the rights and the voices of children in Ireland.
So how do we make things better? The care system has to be founded on legally-based directives, not soft-focus wish lists. One tangible example that needs immediate attention is the lack of aftercare services that are available for young people who have lived in care.
Latest figures show a total of 6,015 young people and children are living in State care in Ireland – nearly double what it was twenty years ago. The vast majority are in foster care, with the remainder in State residential care, voluntary care, special care or in detention schools.
As it stands, once a young person turns 18, the State is no longer obligated to legally support them. The experience of social care staff is that without support, many young people coming out of care struggle to cope.
While some are able to make that transition to independent adulthood, too many young people end up becoming marginalised, or even homeless. Some develop addiction problems and even get sucked into petty crime. Without support they can get trapped in this cycle.
We must return to this issue as a matter of huge urgency. Children and young people in care need support the whole way through the system but it can’t simply stop there. Turning our back on young people once they turn 18 isn’t doing anything to break the cycle of neglect and instability that many of these young people are finally beginning to recover from.
As a social care worker, it’s intensely frustrating to see young people that I have helped to care for thrown out of the system without a helping hand or support system in place to help them make that transition.
We owe them more than that – let’s give young people exiting the care system the chance to start living safely, secure in the knowledge that they’re not alone, that aftercare support is there for them when they need it. Empowering young people to take care of themselves will help prevent future generations of children entering into a cycle of neglect and abuse. Let’s make it happen.
Adrian McKenna is a frontline child care professional; he has worked for many years with young people and adults in residential care, detention services, mental health services and post-adoption services. He currently works with a large Dublin-based charity. All views expressed are entirely my own unless otherwise stated and are not representative of any organisation or employer past , present or future.