Aras Attracta after the scandal: What have we learned?


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In recent days the media have been carrying a follow up story about the Aras Attracta scandal; it centres on the jailing of one of the staff and the on-going debate around the other four or five.

Interestingly on social media especially around the Social Care type sites this decision is being met with some comfort. This in itself is worth some analysis, when any vulnerable member of society is abused in any way are we as a society satiated once someone is held responsible? Is that all it takes? Is that enough?.

The simple answer is NO. That is not enough. That thought process is too simplistic. We, as in those in the Social Care community need to have an ability to take a much broader view of what has happened. We need to understand the historical context, the financial context, the model of care, the care providers, the process of inclusion, the place for advocates, the need for whistle-blowers, and most importantly the training and education of the social care teams.

Historically in Ireland residential care had been provided by various agents of the Catholic Church, some experienced that care in a positive light and many, many others will never recover from the care they received. There have been many reports over the years for example:

Tuairim Report: 1966, Kennedy Report: 1970, Task Force Report of Child Care Services: 1980, Report of the Kilkenny Incest Investigation: 1993 and the McCoy Report: 2007. Despite all these reports and despite all the well intentioned posturing by the government over the decades we now have a situation whereby 93 per cent of inspections of disability services carried out by the State’s health watchdog HIQA have found that facilities failed to comply with national standards.

Funding of care services is crucial and being able to be critical of the funder is essential. Most funding comes through one or more arms of the state and is tied to service level agreements which outline the type of services that are being provided. The funding provider will then look for outcomes which may not necessarily reflect the tenets of love, care and excellence. They may be more wrongly based on the tenets of value, efficiency and risk.

When assessing the efficacy of a service that is supporting vulnerable individuals we need to be able to look at risk, value and efficiency but if we forget to allow our hearts have a place in how we provide the service, if we fail to look at love, care and excellence then we have FAILED. We have failed to recognise that care is not just a service but is a whole series of real relationships that we engage in every day. When these relationships are genuine then the persons involved in those relationships will benefit, both the service user and the service provider.

That then begs the question; What is our model of care? Should there be a model of care or can you have a model of care? My belief is that care services need to be heart led, they need to be relationship focussed and they should be informed by those who are in receipt of the care. When I say informed I mean that in a very real way. All people in receipt of a service should have the access to inform and change that service. They should be on the boards, they should be interviewing the staff teams, they should be informing policy and procedures, they should be not just heard, but listened to, they should be trained and supported and where their voice cannot be heard, there should be wholly independent advocates to be their voice.

Why is inclusion so important and how does inclusion prevent abuses of those using the service? When you include someone in all the decisions of their life course you are directly responsible to your equal. It removes the power paradigm and grounds you in a decision making process that is based on an individual who is using a service instead of a decision in the best interest of the service. All apartheid is based on fear and if you want to overcome fear you need to get to know those and that of what your fear, opening your heart to real, honest, equal relationships allows that to happen.

What struck me about Aras Attracta was that seemingly experienced team members allowed this to happen, it appears they stood idly by as vulnerable people were abused. Or did they?

We haven’t heard if there were a host of complaints made that were never looked at, we may hear that once the legal cases are over. I believe as Professional Social  Care workers that we have to have much higher standards. That we need to, without fear, challenge our practices, both individual and collective. That support from senior team members needs to be exampled and that whole cultural shifts need to take place. Hierarchical leadership models are not as effective in care situations as they are in say, manufacturing. We need to recognise that we work with many differing professionals who are leaders in their field. If we accept this, then we accept that any one individual can and should have a voice and should be listened to.

When the mental health specialist advises, we should listen. When the cleaner advises then  we should listen and when a professional by experience advises we should listen. Decisions made in the collective, made when people get to have their say, made when the heart and the head are heard, made when people believe they are listened to allows a culture develop whereby people get used to being heard and are never afraid to try to speak, never afraid to speak when they see that which is not right and are never afraid to seek a hearing from someone who can institute change.

Aras Attracta failed on many levels and some people may end up in prison. This in itself won’t change anything. What needed to be in the dock this time is the culture of the service and that’s something you cannot put in front of a judge.

So, where to now?

We now need to focus on the education, training, ethics and morals of the Social Care staff we are hiring. We as Social care professionals need to take responsibility for our profession, we need to put those that use our services first, we need to make each other accountable and we need to focus on relationships.

In the coming years we will be going through a registration process for Social Care Workers, we need to engage positively with this process and take back the damage and disdain that our forefathers have left for us.

Adrian McKenna is a frontline Social Care Professional; he has worked and Managed for many years with young people and adults in residential care, detention services, mental health services, homeless services and post-adoption services. He currently works with a large Dublin-based charity. He is a Committee Member of The Irish Association of Social Care Workers, A Member of the Social Care workers Registration Board at CORU, A Member of Social Justice Ireland and was on the National Committee of the YES Campaign for Children. All views expressed are entirely my own unless otherwise stated and are not representative of any organisation or employer past , present or future.

 

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When an article offends is it offensive ???


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One thing that is worth considering when looking at our personal life journey is how we react to others opinions and especially this article by Michael Patwell. To denigrate and cast Judgement is to do what we are offended by on a regular basis, JUDGE. When we in the Adoption community feel that we are not being heard or that at times we are not being agreed with then that can lead to hurt, pain and anger. Likewise if we want to have our opinions heard and accepted (not necessarily agreed with) then we need to accept that some people’s experiences are different than ours. In this one sided article (his view only) he clearly says that he was treated well, that what he saw was love and kindness. That may be a rose tinted perspective but it is his experience. I for one won’t take that away from him but if I ever got the chance I would try to educate him to the other side of the story. He is clearly right on one thing though, it is of its time as is all of history, things were done very differently then, children and women were lesser humans and were seen as a commodity. We continue to live with appalling practices in social care settings and the secularisation of the care field hasn’t led to a seismic shift in the care of the vulnerable. There will be investigations in the future and people will be accused of ignoring the pain of others or accused of ignoring the positive experience of others. If we continue to try to acknowledge history from only one perspective then we are ignoring history and creating an excluding dialogue, thus marginalising others as we would not like to be marginalised. Michael Patwell has written a piece that is his perspective only, and as much as it annoys me I still own my story and am as strident in my opinion as he is.

Adrian McKenna is a frontline Social Care Professional; he has worked and Managed for many years with young people and adults in residential care, detention services, mental health services, homeless services and post-adoption services. He currently works with a large Dublin-based charity. He is a Committee Member of The Irish Association of Social Care Workers, A Member of the Social Care workers Registration Board at CORU, A Member of Social Justice Ireland and was on the National Committee of the YES Campaign for Children. All views expressed are entirely my own unless otherwise stated and are not representative of any organisation or employer past , present or future.

“It is Morally Unacceptable”


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Ireland in 2008 was precariously close to financial bankruptcy or so we were lead to believe, the underlying message of the day was that we were morally obliged to save the money men and do the bidding of the financial behemoths of the European experiment. What has outraged activists and advocates since then is the way Ireland Inc. has abandoned all sense of values, ethics and morals and not just in the Christian sense.

There are on a daily basis campaigns springing up to support individuals and/or groups of Irish people who are feeling more and more marginalised, more and more abandoned, more and more ignored and less and less able to have a voice and be heard.

The message from the government is once we pay our bills and look after the European Union then everything will be ok. They operate in a world of platitudes, the world must see that we are ok, that we are still willing to help others, that we can and will send aid to other nations, that we will ride in on a white horse and rescue those who are struggling all over the world. That in itself is of course right and just, where the difficulty arises is when those that are marginalised in our society are being ignored.

If we accept that morality has many sub texts but broadly include a personal belief in what is right and wrong, is regarded in terms of what is known to be right or just, as opposed to what is officially or outwardly declared to be right or just, is a way of giving guidance on how to behave decently and honourably, frames what is good or right, when judged by the standards of the average person or society at large and is based on an inner conviction, in the absence of physical proof. Then we cannot accept what is happening in this Country either morally or ethically.

It is morally unacceptable for the old to be cold in their homes,

It is morally unacceptable for the rich to have gotten richer and the poor to have gotten poorer during a time of financial crisis

It is morally unacceptable for us to use the criminal justice system to deal with our addicted citizens,

It is morally unacceptable for us to keep people on trollies in hospitals,

It is morally unacceptable for us as a nation to think that offering someone a bed in a hostel is a solution to homelessness,

It is morally unacceptable for Ireland Inc. to deny the wrongdoings of the past in relation to the incarceration of women and children in Magdalene and other institutions,

It is morally unacceptable for us to have given away our rights to the gas and oil in our waters,

It is morally unacceptable for NAMA to be selling our assets to buyers from all over the world when we can’t or won’t house our most needy,

It is morally unacceptable for leaders of large NGO’s who support the marginalised to be involved in financial and ethical corruption,

It is morally unacceptable for us to allow generation after generation believe that social welfare is the only way for them to live,

It is morally unacceptable for us not to have a living wage,

It is morally unacceptable for the citizens to have no say in local and national governance,

It is morally unacceptable for freedom of information to become more restrictive instead of less,

It is morally unacceptable for us to accept inequality of choice,

It is morally unacceptable for young people leaving care to be allowed go straight into homelessness,

It is morally unacceptable for us to ignore the wisdom of the elderly,

It is morally unacceptable for us to allow private companies profit out of human pain,

It is morally unacceptable for the civil service to apparently have no mechanism to hold people individually responsible for their mistakes,

It is morally unacceptable for us to pay lip service to the notion of whistleblowing,

 It is morally unacceptable for the Garda to be used as a private security force,

It is morally unacceptable for Ireland Inc. to attempt to criminalise protest,

It is morally unacceptable for some in society to be prevented from having access to their birth cert/file

It is morally unacceptable for the Government of the day to forget that society is made up of a collection of individuals and that the strong need to support the weak,

It is morally unacceptable for us to not recognise those that have risen from lives of challenge to lives of moral positives, look at Katie Taylor (https://twitter.com/KatieTaylor ) (sports person), Elaine Harrington (https://twitter.com/TMMissElayneous ) (performance artist), Rachel Keogh (https://twitter.com/rachaelkeogh1 ) (therapist), Christina Buckley, RIP (former golden bridge resident) and on and on and on,

It is morally unacceptable for us to allow countless children finish school with no education and a potential life of hardship as a social welfare user,

It is morally unacceptable for the Government to be dishonest and ethically bankrupt,

It is morally unacceptable for each and every one of us to not take the opportunity to make a positive contribution to someone else’s life,

Let’s build relationships that are morally, ethically, respectful and caring, if we used that as the starting tenet of governance then we might see some growth and change both individually and collectively.

Adrian McKenna is a frontline Social Care Professional; he has worked and Managed for many years with young people and adults in residential care, detention services, mental health services, homeless services and post-adoption services. He currently works with a large Dublin-based charity. He is a Committee Member of The Irish Association of Social Care Workers, A Member of the Social Care workers Registration Board at CORU, A Member of Social Justice Ireland and was on the National Committee of the YES Campaign for Children. All views expressed are entirely my own unless otherwise stated and are not representative of any organisation or employer past , present or future.

The Language we use……


I was at a very interesting event today where we spent time looking at the proposed language to be used in some documents. Interesting insofar that the nuances of the English language are multifarious and abstruse. As is that last sentence as if to hammer home a point.

What was clear as mud is that language is very personal, it can divide and unite, it can inform and confuse and it can be a barrier to some a gateway for others.

In the social care field there is no set agreement on what to call those whom we work for, our service users, our clients, our residents, our customers or something entirely different. In the Adoption community there is a battle fought around what to label those who place their children for adoption and the adopted, what you call the women who gives birth to the child, the birthmother, the natural mother, the mother, the first mother.

I have seen these debates descend into bile throwing hurt fests online all because of words.

There is a need to use the simplest of language so that the greatest number of people find documents accessible. That been a given, how do we meld the language we use in daily discourse with the language we write for policy or is there a need to do that at all.

In social care when we say for example that our practice is based on an individuals need, that to us is simple enough, the problem lies in what sort of meaning can be construed from this if it is in a public document.

We must always be open to the challenge of wordiness, language , reportage, labelling, policy documents and human interactions as these are all very differing dialogues. We need to be sensitive to all these language pathways and to have the ability to challenge ourselves to allow understanding from all facets of society.

What is your meaning in what you are saying? If you’re being asked that question then maybe you have already failed…..

Adrian McKenna is a frontline Social Care Professional; he has worked and Managed for many years with young people and adults in residential care, detention services, mental health services, homeless services and post-adoption services. He currently works with a large Dublin-based charity. He is a Committee Member of The Irish Association of Social Care Workers, A Member of the Social Care workers Registration Board at CORU, A Member of Social Justice Ireland and was on the National Committee of the YES Campaign for Children. All views expressed are entirely my own unless otherwise stated and are not representative of any organisation or employer past , present or future.

Gay Marriage, Is Breda O’Brien really threatened ?????


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Breda O’Brien writing in the Catholic Herald says…..that one of the main reasons that gay people want marriage rights is so that they can be registered as parents of children, either by adopting a partner’s children or by commissioning children through surrogacy, and/or egg or sperm donation.

No gay couple can bring children into their relationship without the assistance of at least one person of the opposite gender. This fundamental difference, with all the profound implications for children of being raised either without their mother, or their father, is supposed to be politely ignored so that adults can receive their ‘rights.’

This is an interesting if entirely flawed logic, the adoption/surrogacy/assisted reproduction industry has been providing children to straight, married couples since the inception of early adoption, gay people marrying will make no fundamental change to that position. 
If Breda O’Brien was genuine about her care for the “implications for children” she would fight a completely different battle, she would challenge policies that keep people in poverty and lead vulnerable families into being coerced into adoption to “save their children”. She would fight for funds used to procure children from poorer countries to be used to keep babies with their mothers, she would fight to expose the practice of secret gamete donation so all children had full knowledge of their genetic heritage, she would recognise that society accepting that two gay people can love in the very same way as others is a good thing, that two gay people wanting to make a commitment to each other is a good thing, she would embrace the notion of tolerance and acceptance and she would be honest about why she is against gay marriage.
This is a much broader debate than two men or two women wanting to share their lives this is about one conservative section of society wanting to control another section of society.
It is disingenuous beyond belief to colour it any other way, Bread O’Brien and her ilk need to be honest and call it as it is. They are unable to accept anything that doesn’t fit their narrow perspective.
Gay or straight people, married or not married, causes me no threat, I am married and I rejoice in that, my only concern is how we as a civilised society commodify the surrogacy, adoption, assisted reproduction industry. I am concerned that we continue to have secret practices around the purchasing of children, I am concerned that we still have sealed records of adoption in Ireland, I am concerned that we have groups of people actively sourcing children worldwide, I am concerned that Indian obstetricians are making millions off the backs of extremely vulnerable fellow countrywoman, I am concerned that we haven’t learnt from the mistakes of the past and I am concerned that Breda O’Brien and her ilk will camouflage their arguments and dress it up as something else. This is not about the danger to my marriage or yours, this is not about the dangers to children, adoption, surrogacy etc, this is plain and simple anti-gay rhetoric.

Adrian McKenna is a frontline Social Care Professional; he has worked and Managed for many years with young people and adults in residential care, detention services, mental health services, homeless services and post-adoption services. He currently works with a large Dublin-based charity. He is a Committee Member of The Irish Association of Social Care Workers, A Member of Social Justice Ireland and was on the National Committee of the YES Campaign for Children.

All views expressed are entirely my own unless otherwise stated and are not representative of any organisation or employer past , present or future.

Will I Vote YES or NO


I have been involved in the http://www.yesforchildren.ie campaign for a little while now and I am strangely torn. I am one of Irelands 52000 legally Adopted Adults, there are also god knows how many illegally Adopted Adults. I have been concerned for a while that I mightn’t vote yes in the forthcoming referendum, that I couldn’t vote yes because it didn’t satisfy my personal need, it didn’t do what I wanted it to do, it didn’t contain the necessary inclusion of the right for me to have access to my files, my birth cert, my family of origin.

This, I felt, caused a further difficulty for the new legislation, the piece that allows young people to be adopted by their foster family. How could I reconcile the fact that by providing a family (legally and permanent) for a young person in care we were then making them unequal under the law with their peers. The reason being is, as foster children they were and are entitled to access to their family, they can see and know their files, history, lineage and birth cert, and once they are adopted if they are treated the same way as me they will be entitled to nothing.

Then I put my professional head back on and thought of the many young people who I have worked with, young people who by the time I met them had been in a myriad of care settings some of them between 15 and 50 different placements. Very few of the young people returned to their family, very few had any meaningful contact at all, and any time there was contact there was chaos. I wonder if early in their lives the opportunity for them to be adopted would have made a difference. Now, I understand the argument that a child is always better off with their family and I fully subscribe to this 100%. But none of the young people I’m talking about could live with their family or indeed should have to live with them.

So on November the 10th I will be voting yes, I will continue to fight for changes in the adoption legislation, I will continue to seek a one tier system so that all people, adopted, fostered, de-facto adopted and illegally adopted are all entitled to their files and birth certs, and I will continue to advocate for the young people that I work with above and beyond my own personal needs and desires. So don’t forget on November the 10th get out and vote YES to give children an independent voice in their own lives.

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. He is a Member of The Irish Association of Social Care Workers, Social Justice Ireland and the YES Campaign for Children.

All views expressed are entirely my own unless otherwise stated and are not representative of any organisation or employer past , present or future.

Treasuring the rights of the child.


The child protection debate in this country has focused for many years on the damage done to children by members of the Catholic Church.
From the release of a litany of child abuse reports, we’re all aware to some extent of the massive damage that decades of institutional abuse has had on innocent children.
But making this issue the core of the debate around child protection in fact belittles the history of our society and denigrates the discussion into a single facet argument.
As professionals in the care sector, I and my colleagues have accepted responsibility for the care, nurturing and protection of the children who need it. In all cases that involve child abuse or mal-treatment, can we say as professionals that we put the needs of children above the needs of ourselves, the institution, or our employers? I don’t believe we always do.
I have seen children’s rights being measured against the needs of the accountant. I have seen children moved from familiar care settings where they were happy because a bed had become available in a cheaper setting.
I have seen children in care being given second-hand birthday presents. I have seen children in care having to make their own way to hospital because there was no one to bring them.
I have seen children going to school without breakfast. I have seen children return from school with no food available for them. I have seen teenagers who are expected to survive on €19.00 a week.
In all of the above instances, I have also seen professionals react to resolve the issue in the best interest of the child, not always with success, sometimes putting their own careers in danger in the process.
But it doesn’t always happen like that……? Cases are being highlighted through the inspection reports of HIQA and the HSE residential inspection services where children are being impacted by decisions that are based on money and not needs. For example :
Earlier this year, an advocacy group for children in care hit out at social workers for “failing” children following the Irish Examiner’s publication of HSE inspection reports of private children’s homes. Jennifer Gargan, director of Empowering People in Care, said “much of what the HSE inspectors found in the private and voluntary residential centres should have been unearthed and acted upon by social workers”. However, the Irish Association of Social Workers defended their role in such homes, saying social workers often have so many children on their books that they cannot see the children as much as they should. Furthermore, even when they are unhappy with a placement, they do not “feel comfortable” complaining, as there are no alternative care placements.
This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Friday, June 01, 2012
We were all children once. We all have children in our lives that we care about. We, as professionals, are tasked with being the voice of the child until that voice is truly enshrined in Irish law.
But the debate goes beyond the remit of just the professionals. All adults must be the voice of the child. In essence this is easily achieved, the onus for reporting the maltreatment of children must be legislated for, it has to be mandatory and it needs to include all adults. There is no such thing as over reporting.
The care system has to be based on legally based directives not soft focussed wish lists. An example of this is in the aftercare services provided for young people who have lived in care. Latest figures show that 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 the detention schools.
Currently once a young person turns 18, the State no longer obligated legally to 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.
The Child Care Bill (2009) was passed through the Oireachtas in the first week of July 2011 – but without the amendment on Aftercare . Minister Francis Fitzgerald, who spoke in favour of the amendment when she was an opposition Senator, committed to returning to the issue of a legal right to aftercare when they consider child protection legislation in the autumn. She argued that the amendment was not appropriate for the current bill, as this bill deals with children’s issues while aftercare is, by definition, for over 18s.
She indicated to the Dáil that the need for legislation is still under consideration: “I note that in the North more detailed regulations on aftercare have been built into statute. That is something I wish to examine to see whether there is a need to have further legislation on aftercare. The advice currently is that section 45 of the Child Care Act does imply the statutory right to aftercare where an assessment of need has been made. However, I wish to examine that.”
If we treasure our own rights, then we must treasure the right of the child to be included as individuals in our constitution. Resources for young people cannot be implied they must be a legal right.

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.

Self Injury “Is it just another way of coping”


 

 

Many years ago my first job in the social care/child protection sector was in a Dublin child and adolescent detention centre. I was unfortunately under skilled and ill prepared for what lay ahead of me. This was for all intents and purposes a prison for Children and as such was an environment that was emotionally damaging to the young people who were placed there.

What I didn’t recognise at the time was how damaging it could have been for me as well.

One day a young lad of 15 arrived up direct from the children’s court, he was handcuffed to the Gardaí and had apparently given them a tough time in the squad car on the way to us, not surprising really as he was about to be locked up.

We took him in, processed the paper work and got the Gardaí to escort him to his room/cell, he fought like a young lion, and eventually he was restrained and placed in his room, as one of the Gardaí was leaving he said that we would have to watch ourselves as “that young fella is mad”. He had been charged with assault causing actual bodily harm.

He started calling for a cigarette almost immediately, and when he was told he couldn’t be allowed out on the grounds for a cigarette he went ballistic, and I mean ballistic, the room he was in was supposed to be indestructible, he set to task and deconstructed it bit by bit, from breaking the solid wood sleeping platform to tearing out the cages that protected the light bulb to trying to dismantle light switches. The power supply to his room was cut and a decision was made to go into the room and restrain him using our training in these therapeutic crisis intervention methods.

One of the team was observing him through a small porthole in the wall, he informed us that the young man had calmed and that he wanted to go to the toilet, the manager spoke to him and said that we would allow him go to the toilet and then we would give him a new room, when this was done we would get him checked by the onsite nurse.

We stationed staff on both ends of the corridor and let the young man out to go to the toilets at the end of the hall. The toilets had lockable doors but could be opened from the outside, they also had a gap top and bottom to allow staff access (observation) when working with young people who were suicidal.

He seemed to be in there for an eternity so I approached the door, when he saw me getting near he told me to back off as he has put some of the glass (broken bulb) from his room behind his scrotum. This meant we could do nothing even if he was lying we would have to think of another way to get him out of there. As the team met in the office I sat on the floor outside the toilet and just chatted with him. I asked him to open the toilet door and leave it open so I could talk face to face with him, he pushed the door open and what greeted me was a 15 year old boy with a piece of glass in his hand who was slowly but surely and very deliberately cutting small lines in his arm. I felt that I couldn’t move, I had to stay there and just be with him. I didn’t understand the nature of self-injury at that time and why someone would use self-injury to cope with their emotions.

When the manager realised what was going on she made the decision to call a psychiatrist, being that this was now after 8pm on a Friday this was something that was going to take hours. I sat with this young man and we talked about everything and anything , at no stage did I think of moving, I just stayed, I offered him first aid several times but he kept returning to the fact that he wanted a cigarette, and as that was against the rules he wasn’t getting one.

He cut his arms, legs, chest and stomach, there was blood everywhere, eventually the psychiatrist arrived and took over, I stayed nearby, at the end of the chat with the young man the doctor said “give him a cigarette”. The young man got his fag, he got his first aid, he also got some meds to calm him down and he was moved that night to a psych unit. I don’t know if he had a psychiatric illness, but I do know that we were not equipped to deal with that situation, we didn’t have the skills or training to help that young man. However emotionally overwrought he was coming into the centre he was much worse when he got there.

Many years later I went to Trinity college to study self-injuring behaviour with Dr Kay Inckle, this opened me up to the idea that this behaviour is a normal behaviour for those who use it as a coping mechanism. It focussed on the relationship component of working with those in distress and of just being there. Many things were done wrong that night, but with reflection it was one of the big learning milestones for me. Hopefully anyone entering into the care or detention system now will be met with a much more skilled and empathetic care worker than the ones that, that young man met….

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.

“Suicide” affects all those involved.


Many years ago a family came to live on our little terrace of six houses, Mom, Step-Dad ,Sister and Brother, that’s when I met a young man of perpetual motion (we will call him Tom). Tom was a lovely, cheeky, sociable, complex young lad. In a very short time I was out playing golf with this young divil every Sunday morning rain or shine, we’d go with his step Dad, his Grandfather and another neighbour Steven. I spent a good deal of time chatting with Tom as we wandered around the golf course bating the little white ball everywhere but where it should have been. He was a great kid who was the light of his Mothers’ life, she loved the bones of him, he had an older sister and she loved the bones of him too and his step dad was there for him every step of the way.

But Tom was at war with the world, not in any great way but in a way that is now quite normal amongst our teenage children, he was rebelling, against what we didn’t know but the signs were there, he had been found sniffing gas cans several times by his mam, we had found gas cans out the back of the terrace of houses, he smoked a bit of weed, he came to the attention of the Gardaí for nothing more than cheek. He was full of questions that were never asked and looking for answers that were never given. He didn’t know how to ask for help and we didn’t know how to give it to him. He got bundles of love from all his family, he was universally popular with all the neighbours, but that wasn’t enough.

One night I was just about to go to sleep when my front door (all Glass) was nearly put in with a ferocious banging. I ran down the stairs quickly followed by my missus, when I opened the door Tom’s sister was crying and asking me for help, she had had an argument with Tom over a cigarette twenty minutes earlier, their parents were out and she didn’t want him smoking in his room, she hadn’t heard anything from him for a while and she couldn’t get into his room and he wouldn’t answer her. Our neighbour had heard the banging and had come out; he was an old army man and a very straight and capable individual. I asked my wife to look after Tom’s sister and I headed in to talk to Tom with the old soldier in tow.

I called Tom several times and he wouldn’t answer, we got our shoulders to the door and without much trouble I got in. Tom was hanging on the back of his bedroom door, I shouted at the old soldier to call the police and ambulance as I cut Tom down from the coat hook on his door. I worked on Tom and then the ambulance service arrived but unfortunately he had died.

The Gardaí arrived and I gave my statement to them, we talked and consoled his sister and the Gardaí went looking for their parents, I headed to the hospital so I could be there when they arrived. The pain that was etched on their faces when they arrived at the hospital will stay with me for ever. There was nothing I could do or say that would bring back their beautiful son.

The next few days were a blur as people analysed the why and how, the what we didn’t see and what we should have seen, there was the funeral and the inquest. I took part in all these in a state of numbness. The family was in a complete state of shock, everyone tried in their own way to sympathise or empathise with them and in the middle of all that, I needed someone to ask me how I was.

Now, today in 2012 and many years after Tom took his own life I am still affected by this traumatic event. There is not a week goes by that I am reminded of that fateful day, that day changed the lives of many people, it changed my life forever. It left me with lots of unanswered questions, many which I have managed to  answer over the ensuing years through counselling, study and training. It led in some part to me becoming a social care worker and it has left me with a very powerful tool to help me when I am working with young people in my care or when I am working with and chatting to young social care workers.

Feeling that a life has passed through your hands is not something that many people get to experience and as much as it has left a deep wound inside of me it is a wound that I will happily carry for the rest of my life. In Future when anyone comes to you for a chat and it is just not the right time, think twice you may be the last person they will ever talk to.

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. He is a Member of The Irish Association of Social Care Workers, Social Justice Ireland and the YES Campaign for Children.

All views expressed are entirely my own unless otherwise stated and are not representative of any organisation or employer past , present or future.

What do we tell our Children. “surrogacy and anonymous donors”


Is anonymous donor assisted pregnancy and surrogacy the ethical solution for the many childless couples out there? In fact what is ethical pregnancy/surrogacy? For me there is only one question that needs to be answered in order for us to progress this debate. What is in the best interest of the child? We, in Ireland are about to have a referendum to put the child at the centre of the legislative decision making process. This is not before its time in relation to surrogacy as the current laws and guidelines are so convoluted as to be almost incomprehensible.

(http://www.dfa.ie/uploads/documents/Passport_documents/surrogacy%20guidance%20document.pdf )

Two core areas really concern me in relation to surrogacy. Firstly the countries that are the leading producers of surrogate mothers are some of the poorest countries in the world, and secondly what and how do we tell our children when they start to ask questions about their conception. In India right now there are thousands of very poor, mostly un-educated women living in Mother and Baby homes who are carrying babies for couples pre-dominantly from the west. These women can earn up to 50 times their husbands monthly salary and the growth in the surrogacy business in India has risen accordingly, demand outstripping supply. There are many ethical and moral questions to be asked surrounding the use of these very poor women and the issue of informed consent and contract law etcetera needs much deeper analysis. See here ((http://www.stanford.edu/group/womenscourage/Surrogacy/index.html)

How do we explain all of this to a child or young adult as they grow up, how do we explain to a child or young person that the attachment process was disrupted because practice dictated that they (the baby suppliers) didn’t want the child to bond with their Mother. How do we explain to a child how their genetic makeup is constructed and the fact that they may have no shared genes with their parent’s? And what do we do when the child/young person asks to meet their biological Mother and /or Father. This article is worth a read (http://sonofasurrogate.tripod.com/).

Are we as parents responsible to be honest and truthful with our children, are we as a society responsible to be truthful to our societies’ children, I think in both cases the answer has to be yes. This is where the problems start because the majority of the clinics protect the identity of their donors and therefore the chances of a young person ever being able to construct their own lineage are slim to none.

In Ireland and indeed a lot of countries worldwide the practice of secret or closed adoptions was and is still commonplace. We now know through extensive research (http://www.adoptionhelp.org/open-adoption/research) that open adoptions where there is a continuing relationship with the birth family leads to better outcomes in later life for the young adopted adults. Using this as a basic template should point us in the direction of non-anonymous donor assisted pregnancy and surrogacy. Every child has a right to know who they are and how they got here. The only way to answer those questions is with complete transparency and honesty. Anything else, any other way, leads us down the path of failing the children that we the adults bring into this world

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.