Taking children into care is only the start, not the solution

Red Door Blog

It’s been another bad week for children in Ireland. We saw yet more media reports raising serious questions over the foster care system, and a mother in the west of Ireland was jailed for the most horrific abuse of her own children.

This is likely only the tip of the ice-berg.

Here at the Cork Life Centre, we see the knock-on effects for children who experience trauma in their lives. Not just this week, but every week. On this our new blog page, we hope to add our voice to the ongoing conversation of how to better address the needs of society’s most vulnerable young people. We will not only be expressing our concerns, but also celebrating our achievements, and that of our young people.

Some of our students come from the care system, and something that is often lost is that for children are in care, being in care does not magically solve their problems. In fact, these children need extra support and protection.

It is outrageous to think that children are being further damaged in a system designed to protect them.

At the extreme end of the scale, this means being abused by the very people that are supposed to be looking after them. But there is a much more insidious form of pain for these young people – neglect within the care system itself.

The current system of State care of children is ill-equipped to deal with the complex needs and issues of young people.  In our experience of working with early school leavers, a significant percentage of whom are children in care, young people have insufficient and inadequate access to their social workers.  There is a statutory responsibility in Ireland for social workers to meet their clients only twice yearly. This is wholly insufficient for vulnerable young people in need of supportive and trusting relationships in what is a traumatic and emotionally overwhelming time for them.

These children need consistency and stability, they need someone to build trust with, but what is happening on the ground does not reflect this. Outreach work for young people and what are seen as “soft services” are often undervalued, given they are not diagnosis or outcome driven. However, these spaces or communities within communities in which people feel welcome and belong can literally be lifelines for young people in particular.

In order to address deficiencies within the system, we would recommend that the State:

  • give priority to the appointment of  more social workers in order to reduce case loads to a manageable level so that the needs of young people in the care systems are met.
  • increase the statutory requirement for Social Workers to meet with clients in order to build relationships of trust with young people at risk.
  • Establish a consistent legal definition of a child that encompasses their involvement and accessing of services across all government departments.

These measures would be a start, but only the start, of a long journey ahead.

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