Irish Aftercare Network Calls For More Support For Young People Leaving Care

Network Says Minister For Children Has Refused to Meet Despite its Significant Concerns

Delegates at the Irish Aftercare Network’s Annual Conference in Athlone heard today (May 17th) that there must be more to support young people leaving care, many of whom have suffered significant trauma during childhood. (The conference is titled “Working with Trauma – What Aftercare Workers Need to Know”)

A spokesperson for the Irish Aftercare Network said: “There are feelings of fear, rejection and powerlessness that often reemerge for some young people once they turn 18 and are forced to leave care and live on their own. The professionals who work with care leavers need to adopt trauma-informed practice methods that acknowledge and respond to the effects of trauma, both on the young people and on the professionals supporting them. Current service provision for care leavers is not sufficiently resourced to provide the level of practical support or therapeutic support for this vulnerable group in Irish society.”

The Irish Aftercare Network said that it is important to highlight that most young people in the care system have very positive experiences and most make a smooth transition to adulthood.  However, the Network also warned that a significant number of young people do still face problems on leaving care including social exclusion, poor mental health and periods of homelessness.

The risk of homelessness for care leavers has increased sharply in recent years due to the worsening housing crisis, which affects vulnerable groups more acutely. The Network said that the young people who are at the greatest risk are those who have had very traumatic childhood experiences and disruptive care experiences. The Network said its members are working hard to deliver better outcomes for all young people who are leaving care in Ireland but that the resources provided by the State are wholly inadequate, particularly for those who are suffering the ongoing effects of childhood trauma.

Opening the conference, Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director, Amnesty International Ireland, said: “Care leavers are some the most vulnerable young people in Ireland and the State has obligations to ensure that they get all the supports they need to make a successful transition to adulthood.”

He added: “In the middle of the worst housing and homelessness crisis in our history, which is affecting us all, there are some in our society who are especially vulnerable. The State has an obligation to ensure that the right to housing of all people is respected, protected and fulfilled. But it also has an obligation to pay particular attention to the needs of especially marginalised groups in its housing policy. The very least we owe to young people in care is that they are provided with somewhere secure to live when they leave care at 18, and that they don’t have to face the trauma of homelessness. That would be an unjust and shocking outcome for those the State promised to care for in the manner of a “good parent”. No good parent would let that happen to their 18 year old.”​

At the conference Margaret Haugh, Senior Social Worker, and Dermot O’Callaghan, Senior Counselling Psychologist, Tusla Assessment Consultation and Therapy Service (ACTS) presented a case study of a young woman who had multiple care placements as an adolescent and how this affected her ability to manage leaving the care system at 18 years of age. The case illustrated the impact of developmental trauma and how this interacts with the experience of being institutionalised in the care system, and the challenges this can present to professionals who are supporting young people exiting the care system. The independence model of aftercare service provision doesn’t place enough emphasis the emotional and psychological needs of care leavers and consequently many struggle to adjust to life after care.

Meanwhile, Gary Broderick from the Learning Curve Institute, an organisation that provides training to those working with trauma-affected groups, highlighted to the conference how unresolved trauma can shape how young people respond to everyday life experiences, including how they respond to the services provided by professionals. Trauma-informed practice is a framework that is based on knowledge and understanding of how trauma affects people’s lives and their service needs. At the very minimum, trauma-informed services aim to do no further harm by re-traumatising individuals, which is a significant risk in the case of young people leaving care. As children, many will have been removed from their family in very traumatic circumstances and will have experienced feelings of fear, rejection and powerlessness. Then often it is the case that similar feelings re-emerge when they leave care at 18.

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone, who is responsible for aftercare policy, has refused repeatedly to meet representatives of the Irish Aftercare Network, claiming she is too busy. At her request, the Network provided the Minister with detailed submissions stressing the urgency of addressing the gaps between legislation, policy and practice in the area of aftercare provision in Ireland. The Network also made recommendations to the Minister with regard to how service provision can be improved for care leavers now and in the future, both from a legislative perspective and a policy and practice perspective. To date, the Minister has not responded to the concerns raised by the Network.

Ciaran Kenny, Chair of the Network says: “The Minister’s apparent lack of concern for one of the most vulnerable groups of children in the State is very disappointing. What we are asking for will not cost very much but will make a huge difference to the lives of many young people who have not had the same support, care and stability as children in the general population.” The Network is asking for the Minister to strengthen the legislation (Childcare Amendment Act, 2015) in order to ensure that young people leaving state care are provided with all the necessary supports and resources they need to make a successful transition to adulthood.

Media Contact: Neil Forsyth: 086 604 28 82

Editors Notes: Aftercare is a term used to describe the planning and support put in place to meet the needs of a young person leaving care services at age 18. Currently there are over 6000 young people in care in Ireland who in the next number of years will be care leavers. Approximately 450 to 500 young people leave care annually. The people who support these young people namely “Aftercare Workers” do so by planning and assisting them to make the transition from care to independent living. The Irish Aftercare Network provides a forum for Aftercare Workers to access peer support, information and training. It also gives a platform to discuss current issues of concern including how to influence policy development.

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