Home > Listen to our voices. Hearing children and young people living in the care of the State.

Ireland. Department of Children and Youth Affairs. McEvoy, Olivia and Smith, Martine (2011) Listen to our voices. Hearing children and young people living in the care of the State. Dublin: Government Publications.

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During 2010, the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (OMCYA) conducted a consultation process with children living in the care of the State. The project was called Listen to our voices! Hearing children and young people living in the care of the State.

In the Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (2009), Justice Ryan recommends that ‘children in care should be able to communicate without fear’. The Government’s Implementation Plan, brought out in response to the recommendations in the Ryan Report, committed the OMCYA to conducting a consultation process with children in the care of the State and to publishing the findings.

The objectives of the consultation process were to seek the views of children and young people in the care of the State, in detention and in residential services for children with a disability on the issues that matter to them, to explore existing mechanisms for children and young people to express their views and to make recommendations on future structures to be established for children and young people’s voices to be heard. Advised and assisted by an Oversight Committee that included the HSE and a number of organisations that work with children and young people living in the care of the State, the OMCYA also worked with a Youth Advisory Group to help establish and support the consultation process.

The key questions posed to ascertain the views of young people in care were:
• What are the most important issues for young people in care?
• What services and supports are in place for young people in care and, of those, what works well and what does not work well?
• What recommendations do young people have on the way the systems and supports should work and on ways that young people in care should have their voices heard?

The aims and objectives of the consultations were:
• to seek the views of children and young people in the care of the State on the issues that really matter to them and on which they would like to be heard;
• to explore existing mechanisms for children and young people to express their views;
• to make recommendations on future structures to be established for children and young people to express their views.

A significant challenge in organising the consultations was accessing young people in care, especially in foster care. It must be noted that, despite a number of strong interventions by senior HSE personnel in support of the consultation process, a very disappointing number of children in foster care were informed about the consultations. Due to the absence of a comprehensive database of young people in care, the only mechanism for contacting such young people was via their social workers. Since not every young person is receptive to information coming from their social worker, alternative routes had to be found to contact young people directly and encourage them to participate. A number of non-statutory agencies, working with and advocating for young people in care, were enlisted and assisted in the promotion of the consultations and the recruitment of young people. Thus, following an arduous recruitment process, a total of 211 children and young people took part in the consultations between January and July 2010. Young participants included those in the care of the State living in foster care (some long-term) and residential centres, children and young people detained in St. Patrick’s Institution and in detention schools, and children and young people in residential units because of a disability. Young people who had recently left the care system also participated in the consultations.

The difficulty in accessing children and young people in foster care resulted in a disproportionate number of young people in residential care and detention facilities taking part in the consultations. However, as this was a consultation process and not a research study, the views of all the children and young people who took part are valid and add strong value to the provision of a better understanding of the care experience for children and young people.

Fifteen consultations were held in Cork, Dublin, Galway and Sligo. A separate parallel process for young people with moderate to severe disabilities was also conducted, with consultations taking place in Dublin, Meath and Galway.

The consultations were run in an informal, open and safe manner. Creative methodologies were devised to cater for the diverse cohorts of participants so that they could be empowered to express their views, depending on their level of ability and interest. The participants were very open and articulate in expressing their views on a myriad of issues pertaining to care. Despite their diversity, there was a remarkable consistency in the common themes and issues identified during the consultations as important to the participants. Among these themes and issues were:
• the complexity and importance of regular access to birth parents and siblings;
• being treated as ‘one of the family’ in foster care;
• the importance of assessment and vetting of foster families, as well as their compulsory training;
• the lack of information available to young people in care, particularly on aftercare services, which are not consistent in all locations;
• the impact of disruption and multiplicity of placements experienced by young people;
• the importance of having even one person or agency who will listen and ‘be there’ to support a young person in care;
• issues about confidentiality, privacy, constant record-keeping and the difficulties in gaining consent for relatively normal activities.

The strongest criticisms coming from participants concerned social work services and care plan reviews.

Having identified their key concerns and issues, the young participants made recommendations on how to improve the lives of children in the care of the State and how to ensure that their voices are heard. These included:
• a review of social work services, which would ideally lead to social workers having more manageable caseloads and more time to better engage with the young people on that caseload;
• a re-examination of care plan reviews, which would result in a system that would better allow young people to express themselves in a less intimidating environment and have an input on decisions impacting their lives in care;
• improved assessment and vetting of foster families;
• compulsory training for foster families;
• increased information on a variety of issues, such as the care system itself, organisations that support young people in care and aftercare services;
• availability of counselling.

When asked about the mechanisms available to them to ‘express their views’ or what allowed them to ‘have their voice heard’, it was apparent that this notion was alien to many participants. They reported that they are rarely asked for their views or feedback, and that the current mechanisms in place to seek those views are not working for them. This report recommends that the existing structures designed to ensure the voice of the child is heard are reviewed and that a culture of participation is developed in which young people are consulted on the key decisions that affect their lives on an ongoing basis.

Despite struggling with the possibilities of what it might mean to ‘have your voice heard’, the participants formulated a number of very practical key recommendations on future structures to better enable young people to express their views and have their voices heard. These recommendations included:
• an official ‘forum’ made up of young people from a variety of care settings, which would work towards positive change for young people in care;
• regular peer support meetings of young people in care at regional level;
• a dedicated support telephone line;
• a ‘mentor’ for each young person in care.

The young people in detention schools and in St. Patrick’s Institution also identified a number of issues of importance to them. These included the significant role that alcohol and drugs play in their lives, as well as the lack of freedom, privacy, facilities and services available to them in detention settings. The lack of respect from staff was also of considerable concern to young people in detention. These participants also made recommendations for the future of young people in detention settings, almost all of which pertained to their practical needs, such as improved facilities, freedom and privacy. However, in relation to having their voices heard, they suggested:
• being treated like human beings (St. Patrick’s Institution) and being respected by staff;
• having a representative group to bring the views of young people to management;
• having someone to talk to who does not work in the detention setting;
• having a visit from the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to discuss relevant issues.

The report concludes that the agencies responsible for children in the care of the State must listen to the voices of the consultation participants and, more importantly, heed their recommendations.


Date:2011
Pages:120 p.
Publisher:Government Publications
Corporate Creators:Ireland. Department of Children and Youth Affairs
Place of Publication:Dublin
ISBN:978-1-4064-2596-3
EndNote:View
Accession Number:HRB (Electronic Only)
Related URLs:
Subjects:L Social psychology and related concepts > Marital relations > Family and kinship > Family relations > Family role > Role of child
MP-MR Policy, planning, economics, work and social services > Social services
VA Geographic area > Europe > Ireland
L Social psychology and related concepts > Interpersonal interaction and group dynamics > Social support
MP-MR Policy, planning, economics, work and social services > Social services > Services for family and children > Services for children of substance users
T Demographic characteristics > Child of substance user
T Demographic characteristics > Child
J Health care, prevention and rehabilitation > Prevention approach > Early intervention (young children)

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