Home > The views of children and young people in state care.

Keane, Martin (2012) The views of children and young people in state care. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 43, Autumn 2012, p. 16.

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The Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) recently published a report detailing a consultation process with 211 children and young people in state care; participants ranged in age from 8 to 23 years.1 Fifteen consultations were undertaken in Cork, Dublin, Galway and Sligo. The young participants came from the following state care settings: prison and detention centres (43), residential disability care (10), foster care (58), aftercare (17), residential care (48), separated children seeking asylum (34) and young people under section 5 of the Child Care Act (1). The report provides a useful insight into the main issues that concern young people in care, the difficulties they experience in expressing these concerns through current structures and their ideas on how such concerns can be articulated in the future.  

Alcohol and drugs
According to the DCYA, the role played by alcohol and drugs in the lives of some of the participants was a recurring theme throughout the consultations. This theme emerged primarily from consultations with participants in St Patrick’s Institution (36) and in detention centres (7). Many of the participants spoke about using alcohol and/or drugs as a means of ‘escaping’ from the traumatic experiences in their lives and few indicated any intention to stop using substances in the future. Many also recalled the adverse role that alcohol and drugs played in the lives of their parents, which had contributed largely to their being placed in state care in the first instance. The adverse experience of parental alcohol and drug use was also highlighted by the 58 children aged 8–12 who were in foster care.
Views on social workers
The majority of participants from all care settings expressed predominantly negative attitudes to and experiences of social workers, with older participants tending to be more critical than their younger counterparts. Overall, participants did not feel that social workers listened to them or acted in a manner that took account of their views. They also talked about social workers being constantly unavailable to meet with them, aside from instances when the young people were being disciplined or moving to another placement; they did acknowledge that social workers can be overburdened with caseloads of work.
Views on care plan reviews
The vast majority of participants from all care settings were highly critical of the care plan review process and did not see the review as an opportunity to have their concerns taken seriously; they described the atmosphere of the review as intimidating due to the large number of officials present. 
Elements of disruption
Participants from most care settings voiced great concern at the constant movement between care placements they were forced to endure, with many citing this concern as a further destabilising factor in their lives. Some participants recalled having to move between 20 and 30 times, which meant constantly moving between institutions, families, houses and schools. This meant losing contact with established networks of friends and with siblings, which greatly troubled the young people. They also complained about the constant moving of staff, such as key workers and/or social workers, which added to their unsettling experiences and further instability.
The birth family
The vast majority of participants across all care settings deemed it important to have access to their birth family, with participants in foster care and residential care especially favouring this option. Some participants expressed a preference to be consulted on this issue and not to have the decision to meet with their family foisted on them.
Confidentiality and privacy
Many of the young participants from all care settings expressed concern at the lack of privacy they experienced, they were critical of the constant observation they were under and the level of record-keeping that constantly documented their behaviours. Participants were also concerned at the lack of confidentiality they experienced citing the numerous adults and agencies that had access to, and appeared to willingly share, information that was specific to the young people.
Concerns specific to young people in residential/detention settings
Participants from residential care and prison and detention settings expressed a range of views on their interaction with staff in these settings. Most young people viewed the role of the relationship between themselves and members of staff as potentially supportive; however, not all agreed that their experience of these relationships was positive. Where staff members were supportive and respectful to young people, this was acknowledged and appreciated and the young people benefited greatly from such experiences. On the other hand, there were many instances of participants citing negative encounters with members of staff, and such occurrences appeared to have a lasting negative impact on these young people.
Concerns specific to young people in foster care
One of the main concerns of young people in foster care was the need to be treated as an equal in the foster family. Many felt that they were not treated by the foster family in the same way as the birth children. Examples of being treated differently included being sent to residential respite care while the birth children were taken on holiday. Participants also questioned why they had to be removed from the foster family when they turned 18, particularly if they felt happy and settled there. According to the DCYA, when with this did occur ‘many young people felt that they had merely been a transaction in a business arrangement’ (p.85).
A general consensus emerged from the consultations that young people in care would like more meaningful consultation on key decisions that impact on their lives; few believed that the current structures of the care plan review process or the input of social workers were adequate forums for such meaningful consultation. The report recommends that both the care plan review system and aspects of the social worker service for young people in care be re-examined. Support mechanisms, including a dedicated telephone line, a ‘mentor’ system and counselling services for young people in care, are also recommended. These recommendations are grounded in the concerns and experiences of young people in care as articulated in the consultations reported on above. In this regard, the report recommends 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’ (p.3).
1.     Department of Children and Youth Affairs (2011) Listen to our voices: hearing children and young people living in the care of the state. Dublin: Stationery Office. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/15654
Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Intervention Type
General / Comprehensive
Issue Title
Issue 43, Autumn 2012
October 2012
Page Range
p. 16
Health Research Board
Issue 43, Autumn 2012
Accession Number
HRB (Electronic Only)

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