From Care to Aftercare: What’s good enough in Ireland?

epic_13102017_2To celebrate National Care Leavers’ Day in Ireland, EPIC (Empowering People in Care) – national organisation that advocates for young people in and from care – and Care Leavers Ireland, a charity helping young care leavers in areas of education and personal development, hosted 5th annual conference “What’s good enough?”

The conference became an opportunity to engage young people moving towards aftercare – the support services to care leavers to ease their transition to independence – and professionals who work with these young people in open discussion. The event had a  particular focus on practical aspects of support, and especially on what works for young people and what’s good enough within the continuum of care. The conference highlighted the importance of positive mental health and creative therapeutic interventions to support children in dealing with trauma and loss; it discussed pathways to accommodation for young people in aftercare and how can they move on while transitioning from care.

During the panel discussions, a number of young people spoke about their own experiences and the challenges they faced during transitioning. For example, under the current system in Ireland, aftercare support to young people is provided up to 21 years of age, or 23 years of age in full-time education, but if they do not continue further education, supports end at 21. According to Terry Dignan, CEO of EPIC, “Around 500 young people leave the care system each year upon turning 18, and while aftercare is now a right rather than an option, implementation of supports is still inconsistent across the country.” As in many European countries, leaving care is a formidable challenge and there is no statutory entitlement to aftercare services in Ireland. Despite considerable improvements in the system over recent years, including a recent announcement by Tusla on improving aftercare, some young people still face uncertainty around the level of supports open to them.

Contrary to mostly negative connotation when it comes to the outcomes for the care leavers, the conference had a strong emphasis on the successful transition from care to aftercare and promoted positive achievements of young people making a transition from care to independent living. For example, young speakers shared insights and proposed a 5-point plan on how educational outcomes for care leavers can be improved.

epic_13102017Rebecca Southworth, a careleaver from the UK and an author of BBC3 documentary Kicked Out: From Care to Chaos emphasised the importance of listening to and learning from the young people. Another underlying thought shared at the conference was that care and support – offered unconditionally – and one significant adult in the life of a child will let them flourish and flower and not just survive.

Eurochild, through The Opening Doors for Europe’s Children campaign, has attended the event to share a European perspective on the quality care alternatives for children, emphasizing that young people leaving care should be able to access aftercare support services from local authorities or other care providers. This support should be focused and targeted but also time bound. The objective should be to assist the young person in maintaining their independence while also working with them to avoid future problems.

At the structural level, it is crucial to address the gaps existing between the childcare system, where the process of deinstitutionalisation is often more advanced, and the system of care for adults where institutions might be still in place – particularly in the case of children with disabilities or challenging behaviours. The re-institutionalisation of young people after they reach 18 years of age must be avoided at all costs. A key measure which can be put in place to prevent such re-institutionalisation is to develop aftercare services, tracking progress measures and data collection on effectiveness and impact of services based upon the appraisal of the young service users. Participation of children in care is a fundamental aspect to be taken into account by professionals in contact with children and by the policy makers. Children and young people are real experts of what works or does not work in alternative care: their voices and experiences should be heard, valued and used to inform policy and action.

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