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Ten-fold increase in a decade in number of children from State care reaching out for help

Children as young as five years old required the support of advocates last year.

Image: Shutterstock/Piyawat Nandeenopparit

THERE HAS BEEN a consistent rise in the number of children living in State care and care leavers seeking supports in areas of homelessness, aftercare supports and placement breakdowns in the past 10 years. 

The new data is contained in a report from advocacy organisation EPIC, which provides support and advice to children and adults who have experience living in either foster care or residential care, published later today. 

In 2009, some 61 people contacted EPIC for help and advice. That number has consistently risen over the past 10  years and in 2018, some 653 people sought help from the organisation. It represented an 11% increase on the 589 cases opened in 2017.

Some 6,000 children live in care placements – either foster or residential care – supported by the State after it was deemed unsafe for them to remain in their family home.

Upon reaching the age of 18, they leave State care and become care leavers, with Child and Family Agency Tusla then tasked with ensuring they can secure accommodation, education or employment under an aftercare package.

Almost a fifth, or 19%, of cases referred to EPIC involved people seeking advice about their care placement, while a further 106, or 17% of cases related to accommodation. 

Aftercare was the third most frequent issue raised in advocacy cases with 94 people requiring supports in this area – 14% of the total number of cases in 2018.

Resources

CEO of EPIC Terry Dignan put the rise in people seeking support from EPIC down to a “lack of resources” in the State care system which has lead to a greater demand for advocacy. 

“I think we’re developing a care system and a child protection system right now and it’s ongoing, but as long as we’re in the development stage there will always be young people needing help,” he said. 

“We’re getting people contacting us who are in a system which isn’t fully developed and is inconsistent, and we’re getting the people who are at the end of all these inconsistencies.”

The average age across all cases was 19 years old, but the organisation saw a variety of ages, as low as five years old in cases involving children currently in care, and up to 84 years old for those with care experience. 

One case involved a 13-year-old who wanted more frequent overnight visits with their mother and two siblings.

Another involved a 23-year-old who had fallen into homelessness in the west of Ireland and who had spent a period of time in residential care. 

In North Dublin, a 17-year-old living in residential care was told he would have to leave and find his own accommodation before he would sit his Leaving Cert exams.  

The highest number of referrals are coming in from 18 to 21-year-olds and that is the transition period, people who are transitioning out of care into the aftercare system.

“They’re leaving and going out on their own and that’s where they’re most vulnerable,” Dignan said. 

“I think if we look at nearest neighbours in the UK, they are far more developed in terms of where they are at but they still have a lot of the same issues that we have.”

“It’s not as bleak a landscape as it was years ago but it’s still in development,” he added 

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