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Column ‘My family couldn’t look after me’ – life inside a State home

Clíodhna has been in the State childcare system for most of her life. She tells about social workers, Christmas shopping, and why she has no regrets.

I WAS ONE and a half when I went into care. My family just couldn’t look after me. I was put into a care centre for two weeks, until a foster family was found. But it was a short-term foster family, and they wanted a permanent one. So I was moved around a few times, to four or five different foster families, until I was put into a residential home. Which is only supposed to be for two weeks, but I stayed there for 14 years.

When I first moved in there were eight people living in the house. There were two staff on, and a manager who would come in Monday to Friday. That was when the nuns were running the house. When I was about six the health board took over, and now there are three staff there all the time, as well as a manager and a deputy manager, and only six kids. There’s now a law where every child has to have their own room. I’ve a fair bit of contact with the house I grew up in, I still go up to visit.

I never regret going into care, ever. Because I wouldn’t be who I am now; I’d be a completely different person. I wouldn’t know the people that I know. Because I moved in when I was so young, it was all I knew growing up, s0o it was a positive experience. Of course there were hard times, when I was going ‘Why the hell do I have to be here?’ But overall I had a grand experience.

‘We wouldn’t get home until mad late’

Christmas time was probably my favourite time. Christmas started on the first day of December and lasted until New Year’s. On the first week, we’d have a Christmas mass where the priest would come in, and we’d have a party afterwards, and all the old staff and kids would come back for a get-together. The second week we used to get a day off school to go Christmas shopping. At seven in the morning we’d go into Bewleys or Debenhams for breakfast. Then we’d go off shopping, and meet up at lunchtime. At the end of it we’d meet up for dinner, and then go to a pantomime, or ice skating, or the cinema. And we wouldn’t get home until what we thought was mad late – eleven o’clock or something.

Some stuff was difficult, though. Like, I think every schoolkid does a family tree. And when it came to you doing your family tree, and your teacher’s asking who this is, or who that is in your family. You’re just going ‘I don’t know, because I don’t live with them.’ Then it’s obvious to everybody, and they’re going ‘Why the hell doesn’t she know her family?’

But one thing I learned is that kids aren’t really the smartest people in the world. They believe what you tell them. Me and the girl I shared a room with, we were in the same primary school. And we didn’t talk in school, because we shared a room, we sat beside each other at the dinner table, we went to school together – we used to kill each other. So people were going, you’re always coming into school together, you’re always walking home together, but you’re never together in school – that’s kind of weird. So we told them ‘We’re neighbours, but we live in this giant house and there’s a door in the middle that separates our houses.’ And they believed us.

‘It’s all about familiarity’

I felt that I had stability and security in my upbringing. But my problem is with them moving kids around. They keep trying to say that a child can trust them, but how can you trust somebody that’s making you open up – about stuff that it’s difficult for a child to talk about – and then they move you, and the people at the next place are asking you the same thing? The social workers are constantly changing, because they’ve too much on their plate. So they drop you, and then there’s someone else, and it just happens over and over and over again.

Whereas with me, even though my social worker changed a lot, I still had the same girls that I grew up with. I still went to the same school, I still had my same group of friends. It’s all about familiarity I think. So I didn’t have to run around and tell a million people my life story, when it’s hard enough to do it yourself. And especially when you’re turning into a teenager, you’ve got an awful lot of problems already with school and friends and trying to find out who you are. Without having to add all this onto your plate as well.

If you’ve got a group of people that have grown up together, it’s better for them to stay together than to be moved around and not to be able to trust anybody. Because yeah, we all killed each other when we were kids. But we’re so close at the end of the day, because we’ve been through it together.

Clíodhna is now living independently and hoping to attend college. Her name has been changed.

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